Dominant Species

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River Run

Josi ran back to the tent, thankful that it was tucked next to the cliff overhang and was in the shade. She could hear the cries of pain from Britney and Bethany before she got there. When she opened the tent screen, she saw that Willow and Cheyenne were tending to them, keeping their foreheads damp and the burns cool. “The guides went for help, and I got the first aid kit. How are they?”

Cheyenne looked distraught as she reported what they had found. “They both have first degree burns over about half their body, with some of that being second degree. We’re already seeing blisters forming on the bad areas.”

“Don’t pop those, just leave them alone.” Josi had done the most work in first aid, even taking wilderness first aid courses.

“We know. We’ve been treating the burns by keeping the affected areas cool, using river water and soft cloths. It isn’t working well, though. Both girls are running a temperature, I don’t know for sure, but it feels high.”

Josi put the back of her hand gently to each hip, knowing that the burned skin would be flush and wouldn’t show their real temperature. They were hot, probably above 102. She could already see the swelling beginning on the hands and feet. “How about their eyes?”

“Bethany can’t see anything, she said it’s all black. Britney can still see, but it’s all fuzzy. She can’t make out anything.”

Josi opened the first aid kit, at least it had some ibuprofen. “Give them each two of these. It might take the edge off for a while.”

Cheyenne laughed. “This is a fart in a hurricane. We need to get them to the hospital. They are in bad shape.” She looked back at them, they were trying not to move, but the pain was so bad they almost had to. “When will we get help?”

“Probably not until after sunset. Our guides have to climb back to the road and run eight miles back to the landing. Unless they get lucky and get a ride, it will be a while.” She thought for a while. “Rose’s cellphone didn’t work, and mine didn’t either. Can anyone get their phone to work?”

Willow shook her head. “Nope, I checked all of them, they won’t do anything, not even turn on. It’s weird, why would all of our phones break at the same time?”

“I have no idea.” They did what they could to keep them comfortable through the evening, but they were getting worse by the hour. Willow brought in the stew that was simmering by the fire, but the girls had no appetite. They were having difficulty swallowing the bottled water Josi insisted they drink. Their throats were dry and scratchy, their lips chapped and turning black.

It was starting to get dark, and none of their flashlights worked.

They collected some driftwood and moved the cooking fire closer to the tent so the flames could give them a bare minimum of light to allow them to keep treating their friends. It would also help them be spotted by a helicopter if they used one, and Josi anxiously listened for the sound of someone, anyone, coming to help them.

All she heard was the river. Even the insects were quiet.

As it got dark, she took charge. “We need to get some sleep; we don’t know how long it will be until help arrives.” She didn’t want to say IF help arrived, but she had a bad feeling. “Cheyenne, you take the first shift. Keep the fire going, monitor the twins, and do what you can. I’ll take the next shift, wake me up in a few hours. Willow, you have the late shift until sunrise.” She looked at her friends; she had to stay composed. “I know this is tough, but we have to work together to get them to help. All right?”

The other two girls agreed, and soon Willow and Josi were curled up in their sleeping bags, hoping to get some rest.

It was the coughing that woke Josi up. The hard, cough a lung out kind of attack. She looked over to Bethany, who was starting to convulse. Quickly, she was out of her sleeping bag and next to Cheyenne.

“Shit, she’s coughing up blood.” Cheyenne used a cloth to wipe it from her face, but more was coming up, and she was starting to choke on it. “Quick, help me roll her onto her side.” Working together and trying hard to avoid the burned areas and blisters, they rolled her onto her left side and placed a rolled up towel under her head. She continued to cough, and her breathing was becoming difficult.

Josi was running out of hope. Her friends belonged in Intensive Care at a burn unit, not in a tent with no supplies and no lights. What they needed was help, and they needed it fast.

She didn’t want to say anything, but without treatment, her friends might not make it until morning.

It was just past sundown when they finally got going from the North Fork pack shelter. While Marcus was gathering supplies and packing, a few men were trying to get a vehicle running without success. All of the cars and trucks had electronic engine controls and fuel injection, and all of those were dead. The only thing left that ran was an old tractor, but that wasn’t making the trip.

After shifting and getting his leg and backpack on, they left the small town and turned for the road towards Salmon. Eric and Derek set a good, even pace, a little slow for them but enough that Marcus could keep up. It was when they got to the main road by the landing that everything changed.

