Owen had gone from angry to raging pissed off during the short drive to the raptor containment unit. His grip on the steering wheel was turning his knuckles white, and his eyes that normally glinted with laughter and mischievousness were dark, stormy, and filled with the desire to tear Hoskins into pieces. I bit my lips to keep from saying anything, knowing full well that there wasn't much I could do or say to remedy the situation. It was much too out of control by now, full scale on a level that was over my head.
The octagon paddock came into view, surrounded by sleek armored vehicles and men in black uniforms all bearing the same Ingen logo. It looked like they were preparing to go to war. Owen was out of the car the second the engine died. I went after him, stumbling out of the passenger seat and jogging to catch up with him. Claire and the boys followed.
A man with broad shoulders and a familiar graying head of hair stood facing the paddock, hands on his hips. He turned at the sound of our footsteps and we were met with Hoskin's smug face. "Well, well, well! Look who finally decided-"
Owen's fist suddenly slammed into Hoskins, hitting him squarely on the jaw. I let out a gasp of surprise, my mouth falling open. Zach and Gray let out matching whoops, as Claire cringed at my side.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Owen demanded. He looked like he wanted to take another swing at him.
Hoskins staggered upright, clutching at his jaw. Blood pooled at the corner of his mouth. "I'm doing what should be done! What you refuse to do!"
"Owen!" Barry's voice called out across the lot. I combed the area for him, finally seeing him quickly climbing down the catwalk's steps to reach us. "Did he tell you? He wants to let them loose! Actually believes this is a good idea!" He sneered, giving Hoskins a dirty look as he came to stand next to Owen. He eyed Hoskin's swelling lip, his own mouth twitching in a pleased smirk, putting together what had happened.
"They've never been out before! There's no telling what could happen! It could be a bloodbath, Hoskins!" Owen argued.
"Or it could save lives! How many people have already been injured today? How many have lost their lives because you couldn't take control of the situation!" Hoskins spat, looking venomously between Owen and Claire. She stuck out her chin defiantly, but I saw the guilt pooling in her eyes. I reached down and grabbed her hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. "Tomorrow morning, when this story gets out and is broadcasted world wide, do you want to be the heroes who did whatever it took to save lives, or the people who did nothing?" He turned towards Owen, getting directly in his face, his voice a toxic whisper. "This is happening. With or without you." Then he stalked off, wiping the blood off his chin with the back of his hand.
Owen glared at his retreating back, conflict and indecisiveness flickering across over his face. I was sure I only understood a fraction of what he was feeling. He had basically raised all four of the raptors since they hatched, knew and understood them in a way no one else could. The idea of the four of them being out, running loose, made my blood run cold. With Owen involved, though, there was a better chance at keeping them under control. He knew that and hated it.
"What do we do?" Barry asked, breaking the heavy silence.
Owen's eyes flickered towards me, and I could see the struggle there. I nodded encouragingly. "Do what you have to." I said softly.
He let out a breath through pursed lips, resigning himself to what needed to be done. "Barry, get the girls into their stalls." He said to his friend. Barry nodded curtly, but from the way he was looking at Owen I could tell he understood why they had to go along with what Hoskins wanted. "You all need wait inside that armored truck. If this goes bad, you need to get out of here fast."
Claire, for once, didn't argue. The seriousness of the situation was felt by all of us. She ushered the boys towards the van as I lingered with Owen. "Go wait with Claire...I'll find you before we leave." He assured me, nodding his head in the direction she had just disappeared in. I hesitated only for a second before turning away from him so he could have time to do what needed to be done.
Claire was just closing the heavy doors of the back of the van, and I caught a glimpse of Gray and Zach looking unsure before the doors were shut. She turned to look at me, shaking her head.
"My sister is never going to let them come near me ever again after this."
I snorted. "Stop it, that's not true. Their parents will probably just be happy to see them."
She leaned against the back of the van, looking drained, which was exactly the way I felt. It had been the longest day of my entire life. "I hope this works."
"You and me both." I muttered. "For the sake of all of us on this island. Did you ever get ahold of Violet?" I asked suddenly.
"I called her and told her what was happening. She said she was going to get as many people as she could and head down towards the docks, to wait for the next boat whenever that might be." Claire said.
I sank back against the van, relieved that at least one person I cared about but was somewhere remotely safe. At least much safer than where the rest of us were.
"Are you worried about him?" Claire asked. I glanced at her, taking in her wary, but concerned expression. I hesitated before nodding, anxiously chewing my lower lip. "You've seen him out there...he's going to be fine. And I really hate to say this, but I might've changed my mind. I guess he's not so bad...he's done a good job at keeping us alive."
A laugh bubbled up inside me, escaping before I could stop it. Claire looked at me in surprise, but cracked a smile. "That's the nicest thing you've ever said about him."
