Life Thief

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Chapter 16

Jathan tried to sleep in, but he couldn’t. It was just too dark back in the hospital room—its windows lay to the north, into the garden. Not to mention that the soft, labored breathing of the more injured patients was unsettling. Jathan sat up and stifled a groan. He felt like he’d been hit by a truck; pain shot through his muscles with every move.

The door opened; Judith came in, tiptoeing quietly. Maybe she’d been at breakfast, or the chapel. After a quick, knowledgeable scan of the patients in the room, she headed over to Jathan, who was the only one awake. Come to think of it, Jathan thought, as he looked over the beds, come to think of it, Lyric wasn’t here either.

“How are you feeling?” Judith whispered.

“Bruised,” he whispered back, but less quietly. “Other than that, fine. In fact, I think I might want to check out and go for a walk, if you don’t mind.”

Judith nodded. “Are you hungry?” she asked. “They’re serving breakfast in the refectory.”

“I could do with that,” he said. “Where’s Lyric? She okay?”

Judith nodded again. “She’s doing fine. She went out early. Her cuts look good. I washed them again this morning.”

He nodded. As Judith moved away to check on Bryan, Jathan slid out of the bed and onto his feet, wincing his way over to the adjoining bathroom. It was only a sparse pump, bucket, and latrine facility, but it was spacious and easily accessible, stocked with towels and grips on the walls and by the drain. It had a little window with a curtain, which Jathan waited to push back until he was finished with his more private business. As he washed his hands and face, he peered out the window. He could hear birds, chirping and singing in the trees. Had there been birds last night? Somehow he didn’t think so. He wondered if the raptor that had escaped was still lurking around out there.

Perhaps in a kinder time, there would have been more doors into the garden. The hospital wing didn’t have one. Jathan was pretty sure the only door outside was the main one he’d gone through. Had he learned his lesson, or what! That note hadn’t just been there because of the ignirugiens!

Jathan shook his head as he walked back to his bed. Stiffly, he donned his jacket and his shoes, gave a nod and smile to Judith, and walked out.

The sun filtered pleasantly into the arching hallways. It managed to feel open and relaxing here no matter the time of day. Even though the thrown light was broken with the stringent lines of the window bars, there was plenty of it, from windows set high in the walls on all sides. Jathan shook his head. Why didn’t they set up a city like this—secure, but aboveground, where people could get real sunlight and some occasional fresh air? Sure, it wasn’t as safe, but the monks seemed to manage just fine.

It’s because of morons like you, Jathan told himself, with a weak, rueful grin. People would walk out into the garden when they weren’t supposed to. People wouldn’t check out or check in. People would do all kinds of things that would get them killed. As much as no one liked to think about it, the Undermine was built as much to keep the people in as it was to keep the dinosaurs out. That wasn’t for any malicious reason. It was just—again—for safety. It was the same logic that the Revonet had recognized. You can’t trust people! They do stupid things, they cause problems. The flawless systems of the Revonet failed over and over because of operator error, because of consumer error, and the sophisticated computer had metaphorically thrown its digital hands in the air before taking matters into its homicidal grip.

Where’s the happy medium, then? Jathan shook his head, pausing for a minute to stare out one more tall barred window. People are people, you can’t make them machines. They’re alive. That was why society didn’t work with a machine running it. But did people run the Undermine any differently? In all honesty, after generations of the rule of the Revonet, nobody really knew how.

Wandering up and down the halls, Jathan only found the refectory because the monks had finished breakfast and were coming out of it. Brother Paphnutius saw him and waved him over with a smile. “Did you sleep well?” he asked.

“As well as I could,” Jathan said, rolling his shoulders and wincing for emphasis.

“You were fortunate,” Brother Paphnutius said. “Our Lady had you under her protection. I’m so glad.”

“Sure,” Jathan said.

Brother Paphnutius’ jovial smile was hard to resist. “You must be hungry,” he said. “Let me get you something.”

“Thanks,” Jathan said, and followed the monk into the refectory. Two monks were in the kitchen cleaning up, and another was sweeping the floor in the refectory.

“Brother Michael!” Brother Paphnutius called. “Have we any breakfast for our guest?”

“I was just setting aside the plates for the hospital wing,” Brother Michael answered. “He can have his right here if he likes.” The monk picked up a plate and walked it to the kitchen door, where Brother Paphnutius accepted it and handed it to Jathan.

It was still hot, even; beans with molasses, toast, and fried potatoes. There was even a little dollop of what looked like scrambled eggs. Jathan was impressed. “Monks eat like this?”

Brother Paphnutius laughed. “All except for the eggs. We save those for the sick.”

“What sort of eggs are they?” Jathan asked, as the monk handed him a fork. He stuck it in the eggs, experimentally. They were dark yellow and fell away from the fork. “Do you get occasion to rob dinosaur nests?”

“Not we,” Brother Paphnutius said. “We don’t disturb the nests of the herd here. But people bring us supplies, and I’m sure that they rob dinosaur nests for the eggs they get. Here, have some fruit.” As Jathan seated himself at a table with his plate, the monk brought over a bowl filled with all sorts of fruit.

“Hey, this looks good,” Jathan said, and selected a pear. “Do you grow all this?”

“The fruit, we do,” Brother Paphnutius said. He sat down across from Jathan. “Though I hesitate to remind you of the incident last night, I am sure you saw our garden.”

Jathan nodded, munching on the pear. “I saw it,” he said. “I thought it was wonderful, except for having dinosaurs in it.”

Brother Paphnutius laughed. “I feel the same way. Usually there aren’t dinosaurs in it.”