Derek froze, his nose high in the air, sniffing frantically. Eric ran up to him and started doing the same. They took off down the driveway to the river outfitting company, barking and trying to trace the scents. Marcus sat at the road for a few moments, wondering what the hell was going on. With no Pack link, he had to watch and wait until one of them would shift and explain.

The wolves circled the small shop building, paying particular attention to the area in front with the picnic tables. They followed the scents from the parking lot to the building, but they finally ended up in the sand at the river bank. Both were frantically sniffing footprints leading to the river, then howling in frustration as the trail went cold at the river. Marcus trotted down, figuring they were done and would explain now. They didn’t.

The twins looked at each other, looked down the river, and took off down the trail. Marcus looked at them, his body language saying “Wrong way,” but after a minute he sat down. Go back and report to the Alpha or stay with the brothers on their detour?

Their excited yelps as they ran along the river convinced him to follow. He got up and followed, his artificial leg making a clacking noise as his other three paws worked almost soundlessly to carry him along the dark path. There was a three-quarter moon just rising, with his wolf eyesight he had no problems with the trail. His nose told him he was on the right track. He tried to sort through the lingering scents along the river but couldn’t figure out what it was that had set the boys on this path.

After five minutes of running, he was suddenly upon Erik’s wolf, who was staring down into a canyon by a bend in the road. He saw Derek coming back up, shaking his head side to side as he looked directly at Marcus. Moving to the edge, Marcus looked down to see two humans, a young man, and a woman, lying broken at the bottom of the rocks. He took a deep sniff, the blood was hours old, and he could already smell the decay. He moved along the road to the other side, his nose to the ground picking up their trail. He followed it as they walked straight, despite the road curving sharply to the right, until he was at the edge of the cliff. He could see the stains of their blood from where they had struck rock on the way down. It was a bizarre double death; why would two healthy looking humans walk right off a cliff? He shook his head and shoulders as the boys caught up to him. Derek shouldered him gently, pointing him to continue down the road as Eric’s nose pulled him further downstream along the river canyon.

Soon their wolves were back to a comfortable pace, and they ate up the miles quickly. Eric’s wolf suddenly sniffed the air, followed by Derek. Letting go a celebratory howl, they sped off into the distance and left Marcus behind. They were close enough now that the scent was fresh, and they honed in on the source like the efficient predators they were.

The twins stopped at the top of the canyon wall and looked down. They could see a large tent and a smaller one along the river, and their quarry was in the large one. With an excited yip, Derek walked along until he found a rockslide that would allow him to pick his way down to the riverbed fifty feet below them. Eric followed closely behind. Both had their ears straight up, tails high and senses tuned as they closed in on their prey. Once they had reached the sand, they sprinted back upstream along the canyon wall to the large tent shrouded in darkness.

Derek growled as he picked up the scent of fear and pain inside. Reaching up with his large paw, he shredded the mosquito netting and pushed his way inside. He ignored the scream of one woman, then the noises of another two as they woke up in sheer terror. Eric pushed into the tent as well. The three girls backed as far away as the tent would allow as the two huge wolves moved next to the injured and unconscious twins lying naked on the sleeping bags. The wolves started to whimper as they looked over the girls, smelling first their legs and licking their burns. They then stuck their cold, wet noses into their crotches, taking a long sniff and a few licks at the small area of the hip where the swimsuit had been. Finally, they moved up to their necks, sniffing and licking at the junction between their necks and shoulders. Through it all, the girls remained unmoving and unknowing of the danger. It was a small blessing, as their tortured bodies were incapable of resisting the wolves.

Suddenly, Derek howled to the stars, causing the girls to shriek in fear. He had his mouth open, sharp teeth exposed to the dim light, and before they could look away, he struck. His teeth bit deeply into Bethany’s shoulder and neck, and he held her in his jaws tightly as her blood coated his teeth and muzzle.

Eric then lunged forward, deeply biting into Britney’s shoulder, as the girls screamed in fear and Cheyenne tried to get out of the tent. A loud growl from outside stopped her in her tracks.

She looked back and wondered what was going on. The two wolves were licking the remains of the blood from the twin’s shoulders as they laid down alongside them. Josi was still backed into the corner while Willow had moved to hold Cheyenne tightly by the torn entrance netting. The girls were too scared to move and too confused to do anything. The wolves that had been so aggressive and threatening before were now treating the girls with a gentleness they had only seen from a well-trained dog.

