It was by the grace of God that women, even at a young age, were screamers in a time of crisis, and that such screams carried amazingly well. No alarm bell could have launched Fr. Antonie from his seat nearly as quickly as that girl’s screams, audible even through the thick stone walls of the monastery.
Fr. Antonie met Fr. Columba’s gaze. The monks had frozen in the middle of chanting the Magnificat. The old abbott’s pained look said it all—the garden. Fr. Antonie was already gone, with the two Authority men, Clifton, and Quincy hot on his heels.
Edward and Clifton peeled off to run for the front door, making a beeline for the weapons stashed in the back hatch of the car. Oscar had a gun already. They tore through the hallways, heading for the door into the garden. Ahead of them, they saw it—hung open. Lyric was still screaming. Oscar surged ahead, shoving the door open with his shoulder, and all three of them stopped short.
Jathan lay sprawled on the paved path, and behind him, her gloved hands gripping its leather halter, Lyric clung hard to the raptor, screaming. It was shrieking in return, its clawed feet planted as it tried to swing its head around the girl, snarling as it fixed its gaze on Jathan.
Oscar aimed his gun, and swore. He couldn’t get a read on the animal; it was moving too much, and Lyric was in the way. The raptor screamed. An answering scream sounded from above them, on the roof, and then they heard a scrape, and a thump. Oscar turned his gun quickly, but they were underneath the eave, and he couldn’t see the other animal.
“Lord have mercy,” Fr. Antonie gasped.
Quincy didn’t hesitate. He ran down the path. “Let her go, Nova!” he shouted. “That’s enough!” Dropping to one knee, he hooked his arms under Jathan’s, and dragged the man back towards the door. Long, jagged tears in Jathan’s clothing covered his back and legs, and some of the rips were stained with blood.
Then Clifton and Edward were behind them, pushing through the door. Clifton sucked in a breath as he surveyed the scene, a dart gun held tightly in his white-knuckled grip. “I can’t—I might hit her!” he cried.
“Use the net gun!” Oscar shouted. Clifton nodded at Edward, and, dropping the dart gun, ran to help Quincy with Jathan.
Edward didn’t waste a moment. He aimed the wide barrel of the compressed-air net gun and fired. The net snapped out through the air, expanding as it flew towards Lyric and the fighting animal. Nova shrieked, whipping her head around, as the thick, steel-wound netting tangled her and Lyric, the heavy weighted hooks on the ends tumbling with a hard clatter to the paved path. The raptor fought and thrashed, screaming. Lyric let go of the animal and curled into a ball, her arms over her head.
Quincy nearly dropped Jathan. “Lyric!” he shouted. Clifton caught his slack, and, cursing, Quincy ran for the dart gun that had been dropped. Snatching it up, he ran towards the netted raptor. Edward, dropping the net gun, came with him.
Edward grabbed at the net. Nova’s head snapped forward, she lunged and snapped, hot, rancid saliva sliding from her jaws over the tangled weave of the net. Edward jerked his hands back. Quincy ran right up to the raptor, and, apparently heedless of the flailing, entangled claws, set one booted foot on the animal’s flank, and pressed the gun to her spine. He fired. She shrieked, spasmed, and a moment later, lay still.
Quincy dropped the gun, leapt over the still animal, and crouched down next to the huddled ball of his niece. “Lyric!” he shouted again.
Lyric made a sound, halfway between a yelp and a moan.
“She’s alive,” Quincy said. “Can you cut her out of there?”
“I can’t cut this with anything I have,” Edward said.
“What were you thinking!?” Quincy yelled.
“Calm down!” Edward shouted back. “We can get her out without cutting it.” He ran for the weighted hooks, lifting one and dragging it around the tangle of the net. Quincy shook his head, and sprang up to help. Together they fumbled the net apart, and pulled Lyric out.
“Lyric,” Quincy said, “can you move?” He shook her shoulder; his hand came away streaked with blood. Her shirt was torn, her gloves, her head lined with deep scratches. Her hair was matted with fresh blood. “God,” he moaned, “damn it. Nova. Lyric, move your hands, please.”
