Life Thief

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Chapter 10

The lists of serial code printouts were long. Very long. Lyric sat unobtrusively as Brother Paphnutius patiently pored over them, hunting for the exact arrangement of numbers that matched the one printed on the small, dark-glass bottles that the squad had retrieved.

“Yes, that’s Quincy’s stuff,” Lyric had grudgingly admitted, when pressed. She did not like the Transgenic Authority men. These ones hadn’t knocked her around yet, but she still didn’t trust them. So she was quite quick to chase after Brother Paphnutius when they entrusted him with the rather grueling task of finding a match and an explanation of whatever formula was in the bottles amongst the monastery’s copious paper records.

Lyric picked up one of the bottles and held it close to her face, peering at it. The labels were really and truly blank except for the numbers. She knew enough to know that unknown substances of unknown potency and properties must be contained properly until safe knowledge could be gained of them. This was a good start, and at least they could tell that the numbers on the bottles were a use of Dr. Blevin’s coding system.

“Here we go,” Brother Paphnutius said.

“Did you find it?” Lyric put the bottle down and stood up on her chair, leaning over the desk.

“Yes, I found it,” Brother Paphnutius pushed his glasses down, turning to look at her. “Sit down… it’s not going anywhere.”

Lyric sat down, fidgeting. “What does it say?”

“984-436457912-98-2 stands for a formulated and active Mitochondrial Bonding Catalyst. As opposed to a raw catalyst that hasn’t been formulated with subject mitochondria. Look that up, if you please.”

Lyric grabbed the copy of Dr. Blevin’s Formulas for Transgenic Protein Manipulation that was sitting in the stack of books they had taken down from the shelves. Flipping through the book’s index, she started turning pages, looking for relevant information.

“Mitochondria,” she read, “supply power to the cell and are intimately involved in its metabolic processes, including the selection of which cells are to be programmed for mitosis and which to be programmed to die. Their high energy conversion processes greatly increase the speed at which affecting species can mutate the DNA. Because of this, surrogate programs to alter or even entirely replace cells and their structures can be fairly easily inserted into the mitochondrial DNA through a formulated injection. What follows is a list of the most common surrogate programs…”

Lyric trailed off, skimming the text. “Oh, here it is. Mitochondrial Bonding Catalyst. This programs the mitochondria with new mitochondrial DNA, essentially changing the foundation of kin recognition in the organism once the metastasis is complete. This new recognition template can be further reinforced with social cues and applied doses of oxytocin at the crucial development axes. With this technology, we have successfully mitigated much of the inherent anxiety and dysfunction in our artificially placed family structures.”

Brother Paphnutius shook his head. “Playing with fire,” he said.

“But this is for families of people that aren’t actually related to each other,” Lyric said. “You can’t use that on a dinosaur. Can you?”

“It seems Quincy did,” Brother Paphnutius said, with a rueful smile.

Lyric frowned. “They didn’t exactly act like Quincy was their mother.”

“Well, we’ve got more than one bottle here. Hand me the one with the other code on it.”

Lyric peered through the bottles until she found the one with a different number string on the end. She picked it up and handed it to him. Brother Paphnutius pushed his glasses back up and peered back down at the printouts of codes.

A couple of minutes ticked by in silence. Lyric bounced in her chair.

“Here it is,” Brother Paphnutius said. “984-436457912-34-1 stands for the Resquencer, safe imprint catalyst formulation. Oh, wow. I’ve heard of this one.” He took off his glasses.

“What does it do?”

“Look it up in the book there,” he said. “A Resequencer is a formula that triggers the growth of neural structures in response to certain stimuli.”

Lyric flipped through the book. “Here it is,” she said. “Resequencer… yes, it’s just that. And following is a list of the different formulations and their catalysts. Safe imprint catalyst. A sequence to program a neural structure that will short out all associations to hostile behavior in association with the imprinted subject. It works by imprint, not by genetic code.”

Brother Paphnutius was shaking his head, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “And we’re holding a formula like that in our hands.”

“What does that mean, exactly? No hostile behavior; so they won’t attack him?”

