There was no sound, only the slow, ominous crackle of a burning forest. Fr. Antonie cautiously tested his limbs. They worked, now. He pushed his hood back. The front of the car was crumpled, and he could see Bryan and Laura, at least their legs trapped by the crushed hood. They weren’t moving.
Quincy was. He had crawled back from the front, where he’d gotten flung into the windshield. The glass had shattered, but the bars still held, despite being bent and twisted by the crash. Quincy now had a long gash across his head and several bruises to add to the plethora of swollen Sinornithosaurus bites.
“They’re alive,” he said. “They’re breathing, at least. I don’t know how to tell the extent of the damage.”
Fr. Antonie searched his pockets. He wasn’t sure where his bottle of oil had gone. He maneuvered himself over towards the front seat. “Where’s the Tyrannosaurus?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Quincy said. “I don’t hear it anymore.”
“Maybe it ran off after something else,” Terro said. “I—ow, careful.” He batted Quincy off.
“Sorry, I’m trying to see if any of this stuff in the back is intact.”
“We’re lucky it didn’t blow up on us,” Terro said.
“You packed it well enough, looks like,” Quincy said, rummaging around. He sighed. “I don’t know why we aren’t dead.” He glanced back towards the front of the car, where Fr. Antonie was busy with his prayers with Bryan and Laura, taking no heed of the conversation in the back.
Terro jiggled the door handle. “Stuck,” he said.
“Precision equipment will do that when you bend it a little out of shape,” Quincy said.
“This is hardly a little,” Terro said, frowning at the door, which was thoroughly smashed within a ring of broken glass.
“Well,” Quincy said, “we’ll probably have to cut our way out through some of these bars.”
“We have stuff for that back there,” Terro said.
“I know,” Quincy said. “I found it.” Crawling back towards the door, he held out a pair of bolt cutters.
“That’ll do,” Terro said. “The glass is already broken. Come on. Soon as we can get out of here, the sooner we can help Bryan and Laura.”
Quincy planted his feet and locked the bolt cutters around one of the bars. “I’m going to get out here first and see if I can find out what happened to that ignirugiens,” he said. “Ready?” Terro nodded, and Quincy squeezed the bolt cutters. The bar sheared loose on one end with a clang. Methodically, Quincy cut the ends of each of the twisted bars, and Terro, following, pulled them free where they caught.
Finally, they had opened up a space large enough for someone to crawl through. Quincy handed the bolt cutters back to Terro. “If you can work on the windshield,” he said, “that might be the easiest way to try and get those two out of there.” Gripping the sides of the frame with his thick gloves, Quincy carefully squeezed out of the window, twisting to try and avoid most of the broken glass. Pulling himself free, he swung a long leg out, caught the edge of the gully with one foot, and jumped the rest of the way.
“You all right?” Terro called.
“Yeah,” Quincy said. “I’m fine. Just a little wobbly. My head hurts. And my ankle. Can you hand me one of those guns?”
Terro handed him Fr. Antonie’s rifle. “It’s loaded.”
“Alright, good.” Quincy lifted it up and checked it. “Not that this will really make a dent in a Tyrannosaurus ignirugiens. But with any luck, the critter isn’t chasing us anymore.”
“If you can’t make it back here,” Terro said. “We drove down from the monastery in the Pious Valley. There’s another team there, and another car.”
“Oh, I’ll be back,” Quincy said. “I’m not a fan of that monastery.”
“We have people there that can help,” Terro said.
“My niece is there, too,” Quincy said, gazing off into the burning jungle. “I hope she’s okay.” Slinging the rifle over his shoulder, he scrambled up the side of the gully. He still couldn’t use his ankle well; fortunately there were sufficient handholds along the steep rocks that he didn’t need to. He reached the top of the incline, rolling back onto the road, and climbed slowly to his feet, unslinging the gun.
The road wound steadily around the mountain, its habitual dust kicked up by the wind of the flames, mixing with the ash and smoke that billowed from the burning forest. Quincy took one step, then two. Limping, he slowly made his along the road, glancing in every direction. He heard the angry bellows of kentrosaurs in the distance, but it seemed like the fire had chased most every other living thing out of the vicinity.