Finally, Cheyenne and Willow looked out to where a giant wolf was staring at them. The wolf pulled at his rear leg; they heard the sound of Velcro then his leg fell off. Cheyenne was biting her lip to avoid screaming, and it wasn’t working well. The two watched in awe as the sound of bones snapping filled the air, the wolf fell to the ground and stood up as a man.

Stunned into silence, they watched as he reached into his backpack and took out an artificial leg and stepped into it, then pulled an eye patch out and placed it over his face. They didn’t look away as he pulled out a pair of shorts from his pack and pulled them up. When he walked towards them, they snapped out of it. Cheyenne spoke first. “Josi. There’s a man out here. He was a wolf, and now he’s a man. He’s a wolfman.”

“He’s a werewolf,” Willow said.

“Good evening, ladies, I’m Doctor Marcus Mendez. I’m a werewolf. And so are Derek and Eric in there.”

“Boys, get out here. We need to talk.” The two wolves looked at the unconscious women below them, then at each other before they lowered their heads and pushed their way through the torn screen out of the tent. Marcus had retrieved the packs they had dropped at the top of the cliff face and reached in them to grab a couple of pairs of shorts. He tossed them to them; the girls watched as they caught them then ran back behind the canyon wall. A few moments later, the twins returned.

“Sorry, Doc. We smelled our mates, and our wolves took over.” Derek looked sheepish, then continued. “We’ve talked to our Alpha, and he’s aware of the situation. He told us you are in charge and we are to do whatever you say.”

“For now, I want you to stay here. Get that fire going so I have more light, and try not to scare the ladies any more than you already have.” Marcus turned and walked back to the tent. “As I said, I’m Doc Marcus. My friends Derek and Eric won’t harm you. I would appreciate it if you would sit with them and let them explain what is going on. Meanwhile, I need one of you to give me history for these girls.”

Cheyenne huffed. “A couple of big fucking WOLVES bit the shit out of their shoulders!” She looked down, then looked again; the bites had already healed over, the blood had been licked clean. If not for the shiny scar tissue, they wouldn’t have known they were bitten just a few minutes ago. “What the…”

Marcus looked at her, hoping he could calm her down. “The girls are fine; the bites did not hurt them; they will help them heal. I know it’s difficult to handle. All right?” She nodded, and Willow led her out to the fire ring. They were hugging each other as they went. Marcus took a deep breath, happy that the scent of fear was starting to go away in the tent.

Marcus knelt between the two girls and felt for the pulses on their necks. Josi moved forward out of the corner as he started to examine her friends. “I’m Josi; I’ve been caring for them.” He shook her hand. “Yesterday afternoon we stopped, and the girls went to get some tanning done after the tents were set up. That was just before the sky got crazy.” She looked down at her friends. “They weren’t out there that long, maybe twenty minutes before they noticed they were burned, and I mean badly burned. Then Bethany,” she pointed to her, “said she couldn’t see anything. It wasn’t long after that Britney’s vision went too. We got them in the tent, tried to cool them down, but we don’t have anything to treat these burns. After dark, they started running a high fever; then they were coughing up blood. It’s bad… I’m worried about them.”

Marcus gripped her shoulder. “You did well with what you have.” He finished examining both of them. “The problem isn’t just the sunburn, although that is pretty bad. The real issue is radiation exposure. They are both suffering from radiation sickness.”

“Radiation sickness? From what?” Josi looked shocked. “From the sky?”

“I think so. Whether it was a huge solar flare or an attack, the result is the same. The ozone layer is gone, and solar radiation is streaming down from the heavens. Since they were in direct sunlight, they got it bad. Radiation affects growing cells the most, so it has a big effect on the skin and the digestive system. How much time did the rest of you spend in the sun after the sky changed?”

“Only a minute or two, just long enough to get them to the tents. Our tent was set up in the afternoon shade.”

Marcus looked at her face, eyes, and arm. “That was fortuitous for you. The cliff walls shielded you from the worst of it.” Taking his stethoscope out, he checked the girls over. Their condition had improved noticeably; they weren’t wheezing, and they didn’t cough up blood. “They are starting to heal now. I think the worst is over.”

Josi looked at him. “How? You didn’t do anything?”