She did, slowly. Quincy leaned close. “Can you open your—oh, you had your goggles on. Thank heaven for small favors.” Similar long scratches covered her face and neck. The wounds were wet with blood and a kind of slimy foam, and they smelled rancid, but the goggles protecting her eyes were intact.
Oscar was slowly pacing around them with his gun, his eyes flicking from roof to roof, gable to buttress, tower to gutter. “Nothing,” he said. “It fled. It’s gone.” He swore.
Clifton and Fr. Antonie, together, helped Jathan to a sitting position. “Jathan,” Fr. Antonie murmured. “Can you hear me?”
Jathan spoke slowly, as if his tongue muscles didn’t quite work. “I… yes,” he said. “I’m not… dead?”
“No, not yet,” Fr. Antonie said. “Thank God. We need to get you looked at. Can you move?”
“Yes… yes, I can move. It burns… but I can move.” Suddenly his eyes widened, the whites rolling as if in fight. “The girl… she…”
Fr. Antonie glanced over towards Lyric and Quincy. “She’s cut up,” he said, “but I think she’s all right. Those were the animals that won’t attack her. She’s got some collateral damage, though.”
“I thought she was going to die,” Jathan said. “It knocked me down, she ran right past me… she was screaming… I couldn’t see…”
Lyric’s shoulders began to shake, and she choked back a sob. “They… they were going to kill him,” she squeaked out.
Quincy felt a sinking in the pit of his stomach. “Yeah…” he said, and gathered her up into his arms, blood and scratches and all. “I know. I’m sorry. I really am. He’s okay, though. Let’s go inside, okay? Let’s get you looked at. The nurse is a real nice lady…”
“What… what about… Nova?” Lyric sobbed. “Please kill it this time. Please…”
Quincy chewed on his lip, looking back at the netted, unconscious raptor.
“She’s got a point, Quincy.” Oscar strode up to them, his gun still in his hands. “Haven’t we had enough of this? Now your raptors got past the herd that no predators are supposed to get past unannounced. Learned a human trick or two by now, I’d wager. Have you got it through your head yet that this was a bad idea?” Anger simmered in his voice.
Quincy kept his eyes on the raptor. “Then kill her,” he said, flatly.
“Not yet,” Oscar said. “I’m going to take you, and your animal, back to the Transgenic Containment Authority, so they can see what you’ve done.”
Edward glanced at his colleague nervously. “Why would you…”
“Don’t you dare,” Jathan called, waveringly, from the stoop of the door, “don’t you dare…”
“I’m serious,” Oscar said. “And we’re going back tonight. Clifton, we’ll need the use of your car… we can bring it back tomorrow to transport the wounded.”
“We can’t travel at night,” Edward said. “There’s no way to illuminate the road, and it’s too dangerous…”
“There’s flare guns,” Oscar said. “A whole crate of them, in the back of that car.”
“They’re coded—they’re not for illumination,” Clifton said, grimly. “If you start setting those off, you’ll raise an alarm—”
“Good. It’s about time people paid attention to what goes on aboveground,” Oscar said. He slung his gun across his back and nodded at Edward. “Help me move that dinosaur. Now.”
“If she stops breathing, she’ll die anyway,” Quincy said, still holding onto Lyric.
Oscar ignored him, and he, and the reluctant Edward, crouched down to drag the animal. The net was metal, heavy, the dead weight of the animal inside even heavier. And it stank. The two men turned their faces as much as they could from the stench of death emanating from the carnivore.
“This thing must weigh a thousand pounds,” Edward gasped.
Oscar straightened, reaching down to grasp the weighted hooks, dragging the net around and winding it around the tail and legs. He saw the dart in the animal’s flank and took it out.
Jathan caught hold of Fr. Antonie’s arm with one hand, and started to struggle to his feet. Fr. Antonie and Clifton stood and helped him up. “You’re taking that thing back to the Undermine?” he asked.
“Yes,” Oscar said. He cinched the hooks together and stood up. “And I’ll tell you why. Transgenic containment is becoming an increasing problem. Do you know how many men died out there in the past two days? How many men die all the time, running the necessary trips aboveground? How many fools have no idea how dangerous it is, and waltz out for a breath of fresh air?” He shot a glance at Jathan, who flushed angrily. “So this man here, Quincy, has a criminal mind. Acting outside the box. But he’s accomplished something… interesting, to say the least. Look at that girl.” He shot his gaze over to Quincy and Lyric.
