Chapter 1: As a Side Effect
Miriam’s biting her nails, has been for two hours. Two hours ago the first egg began to rock, and that’s when she bit her right pointer finger down to the quick.
She’s got Band-Aids wrapped around two fingers now, and there are four eggs rocking. She’d only expected one. Only hoped for two. Four of seven is beyond hope, beyond anything.
Four Deinonychus. Four living dinosaurs.
She feels a rush of anxiety that makes her nauseous and deals with it by chewing more firmly on her pinkie. She shouldn’t be doing this, she should’ve kicked this habit back in middle school, but her other stress response is to cry and that doesn’t seem fitting.
Chris-from-security taps her shoulder and she just about shrieks. He looks like he might comment, but they’re all strung too tight, and he just says, “Time to go in.”
Miriam nods and almost wipes her hand on her scrubs before remembering. “Another Band-Aid, please?” She’s the PI, which is the sort of horrible thing that should be happening to someone else, very far away from her, except she’d possibly kill for the chance to be here now. It means Principal Investigator, but it really means she’s the first in, last out, put more into this project than any two interns together.
She’s also the only person with a degree in animal behavior on site, so that makes her the designated raptor parent. There’s even a sign on her office door: OFFICIAL RAPTOR MOM, KNOCK BEFORE ENTERING.
She gives a quick smile to the medical team, who wave her on her way, looking more than usually stressed, and then she’s through two sets of clinging plastic and one fiberglass door and into the containment chamber.
They’ll have to come up with a better place for the hatchlings, but everyone had agreed on keeping the eggs in the small glass rooms until they hatched—or didn’t. In here the eggs were safe, protected from any changes in temperature or humidity, a tightly controlled container until any successes are stable enough to be transferred into the mostly prepped hatchling rooms.
She kneels down next to the cluster of eggs. A herpetologist has been keeping an eye on them every twelve hours, although she’s not sure they shouldn’t’ve hired an ornithologist instead.
This is the first successful clutch, and the third batch of eggs produced using extracted dinosaur DNA. The first clutch had the gaps in DNA filled with bullfrog sequences, something any geneticist could’ve told John Hammond wasn’t going to work. Frogs were anamniotes, and dinosaurs, whatever else they did, had laid amniotic eggs. That clutch had failed to form a hard egg shell, collapsing in its own yolk, a waste of millions of dollars.
The second clutch was spliced with alligator. This one was viable, and made it to hatching, but on breaking through the eggshells, the animals turned out to be deformed and unable to breathe.
This time they’d done an x-ray on the eggs every third day. This time, they’d used bird DNA. This time, everything had gone perfectly—although she’s pretty sure that’s about to change.
The eggs are rocking more now and have hairline cracks. It’s only a matter of time before…
She very nearly puts a finger back in her mouth, but remembers just in time the danger of infection, not to mention that there’s four cameras on her right now, waiting to record the historic moment.
One of the eggs tips over and she stops breathing. It shudders, vibrates, and with a crack that’s louder than it should be, part of the shell breaks off. Into the opening is shoved a nose, pale beige, wrinkled, and both scale- and featherless.
The hatchling squeaks, withdrawing the nose and replacing it with two claws. It—she, Miriam corrects herself, still not breathing—claws at the shell, breaking away more of it.
Clearly, something has gone right, Miriam thinks vindictively and waits and watches.
It takes another few minutes for any more progress to be made as the hatchling rests, but then progress is decisive: she manages to get all four feet in action and kicks out the middle of the eggshell. For another minute, the hatchling sits there, breathing heavily and resting, and Miriam examines her closely.
There seems to be far too much leg, which is at least partly because most of the head and tail are still obscured. As it is, the infamous sickle claws are plainly evident, as is a full assortment of the other claws, two more large and one small on the hind feet, three on the arms. The skin continues to be beige and without any sort of covering, tight around the thighs and shins, wrinkled at the joints.
The hatchling makes a high pitched squalling noise, and flails until she’s completely out of the shell. Not quite able to stand, she sits on her hips, canted to one side. Her tail is skinny and shorter than expected, chest narrow, neck short and seemingly too frail to support the massive head. She already has a complement of teeth and her eyes are open: multihued brown with huge pupils.
For a second they stare at each other. The first adjective Miriam reaches for is ugly, but that isn’t fair—the hatchling is cute, definitely, she just also seems to be built from an assortment of spare parts.
She has to suppress the urge to shower the hatchling in food. The DNA was spliced with bald eagle genes—out of a sense of misplaced patriotism, has been the joke since the day Alessandro suggested it—and bald eagles don’t get fed for almost a day after hatching.
Instead, she waits and watches.
The hatchling makes a valiant but futile effort to stand, falling back over on her hip.
The sound of more breaking eggshell catches Miriam’s attention and she looks at the other eggs. Two of the other hatchlings are mostly out, and the third has her head out and is now resting. All are skinny, wrinkled, and beige.
Faced with the prospect of four apparently identical dinosaurs, Miriam invokes her privilege as dinosaur handler and names them. The first one is Alpha, the two partially covered in eggshell are Beta and Delta, and the one with her head out is Gamma. And anyone who wants them to be known by their registry numbers, Miriam thinks, can just deal.
She hesitates, then waves her hand at the dinosaurs. Alpha sits upright, balancing on her hipbone, neck elongated. If she had ears, they would be pricked. Beta shakes her head back and forth, while Delta eyes the movement for a moment before deciding it must be okay. Gamma rocks her egg over and shatters it, lying in the wreckage looking confused.
There’s a moment when all four are safely out and looking around—Alpha has succeeded in standing and is trying out walking—and Miriam consciously breathes. So many things could have gone wrong, from the DNA splicing to the DNA being corrupted to begin with to wrong assumptions about incubation in dinosaurs to… The mind boggled. But they hadn’t. Instead, a nearly infinite number of things appear to have gone right and now she has four wiggly leathery children to raise to a happy and nonaggressive adulthood.
The thought makes her shudder.
Then one of the hatchlings gags and all of her attention is very much in the here and now.
She looks over and she was wrong, Alpha isn’t gagging, not in any way she knows; seizing, muscles clenching, but not trying to bring up the food.
She reaches out, touching the hatchling for the first time, slides one hand under her rib cage—they’re so small, the eggs were barely four pounds at last weighing—lifts, pulls her close to her chest in approved bird handling manner. Alpha isn’t breathing, eyes wide, heart fluttering under her fingers. Miriam only hesitates a moment before bending down, pushing the hatchling’s head up, and locking her mouth around the end of the hatchling’s nose.
She breathes—once, twice, three times—and pulls away.
Her hasty CPR has done something: Alpha’s breathing again, short shallow breaths, but they are present.
The question now is what happened?
Miriam hasn’t let go of Alpha, and the hatchling squeaks loudly, wiggling in her grasp. Eventually the hatchling manages to get her claws up and scores six deep lines across Miriam’s hand and wrist.
Without thinking, Miriam gasps and pulls back, dropping Alpha on the floor. Fortunately, ten million dollars in dinosaur seems to be forgiving of six inch drops, and all Alpha does is shriek in delight and go careening across the floor towards her siblings.
This time three stop breathing: Alpha, arrested mid stride to curl up and heave; Beta, coming to join her and now thrashing her head around; and Gamma, scratching at her mouth with both sets of claws. Only Delta, who Miriam can already tell is timid, remains near her eggshell and unaffected.
Something has gone horribly wrong and she’s not at all sure what it is. One hatchling panicking was to be expected, but not three. Not repeated panicking, that stops breathing.
She looks around, covering the scratches on her wrist with her other hand. Now Delta moves, taking three unsteady steps towards Gamma, only to fall over and begin the same thing as all the rest.
Miriam’s breathing too fast and too shallow and her thoughts are both frantic and useless. Some sort of gas? Who would inject it and why, if they wanted the project ended there were a million chances before this. A genetic disorder? But surely Genetics went over the DNA a thousand times? No, she’s back to gas in the containment room, which must mean it will be getting to her soon. A nasty thought but without other options—
Gamma gouges her own muzzle open but still can’t breathe. Miriam lifts the hatchling up, taking another set of scratches on her hands, gets her claws away from her mouth, tries to figure out why.
Next to her, Alpha takes a step towards Beta, stumbles, and falls, ten million dollars of bioengineering sliding sideways on the floor. They have bird bones, fragile hollow bird bones, but she gets back up again, shaking her head back and forth from the impact. She steps, and this time Miriam sees the shaking in her thighs, the way she’s nearly too young to stand.
No—Miriam puts it together. Not too young. Too weak. She’s not breathing, none of them are. They’ll faint from exhaustion soon, whatever the problem was, and who knew if they’d ever wake up again.
“I need four O2 tanks with baby masks right now,” she says, knowing the cameras will pick it up, knowing everyone outside the containment chamber must have been waiting for a reaction from her.
She hesitates, weighs the options. “They’re going to need to move to Medical. I want them unconscious and on an O2 feed asap, and then we can look into what went wrong.”
There’s activity around her, outside the glass, but her first priority is inside. She holds Gamma gently, woozily looking around, keeps her claws away from her face, starts collecting the others.
By the time she has them all collected, one under each arm and two in her lap, they’re unconscious anyway and it’s a matter of passing them off one at a time to a med tech, who slips the oxygen masks on and then, unprompted, adds an IV drip.
“Fifty percent sucrose solution,” the tech explains when the last one is on a rolling cart and on her way to the Medical bay. “With the glycine they need—you were debriefed on this?”
She was, she’d voiced her protests at the time, and she’d completely forgotten about the issue until this moment. John Hammond, in a fit of paranoia, had decided the best way to keep the dinosaurs on his island and not a competitor’s was to have the embryos modified so they couldn’t produce one of the non-essential amino acids. That that had been pulled off without a hitch was frankly miraculous; the eggs had then had a pack of glycine inserted and all of their meat had already had the tablets added.
“Could that have contributed to the collapse?” she asks, struggling to focus.
The tech frowns. “Don’t think so,” he ventures finally. “If they were suffering from glycine deprivation it’d be a lot messier.”
She groans and stands up, muscles cramping. “I’m struggling to think of what it could be.” It’s hard to admit failure—she fought her way to this position and is terrifyingly aware of how tenuous it is—but better her failure than their death.
He shrugs. “Run tests, I guess.”
Run tests they do. Test after test, on the hatchlings and on the supply of beef, in a hellish circle of suspicion. The hatchlings are on a two hour cycle: two hours unconscious on the drip, two hours awake activity, and it only takes one incident with one of the vets to learn that Miriam might have been bitten, but the hatchlings have imprinted on her and no one else. They decide it’s fortunate the vet got off with only four stitches—Gamma had been at a bad angle for the attack, although she’d made the best of it.
It’s a hellish week.
The first time the hatchlings are taken off O2, they’re all taken off at once, and within five minutes they’re all seizing up again. At that point the schedule is redone. Each hatchling is on a rotating five hour schedule: four hours unconscious, one hour awake and calm. It means Miriam gets one hour of sleep in every five, but that’s manageable.
The dinosaurs are each about five pounds and a little under twelve inches long. Out of the egg, their skin turns into a darker brindle within a day, and since each has her own patterning, it becomes easy to tell them apart.
What isn’t easy is keeping hours at thirty-seven that would’ve done a number on a college student. She sneaks meals when she can, but she can’t risk eating in the same room as the hatchlings, and by the time she turns Gamma back over to Medical, she’s ready to collapse into bed. By day 3 they set up a cot in Medical for her, so she just needs to knock them out and fall asleep herself.
On day 6 she becomes uncomfortably aware that her paranoia has passed normal boundaries and crossed into threatening. She’s more than half convinced that someone is doing this to mess with her, that there’s nothing wrong with the hatchlings at all and they could wake them all up right now, that there’s everything wrong with the hatchlings and they’re blaming it on her, that the hatchlings are dying and they’re keeping it from her because they want to make her suffer.
On day 8 her vision develops auras and it feels like the ground never stops shaking. With the hatchlings she keeps herself calm and controlled, picking up new wounds every day but never reacting in anger. With her co-workers all bets are off.
On day 9, she’s called out of the raptor room—as one of the techs dubbed it—and into a meeting with Medical. She goes reluctantly, unwilling to leave Beta unsupervised and with the firm impression her colleagues are trying to murder her. But it’s good news, and something in her gut finally relaxes.