“Their mates did.” She looked at him like he had two heads. “Come on; we should all talk. They will be fine for a few minutes; I will hear if anything changes with them.” He led the way out to the fire, which the boys had stoked with fresh wood to provide more light and heat. He sat Josi on the log to his right, the other girls to his left while the twin boys sat across the fire. He could see that the other girls were checking them out, they were young and good looking, but they didn’t return any interest. Their eyes kept going back to the tent where the Killer B’s were still resting.

Marcus looked at the group, they were not terrified, but they weren’t comfortable either. He figured he’d just come out with it. “As I said, my name is Dr. Marcus Mendez. My pregnant wife and daughter are at my home in Salmon. Let’s get the introductions out of the way, shall we?” They went around the circle, giving their names and where they were from, and that’s when he learned the girls were all close friends from their Girl Scout troop. Eric and Derek introduced themselves, they both worked as lumberjacks in the summer and as ski instructors in the winter.

Willow was first to bring up the questions. “Doc, what happened out there?”

“I was up at a clinic in North Fork, checking on a pregnant mom, when the lights went out. I’d seen TV shows on what an electromagnetic pulse attack could do, and that’s what happened. Everything electronic fried, all power lost. When I saw the sky, I told everyone to head underground.”

“Why underground?”

“Well, it doesn’t matter if it was a nuclear weapon or a solar storm, both destroy the ozone layer and release large amounts of radiation. The loss of the ozone layer is what caused the girls to sunburn so badly, and the UV can affect the corneas resulting in temporary or permanent loss of vision. The radiation effects were more extensive. It attacked the mucous lining of their stomach and esophagus and their lungs. The result was the bleeding you saw in their mouths. The fever was a result of the severe burns. You guys did well, given what you had.”

“Are we going to be all right, Doc?” Cheyenne had a look of panic on her face.

“I don’t see you with any symptoms, but we’ll have to wait a few days to make sure.” He looked at the fire. “Did you send anyone to help?”

Josi nodded. “Our guides, they left in the late afternoon.”

Derek shook his head. “I’m sorry they didn’t make it. They walked off the road and fell down a cliff; we found them before we found you.” The girls didn’t take the news well. “I’m sorry, they probably lost their vision and didn’t see where they were going. Anyone who stayed in the sunlight was in danger.”

Josi started to cry. “I asked them to go… they are dead because of me.”

Marcus shook his head. “You had no way to know. You did what you trained to do. You treated the injured and sent for help.” She leaned into his shoulder and started to cry softly; he put his arm around her shoulders and hugged her. “Sometimes, bad things happen. Trust me, I know.”

They all sat there for a few minutes before Josi sat up again. “So. The werewolf thing. Explain.”

Marcus sighed. “All right, so you’ve seen that werewolves exist. There aren’t a lot of us, and we went to great lengths to keep our existence quiet. My Pack in Salmon has 21 members, their Pack in North Fork about double that. We look like normal humans, except we can change into wolf form and back when we want.”

Cheyenne looked at the three. “So you carry the Wolf Spirit inside you?”

“You might say that. Our wolf is a part of us; more primal, more instinctual but still us.”

“So you don’t lose control to your wolf and go attacking people?” Willow was staring at the twins.

Derek looked down at his feet. “No, we don’t.” He looked up again. “We found our mates, and they were hurt and in pain. Our wolves acted to help them. We could never hurt them; they are our everything.” The girls were unconvinced. “You know wolves mate for life, right? Well, we believe that we have one other person out there who is our other half, our soul mate if you will. When we hit puberty, her scent comes into our minds, the scent of our mate so we would recognize her and claim her. When we left last night, we weren’t thinking of our mates; we were making sure Doc got home safe. When we got to the landing where you left from, we caught the scent of them. It was faint, but it was there. Our mates were out there on the water, and we knew it wasn’t safe. We… uh… “

Eric picked up the story. “We kind of left Doc behind when we took off to find them.” He looked directly at the three girls. “We didn’t mean to scare you. We didn’t notice anything except the smell of our mates. We were so happy to find them, then to find them in such bad shape; our wolves took over and did what they could to help.”

Josi looked at Doc. “How did biting them help?”

Marcus looked at the fire. “When a werewolf bites like that, it works as an infection. The saliva causes the human to change into a werewolf. It is hard on them, but the change also regenerates and heals along the way.”