Quincy raised his eyebrows, but did not comment, and he got to his feet, helping Lyric up.
“Superficial wounds only,” Oscar said. “And she held that animal off of you, Jathan. This girl, Lyric, was at Quincy’s facility when he turned his raptors loose on our men—and it was reported by the lone survivor of this incident, as well as confirmed by the girl, that the animals simply knocked her over to get to their… prey.”
Oscar bent down again, grasping the hooks. “I want the Authority to look very closely at what he’s done and how he’s done it. What he did is unsafe and illegal. But I want him to make his case for the procedures he used. I want all this documented. That’s why this animal is valuable alive. We have the tools to contain it. We always have. We just don’t harbor dinosaurs, because it’s stupid and dangerous. We kill them. The facilities to re-engineer them don’t exist anymore—not in any kind of working order.”
“You would be surprised,” Quincy said, “what human intelligence can accomplish, even without the aid of machines.”
“You used machines,” Oscar shot back. “That equipment in your box includes synthesizers, and synthesizers are computers.”
“So what?” Quincy said. “Who secured it? Who got everything together to make the formulations? Who figured out what formulations might even work? Not a computer.”
“And that’s why you are going to come, with your dinosaur, to the Undermine, and give the Authority a little demonstration. Help me with this animal.”
Quincy shot him a disgusted glance, but handed Lyric to Fr. Antonie, and walked over to help Oscar and Edward drag the unconscious raptor.
Fr. Antonie touched Lyric’s shoulder only gingerly. She was cut up quite severely. He eyed the three men dragging the dinosaur. “Lyric,” he said. “Come with me. You too, Jathan.”
Clifton was watching, too. “I don’t like this idea,” he said. “But I like worse the idea of any of us being out in this garden a minute longer. Come on.” He picked up the discarded weapons, and led the way back into the monastery.
Brother Augustine was hurrying towards them, in the hallway, with Father Columba following at a more sedate, elderly pace. “You’re all alive!” Brother Augustine said, relief etched on his face.
“Yes,” Fr. Antonie said, “by the mercy of God. These two need some medical help, however.”
“I’m fine,” Jathan protested. “I just feel like a truck ran over me, that’s all. But we can’t let them—“
Clifton held up a hand to quiet him, his face drawn as he held the guns, and spoke quietly. “Father,” he said, as Fr. Columba caught up to Brother Augustine. “A lot of lives have been lost out there. We’re all well aware of Quincy’s experiment. The Authority wants to commandeer our vehicle to remove him and his experiment back to the Undermine… tonight.”
“His experiment?” Brother Augustine raised his eyebrows. Concern crossed his face as several thumps and scrapes came from the threshold of the door to the garden, and he looked past Clifton and the others to see the three men dragging the dead-weight raptor inside. It didn’t fit well through the door; the huge, clawed feet dragged in the net, catching on the doorframe. Quincy turned to re-angle the animal’s extremities, and, unceremoniously, they maneuvered it through. Oscar slammed the door behind them.
“What is this?” Father Columba asked, quietly.
Oscar straightened up. “I’m not going to force harboring any dinosaur on you monks,” he said. “I’m taking this animal out of here, right now.”
“Ah… and who is harboring dinosaurs, now?” Fr. Columba asked.
“Me,” Quincy said, shoving his hands in his pockets as he too stood up straight. A sardonic smile sat on his lips.
“No, not you,” Oscar said. “You and the dinosaur are both under the possession of the Authority. Come on.”
Fr. Columba watched without comment as they continued to drag the animal. They had to keep adjusting their course. The creature was obviously far too heavy to lift. Quincy paused to stroke down the crushed feathers on the long-snouted head, and Fr. Columba gazed at the unseeing, half-lidded eye. The eyelid twitched, as if the animal were trying to blink. A hot stench of death wafted from its open mouth, drops of foamy saliva still splattering the net its frozen jaws were locked on. Then they dragged it on.
Doubtless, Fr. Antonie thought, as he also stood watching, one hand on Lyric’s least-scratched-up shoulder, they will need to scrub that floor. What a terrible smell. Lyric was holding a gloved hand over her mouth and nose.