“We found it,” Roger, head of the medical team, opens with. “Both the Deinonychus and the bald eagle DNA had a gene segment involved in the development of the heart. We’re still not sure exactly how—”
Miriam’s fogged-but-hatchling-obsessed brain makes the connections before Roger can explain. “They have a heart defect.”
She collapses against the wall. “Now what?”
“Genetics is working on a fully functional heart, but those won’t be ready for surgery for a few weeks. Until then, my team will have a stimulant ready tomorrow.”
She puts her hands over her face, sighing and shaking. “They’re safe,” she says, scarcely more than a whisper.
Roger smiles. “Still need to test it, but yes. They’re gonna make it.”
Two more thorough debriefings later, Miriam finally makes her way to her quarters to sleep.
Eighteen hours later she wakes up. Showered, fed, and dressed in something other than scrubs, she makes her way back to Medical for the removal of—thus far—the only set of stitches, gained in that hectic first day.
“It lives,” one of the techs hisses in jest.
She rolls her eyes and checks in with Nina, the personnel doctor. Nina is unimpressed as a general state, but particularly so now. “Get on the scale, and then I want to do a full physical.”
Miriam raises her eyebrows. “Why?”
“Nine days without REM sleep means you could done severe damage, and I want to know what,” Nina snaps.
Miriam wants to say something back, but she has a point, Miriam knows it, and there’s no real point in arguing with a pissed doctor anyway. Obeying, she gets on the scale and lets Nina put her through the physical. To neither’s surprise, she’s lost weight and muscle tone, her reflexes are down, and her blood pressure is up. Nina tells her to “sleep next time, dammit” and sends her on her way.
She would like her next stop to be the hatchlings, but unfortunately she has to make two phone calls first. They hadn’t known how much splicing with bird DNA would affect behavior, and it’s impossible to tell now what’s caused by bird DNA and what’s caused by bird-like dinosaur DNA. Either way, they’ve imprinted on her, they move like large naked crows, they attack their food like an eagle, and they sound like a sparrow. She needs help, and she needs it last week. Next week, with the next ship from the mainland, will have to do.
First call is John Hammond, to obtain ostensible permission. “I need to hire another person.”
There’s silence from the other end of the line. “I’m sure there’s a good reason.”
“A falconer. He’s a personal friend and wildlife biologist, but I need him for his experience with young falcons.”
“On site, apparently,” Hammond says dryly.
“Yes, on site and with full clearance. I know it’s risky but no one here’s prepped for birds, not like this.” She’s falling over her words with how important this is, and has to take a deep breath to slow down. “My background is in behavioral differences between wild and captive raised animals, and yes, I do have a publication on California Condors. But this isn’t the same situation; handling has to be much higher here than at the condor centers, and these animals are much more dangerous. I need an advisor who has direct practical experience in dealing with large, predatory birds at very young ages. And I can trust him.”
Hammond grunts. “How much is this gonna cost?”
This is where she tenses up, because Ibram might be a personal friend from grad school but he is who he is and works where he works. “A plane ticket from Dubai and passage on the next ship from Costa Rica; he’s a professor there so he’ll expect a similar salary to me.”
“Can’t find anyone cheaper?”
Miriam is glad he can’t see the anger on her face right now. “He trained the Saudi royal family’s falconer. He is one of the best and I need that right now.”
There’s another long silence. “Go ahead.”
She thanks him and hangs up.
In some ways, the second call is going to be harder.
There’s a grunt on the other end of the line and the sound of shuffling fabrics.
“Shit did I catch you in the middle of—” She doesn’t even want to follow that thought to its conclusion.
“No, no,” Ibram says, annoyance plain, “it’s only four in the morning and I was, for some reason, asleep.”
She holds up her watch and blinks at it. Seven pm, Costa Rica was two hours ahead of San Fran, made it six hours behind London, and Dubai was three hours ahead. “Sorry,” she says sincerely. “It’s been a rough day.” Several days. Week. Almost two now.
He grunts again. “So what is it?”
“A job offer.”
“I have a job.” Yes, and he is on a tenure track, and she isn’t at all jealous, except that she has dinosaurs and he doesn’t. Perhaps tenure is overrated.
“I need you to take a break.”
He sighs. “How long?”
She tries to estimate time in her head. “A year?” It’s hesitant and sounds it, but she doesn’t know how long until Hammond opens the park, and until then, everyone on site stays there.
“I have six months of sabbatical.”
“I need a year,” she says flatly. And then pulls another card out. “Co-credit on my next papers.”
He pauses, clearly struck by the idea. There’s a great deal of information in falconry methods, but only so much diversity there. “How many papers, and what on?”
“At least three,” she can think of four off the top of her head, but Introducing Foods to the Infant Dinosaur he had nothing to do with, “and it’s under an NDA.”
Ibram mutters under his breath. “Any clues?”
“I need you as a falconer, not a wildlife biologist.”
“Ah,” he says, and she has him. Ibram hates rehashing old ground, was never interested in repeating experiments, and ‘need a falconer’ plus the NDA practically screams ‘new species’.
“First class flight from Dubai to Costa Rica, then a ship from there. Can’t guarantee good accommodations on the ship, unfortunately, but you’ll be well taken care of here.”
“And the birds?”
She grins. “NDA.”
More muttering. “My salary paid in full, you understand. And first author credit on at least one paper. And I need time to think.”
Sounds more like he needs time to make his excuses and clear his class load for a year, but she’ll take it. “Twenty four hours. No,” she does math, “thirty. Sleep, think, sleep, then call me. I need you here in a week, okay?”
“I haven’t said yes yet,” he grumbles, but she knows she has him. “Okay. Thirty hours.”
“Thank you, Ibram,” she says sweetly.
He curses her in Arabic and hangs up.
She laughs. They met at Berkley as two of the few religious-and-not-Christian students in the graduate biology program. She was after animal behavior, and he was going into wildlife management, but they met in a stats class when she was requesting time off for the High Holy days and he needed a delay on an assignment for Ramadan. After that it was inevitable. They’d never dated but that hadn’t stopped assumptions. Nor had they cared, honestly. If that was the only reason gossips could find for two intelligent students with similar research interests to spend time together, so be it.
With a contented grin on her face, she goes off to sit with the hatchlings.
Chapter 2: Chewing
Under the stress of week 1, Miriam completely skipped the anxiety over being the primary caretaker for the world’s first dinosaurs in 60 million years, and went straight to the anxiety over how to train them.
Training them is, however, an absolute necessity. Hammond has safari parks in his mind as an example, despite all she can do to argue him away from it, which means up close and personal interactions with as many dinosaurs as possible. Even barring that, zoos handle their predators on a regular basis, and Miriam would like, at the least, to be able to contain them in the event of an emergency.
She has experience handling a wide variety of animals, but the only ones she’s trained have been her own pets, and the closest experience to this was a rescue dog in grad school. Not quite the same level of danger.
She can’t wait for Ibram to arrive, but that’ll be at least another four days—last she heard he was having problems getting a visa for Costa Rica—and in the meantime she has to get started with at least the basics of training.
For predators, this means defining food.
She’s worked out a schedule that lets her sleep eight hour nights and still get downtime in the day, including her favorite part of every morning: her run. She used to run marathons before work got too busy, and still does at least a 5k each morning. Not only does it keep her in shape, but it gives her precious hours to herself, not to her research, her employers, or her colleagues. To herself and the gorgeous tropical scenery.
After cleaning up and a light breakfast, she’s in with the hatchlings by 9 am. Four days later, they’re starting to put on muscle mass, and she’s figured out how often they need the stimulant. This is a positive all around, but it comes with the side effect of a great deal of energy. Bluntly speaking, they’re hyper, and it’s all she can do to keep them entertained in the raptor room.
The room itself is twenty feet on a side, but the only objects in it are a pile of blankets for sleeping and the large water bowl. She needs to get them some enrichment, but that has to wait until she knows what they like to do to begin with, and so far the answer is try to eat everything.
It suggests chew toys, and there’s a group working on cleaning some cow bones right now.
The moment she steps into the room, she’s charged by the hatchlings. It’s a little like being charged by Chihuahuas, but even they aren’t this nippy. Thus far, the hatchlings communicate every emotion by biting.
She crouches down and shoos them away, just enough that she can sit with her back against a wall. Then they come back in force, jumping onto her lap and off again, making the alto chatters that she’s learned mean excitement.
At the moment, being bitten and scratched is no more harmful than if it was done by a kitten. Only these kittens are going to be ten feet long and weigh a hundred and fifty pounds, and she’d like them to find better ways to communicate.
She strokes Alpha’s head. The hatchling chirps and comes closer, leaning against her side. She’s fallen in love with them, with the way they’re either 100% full blast or completely unconscious, with the energy they throw at everything, with the care they take around her.
By care she means they don’t go out of their way to attack her, unlike with every other person they’ve been introduced to. This doesn’t stop them from injuring her in other ways, and right now she has a deep scratch across one palm from an overly enthusiastic greeting.
She coos at them and they chirp back. Like a lot of birds, they’re not true mimics but will imitate noise if it catches their interest.
Reaching into her food pouch, she dislodges Gamma from her lap. Delta makes a high pitched whistle.
They’re getting meals at intervals of three hours: pureed chicken mixed with their specific set of essential amino acids and other vitamins, and then further mixed with diluted hydrochloric acid, to simulate digestive juices. Yesterday she introduced frozen pinky mice, one for each hatchling, and those had gone down without fuss from anyone.
Now her food pouch is full of chopped raw—and sterile—chicken breast. After shuffling hatchlings, she gets a half dozen chicken treats in one hand and holds the other out to be rubbed against.
The hatchlings squeak; usually she lets them climb all over her. But then for a moment all four are still and silent, looking at her, and she whistles a high pitch and tosses the treats. Her aim isn’t the best, and Alpha gets two before she can get one to Gamma, but the lesson has started.
Her target is to train for quiet, calm dinosaurs whenever she enters the room, so she’s starting with getting quiet, calm dinosaurs at all.
Eating the treats results in squabbling again, Alpha and Delta going rolling over the room. All four have gotten a number of small scratches, but they’ve taught each other the limits of playing, much as a group of puppies would. It’s been harder for them to learn her limits, mostly because the punishments from hurting a sibling—a sharp bite on the closest area followed by shunning—are much more direct and immediate than anything she can do.
Miriam sits and waits for their attention again. It takes a while but eventually Delta shrieks a warning of too far and the pair break apart. All four turn their heads toward her again.
She whistles and drops food, more accurate now that they’re more spread out.
This time it doesn’t dissolve in squabbles and she’s able to whistle and treat twice more in rapid succession.
Now Beta gets bored and tackles Delta—the smallest—and the lesson ends. Quickly all four are a squirming ball of skin and claws. Alpha breaks away and squeals, outrunning her sisters. Gamma leaps to tackle her, and Miriam’s breath catches; she can see Gamma fully grown and using that same move on other animals to deadly effect.
The four continue playing, reinforcing Miriam’s thought on getting more enrichment put in. She smiles, relaxing against the wall. One of the fundamentals of training young animals is you can’t force them to pay attention. You have to wait for it to be given to you, and right now the raptors are very young indeed.
Instead she randomly throws treats out, provoking yet more play fights and a wide array of vocalizations. Some days it feels like the second thing the hatchlings learned how to do—after run—was shriek. Like young birds, their calls are almost entirely high pitched, especially when they’re excited.
Eventually Delta, probably tired of being on the bottom, figures out where the treats are coming from, and approaches her.
She grins and limits the range of her throws, encouraging Delta to approach. Of the four, Alpha is the boldest and Delta the shyest.
After a minute she’s dropping treats beside her knee and Delta is happily leaning against her. Miriam goes one step further. She puts a treat on the end of her fingertips and holds it out to Delta.
This isn’t something they’ve done before, and for a moment the hatchling stares at her fingers. Then, instead of twisting her head sideways to take the treat, Delta jerks her head forward and snaps down.
Miriam shrieks and jerks her arm back. Delta lets go almost instantly. The treat falls off her bleeding fingers and hits the ground, Delta snapping it up quickly.
She would swear but for clenching her teeth against the pain. Both her middle and pointer finger were caught and they’re throbbing, short sharp shards that rattle around her empty head. The only thing she can think of, immediately after, is how the fingertips are the most concentrated area of nerve endings in the human body.
It certainly feels like it, and she folds her right arm in across her body, trying to touch anything with that hand as little as possible.
It feels like forever before she can look at the hatchlings. All of them are in their pile of blankets, Delta standing closest to her. She has her head down and outstretched, turned to the side to expose her neck.
