Life Thief

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Chapter 4

The Bitterroot Undermine had a population of about thirty thousand people. In twenty-five years the little underground city had gone from a group of desperate survivors huddling in a cave to a thriving metropolis of highly motivated innovation in underground living. Some of the top engineers, technicians and scientists in the area who had worked for the Revonet had made their way to what had been a promising refuge.

Life was a promising circle of artisans paying each other exorbitant sums for a wide distribution of cultural distractions, absinthe and hookah bars, the cathedral, research breakthroughs in steam and other technology that did not require the use of electricity.

There was electricity, of course. Ernestine was glad for that. She had an industrial strength sewing machine now, and it made her job so much easier. It was safe to have electricity this far underground. The Kentrosaurs couldn’t get down here to tear it up, and everything electrical was buried deep enough in the rock that their destructive pulses couldn’t reach it. The only effect of it, really, was that Kentrosaurs stayed rather far away from the Bitterroot Undermine. Ernestine was glad for that too. She had never seen a dinosaur up close. She never wanted to.

“Good evening, dear,” Ernestine called from where she stood at the stove, frying pale cornbread and a pot of chili.

“Nice to see you, Mom.” Oscar bent down to duck through the low doorframe, taking off his coat and hanging it on the kitchen chair. Gas lamps on the walls flickered cheerfully. Oscar walked over to give his mother a kiss. “What are you making?”

Ernestine returned the kiss and smiled. “Your favorite! Don’t you recognize the smell?”

“It doesn’t smell like it did when I was a kid,” Oscar said, “but yeah.”

Ernestine shook a finger at him. “When you were little, we didn’t even have real food to eat.”

“We had plenty to eat… it was good.” Oscar sat down at the table with a wry grin.

“It wasn’t real, though.”

Oscar nodded indulgently, his eyes rolling up to the rounded ceiling.

“How was work?” Ernestine asked, stirring the chili.

“Uneventful,” Oscar said. “But there’s a squad missing. Transgenic Containment Authority found evidence that someone might be harboring animals about twenty miles north of here, and we sent a squad out late this morning to investigate. They’re officially missing.”

“You can’t contact anyone out on the surface anyway, can you?” Ernestine put her spoon down and looked at him with concern.

“No,” Oscar said. “They were due back this evening.”

“But it’s not even late yet,” Ernestine said.

“Don’t worry, Mom,” Oscar said. “This happens all the time. We report missing right away, so that we can do something about it. It’s a protocol to minimize the loss of human life. It’s dangerous out there.”

“I’m sure it is.” Ernestine shook her head, turning back to the pot of chili. She lifted out a spoonful to look at the beans. Almost done. “You don’t have to go out after them, do you?”

“I might,” Oscar said.

“Oh, Oscar.” Ernestine put the spoon down and turned to look at him imploringly. “What would your father say?”

“What would he say if I was the one who hadn’t come back?”

“If you don’t go out in the first place,” Ernestine said with a frown, turning back to the pot, “then you won’t ever not come back.”

“That’s not under my control, Mom. Here, let me help you with that.” Oscar jumped to his feet and took a pair of potholders out of his mother’s hands, lifting the heavy pot of chili to set it on the table. Ernestine waved her hands in the air, not looking at her son as she began to set out bowls, plates, and spoons. “Mom,” Oscar said, patiently, “it’ll be okay.”

Ernestine sniffled, busily setting the table. “If you say so. Why can’t you get another job, a safer one, underground? You could get married, raise a family…”

“Somebody needs to do this job,” Oscar said. “These things are dangerous. You miss what it was like before, don’t you? Things were normal. Everybody was safe. It was because somebody was watching out.”

“It was a computer watching out, not real people!” Ernestine said.

“Let me finish,” Oscar said. “Sometimes who we’re trusting to watch out doesn’t have our best interest in mind. Right? I didn’t mind the food, but I did mind, when I found out about it, that the Revonet was making a bunch of reptilian animals to replace us as the dominant species on the planet. I was just too young to do anything about it. We were lucky, Mom. It was other people that found a place to go, and protected the refugees while we went there. It was other people risking their lives to save us. Now it’s my turn. What’s wrong with that? We could just as easily all be dead.”