“Does it hurt?”

“For me, it was like getting the bad flu- you know, the fever, the aches, and pains. It took three days before I shifted into wolf form, after that it has been great. Werewolves are stronger, live longer, and have better immune systems. As a doctor, most of what I do deals with babies and broken bones and bad cuts. Smaller things, like sunburns and small cuts, heal far more quickly than for humans.”

Josi looked at him. “Wait a minute; you weren’t born a werewolf?”

Marcus nodded. “Unlike these two, I spent the first twenty-four years of my life as a human. I found my mate when she was in wolf form, badly injured by a deer. It was she who recognized me as her mate, and when she healed up, she found me and claimed me. I’ve never been happier.”

Eric looked over. “Some of us find mates among humans, and we form that bond first, and if they want, we change them. What we did, biting them without their permission, is only done for the most extreme conditions. They are our mates, and they would not have survived without the bite.” The girls all looked at Doc, who nodded. “We will explain it all to them later, and take all the time they need to get them used to us and their new life. We only want the best for them.”

Willow snorted. “Yeah, until you get divorced. Mom talked like that right up to when Dad came home with his new woman and divorce papers.”

Marcus looked in her eyes. “Werewolves don’t get divorced. They are the other part of us. When a mate is lost, the survivor loses the will to live, preferring to join their mate in the next life rather than living without them. There is no other; no other person even interests us.”

Derek smiled. “It’s true; I’ve never even kissed another girl. I wanted my mate to be my first in everything, nothing else mattered except finding her and making her love me like I already love her.” It got quiet around the fire.

Marcus finally broke the silence. “It’s getting late, and it isn’t safe to stay out here in the open. We need to get you back to the North Fork pack shelter; it’s underground and safe. There we can get the supplies I need to take care of Britney and Bethany, and you can get some rest.”

Willow looked at them. “What if we don’t want to go with you?”

Marcus scoffed. “You’ll be dead by sundown. This stuff?” He pointed to the heavens where the aurora borealis displays were lighting up the entire sky. “This isn’t going away. No one else is coming, either. None of the cars work, there are no more helicopters or aircraft, and there is no way to even call for help. Your friends are hurt, that makes them my responsibility, but they are also the mates of my friends. That makes them family to the North Fork pack and makes you friends as well. Please, accept our hospitality.”

Josi looked at the other two. “Give us a minute to talk it over?” Marcus nodded and moved off with the boys. When she called them back, both had shifted into their wolves, and Marcus was carrying their backpacks. “OK, we’ll go with you, but I warn you- if you hurt our friends, we’ll hurt you.”

“We won’t hurt you.” He took out a pair of T-shirts. “These should be loose enough they don’t hurt them, and the boys will feel better if they are covered in their scent when they return. Let’s get them loaded. Willow, you’ll ride behind Bethany on Derek while Cheyenne will do the same on Eric with Britney. Josi, you can ride on me.”

“Wait a minute,” Josi said. “Why do we have to ride?”

“Can you see in the dark well enough to run ten miles?” She shook her head, no. “Come on, let’s go get the girls and get going. We don’t have a lot of time until sunrise, and we need to be underground by then.”

Once they were out of the canyon and back on the road, the three wolves and their five riders made good time. Willow and Cheyenne were so focused on keeping themselves and the unconscious girls upright that they didn’t get to enjoy most of the ride. Josi was having a blast, though. She had ridden a horse, but being on Marcus’ back, even with the artificial leg, was more fun. She told him how it was more of a sports car than a truck- lower to the ground, smaller but more powerful and agile. As the three wolves ran together, she felt freedom in a way she never had before.

She wanted it. Looking over at her friends Britney and Bethany, she was jealous. They got to be werewolves, they had found men who would love them like no other, and she got to return to her crap job at the canning plant. No future. No hot mate. No fun. She looked at them again, then swallowed her jealousy whole and tried to put it behind her. It wasn’t important right now, her friends would need her, and she would be there for them. They all would.

Leaning forward, she held lightly to the long fur on his chest and got her head down near his. Her feet were crossed just above his tail, with her knees gripping him just behind his chest so as not to interfere with his breathing. She looked ahead at the trees bathed in the moonlight, the river valley to the left, and lost herself in the sensation of what a wolf feels. She was getting into it when Cheyenne screamed. “STOP! Something’s wrong with Britney!”

