Miles West of Costa Rica
A clap of thunder sent a shock wave through the tropical jungle, dully rocking a muddy RV trailer that had been hurriedly parked between two large boulders. Although it was backed up against a cliff, the vehicle was hardly sheltered from the rain, which poured down like a cascade of high-velocity pebbles. Given the frantic nature of the scene, the raindrops were not unlike anxious fingers, tapping the glossy roof with a sense of desperate urgency. The rhythm was, in essence, a natural metronome for the vehicle’s occupants, though the tempo was far too sporadic and frenzied for their liking. Every so often, a swaying palm tree would be caught in an unexpected blast of wind, creating an unearthly wail as the pinnate leaves rattled in defiance, snapping at the storm like a pack of ferocious predators. The surrounding vegetation would occasionally be thrust against the trailer with a metallic thud, startling those inside. The impact was fierce enough to buckle the roof . . . or so it seemed.
The noise, however, failed to overpower the shrieks and gurgles that came from behind the reinforced windows.
A group of scientists and maintenance workers were frantically searching for a means to silence a meter-long reptile, whom they had recently captured. The head scientist and his female assistant were struggling to hold it still, clamping its mouth shut whenever possible, for it had chewed through their muzzle. The device was still fastened around its skull, though the front segment dangled from the reptile’s mouth like a gob of saliva.
Although it was less than a year old, the hatchling proved to be a rebellious hostage, not as lethal as its adult counterparts, perhaps, but troublesome nonetheless. As it thrashed about, its captors compensated for each movement tenaciously, just barely managing to constrain its pebbly body, which was still slick with rainwater. Whenever it made a lunge for their faces, they squeezed it reprimandingly, though the assistant would sometimes offer random phrases of gentle reassurance to lessen the cruelty of the gesture.
The lesser scientists would often flinch at these potentially hostile movements, latently preparing themselves for an unprecedented escape. They remained tense long after these brief intervals, watching the creature out of the corners of their eyes. Their anxiety did not remain unnoticed by their supervisor, however, who used their fear as a sordid motivator.
“Don’t let the little bugger distract you, folks; it only gives the pack more time to plan an ambush. Let’s shut him up so we can put some distance between us, eh?” a brawny engineer prompted.
A few scientists cringed at the man’s comment. There was no way they could delay the trailer’s discovery; it was far too late for a silent escape, and the creature’s vocalizations had nothing to do with it. Had they captured any other infant, as they had done countless times before, they would be as safe as was possible on a dinosaur-infested island. He wasn’t the largest theropod they had wrangled- not even close- but the species’ deadliness was not dependent on brute force alone.
Because they had not prepared themselves for anything more than a grab-and-go mission, the researchers were the quarry of a relentless foe, and everyone knew it. No one was safe as long as they remained stationary beside the crossroad, and the pretense of subtlety was nothing more than a dubious façade to the panicked scientists.
The maintenance workers, on the other hand, seemed to believe the engineer’s claims, though they lacked the competence needed to contribute to the endeavor.
It was clear that someone would have to decide upon a course of action.
Whether or not they could access their destination by speeding across the most direct path was becoming irrelevant as their assailants drew near. The longer road, though more concealed, was hazardous in rainy conditions, but they were somewhat equipped for this type of vehicular travel. Neither option was completely viable, given the cunning of their adversaries and the unpredictable weather. Whatever the case, they would have to motor it if a consensus couldn’t be reached.
Without warning, their situation became much, much worse. The back half of the trailer suddenly lurched into a squelchy dike, splashing the bumper with putrid water. Those who were close to the walls grabbed counters and ledges for support. A toolbox smashed open with a frightening bang. The scalpels inside slid across the floor one by one, clattering against the back wall noisily, creating a cacophony of percussive rattling.
After a couple of half-hearted wobbles, the RV finally settled itself in a precarious, slanted state. A temporary river had formed at the base of the cliff behind the trailer, and the earth beneath the back wheels was slowly washing away.
“Someone, get the tow rope!” the engineer shouted.
The scientists froze. Some shuffled backwards sheepishly, others stared at the man with utter disbelief. Surely, he didn’t expect . . .
“You, Joe! On your feet!”
The conscripted mechanic shook his head fiercely, but his reluctance was soon dismissed. Before he could protest any further, he was shoved out the door, still whimpering, into the rainy darkness.
With Joe gone, a sudden hush swept over the scientists. The baby dinosaur was no longer screaming. It sat quietly in the scientists’ arms, chirruping pleasantly. Somehow, this was less reassuring than before.
“Alright men, keep it moving! We don’t want to get behind schedule!”
Although most personnel obeyed his commands, some stared ominously out the front window, waiting for the inevitable tragedy to occur. They had seen death before, but they were never quite ready for it, nor had they been completely desensitized to gore and violence. Through the front window, they tried to get a good view of the jungle, but the rain was thick, and it was nearly impossible to see through the dense, silver curtain of vapor.
One spectator turned to his friend and began to place bets on how long Joe would survive. He was joking, of course, but they still agreed on “less than five minutes”. Morbid humor was hardly a rarity in such tense environments, but there was a hint of seriousness to this particular gag. Rather than dwell on it, the scientists focused their attention on the engineer, who was presently yelling at them.
“Quit gawking! We have work to do! Get your rears into gear, people!”
They obeyed. Fumbling through the drawers with lithe movements, they ducked out of the engineer’s line of sight.
“That’s more like it! Well, I’ll be damned! Johnson found a rope! Tie the little sucker up, boys, and for the love of god, someone tell Joe to hurry u-”
The trailer rocked. Suddenly, the researchers were paralyzed with fear. Even the engineer seemed petrified. After a moment of silence, he attempted to resume his authoritative instructions.