Ernestine huffed, wiping her teary eyes. “Let’s just not talk about that, dear, let’s not spoil your favorite supper.”

Oscar grinned. “Mom, you brought it up. We’ve all got to do our part in rebuilding society and protecting its members, don’t we? You do yours by making clothes, and armor, and cooking me dinner. Dad does his by maintaining the city pipelines. Those are all important jobs. And mine is to watch surface activity and enforce the laws. Someday, maybe we’ll be able to live on the surface again and see the sun.”

“I hope not,” Ernestine said, sitting down at the table with a sigh. “It’s too dangerous there.”

“If we can eliminate the dinosaurs, and clean up the ruins, then it won’t be. The way things are now is dangerous. We still have to grow food with sunlight. It’s expensive and dangerous to dig out new sections of the mountain to expand the city. How do we know the whole thing won’t collapse on us? We don’t really have security down here. It’s an illusion. There’s no dinosaurs, sure. But there’s other hazards, and nobody likes being without the sun.”

“I don’t mind,” Ernestine said. “We have lamps. There’s shows, people get together and have dances, and parties. People go to church. We can raise our families. I don’t think we’ve lost any quality of life, even though things have changed. We’ve been very blessed to be able to be down here.”

Oscar nodded. “All right, well, let’s eat. I’m hungry.” He smiled at his mother. “Thanks for making dinner.”

Ernestine returned the smile. “You’re very welcome, darling. I wish your father could be here, but he’s—“

“Yeah, I heard, main junction boiler burst. They’re having to readjust the pressure in the whole system. That’s all right.”

“Let’s pray before we eat, dear,” Ernestine implored her son. Oscar obediently folded his hands while she did so, and then they dug into the food. “Tell me about your day,” Ernestine said, as she spread butter on a piece of cornbread.

“Well.” Oscar dabbed his mouth with a cloth napkin. “Like I said, pretty uneventful. I filed the activity counts. There’s a drill worker who hasn’t come back yet. He could be up at the compound… or dead. Everyone else who has been out is back and accounted for, except the squad that was due back tonight. No squad, no report. They’ll ring me if anything comes in. If nothing does, we’ll send out a team to look for the squad and the worker both.”

“Are they anyone I know?” Ernestine asked.

“I know the squad guys, but you haven’t met them. I don’t know the drill worker. Jathan Russell.”

“Oh,” Ernestine stirred her chili. “I don’t know him. But I hope he’s all right.”

“Me too,” Oscar said, shaking his head. He knew better than his mother did how dangerous it actually was up there. Presently they both finished their meals, sitting back with contented sighs.

“Do you want some tea?” Ernestine asked. “I’m boiling water.”

“Thanks, Mom, I’d love some.” Oscar smiled. “You don’t suppose that—“

A bell dinged loudly from the other room. Ernestine jumped, startled. “What was that?”

“Alarm. Something important.” Oscar jumped out of his chair, grabbing his coat and throwing it on. “Thanks for dinner, Mom. It was delicious.”

“What’s happening?” Ernestine cried. “Did someone die?”

“I don’t know yet,” Oscar said. “I’m about to go find out. Give Dad a hug for me when he comes in, okay?”

“Will you be back?” Ernestine called, but her son was already out the door.

The glowing gas lamps lit the underground street as it wound lazily around several small dwellings that had been built along the side of the cavern. Oscar paused to look back just for a minute. The house looked just like all the others nearby it; built of stone, brick, and mortar, with curved corners and a low, half-domed roof to conserve warmth. Individuality was something that people were still learning how to express, in a world where survival had so far taken precedence. But, his mother always left two lamps burning in the windows when her son or husband weren’t home. He had always thought that was nice and thoughtful of her.

Turning back to the street, Oscar quickly wound his way through the streets and beside the rail tracks as they moved from cavern to cavern. To the east he saw the unfinished tunnels; the steam drills, mining carts, and other construction equipment sat silent and powered down for the night, the fireboxes banked with ashes. To the north, he took a small tunnel that led to a fortified bunker built in a tunnel dug slightly larger. Following it upwards would take you to a hidden entrance to the surface, bolted shut with steel sheeting and rivets, and a single door cut into it.