Eric immediately stopped and lowered himself to the ground. He felt it too; his mate was fading on him, her heart was racing. As soon as Cheyenne pulled her off his back and laid her down, he was shifting. Derek stopped and looked back; Willow was looking at them with concern as she held Bethany upright. Meanwhile, Josi had jumped off and had run over to Britney’s side. She was checking her airway when Marcus crawled over and pushed her aside. “Get out the medical kit from my backpack.” He put his ear down to her chest to verify what he expected. “She’s in cardiac arrest, ventricular tachycardia. Do you know CPR?”

Cheyenne nodded while Josi slid back in with the bag in her hand. Josi took up a position by her chest, using her fingers to locate her left hand just above the bottom of her sternum while beginning compressions. “I’ll do two sets; then we’ll switch.” Cheyenne nodded as she got ready to do the rescue breaths at the end of Josi’s set. Meanwhile, Marcus had pulled a needle and a vial of medicine out of his bag and was drawing it up.

At the end of the third set, when he was ready, Marcus ordered them to stop compressions. Moving his fingers over her chest to find the spot, he inserted the needle through her chest and directly into her heart. “It’s epinephrine; normally I’d try to shock her into a normal rhythm but none of the electronics work.” When done, he listened carefully. When her heart restarted, he smiled. “That a girl, Britney. You’re not done yet.”

Eric collapsed onto the ground, shaking with emotion. His hand gripped hers, and he started smiling as he heard her heart beating strongly again. “That’s it, my love. Keep fighting.”

It was about this time that the girls realized they were in the middle of two hot naked guys. Giggling, they looked over to where Willow was still sitting on Derek. Josi broke the silence. “Doctor Marcus, is she going to be all right?”

He sighed as he put everything back in his bag. “They aren’t out of the woods quite yet. The damage they received from the sun was pretty extensive, and the change from the bite will hurt more than help at first.” He moved over to examine Bethany on top of Derek. “She is doing better already; her heart and lungs are stronger. We need to get them back to the clinic so I can get some IV’s into them.”

Eric stood up. “Time to load up?” When Doc nodded, he smoothly changed into his wolf and yipped at Cheyenne when he was ready. She helped Josi get Bethany back on, then moved behind her to hold her in place as the wolf rose to his feet. While this was happening, Marcus had shifted back to wolf form and yipped for Josi to help him put his leg back on. Once she was done and had the backpack on, she hopped up and took her position. Derek let out a low howl, and they started, soon reaching a good pace. It was time to get home; they could see the first signs of dawn to the east.

Miles to their south, another werewolf was watching the dawn approach with much more apprehension. Rachel was walking along the front porch of their house outside Salmon, her eyes to the north where Marcus would be coming. She knew he wasn’t close as he hadn’t contacted her via their mate bond yet. She started to cry as the realization came that he wouldn’t be home before daylight, and she had no idea if he was all right.

Her distress was noted by her brother Reggie. He was two years older, and they had always been close. “Hey, sis, Marcus knows what he is doing. He’ll be fine. They probably needed him up at North Fork.”

Rachel dropped her arms to her side and turned to him. “I know that up here, but here,” she pointed to her heart, “here I’m worried.”

Reggie took her in his arms and held her as she cried into his T-shirt. “I know you want to watch, but we have things to do before we close up for the day. Did you go through your house and move everything to the safe room Dad ordered?”

She nodded. “All the canned food and dry food, bottled water, and medicine are down there. We did what we could to make things more comfortable. I talked to Mary, we are going to use their shelter for storage, and both of our families will be staying in my shelter. Are you settled?”

“Yes, I’m staying with Mom and Dad at their shelter. We did good tonight, we got a patrol out, collected what we needed, and had one hell of a barbecue.” The Pack members had fired up every propane and charcoal grill and smoker they had, and the whole night was spent cooking the meat that was going to spoil soon. They were all full. “Are you going to be all right? I have to get back; we’ll have a leadership meeting over the bond soon. We have to talk about what we saw out there on the road.”

“What is going on?” Reggie had blocked his link from the Pack most of the night as he and Louis were on patrol around their compound.