“Precisely,” Brother Paphnutius said. “The thought or drive to attack him would be shorted out by their neurons before it reaches any plane of action. That sort of thing was used by the Revonet on criminals and dissenters to keep them under control. As an imprint, it would work something like Cupid’s arrow.”

“Cupid’s arrow?” Lyric blinked.

“In ancient Greek and Roman myth,” Brother Paphnutius said, “Cupid, or Eros, was the god of love. He had a quiver of arrows that he would shoot at people. If you got hit by his arrow, the next living thing you looked at, you would fall in love with.”

“So with this,” Lyric said, picking up the bottle, “whatever thing you looked at, you wouldn’t be able to fight against it.”

“That’s right,” Brother Paphnutius said. “That’s a terrible power, and so easy to misuse, when it’s just in a bottle.”

“But it works on dinosaurs, too?”

“It seems so,” Brother Paphnutius said, “ to some extent. But if you think about it, these formulas would create something of a cognitive dissonance for these animals. The Revonet engineered them to attack humans—specifically, instructions were written into their DNA for the construction of a neural structure that would match the sensory stimuli of a human shape, smell, whatever, to a trigger link to the amygdala. Altering their direct kin genetics, and even programming in a contrary neural structure, isn’t going to rewrite that basic phenotype trigger. While it might override it, it’s still going to cause the animals stress because of the inherent conflict of mechanisms.”

Lyric sat thoughtfully, staring at the bottle. “Does it explain why they won’t attack me either?”

“The mitchondrial bonding catalyst might help to explain that. You’re family, aren’t you?”

“I guess so.”

“Still, if the raptors kill other humans, the imprint catalyst likely isn’t triggered by anyone but him. I haven’t any idea if the bonding catalyst alone would keep them from attacking you. It might just cause them to preference other prey.”

“They scared me. They wanted to attack me. I could tell.” Lyric frowned. “But even when they snarled at him, they never attacked him. Not once. They might claw him by accident but that was all.”

“He had some success with his idea. It’s a noble experiment, in one sense,” Brother Paphnutius mused. “But I don’t think this sort of formula is sustainable. For him to really succeed at what it seems he wants to do, the dinosaurs would have to be completely re-engineered—the code for that particular phenotype-recognition neural structure removed—and we don’t have the equipment to do that anymore. It requires computers of the magnitude that Revonet was made up of.”

“But he has the Resequencer,” Lyric said.

“He does,” Brother Paphnutius said. “That’s a very powerful formula. I’m not sure how he was able to synthesize that one with the equipment he’s got… unless he found it already formulated.”

Brother Papnutius took a piece of paper, writing down the information they had found and where in the library it was located. Then he stacked the coding key printouts up and sighed. “I’m not sure if anyone in the Undermine will find this information, or its materials, useful. I’m concerned about the Resequencer. I’m quite sure they’ll suppress or destroy that; but I hope they don’t try to duplicate his experiment.”

“It’s illegal to keep dinosaurs,” Lyric said.

“Yes, it is,” Brother Paphnutius said, “but laws can be changed.” He picked up the bonding catalyst bottle, turning it over in his hands. “What does Dr. Blevin say about the stability of these formulation? Do they expire? They must not need to be kept at a certain temperature, the way he packed them.”

Lyric leaned over the book again, propping her chin on her hands. “No, it doesn’t look like it,” she said. “Just avoid extreme heat and direct light. Otherwise the bonding catalyst is shelf stable for six months and longer if you keep it refrigerated. The Resequencer will keep for years.”

“The bonding catalyst he would have had to formulate himself,” Brother Paphnutius said. “The other…” he shook his head.

“Yeah.”

“We can’t run electricity here, for obvious reasons,” Brother Paphnutius said, “but we can pack this back up with the synthesizers and send it to the Undermine with the Transgenic Authority. They can decide what to do with it.” Reaching for the box, he leaned over the desk to pack the bottles back into it.

“But…” Lyric fidgeted.

“But, what?”

“What if they did something bad with it?”

“Why would they do that?” Brother Paphnutius straightened, smiling. “Surely they would do nothing worse than what your uncle has done.”