The bell on the bunker was ringing. Oscar slipped inside. A hot, sour smell assaulted his nostrils, and he had to suppress the urge to gag.

“Oscar, there you are.” One of his colleagues, Frederic, reached out and gripped his shoulder. His gaunt face was pained. “Bad news. Salvador made it back, but Dennis, Brenton, and Corey… they were killed.”

Oscar felt like someone had punched him in the gut. Hard. He sucked in a breath. “No… what was it? Raptors?”

“Yes, raptors,” the cold voice of their supervisor, Glenn, wafted over from the meeting table, where he was swiftly drawing lines on a map with a red pen. “But not wild raptors. These were being kept by someone, in that facility twenty miles north of here.”

“He let them out.” Oscar turned towards Salvador’s squeaky, panicked voice. The man was sitting heavily on one of the metal benches, and the medic was there, wrapping him up, checking his vitals, and had probably already given him a sedative. Oscar saw evidence of serious injury, but averted his eyes quickly. Too much blood made him queasy. Salvador continued to stammer. “The guy there. I saw him run past. He let them out to attack us.”

“Subject not only harbored dangerous genetically engineered animals in an illegally electrified facility above ground, but released them, presumably with the intention of murdering our men. The man is either crazy or he has access to something more dangerous than dinosaurs. Gentlemen, we have a problem.” Glenn straightened up, slamming his pen down on the table. “The facility is one one floor but large. Boilers powering electric generators, and possibly incubators. The man himself was tall and lanky. Dressed in leather armor and helmet. It was a young girl that answered the door. Maybe fifteen, sixteen tops. Pale brown hair, gloves, work shirt, long skirt. Two raptors. Our surviving man obviously had no time to inspect the area the animals were released from. He was lucky to escape with his life.”

Oscar let out a breath. He looked at Frederic. Frederic’s dark eyes returned his gaze, and he slowly shook his head. “Why would anyone keep raptors?” Oscar whispered. “Stygis or kentros, okay. But raptors? They do nothing but kill. And they do it well.”

“Maybe that’s why,” Frederic murmured. “He obviously wanted them to kill our men.”

“Christ,” Oscar said. “Dennis… he’s got two little kids.” He clenched a fist, fury edging into his voice. “Don’t people understand that these things are dangerous? They were MADE to be dangerous. Made by a system that wanted us all dead. There’s nothing natural or useful about them.”

“I know,” Frederic muttered. “I know.”

Glenn cast a steely gaze at each of the men who stood around the table. “This is not only a breach of law and of safety, it is an affront to everything we are trying to build here. It was not without high cost that this city was built or that there was even anyone alive and free to build it. We must not let this tyranny happen again, men. This man must be found, and arrested. Tomorrow morning, we send another team out. He won’t take us by surprise this time. Analyze the facility’s situation. Retrieve supplies from the compound at St. Vito’s if you need to. Do not hesitate to apprehend this man, alive or dead. This madness needs to be nipped in the bud. All right?”

“You bet!” Oscar said grimly, and the other men nodded.

“Good,” Glenn said. “I want Oscar, Frederic, Harrison, and Dusty. And I want Edward and Omer trailing them in a cover squad. First safe light.” He cast his gaze from each one to the next, then nodded. “You’re all dismissed. Get some sleep.” One by one, the men filed out. Oscar stayed put, his hands on his tips, staring at the stony floor, his brow furrowed.

Frederic paused at the doorway, shooting a questioning glance back at his colleague. “I’ll be there in a minute,” Oscar said, waving a hand at him dismissively. He wasn’t going to go out tonight. Even though he probably could use a drink. Or three.

“We’ll be at the Board,” Frederic said. Oscar nodded, not looking his direction.

Many times, after work, the men would go and spend time at a bar called the Circuit Board. A place with a cheeky name, and a revolutionary spirit. The drinks were good, the cooks weren’t great, but most people went for the company. It was cozy, well-lit, and full of overstuffed couches in corners where long debates and elaborate plans to restore the glory of humankind often continued long into the night.

