The three raptors went still and rigid. The crests of long feathers on their heads were raised, in interest or alarm Quincy was no longer sure. They gazed vigilantly at the threatening Kentrosaurus herd, and then all three of them, one after the other, resumed their loud shrieks and hoots. The kentros bellowed in return.
Quincy slowly released his grip on Sparky’s leather harness with one gloved hand. There were obviously people here, and perhaps Lyric was here too. Kentros weren’t really aggressive to people, but it was quite clear they were aggressive to the raptors. He would not be able to approach the building safely with his animals, and he did not want to leave them out here. They were out of containment now—they might run off, or fan out and try to hunt the Kentrosaur herd, and finding and catching them again would be difficult if not impossible.
If Lyric was here, though, she was safe. Whoever lived up here, they would get her back home. Quincy unslung Lyric’s goggles from where they hung around his neck, and angling his wrist, tossed them as far as he could into the valley. At least maybe she would know he had come looking for her.
The raptors and kentros were still howling at one another. This exchange continued for several more seconds, when, with a final loud snarl, Sparky spun and darted back down the cliff, out of sight of the herd. The two females did the same, ranging to either side and only coming back into sight when the narrowness of the ledge they traveled on demanded it.
“All right,” Quincy shouted. He whistled. “Back home. Last kill. You know where it is.” Sparky snarled, and answering shrieks from Nova and Streamline echoed against the mountain peaks. Leaping into a sprint, all three angled themselves back in the direction of Quincy’s hidden facility.
More men would be coming. Quincy was sure of that. When these men didn’t return, another squad would be sent. He needed to evacuate important items and information, and go somewhere else for a while. It was really too bad that things hadn’t worked out for Lyric to come and work with him. Once things settled down, perhaps he could do something about that. She was his only living relative, and that certainly made things… easier. Making the bonding catalyst formulations wasn’t exactly a painless process.
The shadows were long when they arrived. Quincy climbed off of Sparky, and all three raptors went straight to their kentrosaur carcass, tearing into it greedily. Quincy stood, hands on his hips, taking another survey of the damage. The broken door still hung there, flattened, the sprays of blood and long scrapes of spikes visible on the metal sheeting of the wall. And there—oh, no. It was a trail of blood on the ground. He hadn’t noticed that before. Maybe it hadn’t been there before. Quincy dropped his hands and went to follow it.
The trail went around the side of the facility, and headed south, along the road rather than the riverbed up the mountain. Quincy swore under his breath. Had one of the men survived? If he was bleeding like that, he wouldn’t have gotten far. Either he wouldn’t have the strength, or something would have been attracted by the scent of blood and picked him off.
Quincy broke into a jog. Surely soon he would find evidence that—he stopped in his tracks.
They were hidden in the trees, but Quincy knew this section of the woods well enough to know when something was out of place. Three bikes leaned against a thick-leafed tree, just off the road. They were industrial mountain bikes, the sort that could take a lot of shock and had heavy treads and big tires. They had pedals, but also a small diesel motor to add power when needed. The blood trail led to this stack of bikes, and there was evidence of tires scraping and dragging, crushing the undergrowth. There had been a fourth bike, and whoever had taken it—the injured man, most likely—hadn’t been trying to hide his movements. And the bike was gone, so he had obviously been able to go some distance with it.
Quincy groaned and dragged his gloved hands over his face. What a mess. Why had his animals not killed them all? Had the man climbed on something? Hidden in something? Snuck out afterwards? He should have done a more thorough inspection of the building, but he had been distracted, worried about Lyric.
The contented yelps of the feeding raptors carried back down the road. Quincy shook his head. With this development he was definitely going to have to relocate, and quickly. Stepping into the undergrowth, he bent to inspect the equipment strapped on the bikes. It was pretty standard; water canteens, first aid kit, antidote kit, collapsable spade, rope, emergency blankets, a climbing kit, detonating cord, and backup satchels full of explosives. No doubt their main weapons the men had had on them. Still, any of this would be useful. He wouldn’t be able to carry much, but he could load Nova up with some of the extras.