A flash of colored feathers caught his peripheral vision, and Quincy spun around, bringing the gun up. A raptor shrieked.
“Sparky!” Quincy shouted.
The animal hopped up to him, and Nova was right behind it. Quincy leveled the gun at them. “Don’t even think about it,” he said.
The two raptors curved their heads around on their sinuous necks, blinking at him sideways. Nova made a little agitated quirking chirp.
“You heard me,” Quincy said. “You stay away from that car. You’re not running off with me again, you worthless wretches.”
“I mean it,” Quincy said. “You start that way, I’ll shoot.”
The two raptors hooted and snarled, and then, spinning away, they trotted back up the road, in the direction he was already headed. Quincy’s finger spasmed on the gun trigger. He ought to just kill them. He should just kill them. It was all they—and he—deserved. He knew he would have, had they headed towards the people trapped in the car below. But like this, he couldn’t quite bring himself to. He hesitated for a minute, eyeing them warily from behind, and then he lowered his gun and limped after them.
It wasn’t long before it came into view. Cresting a rise in the road, Quincy stopped short and stared at the behemoth that laid sprawled across the road, flaming like a bonfire, the burning stench of it almost suffocating. Sparky and Nova darted around it in circles, snarling and shrieking.
“How did it die?” Quincy gasped. He was stunned to see the powerful creature lying there dead. His best hope had been that it had run off after some other prey. The raptors were leaping excitedly around it, their stiff-tailed gait launching them quite gracefully in airborne pirouettes. They continued to hoot and call excitedly.
“You won’t convince me for a second that you two are responsible for this,” Quincy said. He limped closer, still looking for clues. The huge, oily corpse had burned to the point where it was hard to tell what had killed it. He couldn’t see evidence of wounds, or trauma. It was just dead—and burning. As he circled it slowly, he saw two other corpses, nearly underneath the beast. They were dead kentrosaurs. So perhaps it had been distracted—but that did not explain its death.
The bellows of the kentrosaur herd sounded again, in the distance around the mountain. Quincy stopped. The kentrosaurs. There was a whole herd of them at the monastery. And the static shock that had paralyzed Quincy and his companions might have been electrical enough to aggravate them. Leaning back on his sound ankle, Quincy started to laugh. “This thing burned like a faulty fuse even while it was still alive,” he chuckled, wiping his eyes. “The Revonet’s designs backfire again…”
Sparky squalled angrily. Quincy shook his head and looked up, picking up the gun with both hands. That was one problem down—and, granted, it was the biggest problem—but there were others. How would he get everyone safely back to the monastery? The armored car was totaled. He couldn’t trust the raptors around anybody but himself. And he still had a sprained ankle.
“Alright, kids, listen to me,” he said. The raptors, hooting at one another and jumping around, turned to glance at him. “I need you to get lost. That is, I’m going back to the car, now, and you’d better not follow me. Got it?” Turning, he limped back the way he had come. The raptors let out several more shrieks, but they didn’t follow him, instead trotting to one of the dead kentrosaurs and beginning to nibble on it.
Quincy gripped the rifle tightly as he hobbled down the road. No telling what they would do. They could disappear into the woods, and reappear again when everyone was vulnerable and out in the open. There was no way that leaving them at large out here would make the trek back up to the monastery safe.
The road curved around towards the gully that the car had crashed into. Quincy stepped up to the edge, and took another look around. He didn’t see the raptors, or anything else. Just the burning trees. Down below him, at the end of a swerving set of tire tracks splayed down the ravine, was the car. Terro and the priest had removed the bars of the windshield, and were helping Laura out. She was conscious, struggling to help them to free her legs, which were pinned under the crushed dash of the car. They had gotten Bryan out; he lay nearby, wrapped in a blanket. Quincy held the rifle over one shoulder and got down low, groping for handholds to lower himself down into the gully.
“Ow, ow, careful… slowly…” Laura gritted her teeth, her breath coming in gasps.