Miriam fights back pain-fueled nausea, and remembers that this is the hatchling apology. She wants to hold Delta close and whisper it’s all right, but she also deeply wants to make something hurt like she is.
Stiffly, without saying anything or responding to the hatchlings, she stands and makes her way to the door. Blood is dripping from her fingers onto the floor and she absently notes that someone will need to clean it up as fast as possible. No need for the hatchlings to taste too much blood.
The pain is omnipresent and loud. She’d never thought that pain could be loud, but it is, roaring in her ears. She dredges up another undergrad memory about synesthesia. It’s odd, like playing Six Degrees to Kevin Bacon, except it’s Two Degrees to Overwhelming Pain instead.
She gets the door open one handed and then stares at the lock on the other side. Eventually she manages to fumble the deadbolt closed and counts that as good enough. Tears are slipping out of her eyes and her jaw is clenched so hard she can dimly, under the pain, feel the muscles cramping.
Someone is running down the corridor to her but she has to blink a few times before she places them as Riko-in-Security.
“We saw it all on the cameras,” she says breathlessly.
Miriam stares at her, trying to suppress the pain long enough to think.
“Should I put it down?” Riko asks, and Miriam looks down to see her hand on her pistol.
“Her,” Miriam says stubbornly, pedantically, “and no. Just—” She has to pause against a fresh wave shattering up from her fingertips. “Medical.”
Riko doesn’t move. “It attacked you. They're valuable but they're not that valuable.”
Miriam thinks she can feel every individual muscle in her neck cramping. “She tried to take food from my finger and missed.” The pain would like to know why she’s defending the thing that hurt her so very badly. Miriam would like to know when she started personifying the pain.
She moves wrong and her shirt brushes against her fingers and she moans, unable to keep it back any longer. It’s not getting worse, it’s just getting more, current pain piling on top of previous pain to create a chorus of agony.
“Medical,” she grits out. “And don’t kill my dinosaurs.”
After an infinitely long moment, Riko finally moves, pulling a rag out of one pocket. “It’s clean,” she says unnecessarily, because Miriam is already grabbing it with the uninjured hand, which is when last treats drop from it.
She looks down at them and then, suddenly, bursts into tears.
“Oh Lord,” Riko mutters, but then she’s moving. There’s more pain, too much pain, as the rag is pressed against her fingers, and then her arm is moved up, so the hand rests under the opposite armpit. Her left arm is then pushed against her side, and Riko says, “Hold that there, okay? Just hold that there.”
Miriam blinks, and nods, and holds her back straight no matter how badly she wants to curl up right now.
There’s a quiet cycling thought about holding food out to wild animals and her stupidity in doing so, but mostly her head is silent.
Riko puts one arm around her shoulders and then guides her down the corridors.
The diagnosis is a broken distal phalange on her middle finger, lacerated skin on both fingers, and both fingertips were cracked clear to the root and had to be removed. The skin and muscle on the tip of her pointer finger is entirely removed, and Miriam is endlessly thankful that she did not see the exposed bone at any point before arriving in Medical. A plaster is put on the pointer finger, a splint and a plaster on the middle finger, and Nina sits down with her as she stares at her very numb hand.
“Madre de Dios, Miriam, why?”
Miriam looks up at her and laughs somewhat hysterically. “I thought it would be cute.”
Nina looks as dumbstruck as Miriam’s ever seen her. “You thought it—” She shakes her head. “Do not, for the love of God, do that ever again.”
“I was dumb,” she admits, looking at her hand lying on top of the blankets. In a few hours the local anesthetic will wear off and it’ll hurt like nothing else, but for right now the only signs that things went very wrong are the bandages.
There’s a moment where she thinks Nina is going to yell, and then her doctor deflates. “You treated them like you would a dog.”
Miriam’s shoulders slump and she nods. “I can’t afford to do that.” Her thoughts are trying to create a spiral of self-criticism, but she’s too tired.
“No,” Nina says quietly. “But I would’ve done the same.”
Miriam takes that comment, and holds onto it as she falls asleep.
There have been three major developments in the last week, Miriam thinks as she sits at the dock waiting for the weekly boat.
First, a shouting match between her and Nikolai-in-Genetics over what species the hatchlings were based on. She maintains that they’re Deinonychus antirrhopus, and has a dozen publications to back her up; Nikolai is sure they’re Velociraptor antirrhopus, based on an extremely speculative restructuring of the dromaeosauridae family tree. She thinks this is rubbish, two animals differing in size, skull structure, and both temporal and special dimension are surely two different geneses.
Second, the raptors—of whatever sort—have put paid to a dozen theories on the origin of birds and contributed to a dozen more by sprouting feathers. And not, to Nikolai’s disappointment, since he holds the equally absurd belief that birds originated from a different reptilian branch, due to the inserted avian DNA.
His genetics team got their act together and went over the DNA thoroughly, and the root gene for feathers wasn’t in the avian segments. It is, as it transpires, in the original dinosaur DNA.
Miriam is fascinated by the changing theories, but more fascinated by how her wrinkly children have turned into fuzzy brindled chicks. The feathers are extremely primitive, little more than a shaft with pigmentation, but the colors are the same as the base color of the skin.
And third, everyone, including her and the hatchlings, has adjusted to the splint on her finger. The hardest part is typing, since she’s back to touch typing with one hand. In other areas she’s shifted to using her left hand for almost everything. With the hatchlings, she tosses food with her right, leaving the left for scratching. It works, mostly.
She’s torn from reflections by the arrival of the boat, carrying a week’s worth of food—and Ibram.
He steps off, carrying a backpack and looking seasick.
“Was security awful?” Miriam doesn’t—quite—pull him into a hug, but only because she’s worried he might fall off the pier.
Ibram looks down at her from his height of six foot two, and says, “The fuck kinda boat is that?”
She loses the battle and does hug him. He looks gratifyingly relieved. “The boat us proles use. Hammond gets a private chopper.”
“Of course he does,” Ibram mutters. “Room first, then these birds of yours you can’t tell me about.”
Birds is a more accurate descriptor than he yet knows, but she’s keeping that a surprise. “And lunch?” she asks, grinning.
“Shove it up your ass.”
On the way to the raptor room—a phrase Ibram clearly interprets in its modern sense—she stops by Medical, who are delighted to have another person on staff with bird experience and who say that the new hearts will be ready in the next few days and could she schedule time in for surgery—Ibram is visibly disconcerted—and then gets intercepted by Mitchell-from-Design who wants her to come sit and talk about necessities for the exhibit. She manages to brush him off with a promise for “sometime soon, ask me tomorrow”, and sits a confused Ibram in the waiting area outside the raptor room.
The room has no outside windows—and no outside walls either—so to keep it from looking a little less like the concrete box that it is, two walls have full windows opening into the waiting room and the nearby hallway. At the moment both are concealed by blinds located on the outside of the room.
Leaving Ibram instructions to wait a minute, then open the nearest window, she goes into the room.
The hatchlings are delighted, squealing and leaping at her. They have figured out, mostly, how not to claw her open, and only Gamma actually hits her, but she still waits for them to calm down a little before sitting on the floor with them.
They’re all wiggly and excited, feathers erect on their head and neck. Alpha rubs up against her, acting like nothing so much as a cat.
Ibram opens the blinds.
She can only spare half her attention to watching him, because as fun as it is, the hatchlings do require almost everything she’s got. She can still see that he initially identifies them as birds, and then the long pause, and then he starts yelling.
The room is sound-proof.
She ignores him.
Chapter 3: Climbing
Miriam has subscriptions with most of the major biology journals, and a packet of them gets delivered with the boat every Thursday. With the determination of someone who kept their sanity throughout graduate school, she reserves Saturday mornings to herself and the latest research papers.
Which is why her phone ringing shortly before noon on a Saturday morning provokes more than the usual groan.
She checks her watch first—nope, not even close to two. Muttering under her breath, she picks up the phone. “Hello?”
“Hi, Miriam? It’s Lindsey in Design. We need you to come down and have a look at something.”
She grits her teeth. “It’s a Saturday.”
There’s a pause. “Yeah? But we’ve made some progress and need your input before we go any further.”
“I’ll be right down,” she says grudgingly, putting down the paper on resource guarding in cats.
Ten minutes later, Miriam is increasingly convinced this could’ve waited for Monday. Or Sunday.
Lindsey is in charge of designing the Deinonychus outdoor areas: one small one for right now, and the bigger permanent exhibit. They’ve already butted heads over technical details, but this is reaching new levels of absurd.
“You want to replace the concrete with electrical fencing.” Miriam can’t keep the disbelief out of her voice as she stares at the new schematics.
Lindsey nods enthusiastically. “The concrete was going to be too complex to put in.”
Miriam looks up at her. “And what happens when the power blows?”
“We have generators,” Lindsey says, with the air of one explaining things to an undergraduate.
Miriam rubs her forehead and really wants to go back to her results section. “We’re on a tropical island. It’ll only take one hurricane to knock out some power lines between the offices and the edge of the exhibit, and then you’ve got four large predators on the loose. What is wrong with making the walls from concrete?”
Completely ignoring the first half of her response, Lindsey says, “It’s too difficult to get the necessary equipment out here, especially as we approach storm season. Things will go much more smoothly if all we have to do is import and assemble the materials.”
“But—please,” Miriam makes an effort to be polite, “tell me what the plan is for when a tree falls on the electric fence and breaks it.”
Lindsey gives her a wide-eyed stare. “Oh, that won’t happen.”
“It won’t?” Miriam says dryly.
She pauses. “Well, that’s not really my area, but someone will make sure of it.”
Miriam grinds her teeth loudly enough that Lindsey must be able to hear. Screw polite. “Look, you might be off this island as soon as the exhibit is complete, but I have to stay here, and I have no intention of doing so if the dinosaurs can just break free any time there’s a windstorm.”
“And in the unlikely event that they do so, isn’t that what your training program is for?”
Taking a deep breath before she says something she will regret, Miriam puts her hands flat on the table. “Suppose I agree that an electrified fence is more cost efficient than a concrete one. Suppose I assume that the fence will never go down. These schematics dictate that the fence will have a voltage high enough to drop an elephant. How am I supposed to teach the Deinonychus to stay away from the fence without killing them first?”
Lindsey looks confused. “You train them, of course.”
She knows if Ibram was there, he’d have something calming to say. But he isn’t, so she doesn’t, so she can feel her grip on her temper fray completely. “And how the fuck am I supposed to do that without hurting them?”
Lindsey purses her lips. “It seems like that would be your area of expertise. What I can tell you is that most people don’t use that kind of language in here.”
Instantly, she feels herself cool and tense. “And what is that supposed to mean?”
The other woman doesn’t say anything, but her eyes flicker to Miriam’s hair—short and curly brown—and then to her shirt—worn plaid cotton, sleeves shoved up from the heat.
Miram’s shoulders drop. Just another garden variety homophobe, then. She’s not gay—kissed a girl at Berkeley, but then who didn’t—but she’s never been interested in guys either. She dresses the way she does because Isla Nublar has an average temperature of 75 and an average humidity of 80%, and it’s frankly too hot and wet to deal with frizzy long hair. “Ah.” She smiles. “Let me know when you come up with any more useless developments,” she says smarmily, and turns to leave the design lab.
Or starts to—three desks over, there’s a different set of schematics, and Miriam can’t stop herself from looking at them. They’re for an exhibit easily twice the size of the raptor one, but the interior is completely different. “Were these a previous draft?” she asks no one in particular.
“Nope.” The owner of the desk looks up at her, smiling. “I’m Kate. These are for a different exhibit.”
Miriam bends down to look at them more closely, aware that Lindsey must be listening in. “Another exhibit?” There were plans for other species—even eggs in incubation—but none close to hatching, to her knowledge.
Kate looks confused. “Yeah, haven’t you heard? It’s for the tyrannosaur. They want it ready in two weeks, but I keep telling Hammond, that’s not gonna happen, he can push all he wants but there’s only so fast I can get material here.”
Something is twisting nastily at Miriam’s heart. “Where is it?”
“The tyrannosaur? North wing on B level. Don’t know what room but I expect you’ll be able to find it from there.”
She knows she’s jealous that someone else got to work with her dinosaurs, but she’s deeply worried on top of that. B level is Basement, underground, and nobody—not a single person, not even the daily updates everyone receives—has mentioned that there are more dinos on the island than just her four. “Thank you,” she manages, wildly distracted.