“That fellow with the raptors,” Jathan said, chewing thoughtfully. “What a nut. He did something, though. You didn’t see it, but the girl… Lyric… I was out there and she ran out. I yelled at her to stop—but she held the thing off of me, and it didn’t hurt her.”

“Well,” Brother Paphnutius said, “it didn’t hurt her much, or for trying. Truly an admirable feat. If Quincy’s experiment was worth nothing else, it saved lives yesterday.”

“I still haven’t heard much about this experiment,” Jathan said. “He was trying to make it so the raptors don’t attack people?”

“I believe that was his aim, yes,” Brother Paphnutius said. “Though so far, it is only he and his niece that seem to be invulnerable to them.”

“How did he manage that? Did he raise them from babies or something?”

“I didn’t get a chance to ask,” Brother Paphnutius said, “but I believe he did. We also have hold of some genetic re-sequencing material that one of the Authority men on that team picked up. I suspect that those materials are at least partially responsible.”

“That stuff is so creepy,” Jathan said. “Always seemed to me that it was stuff people shouldn’t mess with. Revonet messed with it, and look what happened.” Shaking his head, he dug into his breakfast plate.

“It’s true there is a lot of controversy on the issue,” Brother Paphnutius said, “but I tend to agree with you. We deal every day with a world that is the fallout of such tampering.”

“I was thinking,” Jathan said, after swallowing a bite of his breakfast, “that there must be a different way to do it. You seem to have a pretty workable system up here. These eggs taste great, by the way.”

Brother Paphnutius nodded. “There are a lot of factors that make what we do here work. The kentrosaur herd is probably the biggest one.”

“How did you happen on that, anyway?”

Brother Paphnutius smiled. “Bishop Wallow found the Pious Valley back during the Flight, and the herd was already happily established here. There’s kentrosaurs all over the mountains, really. They’re the only species that habitually avoids the ruins.”

“Yes, I know,” Jathan said. “I just thought they wandered more than stayed in one place.”

“That’s really only in response to predator movement,” Brother Paphnutius said. “And to any electrical signals within five or six miles. They’re not naturally migratory from what I’ve seen. If they’ve got a good home, they’ll stay in it.”

“You're out of range of the Undermine here, then,” Jathan said. “I know they avoid the Undermine, even though we’ve got the electricity deep underground.”

“That we are,” said Brother Paphnutius.

Jathan finished the food and pushed his plate back with a sigh.

“Feeling better, I hope?” Brother Paphnutius said.

“Yeah,” Jathan said. “Just bruised.” His eyes wandered over the simply constructed tables, sanded down but not stained. The usual barred windows out into the garden lined the refectory. Jathan eyed the trees as the tops of them swayed in the breeze. “So,” he said, “there’s another one of those raptors out there somewhere.”

Brother Paphnutius nodded. “We haven’t seen it. It might have followed the car. But we’re doing inside work today—no sense in taking chances.”

“That’s smart,” Jathan muttered.

“Do you want some tea, or coffee?” Brother Paphnutius asked.

“No, that’s okay,” Jathan said, his eyes still on the barred windows. “Where’s the girl? I never got a chance to thank her.”

“In the library,” Brother Paphnutius said. “I can take you there.”

“Thank you,” Jathan said, and picked himself up from his chair stiffly. The monk led the way out of the refectory, detouring to pour himself a mug of something that looked hot from a pot on the refectory stove. It was a short walk to the library, but as Brother Paphnutius unlocked the doors, Jathan was unprepared for the sight that greeted him.

He had to shut his eyes for a minute. The light hurt his eyes. Shelves full of books, endless books, and light, sunlight, reflecting off of everything. No, it wasn’t reflecting, he realized, after a minute. It was only a lone sunbeam that had an entrance through one of the tall windows and was spilling across the section of shelves in front of him. He squinted. Not just books, but rolls of bound paper, as well as datastreams. What was the use of those, Jathan wondered, without any computers to access their contents?

Lyric was at one of the tables, a stack of books beside her. One of them lay open in front of her. She looked up at them as the doors opened. Her face had been a little frightfully carved, but Judith was right; the scratches weren’t deep, and they did look pretty good, considering.

“Hi there, Lyric,” Jathan said, and he limped over to take a seat next to her. “I never got a chance to say thank you for saving me, yesterday.”

The girl shook her head. “I don’t want to see them kill anybody anymore.”

“Well, you did it,” Jathan said. “You prevented them. Got yourself some battle scars, too.”

Lyric smiled, tentatively.

“It’s awfully nice up here,” Jathan continued. “No soot, lots of sunlight, fresh air. I don’t suppose they’d let us stick around forever, though, unless we wanted to be monks.” He smirked at Brother Paphnutius, who pulled out a chair and sat down with them.

“Nobody wants to stick around forever, unless they want to be monks,” Brother Paphnutius said, with a smile. “They get bored.” He sipped the steaming mug he was holding.

“I guess that makes sense.” Jathan leaned back in his chair, scanning the bookshelves thoughtfully. “You must have a lot of knowledge here.”

“We do,” Brother Paphnutius said. “We’re fortunate. And people bring us things—books, printouts of records, datastreams. I haven’t read everything in here, there’s too much. And we can’t access the datastreams, obviously.”

“If you had any bookworms,” Jathan said, “they wouldn’t get bored.” His gaze fell on Lyric, who had bent over the open book that lay on the table. “Like Lyric,” he said, grinning. “She likes to read.”

Lyric looked up uncertainly from the book. Jathan nodded at it. “Don’t you? What’re you reading there?”

“I like to read, when I'm trying to figure something out,” she said. “I was reading about the Resequencer. I guess there were a lot of problems with it.”