“Hold still, let me try and loosen it again,” Terro said, and, jumping down around to the front window, he lodged a crowbar behind the dash and pushed with all his might, bracing off of the front wheel strut.
Quincy took his time getting down to the car. No need to increase the number of casualties today. “Are they all right?” he asked, as he limped up.
“Bryan’s unconscious, but his breathing and heart rate are okay, and we didn’t see any major wounds, besides where his head hit the bars on the windshield when we crashed. Laura’s pinned. She probably won’t be able to walk.” The priest knelt by the windshield opening, his grip on Laura to stabilize her as Terro worked on prying the car apart.
“Two of us gimps, eh?” Quincy sighed.
Terro leaned back from where he was struggling with the crowbar, and wiped sweat from his brow. He looked up at Quincy. “Any sign of the Tyrannosaurus?”
Quincy smirked despite himself. “Yes. It’s dead. And on fire. Looks like a herd of kentrosaurs shorted it out.”
The priest raised his eyebrows. “Wow,” he said.
“So,” Quincy said, drawing the word out in a reluctant drawl, “the only thing we’ve got to worry about, really, are my… uh… raptors.”
“Did they follow us?” Laura asked. Her voice was thin, her face pale from pain.
“Afraid so.” Quincy leaned the rifle against the car. “Are there flares in the back, here? Some way we can signal your people?”
“Yes,” Laura said, “we’ve got all kinds of stuff.”
“One more time,” the priest said. “Terro, can you reach in there and see if her feet will move, now?”
Terro leaned in through the front window—Quincy saw they had taken the bars off of that one, too—reaching down below the dash. “Sorry,” he mumbled, as he felt around her legs.
Laura bit back a laugh, then bit her lip with a gasp. “Careful,” she said.
“You’ve got more space now.” Terro emerged again. “Should be able to pull your feet out. Just… be really careful.”
“I’m being careful,” Laura said.
Quincy limped around to the back of the car and opened the hatch. At least it wasn’t smashed. It only took him a minute to find a flare gun.
“Use the red code flare,” Terro called.
Quincy looked at the gun he held. It was painted with a strip of blue. He looked again in the back, and found other flare guns. He chose the one that had a red strip of paint and hobbled back out, away from the car. Aiming the gun upwards, with a slight angle northwest towards the mountain, he pulled the trigger.
The smell of sulphur burned through the air as a flaring balloon of some effervescent chemical popped from the gun, shooting skyward, high, high up, a brilliant flash of light illuminating the darkening evening sky. He watched its course as it soared in an arc, carrying its illumination along with it, until it curved downwards and went out. That would do it, if there was someone willing and able to come for them.
Quincy limped back to the car and replaced the empty flare in the hatch.
“We got you,” the priest said. “You’re all right.”
They had maneuvered Laura’s legs free, and were helping her sit on the hood of the car. Even from where he was Quincy could see that there was crushing damage to her feet and legs. He winced.
Laura saw it too, and promptly burst into tears, her face still white with pain. Terro knelt next to her, opening the first aid kit.
“Shhh,” the priest said. “You’ll be all right. We got you out in time.” Digging through the pockets of his coat, he took out several bottles and small books before finding a handkerchief to hand to her. She took it and covered her face with it, pressing her hands into her eyes. The priest put a hand on her head.
“We aren’t going to be able to move them,” Terro said, as he wrapped up her feet. “She can’t walk, you’re limping, and Bryan’s not conscious. This car isn’t going to run anymore.”
“Better hope someone responds to that flare, then,” Quincy said.
“Oh,” Terro said. “My hands are full, here. Can you get him some water?”
“Sure.” There were three or four bottles of water piled next to the first aid and emergency kits. Quincy took one and limped over to the big unconscious driver. Pouring some water into his palm, he sprinkled the man gently.
“My head,” Bryan groaned.
“Don’t move too fast,” Quincy said. “Are you dizzy? Can you open your eyes?”
“I don’t think… I’m going to try for another couple of minutes at least,” Bryan said.