Kate smiles again. “Don’t worry about it. Hey—there’s a group of us, meet up on Fridays in the bar, if you wanna—”
For the second time today, Miriam wishes she’d thrown some other shirt on. “No. Thank you.” She manages to smile back at Kate before walking out of Design and heading for the north wing of the complex.
B level, north wing looks like a copy of the raptor area: some offices, a medical suite, observation chambers, and one big central room. Unlike her area, there are no exterior windows or skylights; all lighting is strictly artificial.
There are people around, but Miriam makes a bee-line for the central room. The shades might be lowered, but she can still look through and see what the situation is.
Someone blocks her path before she can get that far. “I’m Patricia Wengar, lead on the tyrannosaur program. And you are?” Patricia is tall, pretty, and arrogant, and Miriam hates her on sight.
“Miriam Cohen. Lead animal supervisor, currently delegated to the dromaeosaur program. What do you have in there?” She pulls herself up to her full height of five foot four and crosses her arms.
Patricia smiles thinly. “I saw your name on the roster, but I figured you were strictly dromaeosaur.”
Miriam smile back, just as fake. “Well I’m not. Why don’t you show me the tyrannosaur?”
“Of course.” Patricia waves people out of the way and pulls the shades up.
Miriam first looks at the room, not trusting herself to remember after the excitement of seeing a tyrannosaur. It’s larger than the raptor room, and unlike it, is painted in cool shades of green and brown. Also unlike the raptor room, the only enrichment is a much abused pile of bedding and some bones.
The tyrannosaur is… not what she expected. To be honest, she’s been anticipating an adult, no matter how absurd that is. Instead, what she’s looking at is even smaller than her dinosaurs.
At three months, the raptors are now about the size of Chihuahuas, standing 8 inches high and just over a foot long. Their initial fuzzy layer of feathers is falling out and being replaced by a more mature covering, and they’ve learned both a basic recall and a stay command.
In contrast, the tyrannosaur is less than twelve inches long, looking dwarfed by the room she’s in. She too has a fuzzy coat, but the feathers are the same length all over her body, and it’s a darker brindle than the raptors’ were. Other than that, she looks more like the raptors than a tyrannosaur: long, skinny legs, narrow chest and equally narrow head, and a lean tail that whips from side to side.
“Just the one?” Miriam says, captivated. The world’s largest land predator, right there in front of her as a tiny, shaky-legged hatchling.
Patricia, to her credit, looks just as awe-struck. “There were three eggs. Only the one hatched.”
Miriam nods. “What’s her name?”
“TR11. We call her Rexy.”
After a moment, Miriam takes a deep breath, in and out. The raptors also have alphanumeric designations, but she never uses them. “Is it safe to go in?” She hopes it is—she can’t imagine what two weeks without contact would be doing to her raptors, and while the evidence for social behavior in tyrannosaurs is a lot slimmer than it is for dromaeosaurs, she’d be willing to bet they spent at least some time with their clutch-mates.
Patricia tenses. “I generally limit interaction to specific training times.”
“Why?” She’s one part confused and one part growing suspicion. By limiting training to specific times, Patricia will teach Rexy that she only has to obey during those times—eliminating almost any chance of obedience during a crisis.
“It’s the way I was taught,” the other woman says, defensive. “It works just fine at the safari parks.”
Miriam feels herself stiffen. “I guess that means you’re not one of the trainers that’s been attacked, then.”
Patricia somehow looks even taller. “Accidents happen. As long as you're aware the animal is dangerous and prepared for the consequences, there's no reason to be afraid.”
Miriam clamps down on any potential response, and focuses on the problem at hand. “Rexy needs more socialization. And more enrichment devices. We’ve had good luck with climbing trees and puzzle toys.”
“I am in charge of the tyrannosaur’s development,” Patricia says flatly.
“And I am in charge of all dinosaurs on this island,” Miriam gets out, despite having her teeth so tightly clenched they hurt. “Now make changes to your training program.”
Patricia takes a step towards her. “Hammond’s just over there, why don’t you talk to him yourself.”
Flinching, Miriam follows her gesture.
John Hammond is indeed in the area, white hair making him stand out in a crowd of mostly middle aged scientists. He’s listening to one of the medics talk about nutrition, which Miriam doesn’t mind at all dragging him away from.
She opens with, “I am the lead dinosaur supervisor, and I’m not sure why I wasn’t told another one was hatching.”
He stares at her, looking grandfatherly in his cardigan. “I’m sorry, I was under the impression you were busy with the Deinonychus.”
This is… not inaccurate. “I would expect to be informed when a new species is brought back to life.”
He nods and smiles, leaning on his cane. “A simple oversight. I’m sure it won’t happen again.”
Somehow, she doesn’t quite believe that’s the whole story. “Doctor Hammond, am I in charge of all the dinosaurs, or aren’t I?”
“Well,” he says, trailing off. “We are worried about you. That Arab fellow you brought in,” Miriam clenches her hands, “he says you’re working sixteen hour days. You’re not taking any time for yourself, Miriam, and that can’t be healthy.”
She hates being patronized, can feel herself losing control. “What Patricia is doing to that tyrannosaur isn’t healthy.”
His expression turns sad. “I’m not sure you would be able to maintain this same level of care with both the velociraptors—”
“Deinonychus,” she corrects bitterly, making a note to have words with Nikolai.
“Yes. My point is, I can’t let you be senior handler to the raptors and lead dinosaur manager. One or the other. Not both.”
She gets the point he’s making and suddenly feels very cold. “I understand. If I could have a few days to think about it?”
He smiles, all genial affability once more. “Of course. Couldn’t expect you to work on the Sabbath.”
The words are friendly but the tone is not, and she struggles to keep from saying anything. Through an act of will, she stumbles through a goodbye and walks off.
By the time she gets back to her room, it’s well after two and the missed call light on her phone is flashing. Miriam snarls under her breath, picks up the phone, and returns the call.
“Hello?” a voice on the other end says.
She sighs in relief, sinking into her chair. “Rabbi Shlenkman? It’s Miriam. Sorry for missing your call.”
Rabbi Mark Shlenkman, leader of a small Reform congregation in San Francisco, says, “No need to worry. Got caught up in your research?”
Miriam laughs sourly. “I wish. I had a meeting run long.” She thinks about apologizing for working on a Saturday, but—
“We’ve all been there,” Rabbi Shlenkman says. “Was it an important meeting?”
She shoves a pen around on her desk. “I—” They set up Saturday afternoon phone calls when she knew she’d be gone for months; Shabbat services had been a part of her life for years, a chance for calming meditation that she doesn’t get elsewhere. But the struggle is, and has always been, how to share her frustrations with her rabbi without violating the non-disclosure agreement. “I have an ethics question.”
If she could see him, he’d be grinning through his beard. “My specialty. Fire away.”
“I’ve been assigned to one… area with four subjects. Today I learned there is another subject that I was, I think deliberately, not told about.”
Rabbi Shlenkman hums. “And you think this other animal is being mistreated?”
“Yes,” she says firmly. Isolation is rarely good for any young animal, and she shudders to think the kind of behaviors it will be producing. “There’s a complication.”
“I guessed,” he says dryly.
“My superior won’t—I can remain with my… subjects. Or I can, uh, be promoted, and have a supervising capacity for all of the subjects, but not—”
“Hands on,” he finishes. “Perfect care for four versus moderate care for all five.”
There’s a pause, and it sounds like he’s sighing. “Miriam, you know the answer to this as well as I do. You should not let harm come to this other subject, but you have an obligation, right now, to your current four.”
“I—” He’s offering her an out, and she should take it, but it feels like an out, it feels like cheating. “There will be more subjects.”
“And when there are more,” Rabbi Shlenkman says implacably, “will you do everything you can to help them without sacrificing the care of your four?”
Everything I can to help without sacrificing the raptors. She repeats it over again in her head. After a long moment, she says, “Yes.”
“Well then,” he says, in the satisfied voice he uses when they’ve just wrapped up a thorny conversation during Torah Study, “I think you have your answer.”
Miriam nods, feeling the knot in her chest spread and settle. “I do. Yes. Thank you.”
He laughs. “Still anxious over asking me to do my job?”
It had taken her months to work up the courage to make an appointment with him when he’d first become senior rabbi, and the reason for the delay had spilled out in minutes. “This isn’t part of your job,” she tries to deflect.
“Ethical discussions, particularly in the abstract, are very much part of my job.”
She wants to debate the point, but has had enough debates with him to know when she’s lost. “Of course, Rabbi.”
He snorts. “I suppose I’ll be hearing more about the exact parameters of my job next week. Right now Macy Lewin wants to talk to me, no doubt about the new prayer books.”
“Best not to keep her waiting, then,” she says, grinning. They go through brief goodbyes and hang up, and she leans back in her chair, feeling a hundred times more relaxed.
She’ll keep her raptors. She’ll do everything in her power to help the tyrannosaur, but first, she’ll keep her raptors.
A resolution she ends up regretting within the day.
The problem isn’t that Ibram got the raptors a box. She’s rather pleased by the idea, honestly. It’s an empty refrigerator box, about three feet on a side and six feet tall.
The dinosaurs haven’t completely accepted Ibram the way they’ve accepted her, but they’ll hold off from attacking him if he’s in the room, which today appears to mean he was able to put the box dead center, at least four feet from anything else, without suffering any harm.
He’s standing outside the room, leaning on the windowsill, when she walks up. Rather than commenting on her appearing at all on a Saturday—she gets those off, just as he takes Fridays off—he says, “Take a look.”
Probably about five feet away from the box is a floor-to-ceiling pole that they installed and wrapped in thick carpeting. The carpeting needs to be replaced on a regular basis, but it’s less expensive than importing cat climbing trees.
The raptors, midway between youthful fuzz and a more mature feathering, have figured out how to climb up the pole, launch themselves into the air, and land in the box, where they pause for a minute before springing out of the box and across the room.
She laughs, watching Delta disappear and reappear, arms spread and looking like nothing so much as wings. “How long have they been doing this?”
“Not too long.” Ibram is grinning as much as she is. “It took them a while to figure out what the box was.”
“If I didn’t know better,” she says, trailing off. Gamma jumped from too high and missed the box completely, landing with a thud and a squawk. She shakes it off and gets back up, so Miriam doesn’t feel the need to intervene.
Ibram looks at her. “If you didn’t know better?”
“I’d think they’re birds. Weird-ass birds, but…”
They look like birds. They move like birds. Miriam has nightmares about them learning how to fly—keeping up with four hyperactive predators is hard enough when she’s taller than they are. Their new feathers are long enough to mostly hide the claws on their arms, so the only outstanding features are the long stiff tail and the teeth.
“Yeah.” He shakes his head. “They’re just going to get bigger from here.”
Alpha takes a leap and collides with the side of the box, claws puncturing the cardboard. She hangs there for a second, supported by her hands and the big claws on her feet—that’s one use for them—and then shakes herself.
Miriam begins moving toward the door.
Sure enough, seconds later, Alpha begins screeching.
“Well, shit,” Ibram says, following. “How’d you know that was going to happen?”
She looks back at him. “I’m prescient,” she tells him flippantly, and slips into the room.
Alpha is well and truly stuck, unable to pull her claws out without better leverage. She’s also clearly distressed and trying to chew on the box.
Miriam taps her thumb against her still-splinted finger, and then grits her teeth and approaches anyway. She’ll have a better chance than Ibram will.
Alpha recognizes her, that’s a good start. As she walks closer, the dinosaur slows down and spends more time watching her with wide, pale brown eyes.
Miriam stops close enough for her to touch but not so close she’ll get bit, and reaches out, very slowly. Alpha tracks her hands but doesn’t lunge. Sighing in relief, Miriam strokes her head from nose to crest.
Alpha gives a distressed chitter, and Miriam steps closer. Moving carefully, she gets one hand underneath the long legs, and the other around the chest. When Alpha blinks slowly—a sign of relaxation—Miriam lifts up, giving Alpha the support needed to pull her claws free.
Which leaves her holding eight pounds of baby raptor. Alpha’s shivering, but content to hang in Miriam’s arms.
At that point, Ibram opens the door. The three hatchlings on the floor shriek in unison, and Alpha pulls herself free from Miriam’s grasp, scrambles, and pulls her way to a perch on Miriam’s shoulder.
Miriam can feel every individual claw sinking into her skin. Alpha has her big claws hooked into her collarbone and shoulder blade, and her hands are digging into Miriam’s neck and chest.
She wants to scream, but that’ll only set Alpha off more, the hatchling is agitated as it is. The only thing she can hear is her own tight breathing and Alpha’s panicked airy whistles.