“Resequencer?” Jathan asked. “That sounds familiar. What is it?”

“It wires your brain so that you can’t make any hostile actions against whatever the catalyst imprints on,” Lyric said. “Probably can’t even have hostile thoughts without them getting snuffed out.”

“Preprogrammed mind control,” Brother Paphnutius said. The steam from his mug dampened his mustache as he frowned.

“That’s horrible,” Jathan said. “How does the imprint work?”

Lyric looked down at her book. “You engage the senses on the desired imprint, and inject the formula. The faster formulations take only a few seconds. But they potentially cause more problems and side effects than the slower ones.”

“That isn’t what Quincy did to the raptors, is it?”

“I don’t know,” Lyric said. “It was just one of the formulas that was in his workshop.”

“I do wish,” Brother Paphnutius said, “that Oscar’s company would have left him at ease enough that I could have asked him.”

Jathan’s gaze drifted back to the windows. “We could find that other raptor,” he said, “and test it.”

“That’s a terrible idea,” Brother Paphnutius said. “We don’t know nearly enough about the formula or what it would do.”

Jathan looked at Lyric. She looked back at him, uncertainly. “Whatever he used on them,” she said, “they still kill people. You almost died! Didn’t that scare you?”

“Hell, of course it scared me,” Jathan said. “It’s not the first time I’ve almost lost my life to those things. That’s what it’s like out there—they’re everywhere. And every single one of them would kill us soon as look at us. But you, kid—you’re in a strange position, aren’t you? There’s at least a couple of them out there that won’t hurt you. Because their brains are rewired or because of something else—you’re the chosen one.”

“Not me,” she said, softly, a frown crossing her face. “Quincy.”

“Yeah,” Jathan said, faintly. “Poor guy. He was just trying to help. I hope the Authority isn’t too mean to him.”

“That’s why… those dinosaurs… they’ve only caused bad things to happen,” Lyric said. “Even if they don’t hurt him directly. They hurt him indirectly. He can’t control them well enough. They took him into the dinosaur city, so people had to die to try and get him out, and then they followed him here.”

Jathan nodded, then looked up, over his shoulder at the library door. “Do you hear that?” From far down the hallway, the echo of the front doors swinging open and voices talking wafted into the library.

“I do,” Brother Paphnutius said. “Maybe Clifton’s back with the car to take the rest of you home.” He drained the rest of his hot drink and stood up. “Come on,” he said, “let’s go see.”

Lyric closed her book, and the three of them filed their way out of the library. Brother Paphnutius locked the door.

Down the hallway, Brother Augustine was talking with a tall man well-armored in coat and vest, who gestured with great animation as he spoke—Clifton. Judith emerged from the hospital room and ran to meet her husband, embracing him with obvious relief.

“Clifton, it’s so good to see you back here safe and sound,” Brother Paphnutius said, as they walked up to the group. He nodded in greeting to Brother Augustine. “How did it go?”

Clifton looked up from his wife, slowly releasing her from the tight embrace. “As I was telling Brother here, I’m, frankly, a little concerned.” Keeping an arm around Judith’s shoulders, he let his gaze rest on each person present, a wry smile on his lips. “I’m not sure what to think of that fellow Quincy. He’s a quick thinker. Whether he’s trying to buy his freedom or atone for his sins, I can’t tell, but he made his raptor useful… there was a groundlock breach by a cryolophosaur—“

“No!” Jathan felt the blood drain from his face.

“Nobody was hurt,” Clifton said. “Quincy talked the Authority handling the situation into letting him in there with the raptor. His raptor killed it. But Fr. Antonie is concerned about Quincy. The Authority is securing him, and the raptor, and I’m just not sure—“ Clifton paused, rubbing his eyes with one gloved hand. “I’m not sure they’ll be fair.”

Lyric’s eyes widened. “What will they do to him?”

“I don’t know, honey,” Clifton said. “He broke a lot of laws and got a lot of people killed. The Authority cracks down pretty hard on that sort of thing.”

Lyric’s bottom lip trembled, and she started to cry. “He’s only trying to help,” she said.

“I know,” Clifton said. “I was there when he offered to handle the cryolophosaur. I think he’s honest. No, I really do,” he emphasized, when he saw Brother Augustine’s eyebrows rising. “We’ve all got things we regret. Quincy might not be the most stellar human being, but what’s he working with? Most of us are still old enough to remember something of what it was like during the Flight.”

“What should we do?” Judith asked. She stepped over to Lyric, putting a comforting arm around the girl. “Can we help him?”

Jathan shook his head. “What a mess. I don’t like the Authority either. I mean, I don’t think it’s right to kill people, but I wish they would give his experiment a chance. I still think we ought to test out those formulas. If they see the evidence, they can’t argue, can they?”

“None of us have enough knowledge to play around with that stuff,” Clifton said.

“Quincy does,” Lyric said, stubbornly.

“And he might tell us things we don’t even expect,” Clifton said. “Playing with transgenic alteration formulas is really, really, dangerous. That he even dared to do it makes me uneasy. Human beings shouldn’t have that sort of power.”

“But they had it,” Jathan said, “and the stuff, and the technology, is obviously still around. We’re shut down in terms of electronics, so we can’t use it—“

“Thank God,” Clifton muttered.

“Whatever you decide to do with Quincy’s formulas,” Judith said, “I have two grievously injured patients here, and I want them brought back to the Undermine to see a doctor.”

Brother Augustine nodded. “That should be our first priority,” he said. “Do you have space for them in the car, Clifton?”

“I do,” Clifton said, “though it’s always a rough ride. We can pad them up. I’ll help you gurney them out when we get the car set up. There should be room for Lyric and Jathan here, too.” He sighed, pulling his leather helmet back on. “Quincy is going to need all the help he can get.”