Wheeling one of the bikes back to the building, Quincy ignored the shrieks of the raptors and, leaning the bike against the outside wall, slipped back inside. He still didn’t feel like he had time to really make a thorough inspection. The electricity was definitely shorted out. The boiler still hissed, and the fireboxes still glowed. He really had worked hard on this place. He could do everything he needed to here. Quincy sighed as he picked his way over the remains of the fight, heading towards the back shed. Likely when the Transgenic Authority showed up, they would tear it all to pieces trying to put some picture together of what he had been doing here. As if he’d been doing something wrong. You could argue that it was technically illegal; while it was not strictly within the city bounds, the Bitterroot Undermine enforced this whole area, and in the Undermine it was illegal both to run electricity aboveground and to harbor dinosaurs.
Quincy needed the electricity, though. He ran lights and other things off of it because he had it, but his real reason for installing an expensive, dangerous system was the one thing he definitely wasn’t going to leave behind. The back shed was dark—the door of the raptor cage hung open like a yawning monster. The last glimmer of the setting sun peeked through the window. Quincy fumbled along his workbench until he found the gas lamps. Digging out some matches, he lit them. It was not the lighting he preferred—but even in the low, yellow illumination of the gas lamps he could see the charred wiring of his electrical lamps. Damn those Kentrosaurs. He pulled out his stash of flashlights and portable illumination. Every single one of them was dead, some with charred burns along their wiring. He sighed, turning to his lab equipment.
The synthesizers for the mitochondrial bonding catalyst were small enough that he could pack them up, although it was precision equipment and very delicate. He had packed it in insulation foam and sand for the trip out of the valley. Working quickly, he packed it right back in. Along with his nitrogen-insulated bottles of the formulated catalyst itself.
When he finished, he grabbed one of the gas lamps, extinguished the others, and came out of the back shed with his carefully secured package. He saw that the raptors had finished their meal and slunk back into the building, and were sniffing around the remains of the men, worrying the bits of armor. Quincy shook his head. His experiment had been a success—to some extent. The animals didn’t attack him—but it was only him that they wouldn’t attack. All other human beings were fair game. They were intelligent, and could understand commands—but they rarely wanted to. Their instincts often overrode their engineered loyalty. And, of course, they remained entirely unpleasant to the senses, and their predatory features were still hazardous even without benefit of a directed attack.
Quincy was no genetic engineer. His background was in biochemistry, but without computers to map the millions of DNA chains, protein sequences, and enzyme reactions occurring in a living body, his project was trial and error at best.
“Sparky, Nova, Streamline!”
Three heads popped up to stare at him, teeth bared.
“Come on, kids, we’re getting out of here.” Quincy tucked his box under his arm and walked outside. He paused by the bike. It was probably worth to take along, at least for tonight. Though tire tracks were easier to follow and navigable terrain more limited, he didn’t want to tie his fragile equipment onto a dinosaur. He secured the box snugly to the back of the bike with the ropes and cords in its supplies, and tied the gas lamp to the top of it. He turned to glance back at the raptors. The animals were following him slowly, snapping and growling at each other. Quincy glanced up at the sky. Not much light left now. Pulling the bike off of the wall, he swung onto it, set his feet on the pedals, and pushed off.
The pedals didn’t push easy, but other than that, it was an effortless and quick ride. He heard the soft growls of the raptors as they darted after him. The sun continued to sink as he traveled, and it was hard to see the ground in front of him. Almost there. He was pretty sure it was close.
Angling the bike down, he turned it off the mountain trail and down into the valley of the riverbed. The tires hit the stones in the riverbed with a sickening thump, rattling the whole bike despite its improved shocks. The gas in the lamp sloshed and the light went out. Quincy was plunged into darkness. Pulling hard on the handle brakes, he dropped a foot from the pedals and struck out for the ground. His booted foot slipped on a rock, twisting as he dropped on it. A sharp pain shot through his ankle, and he gasped. A moment later the bike hit another rock and flipped on its side, throwing him sprawling across the rocky riverbed. Pain flared across his body, and he groaned. He felt the weight of the bike across his legs, and he twisted around, cautiously, feeling for the lamp. Where was it—
His fingers touched broken glass and he cursed softly under his breath. At least he had the matches. He fumbled them from his pocket, and managed to strike one. The smell of sulphur filled his nostrils as the match flared up.