Moving slowly, she reaches into her treat pouch and holds up a piece of chicken.
Alpha freezes, and her claws sink further into Miriam’s skin. Blood trickles down her chest, and she’s starting to tremble.
She tosses the treat a few feet away, movements smooth and well telegraphed.
For a second Alpha remains still, and then she tenses, collects herself, and leaps.
Miriam staggers and clamps a hand over her collarbone. In leaping, Alpha’s claws had torn even more at her, and she can only hope—pray—that they didn’t open anything vital.
Through all of this, Ibram has been frozen, and it’s only now that he starts toward her. “I—Miriam I’m sorry—”
“Just a mistake,” she says, unable to find the energy to be upset. “Don’t beat yourself up—” And then she faints.
“—mask off now, she should be awake any second. Miriam, can you hear me?”
She struggles to recognize the voice. “Nina?” she slurs, head feeling like someone shoved cotton balls in it.
“Yes. Miriam, does anything hurt?”
She opens her eyes and blinks several times. They feel gummy and she can’t quite focus on anything. “Wasn’t my fault this time,” she says insistently.
“I know, Ibram has been apologizing nonstop. Please focus, does anything hurt?”
Now that she thinks about it, yes. “My chest.”
“Any particular place?”
She goes to lift her arm but it feels like something is pulling on it. Blinking more, she manages to focus. “IV drip?”
She can hear Nina sighing. “You’ve been out for about seven hours. All of the stitching was fairly minor, but you’ve got thirty two stitches in you and your right shoulder is gonna need rest for a bit.”
She nods, trying to connect this with her last memories. “Alpha?”
“Is fine,” Ibram says. “They’re all a little agitated, but they took their last meal just fine.”
She blinks again and the area around her resolves into the medical clinic, Ibram sitting in a chair beside her, Nina hovering. “Stitching?” She can’t quite connect one phrase to another, and it’s starting to worry her.
“Miriam. Relax. You’ve just come off the anesthetic. This is normal. Give yourself some time to adjust. You’re doing fine, alright?”
Miriam nods, and feels herself sink back into unconsciousness.
The next time is better, and the time after that better still. It takes a few days before Nina is willing to let her out of bed—the surgery was more intensive than previously explained—but no complications appear and eventually Nina gives in and lets her go back to work.
On day two, Hammond shows up, all charming behavior and patronizing smiles. She tells him she’ll stick with the raptors, he fakes surprise, and they part on tense but neutral terms.
Ibram spends all his free time—around raptor monitoring—with her. He keeps trying to apologize and she keeps refusing. His behavior wasn’t, shouldn’t have been dangerous. There was no way to know the raptors were going to react like that.
Eventually she lets him get all the way through one. “Feel better now?”
Ibram looks surprised, and then laughs. “Yes.”
It takes her a while to work up the courage to go see Kate. Everyone’s quarters are listed in the staff directory, so that’s not the problem, it’s just…hard.
Kate gets the door quickly, and they stare at each other. Miriam’s wearing a button down shirt, because it doesn’t need to be pulled over her head, no bra because the ones with a front clasp are expensive, and khaki shorts. Kate is in a worn T-shirt and jeans.
“Um,” Kate says, blinking. “Come in.”
Miriam accepts the graceless offer; she can only imagine what must be going through Kate’s mind. “I wanted to talk about the comment you made before…” She can’t find a graceful way to say before I got put in the hospital by a baby bird, so she just trails off.
Kate goes very stiff and shuts the door harder than necessary. “If you’re going to—” She’s pale and her words are clipped.
“No,” Miriam says, cutting her off. “No I… My roommate. Sophomore through senior year of college. She took me to Gay Freedom Day after we graduated. And then we kissed,” she adds casually.
Kate’s shoulders slump as she looks instantly more relaxed. “You said you weren’t interested.” Her tone is curious, not confrontational.
Miriam smiles wryly. “I’m not. That day was unusual. Julia was unusual.”
“Oh. Have a seat.” Kate waves at a beat up couch. “Beer?”
“No thanks.” Miriam can’t stand to sit properly, and the couch doesn’t allow it anyway, so she sprawls comfortably.
Kate vanishes into the kitchen. “Suit yourself.” Coming back out with an open bottle of beer, she pulls over a wooden chair. “So whaddya want?”
Miriam hunches forward on the couch, elbows resting on her knees. “There’s a—there are enough of you—” She doesn’t want to leave it at that, but gays sounds bad, and queers sounds worse. “You have group meetups.”
Kate isn’t as stiff as before, but she isn’t relaxed either. “Yeah.”
Rubbing her face with one hand, Miriam wishes fervently that it was easier to talk about this. “I need to know if there’s anyone on my team who’s positive.”
“Why?” Kate asks sharply, leaning back.
Something about the response—the implication that Miriam doesn’t know, or doesn’t care, that she’s just another bystander, that after Julia she would…—hits her and she sits up straight. “Because when Ibram’s one year contract is up, he’s going home, and I’ll use that to push for breaks for all of us. And when I’m gone for a month for the High Holy Days, I’ll want someone taking care of the raptors who is physically capable.”
Kate flinches, glancing away. “Oh.”
She can freak out later about how badly she’s just messed this up. “I don’t care who my team is sleeping with, as long as they’re healthy enough to work the raptors. And if they’re not, or if they’re not going to be, I need to know now so I have time to prepare.”
“It takes two hundred days-?”
“It’s taken a hundred days to get them to eat with Ibram in the room. He’s lucky they haven’t put him in the hospital.” Lucky and sane—Miriam is well aware that if she put more distance between herself and the dinosaurs, she would be bit less often.
“Oh,” Kate says again, and looks down. “When I went in for my interview, Hammond was very clear we’d be hired for at least five years.”
Miriam processes this. Hammond had done no such thing in her interview, and it’s not like Kate is particularly in the closet; she knows there’s enough gays on the island to hold weekly get-togethers but she’s the only Jew there… “He targeted the gay community?”
Kate smiles, although it doesn’t reach her eyes. “We already know how to keep secrets, you see.”
Miriam opens her mouth, and then deliberately closes it again. There’s nothing she can say to this, no way to combat homophobia with experiences of antisemitism.
They’re silent for a minute, Kate taking another drink from her beer, and Miriam shifting uneasily. Finally Kate says, “So you kissed a girl.”
Miriam snorts, curling up on the couch. “Yeah.”
“No chance of persuading you to repeat the experience?”
There are too many memories for Miriam to move. “No.”
Kate grins, bottle of beer half drunk. “That bad, eh?”
Miriam can’t stop from flinching, knowing already that Kate won’t let this go, starting to put things into words. But first she has to start with Julia. “It wasn’t her fault.” Kate doesn’t say anything, just tilts her head, and Miriam feels the need to explain. “I’ve kissed boys—men—and didn’t like it either.”
Kate puts the bottle down just long enough to make a very rude gesture.
Miriam laughs, tension pushing it out. “No. Not interested in sex.”
Shrugging, Kate waves at her with the bottle. “Your loss. So this girl who made you swing—she available?”
She doesn’t even think that if … Julia wouldn’t be on the island anyway, she got her Ph.D. in Classics, but the words are already coming. “She picked up a guy at Freedom Day, summer after she finished grad school. Turns out his ex had AIDS.”
Kate doesn’t quite drop the bottle, but she sets it down rather hard. “Shit,” she says. “Fuck, I’m sorry.”
“Yeah,” Miriam says and the word doesn’t seem like enough. “I stayed with her till—haven’t been much in touch with the, the community since then.”
Kate stares at her, face white. “Guess not. Did—the guy?”
She still doesn’t like hospitals, even beyond the new memories of almost dying in one, doesn’t like the sterile smell and the feel of the sheets. “Yeah it… all three of them, two years later. Within a month. One of those,” she gestures, “weird coincidences.” She badly wants a drink but knows how poorly that would go now.
“God, fuck, wish there was something to say here.”
Miriam shrugs, shrinks further into the couch. “You lose someone?”
Kate takes a very long drink from the bottle. “A few. Some went smoother than others.”
“I—” She hasn’t told anyone except her rabbi this, not even Ibram. “Sat by Julia’s side, last couple weeks. When she—hospital phoned her parents, notifying them and asking what they wanted done with the body. And they—” She wants to vomit, wants to cry, wants to tear at her hair, but she won’t, so she just sits there and holds herself together. “Wouldn’t take her. They wouldn’t take her home.”
For the first time, Kate loses her pretense of flippancy. “Dicks.”
“I got her cremated,” she says, glossing over how hard that was, “and then we snuck her ashes back in to Paul in a flowerpot. So he could be with her at, at the end.” She giggles faintly because that’s the only way she can keep from crying. “They never caught on, the hospital. Paul was, was third, and Dan’s family didn’t want him either, fuckers, so Paul had two flowerpots. And then—Paul’s family came through. I—” She had visited the closest Orthodox synagogue every day for a month over that, going there rather than her Reform one because it was open every evening for prayers. “They’re buried together.”
Maybe Kate is one of the ones to make comments about Julia not getting herself into this if she’d just been a proper lesbian. Maybe Kate will say something about men being only painful, maybe Kate isn’t the person Miriam needs her to be.
Kate holds up the beer bottle. “Drink?”
Miriam breathes out. “Gimmie.”
Chapter 4: Running
The problem, Miriam thinks as she gets ready for her morning run, is that even with the addition of an outdoor run, the raptors are getting too big and too active to spend all their time in just two areas. They were going through their second growth spurt, putting on weight and muscle at an incredible pace, and that all translated into massive amounts of energy that needed to be spent.
Their first growth spurt had lasted just over a month and left them all around 8 to 10 pounds and 16 inches long nose to tail tip, a size Miriam had been happy they’d stayed at when they started flying at three months old.
Flying was the wrong verb: properly speaking, they didn’t have powered flight, just a controlled glide from any high perch, but their wing feathers were indistinguishable from a modern bird’s, and with their climbing skills, Miriam thought that gliding was quite enough to be dealing with.
Unfortunately, while growth projections say they should lose the ability eventually, they are still fully capable of gliding over twenty feet.
At last measurement they were just over two feet long and weighed twenty pounds, with a smooth, dapple brown feather coat. Their range of communication has expanded dramatically, at least partially because Miriam had mostly gotten them to stop biting as an attention tactic.
But at the end of the day, she has eighty pounds worth of energy-filled pointy-ended featherballs and while they had been delighted to be given an outdoor run, the novelty has definitely worn off.
As she starts on her jog, she can hear them already outside, shrieking in voices louder and deeper than the local birds’.
An hour later, she’s sweat-soaked, a little tired but not overworked. The runs give her time to think, and may be the solution to her problem—if she can deal with a few safety concerns first.
“Hm?” He looks up from the latest draft of their latest paper.
“Do you have any contacts who do custom leatherwork?” She flicks wet hair out of her face, making a note to get it cut by Kate, whose skills are being exploited by everyone on the island.
His expression changes from distracted to interested. “What sort of leatherwork?”
She sits in her desk chair and begins scribbling a design on a piece of their scrap paper. “Something to put on the raptors.”
“Traditionally,” he says, falling into lecture mode, “the falconer wears the protection, not the falcon.”
She looks up at him over the rough sketch. “Does that sound as poetic in Arabic?”
He makes a face and then puts his hand out. “Let’s see it.”
Grudgingly, she passes over the paper.
He hums for a moment. “I know some people.”
Miriam raises her eyebrows and restrains a comment. “How long? And how much?”
“More if we can’t tell them why,” he says, tapping the paper absently. “But turn around should be quick.”
“Am I going to be paying for shipping from Riyadh?”
He gives her an innocent look. “Would I do that to you?”
She flips him off and goes off to deal with raptor breakfast time. “Yes.”
The box comes in with the weekly boat, and she takes it and her stack of journals off to her room. Dropping the journals on her desk, Miriam heads off to the raptor rooms.
All of the girls are outside enjoying the sun, so she goes out to join them. Beta is the first to come over, chirping and pressing her head against Miriam’s leg.
Miriam tosses her a treat and backs away, signaling a lesson.
Beta whistles, tilting her head from side to side.
Slowly, Miriam pulls out the first of the new leather pieces out of her bag. Beta tracks her motions but doesn’t display any unease, so Miriam kneels down equally slowly. “Heel.”
Beta side-steps, coming closer and turning at the same time to bring her body in line with Miriam’s.