“That’s bad enough. And you just said it was so easy to misuse.”

“Yes, that’s true,” Brother Paphnutius said, with a sigh.

“Can’t you just get rid of it?”

“I could,” the monk said, “if I had a grave reason to do so.”

“Isn’t it grave that the raptors killed those men?”

“It’s grave that technology like this was ever used in the first place, actually,” Brother Paphnutius said. “From the beginning, man has wanted to play God. When he failed, he tried to make his own god—the Revonet. This kind of thinking is the exact same as that of what your uncle is trying to do. It doesn’t work. In fact, it very often ends in violence, dissimulation, and tragedy. A false sense that we control things—it’s an illusion. Can your uncle revert the engineered nature of these dinosaurs? Could even the Revonet predict what the life forms it made would do? Did the Mitochondrial Bonding Catalyst work as well as Dr. Blevin thought it did? Didn’t Resequencers destroy peoples’ lives, to the point where the Revonet was suppressing lawsuits?”

Lyric didn’t reply.

Brother Paphnutius gazed at her for a moment, then tapped his fist against his breast. “Forgive me,” he said. “You may be right. It may be better to keep this here.”

Lyric nodded, her eyes filling with tears.

“I’ll ask Father Columba what I should do. In the meantime, I’m going to shelve it.” Picking up the code printouts, he carried them with the box back to the shelves.

The monk’s movements were slow and quiet as he bustled around arranging the items and writing labels. The spacious silence permeated the library as it did all the monastery, and Lyric felt much better with the idea that the items wouldn’t leave this place. They might even decide to destroy the formulations and equipment. She closed Dr. Blevin’s book and sat back in her chair.

“What are you going to tell them?” she asked, when Brother Paphnutius came back over.

“I’m going to write up an analysis,” he said. “I’ve shelved the one I already wrote. This one will be something of a broad mental reservation, in which I will state that we don’t have sufficient information ready at hand in our library to understand the properties of these formulas. It will require more research. I’ll talk about the bonding catalyst, but I’m going to leave information about the Resequencer out of it.”

“What’s a broad mental reservation?” Lyric asked.

“It’s something like putting others on a need to know basis, without saying anything that isn’t true,” he said. “I think I support your concerns about this, and what the Authority might try and do with it, and until I ask Father Columba, this will be the best way to handle it.” Sitting down at the desk, he picked up another piece of paper and carefully penned out his note.

Lyric leaned back over the desk, watching. “When will you ask him?” she wanted to know.

“It’s almost time for Vespers,” he said, “so, probably after supper.”

“What’s for supper?”

“You’d have to ask the one who’s cooking,” Brother Paphnutius said with a smile, as he capped his pen. “Something healthful and strengthening, I hope. I hope that Father de Vries and the rest of the crew make it back here in time for it with your uncle, and whoever else they can rescue. We will pray. We’ll pray very much. Now… I’ll take this note to our Authority friends out there. You can come to the chapel with me, if you want.”

“Can I stay here?” Lyric asked.

“I’d rather lock up, while there’s so many people here,” Brother Paphnutius said. “We keep our doors pretty open, but we’re also responsible for a lot of valuable information and records. If you like, you can keep Brother Augustine company at the door. He’ll be on the lookout for our friends’ return.”

“All right,” Lyric sighed. “I just don’t want to talk to those men anymore.”

“I don’t blame you,” Brother Paphnutius said. “Oscar was a little demanding. The poor man is terribly worried about his colleagues that never showed up. Come on, let’s go.” He pushed the library door open, and Lyric scampered out after him, leaving the books on the table. Brother Paphnutius locked the library doors, and the two of them walked down the hall towards the front doors.

Lyric folded her arms. What to speak of Oscar’s worries about his colleagues— Quincy was out there, and no matter what the monks might say about it being his own fault, she didn’t want him to die. One or two monks, filing through the hall from various activities, headed in the direction of the chapel. The men and women—the observers—who had driven up here were also going in that direction, and so was one of the Authority men. Edward.