“I will be at the door,” Brother Augustine said. “Brother Paphnutius, would you be able to help them?”

“Absolutely,” Brother Paphnutius said. “I’m stronger than I look, you know.” He hurried off after Clifton and Judith.

“What should I do?” Jathan asked.

“Would you mind getting the car set up? I brought some blankets and pillows along in the car, we’ll need to get the patients fitted,” Clifton said.

“Sure, no problem,” Jathan said.

“Great,” Clifton said. He flashed a tired smile. “Let’s get this show on the road. We’ve got plenty of daylight, but I don’t want to tarry… for a number of reasons.”

As Clifton, Judith, and Brother Paphnutius rushed off, Brother Augustine turned to the door. “I had him back the car up to the steps, like we did last night for the animal,” he said. “It’s unlocked…” The monk stopped, his voice trailing off. He leaned to one side, peering out the window that flanked the big doors. One hand, pale as it flung towards them out of the black wool sleeve of his habit, begged them not to move.

“What is it?” Jathan said. “What’s wrong?”

“We have,” Brother Augustine said, cautiously, “a new door guard.”

“What—“ Jathan rushed over next to him to look out the window, and Lyric scrambled after him.

Its feathers colorful and brilliant in the morning sunlight, a raptor stood alertly on the balustrade, stiff-tailed, the clawed feet clenching the stone railing. Its head jerked back and forth, bobbing like a bird’s.

“Jesus,” Jathan said.

“It’s Sparky,” Lyric said. “See the harness?”

“Yeah,” Jathan said, uncomfortably. The raptor did indeed have conspicuous straps of leather gently binding most movable parts of its head and torso.

“Does it think we can’t see it?” Brother Augustine said, in amazement.

The raptor’s head cocked to one side, the yellow eye flicking towards the window and locking on Jathan. Its piercing gaze fixed on him only for a second, but Jathan felt a chill twist in his gut, climbing up to his heart. It saw him. He would have bet anything it had been looking right at him. “No,” Jathan said, swallowing. “It knows we’re here. I don’t suppose you have any weapons in here?”

“Clifton brought one in,” Brother Augustine said. He nodded towards the other side of the door, where indeed, a long rifle was leaning against the wall. “Other than that, no. We don’t keep weapons in the monastery. The kentrosaur herd normally keeps predators away. But the raptors bypassed them already, getting into the garden like that. The whole herd has been acting strangely since the incident with the ignirugiens.”

Jathan squinted, trying to see past the arrogant shifting pose of the raptor to where the kentrosaur herd was. All the way across the Pious Valley, the spiked herbivores were clustered into loose circles, their movements seeming more wary than relaxed. “Guess I can’t blame them,” he muttered. “I’ve been pretty spooked, too.”

Lyric, next to Jathan at the window, frowned. Then she lifted a hand and rapped on the bars.

“Lyric!” Jathan yelped. But the raptor hardly reacted. It cocked its head at them again.

“It’s all right,” Brother Augustine said. “I think it’s obvious that it’s aware of us. It can’t get in.”

“Are you sure?” Jathan said.

“Yes,” Brother Augustine said. “These stone walls are five feet thick, and even if it somehow broke through the double bars, the windows are too narrow for it to fit through.”

The raptor suddenly straightened, and, its legs tensing, it leapt from the balustrade onto the top of the car. The chromium plated vehicle rocked on its heavy treaded tires with the sudden weight, and the animal whipped around to face them, its unnerving yellow gaze fixed on Jathan and Lyric as they clung, still as stone, to the window. The raptor bobbed its head and started shrieking.

Of course, the sound was mostly muffled through the stone, steel, and glass, but the animal’s vocalizations were piercing and loud, as if calculated to overcome the insulation. The shrieks were stringent, insistent, mixed with hoots and squawks of the most upsetting kind.

Far across the valley, the kentrosaurs bellowed threateningly in reply.

“Sparky,” Lyric said, “shut up.” Jathan glanced at the girl. The long red scratches on her face did not mask a calm serenity that he himself did not feel. Then again, anyone quite certain that they weren’t in danger would be calm. The animals didn’t attack her. They behaved quite differently towards Jathan—oh, how he knew! He suppressed a shudder.

“What odd behavior,” Brother Augustine said. “I suppose it’s looking for Quincy.”

“Quincy’s not here,” Lyric said. “He knows that. He came back to get us.”

“Clifton came back to get us,” Jathan said.

“Yes, but he doesn’t know that. He’s just a dinosaur.”

Jathan watched incredulously. The huddled kentrosaurs were still bellowing, and a few rambling ranks of them were beginning to edge closer to the monastery from across the valley. The raptor finished its chorus of shrieks and strangely bird-like hoots, and then it sprang from the armored roof of the car. The sunlight flashed off of the long colorful feathers that fanned out on its tail and wings—wings? Jathan had never noticed that those feathers resembled wings; all he had noticed about its arms was the curved and deadly claws at the ends of them—carrying it through the air along the trajectory of its leap. It landed fifty feet away on the road and took off sprinting, its clawed toes kicking a cloud of dust up as it followed the middle of the road down the mountain, its mad race in plain view.

“Strange,” Brother Augustine said. “Usually they’re into the trees or under a ridge where they can’t be seen at the first opportunity.”

“He wants us to help Quincy,” Lyric insisted.

“I think you’re reading a little too much into it,” Jathan said.

“I’m beginning to think,” Brother Augustine said, “that those animals are developing an intelligent respect for human weapons.”

“Careful now,” a voice called from down the hall. “That’s it—it’s okay, Laura, we’ll hold you steady.”