Barely three feet away from him in the sudden light, a raptor was crouched in mid-stalk, its eyes fixed on him, its muscles and bearing tensed to pounce. Quincy scowled. “Quit playing around, Spark—“
The words died on his lips as he realized the raptor had no harness on. It wasn’t one of his. The animal snarled, and sprang.
It was dark when Jathan woke up, and it took him a minute to remember where he was. His muscles were stiff and sore, like he had just fought a war. We’re all fighting a war, he thought to himself, soberly, as the events of the previous day slowly filtered back into his waking consciousness. Blearily he tried to remember what the priest had told him yesterday about where the bathroom was and the water. Not much plumbing; pipes ran from the riverbed up the mountain to a reservoir in the compound, and there was a basic faucet line into the basement here. There was a covered latrine below the basement… somewhere.
Jathan reached down to the floor to where he’d left his clothes, and dug the lighter out of his pocket. He lit the gas lamp he’d left by the side of the cot and sat up. Eerie yellow light cast shadows through the basement, illuminating the alcove where his cot was laid out. Around a stack of incendiary crates he saw the cot where the priest had slept. It was empty. He must already be up.
After finding what amounted to the toilet and the water for bathing, Jathan pulled his clothes on and tried to mentally prepare himself for making the deadly trek back to the Undermine. His muscles groaned in protest and his stomach turned at the very thought. Maybe he could wait until a supply expedition or messenger or some other group came to the compound, and go back with them. Despite Fr. Antonie’s generosity with his store of deadly weapons, Jathan really didn’t consider himself a fighter, and wasn’t sure he would be up to it if dinosaurs ambushed him again. Reluctantly he trailed up the stairs.
And stopped short in surprise. The candles were lit, Fr. Antonie was at the altar robed in all sorts of colors, and there were people in the church. Three of them sat in pews near the front, and one stood at the back. Jathan immediately recognized the uniforms of the Transgenic Authority, and he breathed a sigh of relief. He wouldn’t have to go back by himself. He started to sneak into one of the back pews to wait until Mass was over, but then he saw movement outside the tall, narrow windows flanking the door. His heart pounding, he crept quietly over to look out. Two more men stood outside, smoking rolled cigarettes. Jathan felt his knees wobble in relief, and, pushing the door open, he slipped out.
“Hi, fellas,” he said, pushing the door—almost—closed behind him.
“You look like you just lost your lunch, kid,” one of the men said, with a gruff laugh. “You’re white as a ghost.”
Jathan eyed the man. Tall, burly, with a trimmed beard, the man’s square jaw and stony gaze settled on him from under the face-plated helmet that he’d pushed up onto his head. “I thought there were dinosaurs out here again,” he said.
“Nope. Just us.” The man tapped his cigarette and grinned at his colleague, who just raised his eyebrows as he puffed on his own cigarette. Then the burly man glanced back at Jathan, eyeing him up and down. “You aren’t on the compound roster. Who are you?”
“Jathan Russell,” Jathan said. “Accidentally skipped out on the rest of my drill shift when I got chased by dinosaurs.”
“You went aboveground on break?” The man stared at him.
“Yeah,” Jathan said. Both men were staring at him now. “I like the fresh air,” he said.
“Well,” the burly man said, “dinosaurs like fresh meat. It’s a symbiotic relationship.” Both men laughed. Grinning, he turned back to Jathan. “I’m Omer, and this is Oscar. Our other fellows are religious types. We’ll introduce you later. You’re coming with us, obviously. You’ve been flagged as missing since yesterday.”
“Good,” Jathan said, with a sigh. “I didn’t even dare try to get home by myself.”
“Smart of you,” Omer said. “You’ll be a lot safer with us. So you ran this whole way from the Undermine to St. Vito’s, being chased by dinosaurs, and didn’t get caught?”
“There weren’t any dinosaurs for most of it,” Jathan muttered.