Oscar stood down the hall, stoically gazing out a window, his trim-bearded face flat and expressionless. Sitting on the bench nearby him was the other man, the nervous one. Jathan. It sounded like he was talking to Oscar, though they were too far for Lyric to make out the words. Oscar’s clipped replies didn’t seem very friendly.

“Good evening,” Brother Paphnutius said, as they drew abreast of the two men.

Oscar turned to face them. “You’re looking worn out,” he said. “Did you find a match for the formula?”

“I did find a match,” Brother Paphnutius said, “but not a lot of relevant information on that match. The formula is a mitochondrial bonding catalyst. It replaces DNA in the mitochondria with subject DNA to alter kin recognition patterns. How it is formulated—and more important, how it’s applied—I will have to do more research to find that information out.”

“No doubt about it,” Oscar said, frowning, “based on what Lyric here told me earlier about Quincy’s interactions with those things, I can imagine he was using such a formula to control them.”

“The bonding catalyst doesn’t exactly work like that,” Brother Paphnutius said. “It was designed and used to cement artificial family bonds between unrelated human beings. It’s unclear to me, at the moment, exactly how he was using it, or what he formulated it with, to achieve the results he got.” He held out the summary note he'd written.

Oscar took the note, skimmed it for a moment, and snorted. “Well, Jathan, what do you think?” His voice was clipped, sarcastic. “The new wave of human society’s emancipation? An army of catalyst bonded raptors?”

“Don’t ask me,” Jathan said. “I don’t even want to think about that.”

“Join the club,” Oscar said, and pulled a cigarette from his pocket. He put it between his lips and reached into his pocket for a lighter, but then he paused, thoughtfully. “What’d you do with that box?” he asked the monk.

“I have shelved the equipment and formula for now,” Brother Paphnutius said, “so that I can continue my research later. It’s time for Vespers—you gentlemen are welcome to join us. After Vespers we’ll be serving supper.” His eyes fell on the cigarette. “Please feel free to smoke, but we ask that you do so outside.”

Oscar shrugged and took the cigarette from his mouth. “Fine. Go pray. Like that does any good.”

“Don’t say that to a monk,” Jathan said.

“Oh? Why not?” Oscar turned to glare at him. Jathan glared right back, not answering.

“It’s all right,” Brother Paphnutius said, with a shrug. “It won’t stop me. I’ll see you fellows at supper. You too, Lyric.” Nodding to them, he continued on down the hall towards the chapel.

Lyric edged away, towards the front doors.

“Where you off to, kid?” Oscar raised his eyebrows, putting the cigarette back in his mouth.

“I’m going to go and watch, with Brother Augustine,” Lyric said. “For when Father and the observers come back with my uncle.”

“If they do find him and bring him back,” Oscar growled, “he’s under arrest. No questions asked. That was an ill-advised experiment, and doomed to fail. What an idiot. How many people are dead because of this guy?”

Lyric flushed angrily and opened the front doors, pushing her way out.

“Hey, kid, wait up.” Oscar strode after her, pausing once he was out on the front entryway by the balustrade to light his cigarette. He nodded at Brother Augustine. The monk returned the nod. “Any sign of our folks yet?” Oscar asked.

“Not yet,” Brother Augustine said. “Lyric, don’t go too far.” Lyric had gone down the steps and was winding her way around the outdoor bunker.

Oscar took a couple of puffs on his cigarette, watching her. “Sorry about that, kid. I’m on edge. Our men never showed up here, we’ve got nothing but some meager guesswork explaining what Quincy was doing. It obviously only bonds them to his DNA. They haven’t a qualm about killing other people.”

Lyric pulled her goggles over her eyes and walked the other way past the stairs. She didn’t want to hear any more.

Oscar was still watching her. “So that’s why they won’t attack you either, eh? You’re related. You share his DNA naturally.”

Lyric shook her head, walking more quickly. Brother Augustine kept an eye on her as she wound her way back behind the cloister where the observers had parked the other car.

“She’s upset about something,” Oscar said, dragging on his cigarette.

“Her uncle, no doubt,” Brother Augustine said. “So Brother Paphnutius hasn’t found anything useful out yet about your box?”