“It was nothing. Forget about it. We-”
Before he could finish, Johnson turned him around with his free hand. There, sliding down the front windshield, was a bloody stub of an arm.
“My god . . .”
“Is that? . . .”
The engineer turned sharply.
“Move! Move! Move!” he bellowed.
The man in the driver’s seat slammed his foot on the gas pedal. The wheels spun uselessly. The engineer knew that they would need to conserve their fuel, seeing as they had no idea how long it would have to last, but if one of those raptors breached the fragile windows, they wouldn’t live long enough to burn their supply.
“Hey, Simon! Any chance you could get us moving?” the engineer shouted.
“You want to get out and push?” Simon snapped.
The engine’s roar, combined with human shouts and raptor cries, was loud enough to force any coherent thoughts to dissipate upon arrival. The personnel, who had once (for the most part) graduated with distinction, were now as competent as lobotomized pigeons. It was a chaotic scene.
Then, for a brief moment, the raptors went silent, except for the baby in the back area, who had resumed his wailing. A single cry emerged from outside the vehicle, followed by silence, save for the constant revving of the engine and the shrieking infant. The head scientist scanned the room with a scowl, holding his index finger over his lips. His assistant was shaking fiercely, but she managed to catch Simon’s eye. He stopped revving the engine as everyone listened intently.
The baby emitted a short, shrill call. From outside, a similar response, then silence. A single raptor stepped into the light of the back window. She moved forward with a calculated prowl, prodding the trailer with her snout to find a weak spot. She raised her head when she reached the window, her breath fogging the glass with each puff.
Suddenly, she backed away. The scientists, who had been frozen with terror, began to let their guard down.
The first impact of four raptors simultaneously ramming the back wall rocked the RV, knocking anything loose across the floor. Everyone scrambled to their feet, bracing themselves for the next attempt. The second impact came, and with it, a large crack in the back window.
“Simon, get that engine revving! We’ve got to move!”
Simon gunned the accelerator.
Then came the third, hardest, most brutal impact. The force, coupled with the aggressive revving of the engine, dislodged the RV from the dike and sent everyone to the floor again, as they had been bracing for a short thrust, and were therefore caught off guard by the sudden movement of the vehicle.
As much as they wanted to get away from the raptors, their chauffeur could only drive around 45 km/hour safely. Driving at night in a jungle with torrential rains meant that any slight mistake on his part would send the RV straight into a tree, and that would certainly mean being overrun by raptors . . . or instant death, if they were lucky.
The engineer was once again on the verge of an outburst, but Simon didn’t need reminding. He set the RV in motion, conscious of his speed, but more aware of the teeth and claws behind him. They barreled down the long route, bobbing up and down with the trailer like hula dancers.
Somehow, Johnson had managed to tie the baby raptor down, meaning the head scientist and his companion were free to move around. They could see the raptors running a car’s length behind them. Unfortunately for the scientists, they were having no trouble closing the gap. The chieftain of the velociraptors made a lunge for the vehicle, but missed.
“Do you think those raptors are doing sixty?” the assistant ventured.
“Are you serious?” the head scientist spat, “This isn’t exactly an ideal time to clock their speed!”
“That’s not what I meant,” she snapped as she stumbled through the crowd. She pushed her way past the frazzled scientists, making her way towards Simon, who was still driving like a madman.
“I have a plan. Boost us up to sixty,” she commanded.
“This part of the road runs straight for quite a while . . . Just do it!”
He shifted most of his weight to his right foot, accelerating them brutally.
“I sure hope you know what you’re doing . . .”
Within a short amount of time, they began to match the raptors’ current speed.
“Are you crazy?” the head scientist shouted, having just noticed the absence of his partner, “We can’t outrun them!”
“We don’t have to,” she replied smugly.
Suddenly, sirens began to blare over pole-mounted loudspeakers.
“Ha-ha! We triggered the speed-radar!” she whooped.
Sure enough, the raptors were backing off. They seemed to think that the humans had called for backup, or were at least alerted to their presence. They had broken formation, unfocused and confused.
“We lost ‘em! Good thinking, Kibbledimpsky!” the engineer said brusquely.
Before she could finish, Simon slammed his foot on the brake pedal, as they had mistakenly approached a hidden intersection. The trailer rolled onto its side, spiraling in the mud like a spinning bottle. It stopped when it came into contact with a decaying log, which penetrated the front windshield, nearly impaling the scientists like skewered meat. Most personnel managed to avoid the tree. Simon, however, was not so lucky. A small branch pinned his shoulder to the wall like an entomologist’s prized specimen, nearly cracking under his weight. He began to bleed profusely. The other scientists, who were not severely injured, crawled through the shattered windshield to escape.
“Head for the jeeps! Leave the raptor!” the engineer shouted from the overturned vehicle.
With these words, the adult raptors, who had been watching the scene with primal curiosity, began to advance towards the trailer. The head scientist and his assistant were hobbling away from the scene together, both limping badly. They turned toward the wreckage with morbid awe.
“My god, they understand!” the assistant whispered.
They flung themselves into a jeep, which had been parked beside the maintenance garage, just as the raptors reached the RV. As they drove away, they could hear Simon screaming. He gurgled, and then was gone. Many scientists closed their eyes or bowed their heads, but Johnson was too busy to notice their despair. He had brought the raptor along, unbeknownst to the pack, and against the engineer’s will. His co-workers seemed displeased with his actions, but they were too shaken to come up with a reprimanding lecture.
The scientists sped off in their Wranglers, now fast enough to outrun the raptors. With heavy hearts, they mourned the loss of their friend. The baby raptor howled like a phantom, lost in the darkness and unheard by its kin.
One thing was for certain: it was going to be a long night.