Fr. Columba turned to the others, shaking his head. “You are injured,” he said, kindly, to Lyric. “And you,” he nodded at Jathan. “Don’t concern yourselves with this. We’ll take care of it. Brother Augustine, would you take them to Judith in the hospital room? She should be back in there now.”
“Yes… of course. Right away,” Brother Augustine said, staring after the determined dragging effort. They had wrapped the hooks around and slung them through the holes of the net, and all three crouched close to the floor as they slowly dragged on the ropes attaching the hooks to move the heavy load. Suppressing a shudder, the monk gestured for Lyric and Jathan to follow him, and led them down the hallway towards the hospital room.
Fr. Columba turned to Clifton. “Go ahead and take them to the Undermine, if you’re willing,” he said, quietly. “Let the authorities there decide how to deal with this case. And don’t worry. The injured can stay here a few days if they need to. Supper is almost ready—let me get you something, Clifton. I imagine you would be driving?”
“I’d prefer that,” Clifton said. “I hate to leave my wife behind, but she’s the only person here with any real medical training.”
Fr. Columba nodded. “We did have a man in the community who had been a doctor, but he left several months ago.” He patted Clifton’s arm. “Don’t you worry. She’ll be in good hands.”
“I know,” Clifton said. “I’ll get the car ready.” With a half smile, he turned and followed the men and their animal, passing them to head outside.
So much for relaxing. This new development still held the unmistakable chill of something about to go wrong. Fr. Antonie nodded to the abbott. “There were two of them,” he said. “The other one fled across the roof. I’m worried it’s not far. I’m going to cover them while they… load that one up.”
Fr. Columba nodded. “I’ll send someone with supper.” He walked off down the hall towards the refectory.
Fr. Antonie turned in the opposite direction. He’d left his coat just inside the door, and his weapons in the outdoor bunker. He had not figured on there being dinosaurs inside the monastery. Neither had he figured on anyone ignoring the warning signs and going outside. The Pious Valley was supposed to be safe from predators. How, then, had the raptors gotten all the way to the monastery, without alerting the kentrosaurs? Perhaps it had happened in the confusion that the ignirugiens had caused. The priest shook his head as he headed for the door. What he wouldn’t give to go back to the chapel for a while and say a rosary or two. But there wasn’t time.
“Easy there, ready? On three—one…” Oscar’s voice echoed in the cloister, sounding strange and disruptive in the normally silent space. The quickly encroaching darkness, fading the arches and stones to eerie outlines, oppressed the atmosphere as well. Fr. Antonie paused to strike a match, and light one of the wall-mounted lamps. Far down the hallway, he saw a monk slowly moving from lamp to lamp, doing the same thing.
“Hold on a minute,” Quincy said. “She isn’t breathing.”
A sigh. “Edward,” Oscar said. “Get the naloxone.”
Fr. Antonie heard the pounding of boots on the monastery steps. The front doors hung open, the tail and hind claws of the dinosaur still halfway through them into the building. The long, feathered tail was stiff, cramped in the net, and had a fan of colorful, patterned feathers at its end. It didn’t look like a dangerous animal—it looked like a bird, caught in a trap. How deceiving appearances could be. Fr. Antonie shook his head.
“Here,” Edward said. Silence, as they concentrated.
“Not too much,” Quincy said.
One clawed foot, still visible to Fr. Antonie, twitched, the fifteen-inch-long sickle claw on the second toe spasming, cutting a long scrape in the stone floor. No, it wasn’t really like a sickle, from what he could see in the flickering torchlight. It didn’t look like it had an edge. It was a puncture weapon. Fr. Antonie had never gotten a studious look at a dinosaur—one was generally far too involved in trying to survive the encounter and kill the animal before one’s life was suddenly ended—but he found himself wondering. Whatever the Revonet had done to the genetic makeup of these animals, their physiology didn’t seem designed to hunt humans. They were too big and powerful for that. Humans were easy prey, of course, and no animal turned down easy prey; the dinosaur could put that claw into a human abdomen and with one lazy ripping motion, spill the entire contents of—Fr. Antonie put the thought from his mind. It was overkill. These animals were as frightening as they were because they were designed to hunt things much bigger and stronger than humans.