“Well, from what he told me, apparently it’s a formula that can be made out of a subject’s DNA, and then put into someone else, where it will alter the DNA in their mitochondria so that they become related to the subject. Makes them a genetic daughter of the subject. Quincy’s been using this on dinosaurs.”

Brother Augustine stared at him for a minute, and shook his head. “I can’t believe that actually works,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense. There’s imprinting, of course, but that’s based on sensory input that a young brain is wired to receive—“

Oscar shrugged. “Sounds to me like some kind of cell-level version of the same thing. Imprinting.”

Brother Augustine still shook his head. “These things can’t be separated into genetic components,” he said. “Living things aren’t computers where you can just swap out your software. You can perhaps change some things, but it will lack the real cohesion of an actual, fundamental design.”

“Obviously,” Oscar said. “It backfired. Quincy thinks he’s a dinosaur now, ran off into the ruins with them, and sets his pack on humans.”

“That’s what I’m saying,” Brother Augustine said, “it can’t work.”

“That isn’t true,” Lyric said. She had come back over to them.

“Look, kid,” Oscar spun around to face her. “I SAW the man who survived that attack by your uncle’s raptors. What human being in his right mind would let loose animals like that to kill people? There’s nothing natural about those animals in the first place, even if this catalyst bonding thing actually worked. You’re just bonding killers. They’re engineered killers. That’s all they are.”

“But he doesn’t think he’s a dinosaur,” Lyric said. “That’s why he’s re-engineering them.”

“He doesn’t have the facilities for that,” Oscar said. “Nobody does.” Lyric opened her mouth to speak, but he held up a hand. “That’s enough. Of course you’re on his side. You worked for him. You’re just a kid, I’m sure you didn’t mean it. So, Brother,” Oscar turned back to the monk, “how many people went down there?”

“Four,” Brother Augustine said.

“You think that’s not a crazy idea?”

“It’s what they do,” Brother Augustine said. “The observers are committed to looking out for each other—to make sure people are protected.”

“That’s what the Transgenic Authority does. I’ve never heard of these people.”

“The Transgenic Authority does a lot,” Brother Augustine agreed, “but they can’t be everywhere all the time. So all of us watch. We watch, here at the monastery—that’s how we found Lyric, here. We have coded flares we can send up if we need to transmit information. These people showed up for her sake—they find out there’s people missing down there—they’ll do what they can.”

Oscar shook his head. “My men are probably dead down there.”

“There’s always a chance,” Brother Augustine said. “Peoples’ lives are worth too much not to take a chance.”

Oscar blew out a cloud of smoke and smashed his cigarette between his fingers. “That’s what we do,” he said. “We take chances. We took one bringing Frederic here.” His voice went cold. “He was a good friend. Even dead, I wasn’t going to leave him out there. He shouldn’t have had to die like that. It’s inhuman.”

“Look,” Lyric said, pointing past the valley to the northeast. A huge plume of smoke, dark and stinging, was covering the sky.

Brother Augustine crossed himself. “That’s close,” he said. “That’s very close…”

“Too close,” Oscar said. He dropped the cigarette on the stairs and stomped on it. “That’s the wrong critter, isn’t it?”

“You could say that,” Brother Augustine said. “Tyrannosaurus ignrirugiens is the author of those smoke clouds. We know almost nothing about the animal… except that no one who has encountered one has survived.”

~*~*~

The two raptors growled and snapped at each other as they worried the bike. Past the animals, the road stretched alongside an electric railway, running between it and the plant. The lines of the construction were clean and smooth, and even in the state of overgrowth and disrepair the structures, and the precision of their intricate mechanisms, exuded a placid confidence.

“Where do you suppose the rider of that bike is?” Laura whispered.

“I doubt his chances are good,” Bryan said. “We’ll move up a little, and see if we can see anything else.” He put the car in gear, and the noisy diesel engine coughed as the vehicle crept around in a wide circle to head down the street.

The raptors heard it immediately, and they jerked their heads up, crests of feathers erect, balancing stiff-tailed on the bike. As the car moved towards them they opened their jaws in angry snarls, shrieking and hooting.

Terro peered out the window. “They’ve got some kind of harness on,” he said.