The glory of humankind. Oscar slowly lifted his gaze to Salvador, who still cringed on the bench in the corner, tears leaking from his eyes and coursing their way down the heavy, pain-filled grimace on his face. A wonderful thing to talk about, in the dark, smoky, confines of the undermine’s little pockets of unreality. Here, tonight, it seemed like a cruel joke.

The medic attending Salvador was working quickly. Slowly, almost reluctantly, Oscar forced himself to look as he walked over, squatting down by the two men. The rotting, sour smell hit him again, and he involuntarily put a hand over his mouth. His eyes traveled over Salvador’s wounds as the medic slowly unwrapped the cloths he had used to staunch the bleeding. A long, slashing rip cut the poor man’s ravaged body from the base of his neck down to his hip. It looked like the bleeding had successfully been stopped or at least slowed. Oscar felt his stomach turn, but worse was the bleakness in his mind. The medic was smearing the wound with topical antiseptic, taking out a needle and sutre thread. Salvador was moaning.

“Salvador,” Oscar said. The man shook his head, blinking, like he couldn’t quite hear. “Salvador,” Oscar repeated. Then the man looked at him. His eyes had that hazy, unfocused look of the sedative he’d been given. “We’re going to find the man responsible for this. I promise.”

“The raptor,” Salvador whispered. The grimace flickered and morphed across his face as the medic began sewing up his wound. “Its eyes… Oscar, its eyes.”

Oscar blinked, his brow furrowing again. He didn’t respond, staring at the man.

“Its eyes,” Salvador continued, his whisper hoarse. “It wants us all dead. It won’t stop until we are.”

~*~*~

Brother Paphnutius, while he may have wished that the abbott had given him a different job, was happy to embrace the merit of obedience that enthusiastically fulfilling this monotonous and yet somewhat terrifying task would gain him. Laying flat on the rocky peak that overlooked the valley and the Selway riverbed, he stretched taut the long gut wire. Barely sliding a rubber glove along its length created a convincing imitation of the roar of a Cryolophosaurus gelovitalia. The animals in the area hadn’t figured out the trick yet, even though the monks did this ever week or so, and without preamble they bellowed warnings to their friends. Brother Paphnutius’ job was to mark the number and location of the animals on his map, based on what he was hearing. On another map he would mark down any visual information he gained from his vantage point.

As usual, there wasn’t much. The Kentrosaurus herd that lived by the monastery was noisy, but already accounted for, and they still made the largest numbers on the map. The long, low roars were from Pachycephalosaurus stygimoloch, as they cast around trying to locate the predators with their long-wave, rebounding cries. One or two of those, farther down the mountain. The loudest were the deadly trumpeters, Parasaurolophus lambio. They would continue their calls for a good twenty minutes. But there weren’t any of them near the mountains today. No doubt their herd had migrated back into the valleys, like they usually did this time of year. Vitaeraptor and the other predators wouldn’t make any sound, so the monks estimated their mountain populations by the behavior and numbers of the Kentrosaurus herd. Predator populations in the mountains, from what they could tell, had stayed low until recently. In the past few months there had been an increase of Vitaeraptor attacks.

Brother Paphnutius methodically wrote down his figures on his map, then sat up to look around the valley. There wasn’t much to see, really. Where trees and plants didn’t block his view, rocky crags and the overhang of the riverbed did. But something unusual was going on. The calls of Pachycephalosaurus, or stygis, as they were commonly called,were continuing longer than they usually did. They even seemed to be increasing in frequency and urgency, as if the animals were trying to pinpoint something. Stygis used echolocation, and seemed to have advanced sound recognition for the patterns of vibrations created by various objects. Brother Paphnutius wished he had some way to read them himself. Stygis had been engineered to react to a certain vibrational shape, and that was the signature of a human body…

Brother Paphnutius stood up straight. He was too high up. Their calls probably weren’t locating him; he was out here every week and never got this reaction. Was there someone down there? Shading his eyes with one hand, he squinted down into the valley.