“Yes,” Miriam says, the high pitched quick version that she uses in alternation with the whistle, and tosses a treat in front of Beta’s nose. While the raptor is eating, Miriam runs her hand over Beta, from her chest to her thigh and then down her leg.
As trained, Beta doesn’t pull away, just turns her head to watch.
For a moment, Miriam fondles Beta’s claws, pulling each one back, holding onto them, rubbing against the join between nail and skin. Beta doesn’t respond, so she picks the foot up. At that, Beta goes tense.
Gently, Miriam puts the foot back down and gives Beta another treat. Then she repeats the procedure.
Body handling has been a work in progress for the raptors for a few months; if nothing else, they need to be able to go through vet checks. Feet are still a touchy issue, though, and Miriam hopes her idea will work.
After four rounds, Beta submits calmly to having her foot picked up and messed with, so Miriam moves to the next step. Reaching over with both hands, she presses the hard flat bottom of the leather contraption against the bottom of Beta’s foot.
Beta chatters and pulls her foot away.
Miriam does it again, this time catching the moment of contact with a quick “Yes” and a treat.
Patiently, she repeats the touching, first pressing leather to the underside of her foot, then draping the straps around the top, then both at once, then just straps. Over and over again, as Beta’s sisters come and watch, before losing patience with the lack of treats for them.
Beta remains patient and focused, growing more comfortable with the leather shoe against her foot.
Finally Miriam slips one strap through a small metal ring and back, tightening it. The shoe still has another strap and a pouch for the sickle claw, but Beta has reached her limit.
She pulls away, bringing her foot up and clawing at it.
Piercingly, Miriam says, “Beta!”
For a split second, Beta looks at her and Miriam tosses a treat.
Then Beta gets one of her hands under the shoe and yanks, snapping the strap.
Miriam sighs and takes the next shoe out of her bag. There’s a reason she asked Ibram’s contacts to make twenty sets.
It takes a week of training before all four are at all comfortable with the shoes on. Alpha walks around like she’s trying to fly and Gamma won’t stop fussing with them any time she’s not working, but when they are working, all four are focused and have stopped destroying the shoes, which is about as good as Miriam thinks she’ll get.
So on the raptors’ 460th day of life, she separates Beta from the rest. The other three go outside with the door locked and Ibram observing, while Beta stays in the raptor room and submits to having her booties put on.
They’re clever little devices—how Ibram explained them to his friends, she has no idea, but he did, and they work. The soles are stiff, while the straps around the feet are supple and soft. There are no metal pieces to catch and rub on scales, and the hardest thing is the piece that goes around the sickle claw. Once on, range of motion is limited but even an amped up raptor can’t catch anyone—which is the whole point.
Booties on, Miriam slips the nylon harness over Beta’s head. The harnesses have been planned since day 1: if worst comes to worst, she wants to be able to handle them without recourse to fences. The raptors are much, much better with the harnesses than they are with the booties; a combination of the booties being more uncomfortable and the harnesses having been around longer, she suspects.
Beta clearly has no idea what’s going on, but is excited about anything that involves copious amounts of treats. She’s the most eager to please of the four, always ready for something new and for her—and her alone—attention is as good a reward as a treat.
“You ready?” she asks, clipping the leash to the harness.
Beta wiggles and shifts from side to side, feet tapping on the concrete floor. Her feathers are slicked back and sleek in the way that means attentive excitement, and she keeps tilting her head to look up at Miriam.
“Let’s go,” Miriam says, and treats for Beta taking a step forward.
Leash walking is a work in progress, but it’s harder with the booties on, so she gives Beta a few steps to adjust.
After a lap around the room, Beta is walking comfortably, and Miriam takes the next step: opening the door.
As the external door swings open, she watches Beta. The feathers on the raptor’s head and neck fluff, but she otherwise stays remarkably calm. Miriam whistles and treats.
Then she steps forward.
Beta follows, body very tense, feathers erect. Her head is down and neck outstretched, and there’s no swing in her tail.
Miriam whistles and treats.
Every step down the hallway is marked by a treat. After a few minutes, Beta is moving more smoothly, but her feathers remain fluffed, giving her another three inches of height.
Slowly, patiently, they make their way down the corridor and to another door. Miriam opens this one more quickly, and Beta gives it no attention.
Because the moment it opens, she sees the outside and bolts. Outside to the raptors has always meant a play area, and there’s no reason for her to believe any differently now.
Fortunately, there’s only so much power a twenty pound animal can put behind anything, and Miriam goes with it, bringing Beta to a gentle stop rather than letting her hit the end of the leash hard.
Beta squalls and looks back at her.
Miriam steps outside, letting the door swing shut. “Hey there,” she says softly. “It’s alright. It’s just us.”
Making another cranky noise, Beta hits the end of the leash again, pulling against it.
“I know, I know.” Miriam doesn’t move, leaning back against the weight. Like with dogs, the key to loose leash walking is to make sure pulling never gets the raptors where they want to go.
It takes a minute, but eventually Beta turns back, making the leash merely taut instead of straining.
Miriam whistles and treats.
Walking is slow, with Beta easily distracted by her new surroundings but Miriam is patient. At least outside, Beta is no longer fussed by the booties, too focused on everything around her.
It would’ve been symbolic to do the trial run on day 500, but that day Gamma threw a fit once outside and refused to move beyond the doorway.
So she’s got Beta today, after another two weeks of leash work. Beta’s on a long line, twenty feet of nylon, which should give her plenty of room to roam as Miriam jogs.
It starts well.
Beta follows when she walks and figures out quickly that this leash is longer than the ones they’ve been training with. She’s happy to wander, or stop and sniff for a second, but enjoys trailing after Miriam.
When Miriam starts running, Beta follows, chirping. The hatchlings are fast enough runners, but they’re even faster at something Ibram calls hop-gliding.
Beta dashes a few steps and then leaps into the air, wings held out and rigid. She glides ten or fifteen feet and hits the ground already running again. The booties are a hindrance but not a major one.
Miriam settles into her jog. Running with Beta is not terribly different from running with any of the dogs she used to take care of. The raptor is a little more distracting, what with the glides, and less focused at the start. Beta quickly works out, however, that she likes running, and likes it even more than the smells along the side of the trail.
Normally, Miriam likes to run the eight kilometers around the island, but this is Beta’s first run so she’ll keep it short. At the half-kilo mark—where the giant gates are being built—she turns around.
It rains year round on Isla Nubar, and the paths are mostly mud. She slows down to turn, but Beta pulls one way and her foot goes down further than expected and without realizing, she’s tumbling with a pain in her ankle.
Beta shrieks, high and clear. Miriam tries to roll over, heart clenching, but something hits her hard in the shoulder and she goes flat in the mud again.
Her shoulder is throbbing but it doesn’t feel like anything is broken even as it feels like someone just dropped a sack of sand on her.
The weight moves. Beta gives a question chirp from somewhere near her right ear.
After a long moment, Miriam rolls over. Beta jumps off her shoulder and lands with a squelch in the mud. “Were you—did you jump on me?” Miriam asks, searching for anger or fear and coming up with only bemusement.
Beta trills, face very near Miriam’s.
“I’m getting up,” she warns the dinosaur. She’s lucky that Beta hasn’t scampered, since in the confusion Miriam lost the leash. She’s even more lucky, she thinks as she stands up, that Beta is wearing her booties.
Beta whistles and shakes herself, spraying mud everywhere.
Miriam wipes the worst of the mud from her face. “You’re a mess,” she tells the raptor, “and I’m a mess, and now we get to messily walk home.” Moving slowly, she reaches out to Beta and gathers up the leash. Everything will need a thorough wash later, but compared to what could have happened, that’s not so bad.
She knows perfectly well what went wrong. The moment she started falling, Beta saw her as prey, as food, and had responded accordingly. With an adult Deinonychus and the thick skin the hatchlings were already developing, it would’ve been nothing more than a few scratches. If Beta hadn’t been wearing her booties…
Miriam rubs the bruises forming on her shoulder. Beta had worked out her mistake before planting her hands in, which was all to the good, but her feet had hit hard and Miriam had no doubt they would have punctured skin without the booties. Most of her claws had splayed over Miriam’s shoulder blade, but two of the outside ones would’ve caught her spine.
Clicking her tongue, she gets Beta’s attention and starts the walk back.
Chapter 5: Hunting
Year 2 and counting
Miriam scrawls I hate staff meetings on a piece of paper and slides it towards Ibram. The corners of his eyes crinkle and he writes something in response.
You should not have gone into higher education.
She sighs, pretending to pay any attention at all to what Hammond is saying, and writes Mistakes were made.
The expression on Ibram’s face tells her he is struggling not to laugh, and she leans back in her chair.
Since the end of the first year, when all of the contracts came up at once, Hammond changed the restrictions slightly. Non-essential personnel, including Ibram, were given six months unpaid leave and free transport to and from the island as long as they didn’t reveal anything; essential personnel were given three months. Miriam took two, from the start of Elul through Simchat Torah, and then returned to work.
Through some miracle, nobody had leaked. The whole purpose of the meeting is to determine when and how to announce.
Miriam taps her pencil on the table, staring in Hammond’s direction. Tell Saudis?
No, Ibram writes. No prestige. Tell British.
Her poker face isn’t as good as his and she grins.
“Something amusing, Miriam?” Hammond asks, sounding like one of her professors from undergrad.
She collects herself quickly, looking up at him with a serious face. “Why don’t you just file for accreditation with the AZA?”
Hammond looks annoyed. “This isn’t a zoo, it is—”
“She has a point,” Ibram says calmly. “You are worrying about how to be sure this is seen as a positive development. Inviting experts on animal welfare to come look would announce to the world that we are committed to the safety and health of our animals.”
Miriam frowns at him; she’d thrown out the idea flippantly, as a way to get the focus back off her.
Hammond seems just as pleased. “Invite them here?”
“At some point your private island will need to become no such thing, if you are to have guests,” Ibram points out.
Hammond says, “Yes,” but it sounds like the word is being pulled out of him.
The conversation goes on. Miriam returns to passing notes.
You support this??????
Ibram raises an eyebrow at her. You were the one worried about the T. rex.
She scowls. When did you get clever
He just smirks and ignores her, turning his attention back to Hammond. Reluctantly, she does the same.
Shortly after the start of year 3
“This is dumb.”
Ibram doesn’t answer except to hand over the earpiece.
“It’s dumb, it’s arrogant, and it’s going to be a disaster.”
“You taught undergrads, this can’t be worse.”
Miriam slips the earpiece in, fiddling with it until it feels less awkward. “Nobody ever made me demonstrate and lecture at the same time, because that’s dumb.”
He looks down at her. “You’ve got this. It can’t be worse than your Bat Mitzvah.”
She opens her mouth to reply, then closes it. “True.”
Ibram holds out the mic. “Dinosaurs first, then guests. I can handle the humans if need be.”
Wrinkling her nose, she pins the mike to her T-shirt and tucks the cord down the front. It’s comforting to know that if shit hits the fan, she doesn’t have to worry about two dozen AZA accreditors and reporters. “Thanks for taking the hard job,” she says and Ibram laughs.
“Go get them,” he says in his too-precise accent.
She grins, shoulders dropping, and gets ready to face the music.
When the raptors turned two and had shown no inclination towards powered flight, Miriam had them moved outside permanently, into a large wooded exhibit originally intended for Dilophosaurus. The dilophosaur eggs were proving difficult to incubate, and, at least until the full size Deinonychus exhibit was ready, the raptors had the run of their exhibit.
At first thrown by the daily rainstorm and the lack of concrete, the raptors adjusted rapidly. Their second year was spent in near-continuous growth spurts as they went from two feet to four feet and put on weight. Finally stabilizing at 35 pounds, their feathering had remained remarkably the same: now a shade of warm russet with darker brindling, they still had pennaceous feathers on all four limbs and tail, with less complex vaned feathers everywhere else.
And they were still gliding. Now with access to the outdoors, their favorite technique was to scramble up to the top of the trees and launch themselves onto anything interesting on the ground, shrieking wildly. It had first been cute, and then annoying when she was the interesting thing on the ground, but mostly it was loud.
They’re doing it now as Miriam steps outside, and she doesn’t even attempt calling them. Eventually they’ll hear her spiel and come over to see what’s going on.
Adjusting the earpiece, she turns to face the window. Because the exhibit was intended for display, one long wall consists of bullet-proof glass through which visitors can look. The AZA accreditors, along with as many reporters as could wheedle passage on the boat, are pressed up against it, no doubt looking for dinosaurs.