“So they do,” Bryan said. “Interesting. These must be Quincy’s animals.”

“Where’s Quincy, then?” Terro frowned.

A sudden loud metallic THUMP sounded on top of the car, and all four people jumped, startled. Fr. Antonie crossed himself, staring upward. Terro looked back towards the two raptors. They were still there, hopping up and down on the bike, shrieking and snarling. “Something jumped on the car,” Terro said. More muffled thumps and unpleasant scraping sounds sounded from above, moving in junctures all around the top of the armored car.

“Another raptor, I think,” Bryan said. He swallowed nervously. “It’s testing to see if there’s a way for it to get in.”

“It can’t get in, can it?” Laura asked.

“I don’t think so,” Bryan said. “But I’ve never had a raptor on top of this car.” He kept his foot on the pedal, accelerating towards the other two raptors. As they approached, one of them leaped—vaulting high into the air—and landed on the hood of the car. The car shook terrifyingly, wicked clawed feet gripping the steel bars that covered the windshield. The animal crouched, and a long-snouted head filled with long, sharp teeth lowered to peer in at them. Its eyes flicked back and forth between each of them. A sour, acrid smell invaded the car. The animal screamed, its jaws snapping open wide, and the car shook.

The four sat frozen; not one of them said a word. The visage was terrifying, straight out of a nightmare.

An answering scream sounded from the top of the car, above them.

“Get the dart gun,” Bryan whispered. Terro and Fr. Antonie both leaned into the back of the car. Terro pointed, and Fr. Antonie picked up the gun indicated. The box of etropine darts was right next to it. He passed them both forward.

“All right,” Bryan said, and opening the box he wrestled the gun with one arm and loaded the darts into it with the other. The raptor gripped the windshield bars with both of its clawed hands, and bracing, it jerked and pulled at them. The claws of its feet slammed through the bars into the glass, cracking it in spiderwebs all above the dashboard. The bars held firm.

“I’m not so sure it… it’s not going to get in!” Laura gasped, as the car rocked under the attacks from both sides.

“That’s why we have these,” Bryan said. He slid open a metal panel above the dash, and warm air—and the suffocating smell of death—flowed into the car from outside. He thrust the gun barrel into the gap of the panel. The animal saw it, and leaped, disappearing from their view onto the top of the car. The third raptor was nowhere to be seen, either.

Bryan handed the gun to Laura. “Hold onto this,” he said, and then he stepped on the gas. The car jerked forward, roaring up the street. The animals on its roof shrieked in protest, but it sounded like they were still hanging on.

“Oh, God, there’s the rest of them,” Laura cried. Bryan slammed on the brakes, and saw one of the animals go flying off the car, tumbling over the hood. It leaped up, screaming, and fled. Another THUMP sounded as the second animal leapt from the car’s roof. They saw the flash of its feathers and then it, too, disappeared.

Farther down the street, two more of the industrial bikes had been discarded, and the bodies of three men in protective Authority uniform lay at odd angles across the smooth sidewalks by the electric railway.

“They didn’t… eat them,” Terro murmured.

Fr. Antonie was already muttering prayers.

“One of them moved!” Laura cried. “Can we get closer? Can we help?”

“We can try,” Bryan said. He inched the car forward again, closer to the men. One of them was indeed moving, weakly reaching a hand towards the car. Bryan got as close as he could, putting the brake on, and then grabbed the gun.

Fr. Antonie twisted around into the back of the car, grabbing his incendiary grenades and his gun. Jerking his hood over his head, he joined Bryan at the door of the car.

“There are still at least three raptors out there,” Laura said.

“I know,” Bryan said. “There’s a man out there who’s still alive, too.”

Terro pulled another gun from the back, loading it.

“Be careful,” Laura said. “We’ll cover you as best we can from here.”

“Pray,” Fr. Antonie said, glancing back at her with a wry smile. “That’s the coverage we’re going to need. Him especially.” He jerked his head at the injured man.

“No kidding,” Terro muttered.

“Ready?” Bryan said. Fr. Antonie nodded. Bryan pushed open the door of the car and waited. Fr. Antonie slipped a grenade into his hand, at the ready.

