Chapter A01 - First Time
I sat and waited. I could hear her stomach growling. I was hungry too, but I knew we had to wait.
I felt Stinger long before I saw him.
Stinger was the hunter... the real one anyway. He killed for the thrill of it. The other security guys were just old mercenaries, who pretended to be hunting guides, but Stinger, he was the real deal. He could track like a blood hound. My throat tightened when I finally saw him and I felt a little rush of saliva at the thought of chomping into his soft throat.
When Shen gave up on me, Stinger begged Shen to be able to use me in their hunts. In truth it was her doing, once she arrived Shen practically forgot about me. I went from being Shen’s favorite pet, to just another test animal in the lab. Finally Shen turned me over to the hunters, the ones who had found me as a wolf cub and rescued me and brought me here. He thought that they might use me.
Stinger was not his real name, his real name started with “J”, but all the mercenaries who did security for the lab called him Stinger on account of the tattoo. He had a spider web that covered his whole left arm and there was a bee with a rounded stinger pointed forward. And it was pointed right at a very weird looking spider and when he would flex his bicep it would look like the bee’s stinger was pulsing. Whenever he did it, all the guys would laugh. They were very friendly to his face, and respected his ability to track. But on Tuesday nights when Stinger would disappear for his day off, they would sit around and play cards and he was the frequent topic of conversation. There was much speculation about whether or not Stinger even had a penis or liked women at all. His breath smelled of road kill and the coon skin cap that he never took off had developed it’s own unique scent. But he had the most uncanny knack for finding litters of younglings in the wild.
“Subject acquisition” they called it.
But try as he did to train me with pain to get me to work with the other hunting dogs and hunters I resisted. Before me, Stinger considered himself the “Dog Whisperer” of sorts, and he saw me as his greatest challenge. A wild apex predator was a true trainers trophy, but he’d never cracked me. I never gave him the satisfaction. Instinctually I knew that I could never yield to him, something inside of me would not let me. He came and sat across from my cage and watched me all night a few times. He told the other hunters he was trying to get into my head. They shook their heads and rolled their eyes at him behind his back.
They could not figure out how to motivate me either. I wasn’t driven by food, like the dogs. I didn’t respond to the positive reinforcement. I didn’t need to be pet, and I could smell that mostly they were afraid to even try it. And I wasn’t driven by the avoidance of pain either - they fully explored that route. I was, “Too smart for his own good.”
It was during this time that I realized that I actually understood what they were saying.
I knew what their words meant. It happened so gradually at first, that I didn’t even notice when it started. I could feel them form images in my mind. I continued to resist their training until one day driving back to the lab, I could hear the other hunters talking in the cab of the truck.
“If we can’t make him work with us, Shen’s going to put him down. Now that he’s got that new bitch to play with, Apoc has outlived his usefulness to old Dr. Shen. It’s too bad too, he’s freaky smart and deadly. I’ve seen some of the tests that Shen was running on him and that wolf is a stone cold killer.”
The next day I was pliant, and did everything requested of me. The hunters couldn’t believe it, especially Stinger. He looked me in the eyes and told the others that he still thought I should be put down, and he made sure to say it where I could hear him. He said that he didn’t trust me, because I wasn’t broken, because I’d made a choice to do their bidding. I was sure that I was too late to change my fate.
Apparently the other hunters told Shen that I was working out, because the needle didn’t come for me. And I’d seen it come for the other animals in the lab many times. But Stinger never used me in his hunts. He preferred to rely on Hammer his domesticated wolfhound. The other hunters didn’t care though and loved using me because I made their lives so much easier. They truly preferred to sit in the windowless security office drinking, smoking, playing cards and telling tall tales. I was instantly their favorite because using me got them back to what they really loved as quickly as possible. I was allowed to lounge while they played, but the other dogs all kept their distance from me. I didn’t care, I was there to learn, not to make friends. I began to listen to them tell stories, and learned many new words.
When I began to work with the hunters, I learned the secret of where all the animals in the lab had come from. I learned how they were found as orphaned younglings. I killed many of their parents myself. I came to realize that these men had very likely killed my parents.
But, I loved getting out of the lab, and loved the way that the outdoors smelled. And if the price to pay was another animals blood, and allowing my hunting instincts to kick in, so be it.
The smell of the wild outdoors reminded me of her. The way her hair had smelled that first day like a wind through the trees.
But Stinger didn’t forget about me, and somehow he figured out that I liked her. One night Stinger came and sat across from me in the semi-dark of the lab and just stared at me for hours. Finally when all the animals had fallen asleep, he began talking to me.
“I know you can understand what I’m saying. I have my eyes on you Apoc. One step out of line and I will put a bullet in your head, modified or not. You think you run the show? You don’t run dick. You fooled those idiots, but you can’t fool me. I tell you where you can piss and shit, and I know you have a thing for Shen’s new little toy bitch. C’mere.” Stinger came near my cage and held two fingers up to the edge of the cage. “Smell that? She’ll never be yours and I just wanted you to know, I can have her anytime I want. Anytime. Maybe even tonight.”
When I didn’t come any closer he ran his fingers along the bars of my cage and walked out. When I was sure he’d gone I sniffed the bars. It was her, her scent - I’d know her smell anywhere. I was wild with jealousy. How had he gotten her scent on his hand? I paced for the rest of the night.
I sighed deeply and waited on the hillside staring down at the road. I’d always avoided roads and other signs of civilization in the past. They smelled of danger and death to me. But my old ways were no longer good enough, I had to leave them behind.
It seemed that I was no longer good enough for her either. I smelled her disappointment with me all day. And then I saw our opportunity pull into the burger joint - a large roaring box that stopped right in front of us. We could both fit inside and it reeked of food and young.