“Hi, I’m Miriam Cohen, and I’m the—” She freezes, blanking on her title. Scrambling, she comes up with, “Raptor mom.”
Through her earpiece—hooked up to the mics in the observation area—she can hear chuckling, so she breathes and offers a quick, silent prayer.
“The Deinonychus aren’t visible right now, but while we’re waiting, I can give you a quick rundown of their situation.” She settles into her groove, covering the heart defects, the initial hysteria, the heart transplants in the second month, rate of growth, training, anything she can think of until—
She spins on her heel, automatically checking for the treat bag.
If they were wild animals, they might have hesitated at the tree line. If they were domesticated, they would have just walked over. Instead, being what they were, they congregated in the upper branches of the trees and were flinging themselves at her.
Alpha is in the lead, but the others are close behind. They remind her of planes coming in for landing, not trying anything fancy like a crow would, just stooping straight to the ground, legs outstretched.
Alpha, Beta, and Gamma land more or less smoothly, scrambling to a halt. Delta hits sideways, cartwheeling across the ground before slamming into Miriam’s legs.
Grunting, Miriam stumbles back. She can hear laughter through her earpiece, but checks on Delta first. The raptor is fine, if ruffled.
Squatting, she runs one hand over Delta’s head. The raptor coos, pressing up, and Miriam takes that as permission. She slips her arm under Delta’s chest and lifts up slightly, bringing her other arm under the raptor’s raised ankles, far enough away from the claws to keep her from getting shredded. With her grip secure, Miriam quickly pulls Delta up to her chest and stands up.
As she turns around, the guests gasp almost in unison. Delta chitters, turning her head from side to side. Her weight is evenly distributed, and while she does have enough leverage to wiggle free, she’s uninterested in it at the moment.
“This is Delta,” Miriam says, unable to keep from smiling. The dinosaur’s feathers are slightly prickly against her fingers. “They’re named after the first letters of the Greek alphabet, and she was the third one to hatch.”
Delta’s getting agitated, so Miriam puts her on the ground. She whistles and treats, and continues dropping treats for Delta staying near her. When she’s satisfied Delta is calm, she continues. “As you can see, they’re very much like birds.”
Alpha chooses that moment to squeal and pounce on Gamma, and the two go streaking around the clearing.
“And a fair bit like dogs,” she adds dryly. That gets her a laugh. “Like I said earlier, their genome was only partially recovered, so our Genetics team filled in the gaps with bald eagle DNA. So, then, are the feathers a natural part of our dinosaurs? Delightfully, the answer is yes. The Genetics team has been working on this for three years, and they can confidently say that the genes that led to the development of feathers were a part of the original DNA.”
She smiles, and her shoulders come down slightly. “There are two key parts to keeping any animal: Their physical well-being, and their mental well-being. When it came to physical, we started with diet. The closest living relatives to dinosaurs are birds and crocodiles, so we experimented with a few mixes of raw meat. Right now they’re on a mix that’s three quarters whole chicken—feathers and all—and one quarter tuna meat. Additionally, they get treats in the form of mixed tuna, chicken, and cooked beef.”
The guests are all paying attention to her, which is more than she had expected. She carries on, through the layout of the exhibits, handling protocol, and the role of her team. Everything goes well, until she gets to the end.
She and Ibram had planned a practical demonstration of the sort of handling and tricks the raptors know. They perform well for the basics, but she can tell Gamma in particular is distracted by the guests.
They’re incredibly observant but very strongly food-motivated: she can see them glancing towards the window, but they keep performing well so she doesn’t break it off early.
The last trick is search, something they’ve been working hard on. Hopefully it’ll remain a trick, and not something she has to pull out in a crisis, but it chains several behaviors together and keeps the raptors entertained.
The first step has already been accomplished: before the raptors went outside for the day, Ibram hid a piece of his clothing—a worn sock—deep in the exhibit. Miriam has the equally smelly partner, and holds it out for the raptors.
They crowd around her, sniffing. Their nostrils don’t flare or twitch like a dog’s, but instead their whole head moves slightly, and she can hear the air whistling.
Delta’s head pulls away first, and she goes almost upright, tilting back to rest her tail on the ground, neck fully extended.
After a moment the other three follow, and Miriam drops the sock completely.
Gamma squawks, feathers sleek on her head and neck. Beta chitters back, returning to a normal posture parallel to the ground, head snaking side to side as she sniffs. They both go stiff at the same moment, and for all that Miriam tries not to anthropomorphize, it’s hard not to when the other two step closer.
For a second they’re all still and sniffing, before Gamma shrieks.
This is unusual—usually they bolt straight for the source of the scent, and Miriam is toying with how and when to intervene.
But it’s too late. Gamma, well aware that Ibram was in the viewing area, bolts straight for the window. The others follow, shrieking. Miriam can hear a few panicked screams in her earpiece.
“Get them out,” she snaps at Ibram, which isn’t his fault but—
Gamma leaps and hits the window feet first, claws shrieking on the glass. Her echoing scream is even louder but deep, not remotely like their normal calls.
Whip-quick, the other three hit, with three discordant screams.
Before Miriam can do anything, another guest shrieks, not unreasonably, but too high and loud for her to deal with. She claws the earpiece out, lets it drop to the ground, and shouts, in the deepest and most commanding way she knows, “Come!”
Gamma spins around, tail smacking against the mirror and—
Miriam’s first thought is This doesn’t look like coming.
Her second thought is Oh, shit.
Gamma isn’t trotting, she’s flat out running, head down and out, feathers poofed. Miriam doesn’t think, can’t think, just tears her treat pouch off, breaking the clasp but that doesn’t matter, throws it, scattering food everywhere, before going very still.
What Gamma is thinking—she can’t guess, doesn’t know, but the dinosaur tears off, pouncing on the food, her killing claws sinking deep into the soil.
Not breathing, Miriam looks for the other three. They’ve broken off their attack on the glass and are trotting back towards her, necks bent gently.
She lets out a shaky breath. She’s not dead. She’s not going to die. Slowly, she walks towards the door. Somewhere along the line, Ibram got the guests away. The raptors are calm for the moment, and she can come back later to get the earpiece and treat pouch.
For now, she focuses on getting herself out of the exhibit.
Unlocking the door happens by rote, and somehow she locks it behind her, although she can’t ever remember that step. She winds up sitting on the floor in the nearest conference room, back pressed against the wall.
It’s then that she starts crying.
She doesn’t notice when Ibram comes in, but does notice him holding a mug of tea out to her. “Drink.”
Sniffing, Miriam can’t bring herself to look up. “Don’t like tea.” She’s shaking, even with her knees drawn up to her chest, but all she can see is the way Gamma came towards her, the way her claws went deep into the dirt.
“I don’t care,” Ibram says flatly. “Drink.”
She comes out of herself enough to scowl at him, taking the mug and almost dropping it. “It’s hot.”
“It’s tea,” he repeats back, and sinks down against the wall next to her.
It reminds her of prepping for her dissertation, how they’d spent weeks in the library café with three or four caffeinated drinks and piles of books. She takes a drink, remaining curled in. She can’t uncurl, can’t face whatever must be on his face—she’s failed, the raptors are aggressive, and she doesn’t know what to do next.
Ibram is silent for a long moment. “Did you ever work hands-on with your condors?”
She jerks so hard she nearly spills her tea. “No.”
“Of course not,” he says mildly. “They were wild birds, meant to be released, and any contact with humans would change their behavior.”
She takes another drink so she can avoid looking at him.
“My hawks are not domesticated.” He doesn’t seem to need or want any input from her. “They are tamer than wild caught birds, true, but one could argue that is because they have been handled from hatching and not because of any true domestication process.”
“What are you saying?” she asks her mug.
“I’m saying that you’ve never been attacked by one of your animals before, and of course you’re in shock.”
She whips her head up to look at him so fast her neck cracks. “What do you mean I’ve never been attacked before?” she says, voice rising on each word.
His expression is calm and too flat. “You’ve been injured. You’ve been bitten and clawed. Those aren’t the same as an attack in anger, and you know it. This is new.”
Her throat closes up. “They—” Even she doesn’t know what she’s going to say, and it’s not a surprise that she breaks into tears again.
“Still love you,” Ibram says. “They still care about you. They’re growing up, and I doubt they would’ve spent their whole lives with their mother, but do not mistake this attack for something it isn’t.”
She scowls, setting the mug of tea on the floor. “What is it, then?”
He puts his hand over hers. “Frustration. You called Gamma off of something she wanted, you gave her what she saw as conflicting orders, and she was frustrated. But—” He glares at her, and Miriam realizes her jaw is jutting sulkily— “She listened to every order you gave. And she responded to treats first.”
She jerks her hand away. “She attacked me.”
“Yes.” He doesn’t let her go, moving his hand to her shoulder. “She did. And then she stopped.” His voice, like his expression, has gone very flat. “One of my good friends in Dubai retired after a saker falcon took a dislike to his ungloved hand. Luckily there was someone nearby who managed to throw food down or else it would not have stopped.”
She flinches. She’s seen his hands and has heard enough falconry stories to imagine how much damage that bird must’ve done. “That’s what I did.”
“Yeah, and how many stitches do you have to have?”
Miriam opens her mouth, thinks, and then closes it. “Oh.” She picks the mug back up and stares at it. “She doesn’t have to be put down then.”
For the first time Ibram sounds shocked. “That’s what you thought?”
She blushes and pointedly doesn’t look at him.
“Miriam, if nothing else, these are ten million dollar animals.”
It takes a moment for this to sink in, and then she uncurls slightly, laughing. “Right, I—right.” She leans against him, laughing through her tears. “They’re wild but they’re gonna be okay.”
He squeezes her shoulder. “Exactly.”
Chapter 6: Jurassic Park
This chapter follows the movie (to a degree) and as such, there are deaths and the violence takes a step up.
“Why does it have to be children?”
Ibram puts two cards in the crib and looks at her over his remaining cards. “Cut the pack.”
She does, and he flips over the starter—a queen. “Two children, Ibram.”
“Two,” Ibram says, putting down the card. “Yes, both just before puberty, I don’t see why you’re so upset.”
She frowns at her hand and at his card. “Why’d you keep that?” He looks angelic, so she moves on. “Eleven,” she says, playing her seven. “And what happens when something goes wrong? The AZA visit was bad enough but they weren’t looking at a theme park, they were looking at a zoo. Kids’ll want a theme park.”
“When did you learn so much about children? Sixteen.” He puts down a five and she squints at it. Ibram beats her every time they play, and she wonders what he’s up to now.
“When did you?” she returns, putting down another five. “Twenty one and a pair is two.” She moves her peg two spots.
“Thirty one for two,” Ibram says, showing her his queen. “My point was, you can’t know what problems they will cause. Three.”
“Eight and ten is twenty three, with one for go.” She lays her last two cards down. “I’m not worried about them, I’m worried about everything else!”
He looks at her seriously then. “Good. What do we have here? Fifteen species, none of them full grown—one of them only hatched last week. You have the most experience of anyone on the island, but we already know Deinonychus, at least, react poorly to new people. You are right. Things can and will go wrong. And then what?”
Miriam blinks, mind working quickly. “I—they’ll get overwhelmed, they’ll be frustrated and aggressive.”
“And then you will call them back,” he says firmly, implacable. “We also already know that you can do that. And if they do so aggressively, then we will have to find a better place for you to stand.”
She looks at him, looks at her cards, and breathes. “I can do that.”
The visitors arrive two weeks later. Technically, everyone except the children is there to evaluate the park as a park and not as a zoo—they passed through the AZA, if not with flying colors, then with enough to spare to quiet most critics. In reality, Doctor Grant called Hammond the day the AZA released their report and all but demanded to be in the first group of visitors to the island.
What followed was a series of phone calls between Miriam and Alan Grant that bordered on the surreal, even after four years of a dinosaur filled life. The very first words out of his mouth were “Can they fly?” and the conversation progressed from there. Initially she was off balance from the sheer amount of information Grant had on dromaeosaurs and his questions were skeletal focused; then The New York Times printed their reveal of Jurassic Park, complete with full color photographs of the raptor quad, and she started getting calls on feather purpose instead. Finally she told him to just wait until he saw them for himself and hung up.
That was four days ago, and Miriam’s spent the time since then working feverishly with the raptors to prevent any repeat of the AZA visit.
While the AZA officials were a little concerned by the attack, they had been impressed by her ability to get the raptors back under control again. Walking back into the exhibit the next day had been hard, every hair standing on end, but she’d done it and the raptors had welcomed her back.