“You should be more careful,” Oscar spoke up. “Walking around on the surface alone and unarmed is, first of all, illegal and, as you discovered, very hazardous.”
“I had a stun stick, and a flare gun,” Jathan said. “I’d done it a hundred times before.”
“That’s a hundred strokes of luck,” Omer snorted.
Oscar nodded. “Don’t do it again. Or we’ll make sure you can’t.”
Jathan looked at Oscar now. He was also tall, but less stocky, and wore mutton chops and a goatee instead of a beard. Still, the bearing of the two men was similar. Jathan wondered why the man was threatening him. As if the threat of being torn to pieces by raptors wasn’t enough.
Omer was peering at him closely. “So,” he said, “you stayed here with de Vries. Better than the alternative. Didn’t listen to any of his wild stories, did you?”
“If he told any, I wasn’t paying attention,” Jathan said. “I was… kind of distracted. But he gave me some of the weapons and stuff he has in the basement so that I could defend myself on my way back…”
Omer flung his cigarette on the ground and stamped it out. “He’s not supposed to give that stuff away,” he growled. “It’s not his. It’s emergency contingency.”
“Well, he didn’t know we were going to show up,” Oscar said. “Better than sending an unarmed man back out on the surface.”
“That’s not the protocol,” Omer said. “Refugees stay in the compound until a patrol is notified, so that loss of life is minimized.”
Oscar shrugged, and tossed his cigarette down as well.
“Regardless,” Omer said. “You’ll come with us. We aren’t heading back this way. Our rendezvous point is northwest of here. About sixteen miles.”
The door shifted, and the three men outside stepped back as the other four men filed out, carrying their helmets. As the ranged around the door, they fitted them back on their heads.
“Fellows,” Omer said. “We’ve found Jathan Russell. Man thought he’d go for a walk.”
“Glad to see you still alive,” one of the men said, and thrusting out a gloved hand he shook Jathan’s. “My name’s Frederic.”
“Nice to meet you,” Jathan said. “You guys aren’t… walking sixteen miles are you?”
“Of course not,” Frederic said, waving a hand around the side of the church. “We’ve got bikes. You can ride on mine. Good thing we stopped for morning mass, isn’t it?”
“I can’t tell you how glad I am,” Jathan said, “that I don’t have to try and get back by myself.”
“Not as glad as we are,” Omer said. “Why don’t you just leave those things de Vries gave you where they are, and we’ll take care of the rest, okay?”
“Sure,” Jathan said. “I left them under my cot anyway.”
“Let’s move out,” another man called as he went around the side of the building. “We’ve got people to bury.”
Jathan’s eyes widened. “People to…?”
“Don’t worry about it, kid,” Omer said.
“Someone murdered a squad yesterday,” Frederic said, “using harbored dinosaurs.”
“What…” Jathan felt that punch-to-the-gut sudden nausea that was becoming all too familiar.
“Yeah, I know,” Frederic said. “That’s where we’re headed. To see what we can get back of our boys, and try and stop this sort of thing from ever happening again. Come on.” Jathan followed him reluctantly around the side of the church to the bikes, where Frederic wheeled his out, swiftly cranked up the small diesel engine to start it, and climbed on. “Plenty of room to sit on the back here,” he said. “Just hang on.”
Jathan hesitated a moment, looking back at the church. Fr. Antonie was probably busy finishing up his religious things, but shouldn’t he say goodbye? Would the priest wonder what had happened to his guest? “Shouldn’t I…” he began.
“It’s fine,” Oscar said, as the rest of the group grabbed their own bikes. “He knows you’re coming with us.” So Jathan climbed onto the back of Frederic’s bike. The squad put their booted feet to the bike pedals and spun around off towards the road. Jathan twisted around for a look back at the church, and then he saw Fr. Antonie, thin and robed in black, standing in the doorway. The priest raised a hand to wave farewell. Jathan didn’t want to let go to wave back, but he nodded. He owed his life to that man; he didn’t like to rush off so quickly, but this was his chance to get home safely.