Like ignirugiens. Or maybe not. That creature certainly wasn’t natural.
“She’s breathing again,” Quincy said. “But watch her. It’s not going to be fun if she wakes up.”
“I have no intention,” Oscar said, “of letting her wake up. You’re going to watch her.”
Quincy didn’t answer.
“Once more, take those ropes—three, two, one…”
The rest of the raptor slid out of sight onto the spacious front stoop.
Muttering a few Aves under his breath, Fr. Antonie followed.
The sun had set. The dusky sky threw barely any light. Clifton had backed the car up right to the steps, several lamps hanging from the bars of its windows, as its engine chuttered and idled. “Hurry,” he was calling. “I’ve got the pulleys hooked to the dashboard. Let’s get this done and get out of here.” Oscar and Edward were attaching the hooks on the cables to the net. The cables, slung through the pulleys, lay loose as Clifton and Quincy laid boards from the top step to the hatch of the car.
“Pull,” Clifton called, once they had the boards arranged. He and Quincy picked up one cable, and Oscar and Edward grabbed the other. The pulleys groaned in protest as the cables scraped through them, and the netted dinosaur slid across the boards towards the hatch.
Wasn’t anyone watching for the other raptor? Fr. Antonie glanced around, peering at the roof. It was impossible to tell anything, in these shadows. It wouldn’t do for him to loiter unarmed by the door. He walked to the other side of the stoop, and vaulted the balustrade to land next to the bunker. He retrieved his coat and his weapons as quickly as he could, keeping his back to the bunker as much as possible. He slung the hood over his head, latching the ammo and grenade belts. Once he was ready, he spun around and crept toward the car, keeping the light from the lamps outside of his line of vision in the hood, so that he could see the shadows more easily. Still nothing. He narrowed his eyes at the roof.
“She’s in,” Oscar called. He bundled the remaining cables and stuffed them into the car. “Quincy,” he said, “you get in there. Sit next to her and watch her. We’ve got more etrophine if you need it. I’ve got the crate with the flares, here, in the front.”
“The flares will light up a three hundred yard range for two minutes each,” Clifton said. His voice from the front seat was muffled. “Use the green-coded ones first. They might last us. I hope they do. They’re the only ones coded for basic utility and they won’t alarm anyone.”
Quincy crawled into the car. The animal was so large it barely fit; its hind legs and tail took up the whole hatch, and its head, its breath steady again with the odor of death, was nearly in the front seat. He situated himself carefully next to its head. The net had displaced and broken some of the neck feathers. He pulled at the metal fibers and smoothed the feathers down. Clifton handed him the dart gun.
Oscar and Edward approached the car. Edward shot Oscar a wary glance; there was no space in the car out of potential striking range of the dinosaur if it woke. Oscar shrugged, his face grim. “It’s either an unconscious one in here or a conscious one out there,” he said, jerking his head towards the gathering darkness. “Let’s go.” When Edward still hesitated, he frowned. “You want to ride on the roof, instead?”
Edward looked up at the roof of the armored car. It bristled with bars and struts on a rack, meant for tying cargo down. Out in the open. Not in the least bit comfortable, or safe. Still, he didn’t move.
Oscar sighed. “Edward.”
Fr. Antonie looked at Edward. The man’s face was drawn and pale. Fr. Antonie could appreciate the sentiment—getting that close to a huge, deadly predator that would kill you if it woke up was not a reassuring prospect. He looked at Oscar. “Let him stay,” he said. “I’ll come with you and run the flares, if you like.”
Clifton glanced back at Fr. Antonie. “Are you sure, Father? It’s not exactly going to be a joyride.”
“No, I imagine not,” Fr. Antonie said. “But it needs to be done.”
Edward looked as though he were torn between shame, and wanting to faint with relief. “I… I’ll…”
Fr. Antonie unslung his belts of grenades, and handed them to Edward. “I can’t take these in the car,” he said. “You just cover us until we’re gone. From the bunker, or the doors. And watch yourself. There’s another one out here somewhere.” He glanced around again, himself, as he picked up one of the rifles from where Clifton had leaned the guns against the car.