There was no sound; only eerie, deserted silence. Not even the chitter of insects that you would normally hear in the woods. Far above, a flock of birds tore across the sky, their shrill cries echoing long before they reached the street. No sound or sign of the raptors.

“What a forsaken place,” Laura murmured.

“I’m quite sure that they’re still out there,” Fr. Antonie said. He kept his voice low, his eyes on the injured Authority man. “They’re waiting.”

Terro, holding his gun in one hand, tossed his dead Sinornithosaurus out the door. It sprawled through the air, tumbling over on the smooth road, leaving bits of charred feathers in its wake. It came to a rest. Still nothing stirred.

Fr. Antonie cleared his throat, then hopped out of the car. He took one step towards the dying man, then another. Nothing. He took a third step.

A raptor leapt out of nowhere from the scaffold of the manufacturing plant, streaking towards him. Fr. Antonie spun and hurled the grenade at it. Swerving, it angled off its attack and fled the projectile’s radius, even as the grenade hit the street and exploded in a wash of flaming liquid. The raptor shrieked—and then it was gone again.

Fr. Antonie ducked and ran for the injured man. Then the raptor was back—coming around the other side of the electric rail, it ran at him again. He dove out of the way, bringing his gun up—it was too close to the bodies now for him to risk a grenade. At the same moment, Fr. Antonie heard a screech and a thud behind him. The other animals were attacking the car again.

The raptor near him had just leapt—and then it tumbled, sprawling across the street. Fr. Antonie saw an etorpine dart in its flank. Good shot, Bryan, he thought. But the other animals were coming around again—avoiding staying in the sight of the open car door.

Bryan waved frantically at him. “Father! Come back!” Laura and Terro were shouting, also.

Fr. Antonie risked a glance at the man who had moved. He was still now. The door to the plant was behind him.

“No!” A sudden cry came. It was a man’s voice, ragged, desperate, coming from inside the plant. “No, not them too!”

Who—Fr. Antonie didn’t have time to wonder. He lined up his gun to one of the rushing animals, and pulled the trigger. The bullet exploded from the barrel, and the raptor went flying. He’d hit it! Burns ran along its face as it thrashed where it fell, and then went still. Then the other animal was on top of him. He barely had time to swing the gun around. The powerful jaws snapped shut on the gun, trapping the teeth for a moment, but the huge size and power of the animal knocked the priest flat to the ground. The animal jerked its neck, tearing the gun out of his grasp and flinging it to the side. Fr. Antonie’s long coat and hood protected him from immediate fatal injury from the claws that snared at him—but that wouldn’t last more than a moment. “Credo in unum Deum,” Fr. Antonie gasped, forcing his eyes to stay open. If he had to die, he wouldn’t try to hide from it.

“Not them too!” The cry came again, and then suddenly someone was stumbling out of the plant, grabbing the harness of the animal that was on top of Fr. Antonie. It was a man, lanky, limping, wearing thick gloves but otherwise insufficiently armored to be out here. His neck and face were covered in small, ragged bites that were purpling with toxicity. The raptor swung around with a screech, snapping at the man, but insincerely. The man grabbed the halter on its head, dragging it around. “Please!” he said. “Not them too! Not them! Don’t leave me out here!” He was talking incoherently, flecks of foam covering his chin, and his eyes rolling, as if he were delirious.

Fr. Antonie took the moment of the animal’s distraction to roll out from under it. Then he saw Bryan leap from the car. Together they ran for the injured man, picking him up and running back to the car. One dead. One drugged. They had a chance.

“Hurry!” Laura cried. They vaulted into the car, slinging the injured man with them. It was not the way to move someone with injuries, but they didn’t have a choice.

Bryan turned to shut the door, but Fr. Antonie stopped him with one hand. This had to be Lyric’s uncle. He leaned out. “Quincy!” he shouted. “Get in here!”

The lanky man was still holding onto the raptor’s halter, screaming at it. The raptor was screaming back, and then it swung its head hard, knocking the man over. Bryan scrambled to line up his dart gun, and fired—the raptor went down. Fr. Antonie leapt from the car. Quincy, laying on the ground, was flopping around, groaning. The priest grabbed his arm, and hauled him back towards the car. Bryan jumped out too, and helped from the other side.