The bikes zipped along the road quite quickly now. The incline of the road began to ascend quickly, and the motors revved as the men sped up the grade. They continued at a steady pace for several minutes. Jathan, although occupied with holding on, tried to crane his neck to look around himself a bit. He saw where the road coasted the whole mountain, splitting off into smaller trails that wound up the peaks. The bikers ignored those trails, keeping on the main road until it stopped climbing and began to descend.
“Hang on,” Frederic called back to him, and suddenly they were all thumping and crashing down the mountain over a road that was much less well-kept. Jathan felt his breath nearly knocked out of him by the rough ride, and he squeezed his eyes shut. It seemed like a long time before they leveled out again, but even then, they were cutting through woods for a couple of miles before they came out on a road far different than the one they had left.
“Hold up,” Omer hollered. One by one the men braked to a halt and reached for their water bottles, pushing their helmets back to drink. Jathan stared at the road they sat on, amazed. Nothing like the sanded rock roads in the Undermine, cobbled around the edges. Nothing like the ditch-like dirt roads in the mountains. This was a technological marvel—wide, flat, bonded together of some impenetrable material, it ran as flat as an ocean down towards the valley, disappearing from sight in the overgrowth of trees long before it got there.
“This road,” he murmured, “it’s a ruin. From before. From before we had to leave all that.”
“Yeah, it leads straight down to the Bitterroot River, follows it up to Conner, and then joins with a huge transplane highway that goes north to Missoula. Not much left of that and there’s nothing on it, but these roads don’t really fall apart unless the trees tear them apart and even that takes a while.”
“We’re not…. going down there, are we?” Jathan asked.
“Of course not.” Frederic capped his water canteen and grinned. “That would be even more suicidal than just being out here in this little valley.”
“Gotcha.” Jathan said, feeling queasy again.
“Don’t worry,” Frederic said, hooking his canteen back onto the bike’s framework. “We’ve got about another five miles to this place… it’ll go quick. Ready?”
Omer was waving. “Now we split up,” he shouted. “Edward and I are going to fall back and follow at a distance. Harrison, you’re the command. Move out!”
“Roger that,” Frederic said. He nodded at Harrison, a solemn but cold-eyed man with a sparse beard. Jathan hung on as the four bikes that had been designated sped off again across the road. They were able to go very fast on its surface, despite its rapid shifts in elevation. They slowed when they cut off onto a smaller dirt road, half-hidden by the trees.
Suddenly a halt was called again. Harrison roared something that Jathan didn’t catch, and swung off his bike. Jathan, Frederic, and the other men followed suit. The quiet purr of the diesel motors idling seemed far too loud in the silent jungle. Jathan swallowed hard, staying close to Frederic as the other man readied his weapons.
“Two bikes,” Harrison said. “Ours.” He spat into the ground near a thick copse of trees. Jathan saw the gleam of metal.
“Just two?” Oscar frowned. “Salvador brought one back, but there should be three. Did another of our men escape?”
“No,” Harrison said. “Salvador saw them all die.”
“Then our man took it,” Oscar said.
“Good,” Harrison said. “We can follow the tracks. He knew we’d hunt him down, so he booked it.”
Frederic looked back at Jathan, jerking his head towards the hidden bikes. “Why don’t you take one? You know how to ride, right?”
“Yeah,” Jathan said, but his heart was pounding. What if he got separated from them? They rode pretty fast and hard. He wasn’t entirely sure he would be able to keep up their pace. “What if I can’t keep up?”
Frederic laughed. “We aren’t going to ditch you, don’t worry. We aren’t trying to have more people die out here.” He walked over to the bikes and pulled one from the trees.
“Still operational?” Harrison asked.
“Looks good to me,” Frederic said. He cranked the motor, and with a muffled bang, it started.
“Two hundred more yards and we’ll be there,” Harrison said. “Our squad left the bikes and walked. We’re not going to. Who knows what our man is willing to do. We may need to make a quick exit. Come on!”