Oscar nodded curtly. He did not look at Edward, but took his own gun and climbed into the car. His boots caught the net as he settled himself next to the dinosaur’s back, across from Quincy. He trained the gun on the animal.
Edward latched on the belts quickly, backing up from the car towards the steps. He looked around, but apparently saw nothing in the darkness. He readied a grenade in his clenched hands.
The monastery door opened, and Edward jumped at the sound, spinning around. But it was only Brother Augustine, peeking out with several wrapped bundles. “Don’t forget to take some supper with you,” he called.
Edward hopped up the steps to take them. “Thanks,” he said. “Stay inside; I’ll be in in a minute.”
Fr. Antonie shouldered his grun and took the packages from Edward as he brought them over. He nodded. “Let’s get going,” he said. “Clifton?”
“We’re ready,” Clifton said, from the driver’s seat. “The flares are in the front here. Come on.”
Edward’s eyes were round. “God speed,” he murmured.
“Thank you,” Fr. Antonie said. “And may God in His mercy preserve us to serve His will.” He drew the sign of the cross in the air over Edward. “Benedicat vos omnipotens Deus, Pater, et Filius, et Spiritus Sanctus.”
Edward bowed his head and started to drop to one knee, then caught himself and turned and ran back to the monastery. Fr. Antonie loaded the packages into the car, climbed in, and situated himself in the front next to Clifton. He opened the box of flares, selected one marked with a strip of green paint, and threw back the metal panel above the dash, letting in the night air. Slipping the flare into the propulser, he pushed it through the open slot and fired.
A ball of bright light shot from the tube. Hot, sulfurous green smoke streamed back from its trajectory as it soared up high, cresting the peaks as it lit up the night.
Clifton hit the gas, and the car roared forward, following the flare’s illumination. They reached the edge of the Valley and were cruising down the west road before it gave out, and Fr. Antonie loaded another, and fired it.
“This isn’t too bad,” Clifton murmured. The dirt road showed up well enough in the light form the flare, and there did not—yet—seem to be any critters in their trajectory.
Fr. Antonie loaded a third flare, and glanced back over his shoulder at the other passengers. Quincy and Oscar sat in silence, flanking the raptor, neither of them looking at the other. Fr. Antonie thought he saw the animal’s leg and tail move—but no, that was just the car jolting. “How’s it doing? Still out?” he asked.
“Yup,” Quincy said. His hand twitched on the dart gun. “Not much farther, is it?”
“I don’t think so,” Fr. Antonie said. “I think we’ve gone a third of the trip already. St. Vito’s and the compound is close to here.” He turned around again and slid the tube out through the panel again, firing the third flare.
“Did you want me to drop you off?” Clifton said.
“No, no, not now,” Fr. Antonie said. “On the way back, perhaps, if everything goes well back at the Undermine.”
They bounced along the road as their flare slowly arced through the air in front of them. Sparking and fluttering, it dipped into its downward trajectory. Fr. Antonie loaded a fourth flare. Then, suddenly, from a few miles ahead of them, another flare shot up—this one larger, brighter, and trailing sparks of orange smoke.
Clifton gasped, bit his tongue, and treaded on the brakes. The car slammed to a halt.
“What’s wrong?” Oscar barked. “What does that flare mean?”
“The orange code is a danger warning—not a cry for help. It means stay away if you can.” Clifton looked at Fr. Antonie.
Fr. Antonie looked back at him, as their own green-smoke flare slowly pirouetted through the sky, and then its light faded. “There’s danger at the Undermine?” he asked.
“I’ve never seen an orange coded flare used at the Undermine,” Clifton said, frowning. “But that’s where it came from. I have to feel hesitant about our delivery, here.”
“If there’s danger,” Oscar said, “all the more reason we should get there quickly.” He looked at the netted raptor, and then at Quincy, whose hand shook slightly on the dart gun.
“What do you think it is?” Quincy asked.
“Who knows,” Oscar said. “Maybe there was an accident. Maybe something collapsed. Maybe there’s a very large dinosaur lurking around the groundlocks. We won’t know until we get there.” He shook his head. “We could have used Edward. I wish he hadn’t chickened out.”
“For all things that happen, there is a reason,” Fr. Antonie said. “We need only play our part.” He nodded at Clifton and loaded another flare. “Let’s go.”