Then he saw it, far below. A running figure—but running from where? there was nothing in that direction—was scrambling up the mountain, keeping to the riverbed, but abruptly abandoning it when it swung back into the trees. As it drew closer, he saw that it was a woman—a girl no more than fifteen, at that. He sucked in a breath. What was a girl doing out here alone, unarmed? How was she still alive? She wouldn’t be much longer, with the stygis carrying on like that. Brother Paphnutius cupped his hands around his mouth, and shouted. “OVER HERE!”

The girl, scrambling up the rocks like a mountain goat, heard him; he saw her look up, and cast around for the source of the voice. He waved both arms, then beckoned. The girl adjusted her course and headed for him. Brother Paphnutius stood there for just a moment in indecision, chewing his lip. He wasn’t supposed to climb down the mountain, but there was no telling how close predators might be, and she could be in danger.

Far away, he heard the shrieks of raptors. She seemed to hear them too, and doubled her stumbling pace. Leaving his gut string contraption where it was, Brother Paphnutius got down and half-slid, half-climbed his way down the crest of the peak. Ouch, he thought, not the thing to be doing in a habit. The long, black monastic habit and scapular, girded at the waist, were not ideal mountain-climbing gear. Nor were the simple, standard-issue sandals that he was now skidding down the slope in.

“Careful, watch your footing!” Brother Paphnutius called to the girl, trying to wave to her with one hand while hanging on precariously with the other. He stopped where he was, and held out a hand.

“They’re coming!” she cried, sobs and panicked breaths shaking her small frame. “He’s got two of them or maybe three and they’re coming…” She stretched out a gloved hand, reaching for him.

Brother Paphnutius grabbed her hand. “It’s okay,” he said. “They probably are, but we’ve got a place to go. The monastery is just up the ridge, okay? It’s safe.” The girl nodded, looking wildly over her shoulder. Keeping hold of her hand, the monk led her up to a safer footing. He would come back for his maps and contraptions later.

“I’m Brother Paphnutius,” he said. “What’s your name?”

“It’s Ly… Lyric,” she stammered. She clung to his hand as they climbed, her face streaked with tears and dust.

“What were you doing all the way out there? Was something chasing you?”

Lyric broke down crying. “He let them out…”

Brother Paphnutius paused, climbing up the last short cliff face and then turning to help her up. Let who out? Or what? He’d better wait until she calmed down before trying to get the story out of her. “Here we are,” he said, as he helped her up into the valley under the cliff face. “Don’t be scared. Those are Kentrosaurs, they’re herbivores. They eat plants. They won’t hurt us.”

Lyric had gasped and started at the sight of the dinosaurs, but apart from a few brief, dull stares, the animals paid no mind to the two humans. Half-hidden behind the monk, she watched them warily. Brother Paphnutius waited. No need to rush and scare her further.

“Do you… keep them here?” she asked, after a minute.

“Well, they like it here, and we like having them here, so it’s something of a mutually beneficial arrangement. We even grow some hay fields for them. Do you like them? They’re also a really good defense against the predators.”

“Good,” she said, and shuddered.

“Come inside,” Brother Paphnutius said. “We’ll get you some supper and a bed. You probably need help getting back to the undermine, don’t you?” The girl just nodded, hanging onto the sleeve of his habit. “All right, then, let’s go,” he said, and patted her awkwardly as he led her through the Kentrosaurus herd. The poor thing. Brother Paphnutius thankfully did not have much occasion to have frightened young women hanging off of him, but he felt sorry for her. She was disheveled, shaking, and had a long, ugly bruise blossoming along the whole length of her jaw.

Brother Augustine stood at the door, his black habit covered with a stained light denim one. “Brother Paphnutius!” he said, stopping and staring with concern at the girl. “What happened?”

“Well, I was doing my population survey,” Brother Paphnutius said, “and the stygis started acting up like they had something in their radar. I got up to look, and I saw this poor girl, running like she was chased. I waved her over and brought her up; it’s sure not safe down there. She said her name is Lyric.”

Brother Augustine sighed. “We’d better let the abbot know.”

Lyric was beginning to cry again. “He let them out,” she wailed.

The two monks exchanged glances. “Why don’t you play the guitar for her, or something,” Brother Augustine said.