“Things… they are bad out there, Rachel.” He looked out at the road. “Nothing is moving out there. The humans, they are in bad shape. The ones on the road are all dead, or blind and about to be dead. We checked some houses, and unless they stayed inside and underground, they aren’t going to make it. A few more days like this, and there will be hardly anyone left.” She shuddered in his arms, thinking of all the people in the town they knew who were gone or facing death. “The worst part is, I don’t think we can do anything about it.”

She stayed for a moment longer, taking comfort in his familiar scent. “You should be going then. I’m going to check on the pups.”

He went back to where he had dropped his backpack and pulled out a half dozen boxes. “Here, for your shelter. Don’t worry about it, a delivery truck broke down a few miles outside of town, and they won’t be missed.”

She looked at the boxes, several of Twinkies while also some cupcakes and Ho Hos. “Thanks, bro. You know this isn’t Zombieland, right?”

He shook his head. “Not yet, but soon.” He turned and walked away as she took one last look at the horizon.

Marcus led the group back to the small mountain town of North Fork. Alpha Calvin and Beta Donald met them outside, and behind them Marcus could see a makeshift triage center. He sniffed, humans. Lowering himself to the ground, he let Josi off and she removed his artificial wolf leg before he shifted. She had her back turned to him as she dug through his bag, handing him his artificial leg and a pair of shorts and T-shirt. While he was dressing, the women of the Pack had taken Britney and Bethany and carried them over to waiting blankets on the grass.

Marcus looked around, there were a dozen humans here, and all looked to be in bad shape. “Friends of yours?”

Alpha Calvin nodded. “Our Pack has been in this town for a long time, and we were about a fifth of the population of 200. The humans here are our friends, coworkers and neighbors.” He looked around with a look of loss. “While we were underground, they were dying. Tonight we went through the town, these thirteen are the only ones still alive.” Tears started to flow down his face. “The rest, well, that is what the pyre is about.”

Josi’s voice caught as she did the math. “So out of a hundred and sixty people, there are only thirteen alive?”

Beta Donald nodded and pointed to the other side of town, where a large fire was burning. “Yes. We couldn’t leave their bodies to rot, so we piled them up and we’re burning them now. We can’t stop that, but we wanted Marcus to look at the ones who are left.”

Marcus grabbed his pack and went to the line of humans. “I’ll need help, and supplies from the clinic.”

Josi looked at him. “I’ll help, just tell me what to do.”

“Can you take a blood pressure?”

“Yes, they taught me in EMT training.” Marcus raised an eyebrow. “I haven’t taken the certification tests yet but I completed the training last week.”

Marcus looked at her. “Congratulations, you’re end of the world event certified. Take their pulse, BP and respirations as best as you can. Write that down as you go down the line ahead of me. Willow, Cheyenne, come with me.” He knew better than to ask Eric and Derek, they were taking their mates down to the shelter with the rest of the Pack as dawn approached.

Marcus walked into the room they used as the Pack clinic. Looking around in the near darkness, he found some cardboard boxes and started emptying cabinets into them. “Take these outside for me, tell the men they are to go down into the safe room.” They left as he finished restocking his travel kit.

By the time he returned to the humans, Josi was halfway down the row. This was triage; he was going to quickly evaluate each person’s injuries and chances before he made a decision about who to treat first, and who treatment wouldn’t matter for. Their fate would be determined in about thirty seconds, recorded at the bottom of the paper tag Josi had attached to their toe. Marcus hated it, but he was realistic; with power and electronics gone, he was very limited in what treatment he could give. Injuries like Britney’s and Bethany’s should be treated in a major hospital burn unit, not by the side of a building lit dimly by torches.

He was halfway through when he started to examine a young girl, maybe five years old. As he opened her eyes to check for blindness, she screamed. “Who are you? Where’s Mommy?”

Marcus smiled at her. “I’m Doctor Marcus, I’m here to help you. Can you tell me your name?”

“Maggie. Where’s Mom?”

“I don’t know, I just got here a few minutes ago. Can you tell me how many fingers I’m holding up?”

“Three.” Marcus smiled. “It’s a little fuzzy but I can see better now.”

“Do you hurt anywhere other than your head, arms and legs?” He had checked, she had minor burns in those areas but nothing worse than a bad sunburn.


“All right then.” He waved Willow over. “Can you give her a water and some ibuprofen, then ask around for her mom?” When she took her, he moved on. By the time he was done, he had to seek out Alpha Calvin again.