“Take your time, no rush.” Quincy sat down next to him. He glanced up towards the road as he did so, then found himself furtively eyeing the trees. No sign yet of anyone… of anything.
“That’s pretty good,” Terro said. “You’re looking well, considering.”
Laura shook her head. “We have a doctor on the other team. I hope they show up soon.”
“I hope they do too,” Quincy mumbled.
“What’s that?” Bryan said. His eyes were still closed.
“I said I hope someone shows up soon,” Quincy said.
“Yeah,” Bryan said. “That’d be good.”
The priest dropped down beside them and sat next to Quincy. “How’re you feeling, Bryan?” he asked.
“Terrible,” Bryan said.
“How about you?” The priest nodded at Quincy. “Quincy—right? I’m Father de Vries.” He held out a hand.
“That’s right,” Quincy shook his hand, absently. “And, I’m fine. Just a little sprained ankle. And my whole face hurts.”
“Understandably. While we’re waiting, why don’t we put something on that?” Fr. Antonie glanced back at Terro. “The antitoxins seem like they’ve done their job, but those bites are going to get infected.”
“I’m almost done here,” Terro said.
“I’ll be fine,” Quincy said. He kept glancing out to the jungle, and back up to the road.
Fr. Antonie silently followed his gaze, then turned a questioning glance at him.
Quincy didn’t look at him. “Just… don’t want them to follow me back here.”
“The raptors,” Fr. Antonie said. It wasn’t a question.
“You saw them up there?”
“I did.” Quincy stretched his neck, letting the vertebrae pop.
“You had the gun. You didn’t shoot them?”
Quincy didn’t answer for a minute, tapping one foot. “No,” he said, finally.
Fr. Antonie nodded, slowly, and didn’t say any more.
“Damned if I’ll let them kill anyone else, though,” Quincy said, after another minute.
“I would hope not,” Fr. Antonie said. After a pause, he added, “Your niece is very worried about you.”
“Oh, you saw Lyric up there, eh?” A crooked smile spread halfway across Quincy’s face. “She okay?”
“Good,” Quincy said. “She’s a good girl. Just a little jumpy, that’s all.” He leaned back, and finally turned to face the priest. “How’d you know she was my niece? She probably told you, if she was worried.” He shrugged. “I hope the rest of that Transgenic Authority group made it back.”
“They did—they had lost a man.”
“They lost all the men who were stupid enough to follow me into the ruins,” Quincy muttered.
“Why did you go into the ruins, if it’s that dangerous?” Fr. Antonie asked.
“I didn’t,” Quincy said. “Not on purpose.” He frowned, his brow furrowing, as if he were bothered by what he was trying to say.
“Not on purpose?”
“Well, I don’t know what you know about Vitaeraptor, but they surprise me sometimes. Usually not in a nice way. My critters decided to drag me off on their own route. I had a sprained ankle. Couldn’t do much about it.” He shook his head. “I wasn’t geared to be in the ruins. What a damn nightmare.”
“You were attacked, by those poisonous birds,” Fr. Antonie said.
“Yes, and I don’t remember a whole lot after that,” Quincy said. “But I do remember the Transgenic Authority showing up. I’d had enough. I was going to go with them with every drop of willingness I could muster. But the raptors are wise to ‘em now. They killed all of them.” He shook his head again.
“Well, it’s what they were designed to do,” Fr. Antonie said.
Quincy looked at him. “Of course it is. You think my paltry efforts at re-designing them did anything?”
“Not much, it seems.”
“Bingo.” Quincy looked away again.
Fr. Antonie tried again. “Yet you must have been trying for something good.”
“I haven’t perfected the experiment yet,” Quincy said. “But don’t you think it’s nice, in theory, to have programmed killers like that fighting for us, instead of against us?”
“Absolutely,” Fr. Antonie said. “That’s what I thought you were going for, when you gave the raptors the naloxone, back in the ruins.”
“It was,” Quincy said. “They just don’t listen that well.” His gaze flickered back to the jungle.
“I’m done,” Terro called. “Let me get the antibiotics.”
“Take your time,” Quincy said.