She shrugged. "See? Even the ice queen is capable of change."
A small smile played about my lips. "Even though this is the worst possible situation for any of us to be in right now, I'm glad you're here."
Claire scooted closer to me, letting her head drop onto my shoulder. "I'm glad you're here too."
We stayed that way, watching as the uniformed men loaded a military style jeep with weapons, attaching huge flood lights to the roof. Each of them had an impressive looking gun slung over their shoulder. For whatever reason, though, none of this put me at ease. They had absolutely no idea what they were walking into. Owen had been right. Ingen cared nothing for learning about the animals they created. They just cared about finding ways to manipulate them to fit their own needs.
Claire suddenly straightened up and I glanced in front of us to see Owen making his way towards us, a grim expression on his face. He handed a tablet to Claire after pressing the on button. Four different screens popped up. "Each of the girls has a camera attached. You'll be able to watch everything from here." He explained.
This both made me feel relieved and anxious. I hoped I wouldn't have to see something I didn't want to. Owen suddenly gave Claire a pointed look and she sighed, disappearing around the side of the van. I heard a door slam shut after she had climbed into the driver's side. Once we were alone, he took my hand and led me a few feet away, into a shadowy corner near the cage where no one would see us.
He turned his eyes on me, but I was already talking before he had a chance to even open his mouth. "I don't like this." I admitted. "The idea of you going out there scares the crap out of me." It had been hard enough watching him in the cage with them once. This was a whole different playing field. There wouldn't be bars, or walls, or any place to hide if the raptors decided they didn't want to play Hoskins game.
"I don't like it either, but it's not like I have much of a choice. I know those animals...it's better for everyone if I'm there for this." He said quietly, voicing what I'd already told myself.
"I know that, I do. I'm just worried." I sighed.
"You don't need to be. Nothing bad is going to happen to me." He argued lightly.
I scowled at him. "Don't say things to make me feel better. You don't know that. Of course I'm gonna be worried...my boyfriend is about to ride off into the night with a pack of velociraptors and do battle with a genetically modified monster! If something happens to you, Owen, I don't know what I'll do." I said, the words rattling out of me in one breath. I saw the surprise register on his face and too late realized what had slipped out of me. I felt my cheeks flush.
"Did you just call me your boyfriend?" Owen asked, perking a single eyebrow.
I gaped at him. "Seriously? Out of everything I just said, that was the one thing you got out of it?"
His lips twitched before he was pulling me towards him, pressing his mouth hard against mine. It was quick and to the point, both of us aware we didn't have much time. His hands pressed against to small of my back, calloused fingertips brushing against the stretch of skin between my shirt and jeans. I cupped his face in my hands as we pulled away, my thumbs grazing the stubble on his cheeks. "Be careful out there, Grady. I mean it." I said softly.
"I will." I could feel his warm breath against my skin as he swiftly pressed his lips to mine one last time before untangling himself from me and taking a few steps back in the direction of the convoy that was gathering nearby. "And just so you know, we are finishing that conversation when I get back." He flashed me a very Owen-like smirk before turning around and jogging away to meet up with the others.
I stared after him, a tidal wave of conflicted emotions washing over me. How he was so capable of making me feel so many things at once, I had no idea. As I watched him swing himself onto his motorcycle and rev the engine, I no longer regretted letting that one troublesome word slip out of me. In the grand scheme of things, maybe I'd given Owen extra incentive to come back alive and in one piece. Regardless, it had been a small admittance of the way I felt about him and that was something I didn't want to take back.
I turned and ran back to the van, sliding myself into the passenger set. Claire glanced at me before scooting closer to the middle, holding out the tablet in front of her so we both could see it. "This is it." She said quietly. Right now, all we could see on each of the screens with the inside of the metal stalls.
"Is he gonna be okay?" I heard a tiny voice ask. I glanced over my shoulder to see both Zach and Gray peering through a tiny, rectangular hole in the barrier that divided the cab from the rear of the truck. His blue eyes were wide, full of innocence and fear. Even his brother, who had done such a careful job of always rearranging his features to show nothing, had let his guard down to showcase his own worry. I gave them both what I hoped was a brave smile. "Of course he is. If anyone can do this, it's Owen."
"They're out." Claire suddenly said in a clipped, low tone.
I spun around in my seat, eyes falling onto the tablet in her hands. The sounds of engines roaring to life filled the air as the convoy rushed past. I was surprised I could hear anything over the pounding of my heart. On the screen, the four raptors whipped easily through the jungle, weaving effortlessly around the thick vegetation. They were fast, and more nimble than I'd expected. I'd never seen anything like it in my entire life. Having been up close with the raptors while they were caged and confined was one thing, but seeing them in action made my head spin.
My breath hitched in my throat as Owen appeared on one of the cameras, leaning close to the handles of his motorcycle as the four creatures he cared for the most raced along side him.