The Alpha was directing men who were moving supplies from the one store and the houses in town to the building they were using as a shelter. He could see he was focused on food, medical supplies and bedding, which made a lot of sense. He looked up as Doc approached. “What’s the verdict, Doc?”

Marcus leaned against the doorway. “It’s not good. Two, including Maggie, are minor cases and should be fine with rest. Another three won’t make it to lunch and most of the rest won’t last a week. Unless…”

“What? What do you need?”

“Unless you change them.” Beta Donald walked up as they talked. “Look, I know what our laws are. They can’t give consent, they aren’t mates like the two girls were, but the same need applies. If you want them to live, you have to turn them. Not all will survive the change, but without it… you’d be saving eight of them a long painful death by just shooting them now.”

“What about the ones who aren’t as bad?”

“That’s up to you. They’ll survive, they may have permanent scarring and blindness. Changing them now, with consent if possible, would kick start their recovery and reverse some of the damage. It would give them a chance at a more normal life.”

Beta Donald looked around. “Alpha, like it or not, this is now a werewolf town. There’s no hiding what we are from them, nor should we. If they are to know of us, the Law says they must be one of us.”

Alpha Calvin sighed. “Marcus, how long will we have to be underground during the day?”

“I don’t know. Weeks for sure, probably months until the ozone layer recovers enough to allow people to be outside during the day for any extended period. I can’t measure radiation, so I’m just guessing on that, but I’d stay in the bunker and sleep during the day until further notice. If you leave these people above ground, they are dead by tomorrow night.”

“And humans won’t be able to function in the dark without electricity. They don’t have our wolf vision to rely on.” He walked towards the group of humans. “Let me talk to those who can, then I’ll decide.” Only two adults and Maggie were awake. The Alpha explained what they were, what changing would involve and Marcus told them what would happen if they declined. In the end, they both agreed on what to do and Alpha Calvin decided for the rest. Maggie wasn’t injured enough to need it, so she would be left alone until she was old enough to understand what it meant.

“My decision, my responsibility.” Alpha Calvin had linked to the Pack what he was going to do; if there was any blowback from the Alpha Council the punishment would fall on him and him alone. He shifted to his large black wolf and walked to the line of his friends and neighbors. Moving the blanket aside with his teeth, he bit deeply into the man’s shoulder then licked the wound clean. He did the same for the six women and three men who couldn’t consent before he got to the two women who he had talked to. “Last chance to change your mind.”

The women looked at each other, then nodded. “It’s almost dawn, please. Change us.” He bit each of them, they screamed in pain when he did but it quickly faded as he licked the wound.

Maggie came up as he was finishing and started to pet the huge wolf. “You’re pwetty.” Calvin chuffed, then licked her face. “Is Mommy going to look like you?”

Marcus picked her up and walked towards the shelter while Calvin changed. “I guess we’ll find out in the next few days. She won’t shift into a wolf until her body has healed enough to be able to handle the change.”

Maggie held tight to his neck. “Mommy will get better?”

“Yes, Mommy will get better. Now, let’s get you fed and find you a place to sleep.” Marcus was dead tired, but a long night awaited him. He would get naps in when he could.

The shelter was crowded, but quiet. The younger Pack members had been left to organize and clean while the adults were out all night getting supplies. Instead of bunks, they had filled one end of the shelter with wall to wall mattresses and blankets. The shelter was cool, and staying warm was easier in fur form. The majority of the Pack shifted and joined the rapidly forming puppy pile, sharing warmth and comfort as they slept together. Marcus, the human girls, and the injured were at the other end, oil lamps and a camp lantern providing minimal illumination. There was an old fashioned wind up alarm clock in the corner, it had the old glow in the dark hands that could be made out if you looked hard enough.

Marcus looked at the three human girls and Eric and Derek. “All right, we need to set a watch schedule. Take two hour shifts each changing at the top of the hour. You are to wake me if any of the patients are having trouble or wake up. Can you all take pulses and respirations?” They nodded. “Write those and the time down every hour on their tag. When their IV bags run out, close the valve here,” he showed them how to use it, “and wake me up at noon regardless. Everyone good?”

Josi took the first watch, as Marcus collapsed into the cot he set up nearby. His last thoughts before falling asleep were of his Rachel and Raven. Were they all right? Would he make it back to them?

Josi hummed a lullaby as her friends and the Pack drifted off to a well-deserved sleep.

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