Fr. Antonie nodded, and took a small bottle out of one pocket, placing it in another pocket. “I’ve neglected to thank you, by the way, Quincy,” he said. “You’ve been of invaluable assistance, in a pinch.”
Quincy waved a hand dismissively. “There wasn’t time,” he said, “but thank you all for finding me. I would have been dead out there by myself, one way or another. Raptors got nothing to treat Sin poison with, or anything else for that matter. Of course, I’ll be arrested or worse the second I step back in sight of any Authority goon. They already ransacked my operation.”
Terro walked up, and handed a tube to Quincy. “Antibiotic cream,” he said, “you can use it topically. We have plenty of bandages if there’s any larger bites you want to keep closed up.”
Quincy took the tube. “Thanks,” he said. “I think it’ll be fine.” He unscrewed the lid of the tube and squeezed out a palmful of the cream. Silently he spread it across the puffy, reddened bites that covered his face and neck.
“I’m glad to see the fires are dying down,” Fr. Antonie said. “It’s been some help to us, at least, in driving away the animals that usually lurk in the trees.”
Quincy screwed the lid back on the tube, and paused. “Do you hear that?”
Looking up towards the road, they strained to hear in the relative silence of the crackling fires. Far away, tinny and distorted as if echoing off the broad mountain peak, they heard the cough of a diesel engine.
“Thank God!” Terro said. “They saw our flare.”
Fr. Antonie stood up. “I hope they left room,” he said. “I want to try and bring our unfortunate man here, back.” He gestured towards the corpse of the Authority man, who lay stone still in the back with a small piece of cloth spread over his face and head.
“We’ll make it work,” Terro said. He went to the back hatch of the car, and started pulling out everything he could carry, slinging bags of explosives and supplies onto his back.
Fr. Antonie joined him, retrieving his own weapons. Last, he picked up the rifle that still leaned against the side of the car, checked the sights, and sighed.
“Everything okay?” Terro asked.
Fr. Antonie nodded. “Just keep an eye out. The raptors are still loose out there.”
“Gotcha.” Terro picked up the dart gun, eyeing the boxes of supplies still in the back of the car. “We’re going to have to leave most of this stuff here. Even if they’re bringing the other car, it’s going to be full.”
“As long as they don’t get hung up by the dead Tyrannosaurus. I know the sound carries in the mountains, but they should be here by now…”
“There they are.” Quincy pushed himself to his feet.
Above them on the road, a car pulled into view as it turned to follow the road that wound around the mountain. The three men still standing waved, and the car stopped, braking to a halt. Doors slammed, and three men leapt out. Two of them wore Authority uniform gear with explosives and other armaments strapped to them. The other, waistcoat and vest paired with a helmet and an armored coat sewn with strips of chainmail, presented an incongruous, but undoubtedly effective, picture. He saw the priest, and waved. “Father!” he said.
“Clifton!” Fr. Antonie said. “Thank God.”
The three men slid down the ravine, the Authority men carrying rifles. “What happened here?” one of them asked. “We saw that dead monster down the road—did it attack you?”
“Nerve shock of some kind,” Quincy said, “caused the driver to lose control. These two were injured in the crash. We’ve got another man… dead.”
“Just one?” the man said. “We’re missing three.” He eyed Quincy. “I recognize the others, but who are you?”
Quincy folded his arms. “A survivor.”
“You’re Quincy, aren’t you?”
Quincy shrugged. “Yes.”
The man stared at him without speaking for a moment, then suddenly swung his gun around, catching Quincy hard in the jaw with the butt of it. Stars flashed in Quincy’s vision as the blow sent him sprawling.
“Oscar!” The other Authority man cried. “Not now, damnit! We have injured people to move!”
Quincy winced, pushing himself up from the ground. He touched the side of his mouth—his hand came away bloody. They certainly had a knack for random violence, didn’t they? Lyric had sported a similar jaw wound. He didn’t look at the men, but continued to watch along the woods and the road. “That was not a good idea,” he said, softly, almost as if to himself.