Jathan reluctantly took the newly started bike from Frederic and climbed on. He wobbled a bit, but was soon coasting easily after the men. For a minute, it seemed like nothing but the same featureless jungle crawled along beside the road. Then, it opened up, and Jathan saw a long, low-slung metal building, like a warehouse or a shed. The road curved around the side of it and opened up in front of a nondescript entrance—nothing but a small door in the wall, that fell inward and looked as though it had been nearly torn from its hinges. The remains of a dead and mostly eaten Kentrosaur law sprawled around the corner from the other side of the broken door. Clouds of flies buzzed over it, and Jathan put a hand over mouth. The other men seemed oblivious, with their face-plated helmets, as they halted by the door and leaped off their bikes.
“Stay here,” Harrison barked at Jathan, and, readying guns, hand grenades, and stun sticks, the four men ran into the building. Jathan stayed on his bike, heart still hammering. Despite the relative coolness of the morning, he felt sweat collecting on his brow as he nervously glanced around. The woods around the building felt silent, menacing. He tried to reassure himself with the knowledge that Omer and Edward were trailing behind as backup, but he couldn’t see them or hear them. What if something had happened to them? What if dinosaurs had picked them off behind—
“He’s not here,” Harrison growled, emerging from the battered doorway. The other three men came out behind him. “He’s not here, and there aren’t any dinosaurs here. That carcass has raptor bites all over, but it’s been untouched for at least twelve hours.”
“What was he doing in there?” Jathan asked.
“Running electricity and stolen lab equipment,” Frederic said, frowning. “It’s all shorted out, though. Must’ve been that kentro. It looks like he left everything and ran.”
Harrison shrugged. “So now we follow the bike tracks.” He pointed, and Jathan saw that, indeed, the thick tire treads of a bike wound off into the woods towards the riverbed. “Walk your bikes,” Harrison said. “We don’t want to lose the trail.”
“Can I stay here?” Jathan asked.
“Not by yourself,” Harrison said, “and I’m not leaving a man to guard you. It’ll be safer if we stay together.” Silently the men filed into the woods, pushing their bikes, and Jathan, with a sigh, followed suit.
They walked for what seemed a long time, rerouting now and again as Harrison and a man named Dusty picked out the bike trail. Jathan wiped sweat from his eyes, and slapped at a large fly that was persistently landing on him to bite.
“Riverbed,” Harrison called. “And there’s the bike. Fan out!”
The men dropped their bikes, grabbing their weapons, and sprinted to various points along the edge of the bank that overlooked the riverbed. Jathan slunk after them, peering down.
The riverbed was dry, covered in water-worn stones of various sizes. The bicycle they had been tracking lay on its side some distance out from the bank, twisted as if it had crashed, or been violently kicked to one side from where it had fallen. Most of the storage containers and items that were on the other bikes looked as though they had been knocked off of this one and been thrown some distance away. A broken gas lamp lay a few feet away from where the bike was.
Dusty glanced at Harrison, and leapt down into the riverbed proper, his booted feet making barely any noise as he crept over the rocks, gun at the ready. He circled the downed bike once, then looked back up. “No human tracks,” he said. “Just raptors. Lots of raptors.”
Oscar frowned. “I suppose his own dinosaurs ate him,” he said. “A fitting end.”
“Maybe,” Dusty said. “There’s blood here, and signs of a fight. But no signs of a kill or any feeding.”
“They eat everything,” Oscar said. “We saw evidence of that inside.”
“No scraps of cloth here, though,” Dusty said. “I don’t think our man died here. I really don’t. I couldn’t tell you how he survived a fight, though. I don’t suppose his own animals would refuse to kill him. I thought those things killed everything.”
“They do,” Oscar said darkly. “They killed our men.”
“However,” Harrison said, “Salvador informed us that they didn’t attack the girl that was at his facility. Whatever our man has done to these animals, however he has trained them, they aren’t attacking him, and they aren’t attacking his accomplice.”
“How do you explain the blood, the evidence of a fight here, then?” Oscar said.
“Maybe he doesn’t have complete control over them,” Harrison said.
“Men,” Dusty said, “If he was not killed by the raptors here, then he took them, he went with them. And he went down this riverbed with them.”
“But none of these supplies are gone. Why wouldn’t he take them with him, if he were abandoning the bike?” Oscar bent down to inspect a smooth box that had a suspicious remonstrance to the impenetrable road they had crossed.