Brother Paphnutius had an heirloom from his days prior to entering the monastery; a very well-built gut strung guitar. As a youngster in the closed-in, underground quarters of the various mountain undermines, playing music had been his solace and his escape. His family had suffered a lot, giving up their own autonomy and even safety to help survivors escape. Nowadays, their lives had become, by the grace of God, a bit more quiet. The military presence in the various undermines was still very heavy, guarding tunnels, gateways, and convoys, but due to the hard work of so many, the fortifications inside the tunnels were actually quite safe, now, housing thriving cities. Brother Paphnutius thought best to help his family, and others in the Bitterroot, with his prayers and penance. They deserved nothing less. He had taken his guitar with him to the abbey, but it usually stayed locked away in the chapter room…

“How about I just tell her a story?”

Brother Augustine glanced back at the girl, who was now sitting against the stone wall on the steps, huddled in terror, her tear-streaked face staring wildly out over the valley. “Okay,” he said. “I’ll go and let the abbott know.”

“Tell him,” Brother Paphnutius said, “that someone might have been chasing her.”

“Someone? You mean dinosaurs?”

“Maybe, but I don’t think so,” Brother Paphnutius said. Brother Augustine shrugged, nodded, and went up the steps into the monastery.

“Let’s go inside, Lyric,” Bother Paphnutius said. “Where it’s safe.” He glanced around the mountain cliffs. With the isolation and the kentro herd, he usually felt pretty safe here. But right now, the high valley felt eerie, forbidding. Maybe she really was being followed. Brother Paphnutius crossed himself. Lyric was already jumping up and running inside. He followed her, and shut the heavy monastery door securely.

“Is it really safe here?” Lyric murmured, looking around. The yawning stone cloister gave a heavy impression of silence and the unruffled safety of routine.

“Safer than anywhere else above ground,” Brother Paphnutius said.

“I hate it above ground,” she said. Her voice was soft, almost apologetic, but decisive.

“I can’t say I blame you.” Brother Paphnutius sat down on one of the benches that lined the halls. “Years and years ago, things didn’t used to be this way…”

“Years and years ago, there weren’t any dinosaurs,” Lyric said.

“That’s true,” Brother Paphnutius said. “There were all kinds of other animals. A lot of them weren’t dangerous. Like cows, chickens, horses, dogs, cats. Chickens were a little bit like tiny dinosaurs, but they didn’t attack people, they just scratched around in the dirt, ate bugs, and laid eggs. Cows, well, they were a little like the kentrosaurs we’ve got up here, hanging around in herds eating grass all day. They were soft, and furry, though, not covered in spikes. And, they gave milk.”

“Milk?”

“I guess it’s a little hard to describe what you’re missing. I bet it’s been over thirty years since anybody alive even tasted ice cream.”

“I know about cows,” Lyric said. “I had a book about them when I was… you know, when I was a kid. They’re extinct.”

“Yeah, they are, sadly,” Brother Paphnutius said, with a smile. “So is ice cream.”

“Bummer.” Lyric wandered back and forth along the corridor, stopping at a stone statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe. She was already a lot more relaxed. That was good. Brother Paphnutius leaned back against the wall behind him, gazing at the statue himself. It was beautifully carved, the image’s cloak stained a greenish blue and the stars on its robe gilt with brass. The abbey still had very few statues; basic survival took up most of the monks’ work time, but as monks do, they placed a high priority on artisanal work, especially for sacred topics that would ever remind them of the blessings of their patron saints and of God. They also invested a lot of their work time in preserving knowledge and reason, the bastion of true humanity. The abbey library, though nothing compared to the size of libraries of the old world, was likely the largest for hundreds of miles around. The monks had carefully secured and copied what books they could, even writing down from memory bits of works of philosophy and history that had otherwise been completely lost. They regularly printed copies of their office books, scripture, and the writings of the fathers. They even had magnetic datastreams that people had brought them, and while they couldn’t currently access these, they kept them in the library for the possibility that a time might come when they could.

“What’s that you’re saying?” Lyric was looking at him now.

Brother Paphnutius blinked. He had begun muttering Aves under his breath without realizing it. He smiled. “A prayer.”

“What are you praying for?”

“I’m praying to Our Lady for patience, perseverance, humility, obedience, and to stay in the grace of God.”