“We’d have a lot less of them if it wasn’t for him,” Oscar snarled. “There’s worse where that came from, you son of a—“
He cut off, startled, as the priest tore the rifle out of his grip. “Enough,” Fr. Antonie said. “Do your job, and hop to it. You can vent your aggressions later.”
“Don’t talk to me like that!” Oscar roared. “How dare you! The Undermine Authority isn’t subject to your papist tyranny, and we’ll keep it that way!”
Fr. Antonie didn’t answer. He handed the rifle to the other Authority man. “We have to move,” he said, in a low voice. “Those raptors aren’t far off.”
“Listen to me, Oscar.” Clifton stepped close to the other man, pushing his face close to the face-plated helmet. “People have died. People are dying. More people will die if we don’t get out of here.”
“We’re getting out of here,” Oscar said. “Give me my gun back.” The other man handed it to him. Oscar pushed past Clifton, stomped past Quincy, and joined went to join Terro in lifting Bryan carefully.
Fr. Antonie shook his head, and he and Clifton went to move Laura.
Quincy slowly gained his feet, favoring his ankle. He looked at the other Authority man. “You gonna whale on me too?” he sneered.
“No,” the man said. “But you’d better come with us.”
“Oh I’d better, eh? Where are you headed?”
“Ignore them,” Clifton said, as he and Fr. Antonie carried Laura past. “Just ignore them. We’re going back to the monastery. We don’t care what you’ve done, and they aren’t going to give you grief about it. We’re going to make sure you’re all safe. They can state the Authority’s case later.”
Quincy shook his head, and limped over to where Terro had put down some of the supplies he had salvaged from the back of the crashed car. Shouldering them, he began the slow climb up the ravine.
Fr. Antonie, hopping down from where Clifton was securing Laura in the car, held out a hand to Quincy. Quincy took it, and the priest helped pull him up onto the road. “Thanks,” Quincy said. He glanced out towards the jungle again. “They’re out there.”
“I know,” Fr. Antonie said. “Let’s hurry.”
“Come with me, Edward,” Oscar called. “We’ve got our other man to fetch. Let’s not leave him there.” The two Authority men slid back down the ravine.
The crumpled car presented a difficult extraction, but fortunately the other crash survivors had opened up most of it already. Oscar crawled into the back hatch carefully, getting a hold of the corpse and maneuvering it out. Edward positioned himself to help. As they dragged the body, the cloth caught and fell off of the face.
Oscar glanced up. “Dusty,” he said, ruefully. His voice was hard.
“They must have found him still alive,” Edward said. “At least, I hope they did.”
“I’m going to kill that bastard,” Oscar said. His hands clenched angrily on the silent corpse as they carried it.
“Wait and put him on trial,” Edward said. “They’ll treat him harshly enough. It’s no small crime, what he did.”
Leaving the gutted car, they carried the body back up the ravine to the road.
“We ready to go?” Clifton asked. He finished securing the extra supplies in the back. “Put him on top here… it’ll be a tight squeeze, but I think everyone will fit.” Oscar and Edward loaded Dusty’s corpse into the back, and Clifton closed the hatch. With a quick glance around, he ran for the driver’s door, and Oscar and Edward joined the others, packed like sardines in the carriage of the car.
“Careful,” Terro said, holding out a hand to keep anyone from leaning on Laura’s injured feet. Quincy sat as far as he could in the back, away from the others, pressed against the wall. His eyes were closed.
“Everyone secure?” Clifton called from the front.
“Ready.” The restless affirmative was unanimous from the rest of the car’s passengers.
“Let’s get out of here, then.” Clifton threw the car into gear, and the growling diesel engine roared as the car swung around, zooming down the road back the way it had come.
Flattened down out of sight behind a hilly mountain peak along the road, one raptor, then two, raised their heads to watch the departing car. Several seconds passed, the only sound the fading cough of the engine as the car made its way uphill towards the monastery. The two raptors hopped up to the peak, balancing stiff-tailed, and then leapt across the gulch, climbed up a sheer mountain face, and silently chased the distant rumble of the car.