“He may not have been able to carry it,” Dusty said. “He may have been injured in the crash, or in the fight.”
“Then we follow him,” Harrison said, grimly. “If he’s injured, he won’t go quickly. Can you track him from here, Dusty?”
“Not easily,” Dusty admitted. “We’ll have to go on foot.”
“That’s fine,” Harrison said. “We’ll leave the bikes here. No doubt Omer and Edward are still trailing us. They’ll follow suit.”
“If he went with raptors,” Dusty said, “he may have them kill us as he did the first containment squad.”
“That’s why we have weapons,” Harrison said.
“Dennis, Brenton, Corey, and Salvador had weapons, too,” Oscar said.
“Men,” Harrison said, “this is going to be dangerous. We don’t know what kind of control he has over these animals.”
Jathan spoke up, then. “Maybe they just killed him, and took the body away with them.”
“It’s possible,” Dusty said. “But I don’t think so.”
“We either find this man,” Harrison said, “or we find solid evidence of his death. Right now, we have neither. Time’s wasting, men. Let’s go!”
Dusty climbed back up the bank, and the men packed their canteens, rope, first aid kits, weapons, and other supplies on their persons from the bikes. Oscar lifted the smooth box he had been inspecting, slipping it into his pack. Jumping down into the riverbed, the men began a steady march, Dusty in the lead as he crisscrossed the bed to check for points of exit on either side.
“It’s not safe,” Jathan murmured. “This really isn’t safe. I should have stayed at the church.”
Frederic shrugged. “Omer wouldn’t have let you.”
“I don’t see why not,” Jathan said. “You could have gotten me on your way back.”
“If we made it back,” Frederic said.
“That’s reassuring,” Jathan said.
“Trust me,” Oscar said, glancing over his shoulder at them. “There’s every chance that if we go back, we’ll be going in a hurry, and then you’ll understand why nobody in their right mind lingers on the surface.”
Ahead of them, Dusty raised a hand to halt them. “Raptors left the riverbed here on the left bank,” he said. Wordlessly, all the men clambered up the side of the bank, and continued to follow the trail through the woods.
A low cry of some creature sounded in the distance. Jathan felt his feet freeze under him.
“Don’t stop,” Oscar said, jostling his arm. “It’s just a stygi. They’re herbivores.”
An answering cry, similar, took up the refrain from the south, and then another from the northeast.
“It’s more than one,” Jathan said. “Why are they carrying on like that?”
Harrison and Dusty exchanged glances. “I don’t know,” Harrison said.
“They may have located us,” Dusty said.
“Located us?” Jathan felt his voice pitching higher in fear. “Located us for what?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Harrison said. “They’re engineered to react to a human shape in their echolocation sweep. That’s probably all it is. They caught our shapes, so they’re making noise. It’s no big deal.”
The men continued their quick pace through the woods, and Jathan scrambled to keep up, his legs quaking in fear. Where one kind of dinosaur was, wouldn't there be others?
The group broke out of the woods. They were on the road again—the big, flat one that ran towards the Bitterroot river, down into the lower elevations where no one went. Dusty let out a sigh. “I cannot track anything on this road,” he said. “If they stayed on it…”
“Why would anyone go down there?” Harrison said. “If he’s still alive, he wouldn’t stay on this road. It’s a straight track for anything big down there that might catch our scent.”
“Like… like that?” Oscar’s voice shook as he pointed.
Down the curve of the road stood an enormous animal, shaped somewhat like a raptor, but stockier, and taller at the shoulder than the height of a man. Its scaled skin was dark and oily, patterned with strange white crystallizations. The big, long-jawed head was filled with rows of sharp teeth, and a slender bony crest curved up from the back of its skull, followed by feathery crests down its neck.
“I know this one,” Dusty whispered, as he quietly lifted his gun. “But I’ve never seen them come this far up in elevation. It’s a Cryolophosaurus gelovitalia. It senses heat, but I don’t know if it’s seen—“
He stopped talking as the dinosaur, its long tail swinging through the air, abruptly turned its head and stared straight at them, deep pits in the side of its snout flaring.