“I can’t catch myself,” Laura gasped. The strident anxiety in her voice was echoing against the stone walls, reverberating far more loudly than the patient reassurances that Judith was murmuring to her.

“I’ve got you,” Clifton said.

Jathan tore his gaze from the window, finally. Clifton and Judith were carrying Laura between them down the hall, being careful not to jar her. Brother Paphnutius followed with a box and a bag, presumably of medical supplies, and next to him was Bryan, up and walking, and looking much more himself. Jathan felt himself smiling, despite the anxious queasiness in his stomach. “Bryan, you’re walking!”

“That I am,” Bryan said, returning Jathan’s smile tiredly. “And glad for it, too. There’s a lot of work to get done. Once I’m better, I want to try and get a team together to salvage that car…”

“Don’t worry about that,” Clifton said. “It’s an expensive loss, but we’ve got the resources to pay for it. I’d rather not risk lives over a scrapped piece of metal.”

“Can you get the door for us, Brother?” Judith asked, as they approached. Her arms were stretched supportively underneath Laura.

“I want someone to cover the area first,” Brother Augustine said. “We saw the raptor out there.”

“Oh, so it is still around,” Clifton said, frowning. “That’s unfortunate.”

“It took off down the road,” Brother Augustine said. “It might be far away now—or it might have doubled back, unseen.”

Clifton looked over at Jathan. “Jathan, would you…?”

“Oh, yeah, of course.” Jathan came over and slid behind Clifton, propping Laura up.

Clifton, disengaging, walked cautiously to his gun. No one said a word as he checked the load, shouldered it, and nodded at Brother Augustine, who unbolted the door and swung it open.

The chirping of birds and the drone of insects merrily accompanied the refreshing morning sunshine over the undisturbed expanse of the Pious Valley. The kentrosaurs, at the other end of the valley, had calmed down again, and ranged slowly back into their wary clusters. Clifton stepped out, gun at the ready, warily watching every corner. There were no trees or undergrowth anywhere near the outer wall of the monastery itself—an intentional design—and the curve of the road lay bare on the dusty upheavals of the mountain.

“I see it,” Clifton said. He shook his head in bewilderment. “It’s halfway down the mountain, and it’s still on the road. Looks like it’s headed for the Undermine.”

“Let’s get everyone loaded up quick, then, before it has time to come back,” Brother Augustine said, and the group jumped into action as quickly as was feasible with the care they had to take of the injured patients. Clifton kept watch while they settled Bryan and Laura in comfortably with the blankets and pillows, packed in the supplies, and made room for the others to squeeze in where no injuries would be jostled.

“You ride up front, Jathan,” Judith said, as she propped another pillow under Laura’s legs. “I want to stay back here to keep an eye on these two.”

Jathan nodded, and with one last glance down the mountainside, he climbed into the seat behind the dash where the windshield bars soared over his head. “I don’t see that raptor anymore,” he said.

“It’s either too far away now, or its gone into hiding,” Clifton said. “I haven’t seen it for about four minutes.” He twisted his wrist, releasing his grip on the gun barrel for a moment, and Jathan saw that he was glancing at a watch he wore. “If it did double back… we still have a couple of minutes, based on the speed it was going.”

“No worries,” Judith said. “We’re ready. Let’s get going. Lyric, honey, sit in here.”

Lyric climbed in the back hatch and settled herself in and Brother Augustine came down the steps, peering into the car. “All set? Do you have everything you need?” the monk asked.

Clifton and Judith glanced at one another, and exchanged a nod. “We’re ready, Brother,” Judith said. “Thank you so much for everything.”

“You are quite welcome,” Brother Augustine said. “Come back any time. We’re always home.” Giving the group a wave, he closed the back hatch of the car for them.

Clifton nodded. “Stay safe up here. Keep us in your prayers… please. And Quincy, especially.”

“Of course. I have a special novena in mind for him,” Brother Augustine said.

“Good.” With one last glance down the road, Clifton slipped into the driver’s seat of the car, handed his gun to Jathan, and shut the door. “All right,” he said. “I’ll make this as fast as I can without hitting too many bad jolts. Jathan, don’t let that gun go off. Judith, you holler if I need to slow down or stop. Lyric—“

“Yes?” Lyric glanced up, looking forlorn with her scratched face and her goggles hung around her neck.

“Is there anything you think I need to know about that dinosaur? If it comes back?”

“No, sir. Just don’t trust it.”

“Never had a thought of doing that. All right, everyone sit back. Good Lord willing, we’ll be there in less than an hour.”

~*~*~

It seemed like the longest walk in the Undermine from the church—people called it a cathedral, but it wasn’t one—to the north groundlock. It had taken maintenance three appeals to get permission to shut down the boilers. It had taken the Church ten to get the Authority to agree to let a priest in to see the prisoner. Ten appeals, and at least fifty rosaries between the clergy and the concerned faithful.

Fr. Antonie wasn’t sure that the Authority meant to let anyone see Quincy ever again.

The north groundlock, he noted as he held up his gas lantern, looked better kept than the others. The Authority guard accompanying him unlocked and unbolted it, almost grudgingly. The foreboding lines of what could have been a post-kentrosaur Revonet workstation loomed up ahead of them as they walked through it. The guard knew his business; he led Fr. Antonie straight to a windowless bunker lodged under the obscuring metal supports of the cavern’s natural curve, following a precise and gentle placement with the bunkers right next to it.

The guard pulled out a key, unlocking the huge, grisly looking locks on the metal door of the bunker. “There’s an inner door with a small window,” he said. “You don’t have a key for that. Only Glenn does. When you finish up, come get me. I’ll be back by the groundlock.”