"Jesus Christ." I whispered weakly, letting my head fall back against the headrest. Seeing him surrounded by danger on every side was more terrifying than anything I had already endured that day...which only seemed to make the massive, looming intensity of my feelings for him that much more tangible.
"Your boyfriend's a badass." Zach suddenly said in a tone of pure reverence.
I smiled to myself a little, but something happening on the screen of the tablet caught my attention and quickly wiped the grin from my face. I pulled it towards me, watching with bated breath and a pulse that refused to slow. For a moment, I wasn't sure what I was looking at.
"The Indominus." Claire said in a hushed voice. I could hear the shakiness in each breath exhaled as she moved closer to get a better look at the tablet.
I titled my head to one side and finally it registered. All four of the raptors were gathered around the massive clawed feet of the Indominus Rex...only there was none of the aggress and hostility I'd been expecting. And even though we couldn't hear anything, I could almost sense the calm before a storm. One of the raptor cams turned and my eyes found Owen instantly. He was surrounded on either side by Barry and Hoskins' people. Even on the less than perfect video feed, I saw the look of betrayal register on his face. He started yelling, and every man around him began firing their weapons at both the raptor and the Indominus.
My grip on the tablet turned vice like and I was only vaguely aware of Claire snapping something at the boys before sliding the divider shut. It felt like acid was gnawing at my insides, my heart felt lodged somewhere inside my throat. I watched as the chaos unfolded on each of the screens, fiery explosions of light that I knew was gunfire and explosives, glittering claws and teeth. I kept searching for Owen, but couldn't pick him out. One by one, the screens turned to static as the cameras lost power.
Claire pried the tablet from my hands before turning me to face her. "It's going to be fine, Rylan." She was using her 'business' voice, smooth and soothing but I could hear the tremors underneath. "Owen will be okay."
"What do we do? I mean, what am I supposed to do? He's out there and-" I was stammering. I felt suddenly out of control of myself as my hands trembled. I scoured the cab for something to do, anything to do to keep busy and keep my mind from completely losing it.
"Owen said if things got bad to go! So that's what we need to do! Okay? Rylan?" I glanced at her and saw the worry creasing her brow.
I nodded numbly. "Just...give me a second." I pushed open the door of the cab.
"Rylan, no! Stay inside-"
I slammed the door shut on Claire's voice and slumped back against the side of the truck. I stared at the gravel as I tried to grasp for a shred of sanity or calmness. I gulped in air. Owen was out there with now five creatures bent on the killing of humans. I hoped that Hoskins, wherever he was, felt like an asshole because the next time I saw him, I was going to rip him a new one. I couldn't stop seeing the betrayal in Owen's eyes as his girls turned on him, easily replacing him with a bigger, stronger alpha. Owen was strong too, though, and I had to trust he would make it back to me alive and in one piece. For right now, he would expect Claire and I to do what we had to keep ourselves and the boys safe. An idea began to take form and I jumped at it, eager for something to keep my mind busy.
I threw open the passenger door where Claire still sat behind the wheel, looking stricken. "We need weapons. Guns." I said breathlessly. "Owen has to have some in his office. All the paddocks come equipped with emergency stock in case something happens, right?"
"Well, I mean the weapons aren't lethal. It's mostly tranquilizer darts or stun guns." She started, but shook her head. "We need to just go, though. It's even less safe out there now!"
"It'll take me five minutes, Claire." I assured her, feeling almost in control again.
"Rylan, neither of us would even know how to use those things!" She argued. She felt for the keys in the ignition, as if needing assurance they were still there for when we needed a getaway.
"We'll figure it out. Give me five minutes!" I said again.
I slammed the door shut on her a second time and raced towards the paddock. Owen's office was on the ground floor, a square room built into the concrete. I'd only seen the inside once at a glance, but I remembered the towering, metal cabinet shoved into a corner. It was still there when I pushed open the office door and rushed inside. I shoved aside the black desk chair and tugged on the cabinet handles. I swore under my breath. Locked, of course.
I swore I could almost feel time slipping away from me as I surveyed the room for a key. "Key, key, key." I muttered under my breath as I began rifling through papers and files on the desk. I pulled open the top desk drawer and inhaled sharply. No key, but there nestled amongst the mess of unfilled paperwork was a glossy handgun. It looked almost like the kind I'd used at the range. I gingerly took it into my hand, the weight much heavier than I expected. It was better than nothing, though. I hoped Owen wouldn't mind me borrowing it.
Holding it tightly in one hand, I swung the office door shut behind me. I almost missed the frantic, terrified yells that came from the jungle. The presence of the gun in my hand seemed strong than ever as I swung around towards the source of the noise. Not even a full second later, one of Hoksins' Ingen guys in full gear came bursting through the trees, screaming at me to run.