They were in. Bryan slammed the door shut, and Fr. Antonie gasped, dropping back onto the floor. There was no time to waste—not for either of them. Bryan held onto Quincy, trying to hold him still as he flailed and moaned.

“These bites,” Bryan said, sweat beading down his face as he pinned the man.

Sinornithosaurus,” Terro said. “They’re poisonous. Toxins attack the nervous system… cause hallucinations… unpleasant things like that.”

“Just a moment,” Fr. Antonie gasped. Fumbling a small bottle of blessed oil from his pocket deep under the armored coat, he crawled over to the injured Authority man.

The man’s eyes still moved, looking up at him, pleadingly. Fr. Antonie carefully pulled off the face plate and helmet. Laura climbed down to help, pushing down his collar.

“I’m dying,” the man whispered. “My back is broken.”

“I was afraid of that,” Fr. Antonie whispered in return. “Are you Catholic?”

“Yes.” The man’s eyes were wide.

“I’m a priest,” Fr. Antonie said. “There’s not time for me to hear your confession right now. Make an act of contrition and I’ll anoint you.” He dabbed oil from the bottle onto his thumb and drew a cross on the man’s forehead, then on each of his eyelids. “Per istam sanctam unctionem et suam piissimam misericordiam, indulgeat tibi Dominus quidquid per visum deliquisti.

The man’s eyes closed.

“Are they dead? Are they dead?” Quincy’s frantic voice was quiet, but insistent.

Per istam sanctam unctionem et suam piissimam misericordiam, indulgeat tibi Dominus quidquid per auditum deliquisti.”

“The dinosaurs? One of them is at least. And the etorpine will keep the others down for a while if it doesn’t kill them.” Bryan readjusted his grip on Quincy’s arms as Laura moved over to help. “We need to look at those bites.”

“I don’t know much about Sin venom,” Terro said. “But we’ve got nerve toxin antidotes we could try.”

“You’ll kill him if you give him the wrong thing,” Laura said.

“He’ll die anyway,” Terro said, “if we don’t treat him.”

Per istam sanctam unctionem et suam piissimam misericordiam, indulgeat tibi Dominus quidquid per odoratum deliquisti.”

“Terro, get the atropine,” Bryan said. “And the naloxone. We’ve got to try.”

“Okay.”

“Are they dead?” Quincy moaned.

Per istam sanctam unctionem et suam piissimam misericordiam, indulgeat tibi Dominus quidquid per gustum et locutionem deliquisti.”

“Here you go,” Terro said. “And here’s the first aid kit.”

“Thanks. Laura, can you inject him? Just a little. We don’t know the dose.”

“I’ve got it,” Laura said. “Here we go… hold him…”

Outside the car, the sky went dark, as if from an impending storm. The stinging smell of smoke wafted in through the open panels.

Per istam sanctam unctionem et suam piissimam misericordiam, indulgeat tibi Dominus quidquid per tactum deliquisti.”

“What’s that?” Bryan murmured. The darkness continued to close in.

Per istam sanctam unctionem et suam piissimam misericordiam, indulgeat tibi Dominus quidquid per gressum deliquisti. Amen.” Fr. Antonie capped the bottle of oil.

“Father…” Laura was looking out the front windshield.

“Just a minute.”

“No, Father, it’s…”

An awful sound suddenly bellowed through the air, a roar that crashed like thunder, and trumpeted like the Last Judgment. It froze the blood in one’s veins, a scream of unstoppable wrath that made the shrieks of the raptors sound like the mews of kittens.

Quincy’s eyes flew open, clear.

Fr. Antonie sat back, one hand on the departed man he had been blessing.

No one moved. The stench of something burning trickled into the car along with the smoke.

Quincy glanced from side to side. His gaze fell on the first aid kit. “Are they dead?” he asked again.

“Two of them… are just tranqed.” Bryan spoke slowly, quietly.

“Give me the antagonist,” Quincy said. “Hurry.”

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