“Thank you,” Fr. Antonie said. He had already had to submit to a full body search to make sure he wasn’t carrying anything that could be given to the prisoner. Those long black robes must look suspicious. At least he wasn’t carrying around belts full of incendiaries.

Fr. Antonie stepped through the door, and found himself in a small, square metal room with a barred window. He lifted the lantern to the window, peering through.

“Let there be light,” a wry drawl wafted out towards him. “Haven’t seen any of that in far too long.”

“Since yesterday, you mean?” Fr. Antonie angled the lantern, and finally caught a glimpse of the prisoner. Quincy was sitting against a wall, his head leaned back. His boots were gone, and one pant leg was cut cleanly away above the knee. That same knee was tightly bandaged. “Ah, there you are.”

“Yesterday was a long time ago,” Quincy muttered.

“Your knee,” Fr. Antonie said. “Are you all right? They told me that you—“

“That I flipped out and tried to run?” Quincy’s voice singsonged before breaking into a bitter laugh. “That’s what I did. Silly of me, really.” He turned his head upward, squinting at the lantern through the bars. “That’s Father de Vries, isn’t it?”

“The same,” Fr. Antonie said.

“What did they let you in here for?”

“Some acquiescence to a remaining shred of good faith, I imagine.”

Quincy shook his head. “You know, I can understand why they’re all so angry. Have you seen that room out there? I’d be wanting to blow everyone’s brains out having to operate out of a room like that, too.”

“Yes, you would think… that they would want to get away from this sort of resemblance,” Fr. Antonie mused.

“Just another self-made prison,” Quincy said. “They all look the same, anyway. At least there aren’t power-contingency locks on doors that can’t be manually opened here. The Revonet covered its bases… at least most of them.”

“You must have had a hard time of it during the Flight,” Fr. Antonie said.

“Who didn’t, that lived?”

“Not many of us, it’s true. That’s one reason why I’m surprised at their choice of design and approach, here.”

Quincy snorted. “Transgenic Containment… what does that even mean? Transgenic doesn’t mean anything anymore. Haven’t we all eaten enough dinosaurs by this point? They’re the only thing left on the planet, except for a few pocket holdouts of human beings, like this. I’d hate to think what it’s like in the Midwest where there aren’t mountains—just the literally unending Revonet sprawl.”

“Granted the survivors in those areas probably have more flat and arable land than we do.”

“How do you even know there are survivors down there?” Quincy asked. “You been?”

“I haven’t,” Fr. Antonie said, “but some representatives of Bishop Wallow in Oregon have been.”

“How do you stay in touch with these people?” Quincy asked.

Fr. Antonie smiled. “By the grace of God. And a dedicated network. Granted, the contact is very occasional… you know first hand the dangers of trying to travel any distance aboveground… I believe the provincial division of this continent is now about what it was in the nineteenth century, and the remaining population, even less than that. Whatever God’s plan for us now, we see only the step in front of us to take.”

“Fine with me.” Quincy shrugged. “And speaking of that, have they told you yet what they’re going to do with me?”

“I’ve not heard a word. No one has. But we are planning to keep an eye on them, in terms of your case.”

“Who’s we?” Quincy lifted an eyebrow.

“The Church, and a few other interested parties,” Fr. Antonie said.

“Clifton.” It was a statement, not a question.

“His family has a lot of influence,” Fr. Antonie said.

“He’ll have a hard time going up against the families of the Authority men whose deaths I caused,” Quincy said.

Fr. Antonie frowned slightly. “You say it with such certainty,” he said.

“Just playing along. I can’t deny I had a hand in the first squad. That was almost deliberate. I had no idea what they would try and do.”

“Yes, I understand,” Fr. Antonie said. He looked around for something to set the lantern on, or hang it. The smooth bolted steel walls of the box he was in gave him no opportunities, so he bit the lantern’s handle between his teeth as he slipped his purple stole out of his pocket. He had to shift the lantern to his free hand to kiss the stole before he put it on—and back again for his book—he really was getting good at all this juggling.

Quincy watched, a bemused expression on his lined face, but did not comment, listening unobtrusively to Fr. Antonie’s soft, muttered Latin.

“I’d like to ask you a favor,” Quincy said, when he was done.

“And what’s that?”

“Please make sure someone takes care of my kid,” he said. “My niece.”

“Absolutely,” Fr. Antonie said. “Although I do hope you’ll be able to fill that role yourself. Is she your only surviving family?”

Quincy sighed, a long, regretful sound. “Yeah.”

“What happened to her parents, if I may ask?”

“What happened to half the refugees in the BItterroot? Eaten by dinosaurs at one time or another. I regret it, because my brother helped me out. I owe him my life, but I didn’t return the favor, because I wasn’t here. Couldn’t work on my project in town, you know.” Quincy frowned.

“You were trying to accomplish something,” Fr. Antonie said.

“Of course I was,” Quincy said. “You think this sort of burrowing is sustainable? How many more tunnels can they carve out with those steam drills before the entire mountain collapses on top of us? Twenty years and we’ve got a flash in the pan. People love it. But they won’t love it for long. They remember that they don’t every time they have to go aboveground. Can’t grow food underground, unless you want to live on mushrooms. We’re lucky the Revonet terraformed the planet—plants are big and nutritious now. This climate. Remember how it used to be freezing cold in the mountains in Idaho? Montana? We’re up there on the latitude. It doesn’t freeze anymore.”

“It was terraformed it for a dinosaur population,” Fr. Antonie said. “Large animals need a high volume of nutrients.”