“Oh.”

“You can pray to her too,” Brother Paphnutius said. He nodded at the statue.

“Pray to a statue?” Lyric turned around again to look at the statue.

“Not to a statue,” he said, “to her. The statue is only an image to remind us that the Blessed Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ has not forgotten us, in our lowly and isolated predicament.”

Lyric crossed her arms, not saying anything as she gazed at the statue.

Down the hallway of the cloister, two hooded, bearded monks appeared from the door of the chapel, and headed towards them, one of them still covered in his light denim work habit. Brother Paphnutius stood to greet his abbott.

“Brother Paphnutius,” Father Columba said with a smile. “It seems our young guest has calmed down. How are you, dear?” He addressed Lyric.

The girl nodded, noncommittally.

“I don’t wish to trouble you,” Father Columba said, “but can you tell me what happened?”

“My uncle Quincy took me to his secret hideout, to help for a few days. He signed the papers at school for me to do an internship above ground.”

“Your parents were all right with this?” Father Columba asked.

“My parents are dead,” she mumbled.

“I’m sorry. Et lux perpetua luceat eis, requiescat in pace,” Father Columba said. All three monks drew the sign of the cross.

“Quincy has raptors at his secret hideout,” Lyric said, and shivered.

Brother Paphnutius sucked in a breath.

“Does he, now?” Father Columba said, a slightly frown becoming visible under his beard.

“They don’t kill him. He’s trying to… use them. He says they’ll get our freedom back for us. It’s horrible.”

“I agree,” Father Columba said. “That is horrible. Was that why you were running?”

“I was running…” she said slowly, her voice catching, “because… he let them loose.”

Father Columba looked at Brother Paphnutius and Brother Augustine, eyebrows raised. His meaning was evident. This was not a good situation.

“Surely we’ll be fine up here,” Brother Augustine said. “The kentrosaurs—“

“The fact that someone is doing this, with raptors,” Father Columba said, “is very concerning. My dear, thank God that you are alive and relatively unhurt.”

“I am,” she said, and tears started to run down her face again, “but those other men aren’t.”

“What other men, Lyric?”

“I don’t remember what they were called,” Lyric said, sniffling. “They came to Quincy’s hideout when he wasn’t there. Only I was there. With the raptors in the cage. They behave really well in the cage. I mean, compared to…”

“I understand. Go on. These men came…”

“They were kind of mean. They demanded I let them in. They were going to blow the place up. So I let them in. They… they were kind of violent. They yelled at me, and hit me, and grabbed me by the hair. But they didn’t deserve…” Lyric choked on her words.

“What happened next?” Father Columba asked gently. “Is that when he let the raptors loose?”

She nodded, and squeezed her gloved fingers into her eyes. “Those men got killed.”

“But you didn’t.”

“I don’t know why,” she said. “Quincy came through and grabbed me and ran. But the raptors followed us. They were covered in blood. They…” She shuddered.

“That’s all right,” Father Columba said. “You don’t need to tell me anymore. You’re safe here.” He turned to Brother Augustine and spoke in a low voice. “If anyone—or anything—does come up here, the kentrosaurs will let us know. Brother Paphnutius, you were out doing your survey.”

“I was,” Brother Paphnutius said, and then he bit his lip. “I left my logs and equipment up there. I wanted to get Lyric back here…”

“That’s fine,” Father Columba said. “We’ll retrieve them later. Any unusual complaints?”

“No, nothing unusual,” Brother Paphnutius said, “except for the stygis reacting to Lyric being out there. I heard raptors, but they weren’t very close.”

“Close enough for you to hear them, though,” Father Columba said.

“Yeah.”

“All right.” The abbott nodded. “Brother Paphnutius, find a room for this girl and give her what she needs to get cleaned up. Dinner will be ready after Vespers. Brother Augustine, I want you to be on door duty this evening—“

A chorus of furious bellows suddenly rang through the valley from outside. The kentrosaurs. Lyric turned pale, her eyes widening. The three monks spun silently towards the heavy, secured door.

“Ah,” Father Columba said, his bushy eyebrows furrowing. “It seems… that something is here.”

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