“The world is designed for them now,” Quincy said. “Not for us. We have to play it smart to survive. Yeah, I understand that the whole world is used to having a computer tell them what to do. You’d be surprised, though, how people come through, when it really matters. The indomitability of the human spirit is something else, de Vries.”

Fr. Antonie smiled, behind the lantern. “Yes… I know. You’re proof of that.”

“Me? No… no, I hardly had faith in anything, let alone myself, when the Flight started. I was trapped—you know? Trapped in a Revonet laboratory when all the circuits fried. Some of the dissenters bypassed the system and took a jeep out, pushed the kentrosaurs straight into Missoula. Bam.”

“I’m sure many, many people were trapped, with the power-contingency lockdowns,” Fr. Antonie said, soberly. “Yet you survived, and came here.”

Quincy smiled. “You can thank my brother for that. He would have shot his way through an ignirugiens to save me, although fortunately he didn’t have to do that…”

“Your brother sounds like he was an amazing man,” Fr. Antonie said.

“He was,” Quincy said, and sighed. “He advocated for me. Had faith in me. But I wasn’t the only person whose life he saved. The Flight was a nightmare—you remember it.”

“Yes, I do.”

“He helped get a lot of us here safely, and he didn’t stop there.” Quincy shook his head. “The least I can do is look after his kid. I’ve done a poor job of that so far.”

“You never know,” Fr. Antonie said. “She seems to me to have turned out very well, and her relation to you in your work hasn’t hurt, either.”

“Oh, the bonding catalyst? More luck. I didn’t know it would carry like that. I stopped using the Resequencers years ago, though I’ve been hanging onto them—they’re too valuable to throw out. They cause… problems.” Quincy waved a hand. “Not like it matters… it doesn’t matter now. The project’s over. No one wants to see it happen. Who knows what they did with my raptor.”

“I heard, while I was there,” Fr. Antonie said, “that they locked it in a farm maintenance shed. One of the really solid ones that are built outside the groundlock.”

“Really? I hope they’re guarding it so no one walks in looking for a shovel.” Quincy sighed. “No matter. No matter…”

“Attention!” A voice barked from the other end of the room, and Fr. Antonie started, but ignored it. “Is he finished yet? I’ve got the witnesses and the order, and I’d like to get through with this.”

“It’s Glenn,” Quincy said. He raised his voice. “Hey, Glenn! Nice patch job on my knee! Did you do it yourself?”

“The medic did it,” Glenn said, and he was there at the entrance to the bunker, holding a lantern of his own as he frowned at the black-robed priest. “Still here, Father? Hasn’t this man made his peace with God yet?”

“God alone knows,” Fr. Antonie said, “but I’d prefer not to leave him without the defense of an advocate, if I may so presume.”

"Fine," Glenn said. “Come along and advocate if you want. But we’re having the hearing for him now. Full hearing. Are you prepared to make your explanation, Quincy?”

“As prepared as I’m going to get when I can’t even stand up,” Quincy said. “How far away is this hearing?”

“We’re going to have it outside, in the farms.”

“The farms?" Quincy said incredulously. “Why the farms?”

“You’ll see. Please step aside, Father, so that I can unlock the door in there.”

Fr. Antonie stepped out, the smooth stone under his feet echoing the heavy tread of his combat boots. The room did have the hollow, solemn feel of the Revonet workstations—nothing out of place or extraneous, just order, expectation. Where things always went in the same place, and there were no surprises. Yet efficient solutions were the selling point of the Revonet’s vast program. If a technician left a coffee mug in a workstation? The Revonet would decrease unemployment by hiring a janitor, or even a personal attendant. Control. It was all about control.

Glenn slid the bolts back, pulled open the door, waved the priest back to make sure he kept his distance, and stood waiting, his gun under his arm. Fr. Antonie frowned. The man couldn’t walk; was Glenn expecting him to crawl out?

Quincy didn’t complain, and hobbled his way out regardless. Glenn stepped forward to help, once he was past the bunker door, but Quincy waved him off. “I’ve got to keep my strength up,” he said, and then his knee buckled and he crumpled to his seat with a grimace.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Glenn said. The other guard moved towards them from the door, and together the two men hauled him up. Glenn glanced to Fr. Antonie, and nodded towards the door. “Go ahead of us, please, Father.” Fr. Antonie, carrying his lantern and his bag—he wasn’t used to being so lightly attired, moving around with no weapons and in only his unarmored cassock—stepped ahead of them, silently relieved to be returning the normal, soot-stained tunnels.

Without another word, one supporting him with an arm on each side, Glenn and the other guard pulled Quincy along after him, stopping only long enough to bolt the north lock.

It was a long trek to the east groundlock, where only last night the fierce dinosaur battle had raged. The guards took the journey slowly and discreetly, but there were at least a bright few who knew what was going on. The Authority didn’t talk about security breaches as a rule, but someone from maintenance had gone up to check security at the east lock while it was under attack, and rumors had been flying by the morning.

Despite the Authority’s assurance that it had been handled in the most routine way—as they handled all transgenic containment issues—at least a few people were curious enough to trail the small group as it headed east through the city.

“Sir,” one of them called, and Fr. Antonie saw it was a young man, probably born after the Flight, with a pair of spectacles, whose vest and jacket would probably have been brightly colored in aboveground light. His eyes lingered briefly on Quincy, who hobbled stoically along with barely a limp between his two guards. “Has something else happened? What sort of security breaches are we dealing with?”

“The security breach has been contained,” Glenn said. “Don’t worry about it. Nothing else has happened. This man’s injuries are from last night.”

“What happened last night?” the young man asked. “I heard something was attacking the east groundlock.”

“Yes,” Glenn said. “It’s been taken care of.” He stopped, turning to look the young man in the eye from under his metal-plated helmet mask. “It’s all right. The power is off for repairs. It’s unrelated. The Undermine is safe.”

“He’s right, kid.” Oscar’s voice carried across the street, and the burly man shuffled across it to join them, followed closely by an older man and a woman. He was wearing his uniform, except for the mask, and his steely-eyed, bearded face frowned. “Go home. We’ve got some things to take care of to make sure it doesn’t happen again. We’re handling it.”

The woman with him wrung her hands nervously.

“It’s all right, Ernestine,” the older man with them murmured. Fr. Antonie recognized him—that was Folen Garrasco, one of the heads of citywide boiler system maintenance. He was covered in the remnants of soot and sweat, and the priest could not help thinking that his rough work clothes, though expertly built to hold out extremes of temperature and the interaction with heavy equipment, would not last him a moment against a dinosaur.

“Is it?” Ernestine said, wringing her hands. “Our son could have died, and…”

Oscar put a hand on the woman’s shoulder, silencing her with a squeeze. “This will wrap it up,” he said.

“And after that, you’ll stay underground, won’t you?” she begged, her eyes imploring. “It was too close, Oscar… too close.”

Oscar didn’t answer.

“Go on,” Glenn said to the young man. “Go home. Take your friends with you—we don’t want you mixed up in possibly dangerous business. We have a lot of work to do, keeping the Undermine safe so that you can all live a quality life down here.”

“Yes, sir,” the young man said, after a pause, and he and the few other stragglers trailed away.

Fr. Antonie wondered if Glenn was one of the heads of the Authority because of experience or because of his obvious knack for public relations. He suspected, however, that underneath the quiet, affable exterior, the man was as hard and unbending as steel.

The now larger group continued their march, Ernestine casting worried glances at Quincy’s limps. She even threw a few glances at Fr. Antonie, her face melting into an appreciative smile as she did so.

Fr. Antonie returned the smile, and looked at Oscar. “Are these your parents?” he asked.

“Yes,” Oscar said. “Folen and Ernestine Garrasco.”

“A pleasure to meet you both,” Fr. Antonie said, holding out a to Folen. “My name is Fr. Antonie de Vries. I know of you, sir, your work is invaluable to the city. Thank you.”

Folen pulled off a work glove to shake the priest’s hand. “The pleasure is all mine, Father,” he said. Ernestine smiled.

“Introductions can be handled later,” Glenn said. “We don’t want to drag this out.”

Fr. Antonie, the question still on the tip of his tongue, looked at Oscar.

Oscar read his gaze. “I asked that they come to the hearing. A lot of families are coming.”

“Families?” Fr. Antonie said. “Why is that?”

“Witnesses,” Oscar said.

They were following the tunnel east, now, the glow of the gas lamps seeming to throw off less and less light as they receded from view of the city proper. There were still several guards posted at the groundlock, Fr. Antonie could see as they approached it.

Several guards turned to face them and saluted. “At ease,” Glenn said, “unless you hear the alarm.”

They nodded an affirmative. “With the power down, there’s no pressure in the locks,” one of them said.

“That’s fine,” Glenn said. “Keep an eye on it. The outer locks are perfectly secure. We don’t rely on steam pressure for safety. Just open the small door for us, if you would. If anyone else wants to come through for the hearing, make sure they’re on the list. All right?”

“Yes, sir,” the man who had spoken before, said, and unbolted a small, door-sized panel in the main groundlock gate. He stepped through it, holding his gun and a torch, did a quick check around, and then waved them through.

Quincy heaved a deep sigh as Glenn and the other guard resolutely squeezed him, and themselves, one after the other, through the small door. Oscar and his parents followed, and Fr. Antonie brought up the rear.

The guard stepped back through, handing Oscar the torch. “Good luck,” he said. “May justice be done.” And he shut the door, bolting it with a loud, slamming clang.

In the light of the torch, Fr. Antonie could see the hard-packed sand of the road torn up and scattered around the area of the groundlock, and a stale, sour stench sat in the air. The dark, long tunnel yawned out before them like a gaping maw, but Glenn led the way to one side of it, where a partially-hidden second tunnel curved to the southeast, angling sharply upward. This was the lonely track to the farms, sweet with the promise of fresh air and sunshine, but heavy with the dread of the vulnerability of being aboveground. Dozens, maybe hundreds, of people walked this track every day, and while every farmer received basic instruction on aboveground safety and precautionary procedures, it was still a grim and risky job.

As the well-stocked, if haphazard-looking lines of large, cloudy gas lamps began to light the tunnel, Oscar put the torch in a metal holder bolted to the wall and left it.

“Oh, Oscar, dear, wouldn’t it be better if we had our own light?” Ernestine murmured.

“It’s all right, Mom,” Oscar muttered. “We’ll be outside soon.”

“Outside?” Her voice rang shrilly. “You mean aboveground?”

“It’s safe, dear,” Folen said, giving his wife’s hand a squeeze. “You’ve never been, but the farms are at the top of a cliff and they’re very well fenced in. And there’s guards. Dinosaurs don’t get in there.”

“That isn’t true,” she said. “I have friends who have lost family members on the farms!”

“I've lost more friends in the Authority than you even have, Mom,” Oscar said, “if you want to know the truth of it. We’re going up here now to do something about that.”

Ernestine didn't answer, but Fr. Antonie could see she had begun to cry quietly. Folen put an arm around her shoulders, his steady hand gripping her. Fr. Antonie wondered what was Oscar’s reason for bringing his parents along… as witnesses? They had witnessed nothing at all in relation to Quincy’s crimes. What were they being brought to witness?

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