And now six strangers are going to come see them, and her stomach is twisted in knots. She’s not worried about Grant or his partner, Ellie Sattler; they might be in paleo but from her conversations with Grant, he’s got a good understanding of the unpredictability of animals. She doesn’t know much about Ian Malcolm, other than that he’s a mathematician, and she doesn’t know why he was invited. Donald Gennaro is an attorney by trade and by birth; she’s never met him in person but has read some of the memos he’s sent to the island and is unimpressed. It’s the kids that give her cold sweats.
She doesn’t have children, and all of her teaching experience is at the college level. The closest thing is her niece, but she’s all of two years and in Miriam’s opinion behaves more like a dog than a person. She doesn’t know what to expect from a 13 year old and a 10 year old, and would rather they hadn’t come at all.
In the end, she delegates aggressively and manages to legitimize staying behind in the exhibit while everyone else greets the visitors.
Shortly after the AZA visit, the raptor exhibit was completed and the problem of transfer came up. The Dilophosaurus exhibit was on the opposite side of the island, and certain individuals—namely Patricia—thought it would be better to put the raptors in crates and have them driven across the island. Miriam, fortunately, was able to override that. Instead she walked them over on leash.
In their booties and all following neatly behind her, she wasn’t sure whether to think of ducklings or dog walkers.
Either way, the transfer had gone without incident, and the raptors had settled down in their new enclosure.
She sits with them, gently tussling with Alpha—in both booties and gloves, to prevent incidents—and waits for news. Nervous she might be about the visitors, but uninterested she certainly is not, so she has a walkie-talkie by her side, while Ibram has the other one.
“How’s it going?” The nice thing about the raptors is that they’re not terribly neophobic; it only takes a few rounds of introductions to something new before they either eat it or ignore it. The walkie-talkies and radios in general have become such an accepted part of life—what with the exhibits opening up—that they completely ignore them.
There’s a long pause. Alpha breaks away and tackles Beta. “How much did you tell Grant?”
She laughs, then presses the call button. “Anything he wanted to know. Why?”
“He doesn’t want to take the tour.”
She holds down the call button just so he can hear her giggling, then lets it go to breathe again.
“It’s not funny,” Ibram says, sounding even through the static like he is trying to keep a straight face. “Hammond has been very clear that the point of this is for outsiders to experience a tour.”
“Well what can he do if Grant doesn’t cooperate?”
This time Ibram replies very quickly. “Not much, since the cars don’t lock.”
Miriam breaks into a fit of giggles. All four raptors stop playing and stare at her quizzically, heads titled. This only makes the giggles stronger, and it’s a long minute before she can respond. “Tell Grant he’s got a week on the island, and only one day of touring. If he plays nice, I’ll let him touch a dinosaur tomorrow.”
There was a long pause, and Miriam was sorry she couldn’t hear whatever was going on. “He accepts.”
She laughs and returns to sparring with the raptors. “Over and out.”
For several hours, the walkie-talkie is silent and she walks through the tour in her head. First, the entry building, then introductions, explanations about the genetic work, and a tour of the hatchery—unused to date, ironically—before a light lunch and the start of the tour of the exhibits.
But it’s in the middle of lunch that her walkie-talkie beeps, making all five heads pop up. She scatters treats for the raptors and answers. “What’s up?”
“Tropical Storm Bret.”
She frowns. “I thought that was in the Caribbean.”
“Not anymore. It dissipated over the mountains, but it’s started to reform just east of us.”
Miriam looks down and sighs. “Shit.” She releases the button, unable to think of anything better to say. It’s the worst possible timing, and while the raptors are used to storms, they’ve never been through anything like this. Ibram doesn’t say anything, so she adds, “Is the tour continuing?”
Ibram hits the call button in time for her to hear his bitter laugh. “Oh yeah. Hammond says it will dissipate again.”
She holds back some very uncomplimentary words on Hammond—more out of habit than anything—and glares at the walkie-talkie. “ETA to me?”
“The tour or the storm?” Ibram quips, but leaves his finger on the call so she can’t tell him what she thinks of that. “The tour should be two hours. The storm…” He trails off and the walkie-talkie beeps.
She sighs. She is glad the exhibit is where it is: being on the opposite side from headquarters meant it was one of the last constructed, and she was able to put on enough pressure to get two full concrete walls. But right now she’d rather she was much closer to headquarters. She walks through the tour again. “Before me: Stegosaurus, Triceratops, Rexy, and the mixed bag, yes?”
“Yup.” They both know the worrying point is the tyrannosaur. The triceratops have proven aggressive but intelligent enough to shy away from electric fences, while the stegosaurs have learned that cars are normal. The mixed bag is everyone’s name for an exhibit with four species in it: Brachiosaurus, Parasaurolophus, Gallimimus, and Maiasaura. The hadrosaurs are slow to panic, even a juvenile Brachiosaur is too big to care, and Gallimimus, while defensive and touchy, aren’t equipped to be a threat. Rexy, on the other hand, has been in her exhibit for all of five days, still can’t be handled by anyone other than Patricia, and to Miriam’s eye is worryingly erratic. When she’s on, she’s on—but most of the time she isn’t, and there’s no way to tell.
Miriam holds the walkie-talkie too tight. “Keep in touch.”
“Will do. Over and out.”
She breathes through her teeth and sets the walkie-talkie down. Gamma chirps and comes up next to her. They’re now six feet long nose to tail-tip, although fully half of that is tail. It’s hard to see, but regular measurements have told her that their arm proportions are changing, and they’ve stopped gliding everywhere. The flight feathers on their arms have remained, however, as has the brindle patterning. At last check-in, Alpha was the largest at 41 pounds, but none of them are under 35.
They’ve also started hunting live prey, an exciting experience if she’s out of the exhibit and a terrifying one the few times she’s been in it: they don’t attack her, but all of them are intensely possessive of their food, and Delta has a narrow scar on one thigh where she was clawed while trying to steal Beta’s rat. Officially they're on whole carcasses now, but the island's rat population has been precipitously dropping since the raptors were introduced to their exhibit,
All of that aside, they love scratching and are still interested in being near her, something she had thought would go away sometime after their first year. She runs her fingers through the long feathers on Gamma’s neck, and settles in for a wait.
Every half hour, Ibram checks in, but there’s no news until four in the afternoon. By that point, a light rain has started, and she moves the raptors inside. Miriam settles down against one wall and watches the dinosaurs play.
“Shit’s starting,” Ibram says bluntly.
She jerks so fast a muscle in her back seizes. “Explain.”
“Nedry, in tech, he—” At that point, the lights go out with a whistle, and whatever Ibram was saying gets lost in the shrieks of startled raptors. The room is pitch black; the moment she tries to move she gets snapped at by a raptor, hearing the click and feeling air rush past her hand.
Instead she sits very still and waits for the confusion to calm down.
The raptors eventually find their dog-door and head back outside, grumbling quietly, and by that point the walkie-talkie is silent.
“I didn’t catch a word of that but power’s out here and raptors are freaked. What’s going on?”
“Short version: tree hit generator, power down in HQ, Nedry went out to reboot, hasn’t been seen since, power is going down all over the island.”
She lets her head thump painfully against the wall. “Fucking shit. No idea where Nedry’s gone?”
Ibram snorts. “He’s not well liked, so theories are—” He cuts off for a moment, then comes back. Before he was stressed but not overwrought, focused on a problem and eager to act. The moment he starts speaking she can tell that things have changed badly. “The cars run off the electric grid.” She’s already gone extremely stiff but he keeps talking. “They’re at the tyrannosaur enclosure.”
“God damn Hammond,” she says quietly and without her finger going near the call button. With a heartfelt sigh, she presses it down. “Do they have radio?”
“Yeah,” he replies quickly, “but get this: they left the vehicles.”
Her eyes widen. “Why?”
“No fucking clue. They’re two exhibits over from you but the electric fences are down, so keep an eye out.”
“Will do. ETA on the power?”
“Well, if Nedry’s defected…”
He keeps talking, but Miriam is only half paying attention. Nedry gone, power out due to him, what depended on power? Fences, but surely that was a side effect, much more likely to be—no, fences were the right thought, fences are security and the CCTV will be down now too. She can’t cut him off on the walkie-talkie, so she waits for him to reach his conclusion—that the power may as well be non-existent for all the use they’ll get from it until the storm has blown over—before talking.
“I think Nedry stole something. Vials of DNA, or such. That’s what all this is about. He’ll take a motorboat and try and catch up with the supply ship before she’s too far away.”
She takes her finger off the call button, but there’s a long silence before Ibram replies. “Henry’s going to check the labs. If you’re right, Hammond’s got a radio that can reach the ship.”
An ounce of tension drops from her shoulders. “Good. That all?”
“Over and out.”
She clips the walkie-talkie back onto her belt and stands carefully. As she exits the shelter, she sees that the light rain earlier has progressed to a torrential downpour, and scowls. The raptors are all huddled under a nearby tree, looking wet but not soaked.
They trill at her and she jogs over to join them. Their booties have long since come off, but she’s far from worried about that: all four have come on many runs with her both bootied and booty-less, and predators they might be but they’re far more interested in staying out of the rainstorm.
She isn’t there for long when all four feathered heads pop up. They’re still for a moment, then Gamma moves first, head low and feathers flat. The others follow, Miriam not far behind.
The raptors aren’t hunting, and they’re moving slowly enough for her to keep up, but something’s clearly caught their attention.
She works it out a moment before they do. The access track is just on the other side of a now-useless electric fence, and the Jeeps that run on that don’t need electricity.
The raptors turn away, disgruntled—they’re used to Jeeps—but Miriam keeps running. “Patricia?”
The trainer spills out of the Jeep, looking wrecked. “You have to help me find them.” She has mud all over and her ponytail is sloppy; beyond that, there are tension lines on her face that weren’t there previously.
Miriam holds up a hand to stop her and takes a moment to scan the Jeep. In the back is Malcolm, looking like he had a bad encounter with a tree, and one of the kids—the girl. “What happened? Where is everyone else?”
“I was trying to say,” Patricia says, panic in her voice being replaced by dislike, “they’ve been attacked by the tyrannosaur.”
As hard as she tries, Miriam can’t keep from flinching. “Attacked?”
“It scratched me,” the kid says, holding up her arm. The flesh is bruised where it isn’t scraped off entirely, but the damage seems to be skin level and the bleeding is slow. “With its head.”
Miriam clenches her jaw and swallows hard. The wound isn’t deadly but it’s ugly all the same. “What happened?” she says again, for lack of anything better.
It takes time but she gets the story out of them: Patricia had just coaxed a cooperative Rexy to the fence when the power went out, Rexy had run along the fence-line until she worked out the humming of electricity was no longer there, then she went for the vehicles, whose inhabitants had understandably panicked. Rexy stands fourteen feet long and weighs as much as a large tiger, and if anything, her feathering is getting more colorful, currently in shades of russet and deep red. At that point everything went straight to shit, and the narrative she gets from the trio—all clearly in shock—is disjointed and unclear.
“And now I need you to find the tyrannosaur,” Patricia finishes.
Miriam can’t keep scorn out of her voice. “Not our missing guests? We are still missing four.”
Patricia sneers, covering her shock with bravado. “I don’t have anything from them. I do have some of the tyrannosaur’s shed feathers.” She holds up a bag from the glovebox.
Miriam’s eyebrows shoot upward. “You want me to get the raptors to track her down.” There are benefits to the idea—if Rexy is preoccupied with chasing Deinonychus, she won’t be attacking any more humans—but there are many downsides as well. Not the least of which being the raptors’ performance the last time they did a live search.
“Yes,” Patricia says, and sounds so intensely relieved that Miriam can’t help but unbend, just a little.
She nods slightly, reaching several conclusions. “That was some quick thinking, to get them to a Jeep. Well done.” Before Patricia can say anything in response, she turns to her passengers. “If you’ll follow me, I have a basic first aid kid and a place where you can stay safely.”
“And the dinosaurs?” the girl—Lex—asks hesitantly.
Miriam smiles at her, ruthlessly suppressing all other emotions. “Won’t hurt you when I’m here, and won’t be able to reach you when I leave.”
Lex nods, equally hesitant, and makes her halting way out of the Jeep.
Malcolm is more reluctant. “How should I know you have any better control than she does?”
Miriam wrestles with four responses and finally says, “You don’t. You’re welcome to take your chances with the T. rex if you want.”
He clearly doesn’t want, scrambling out of the Jeep.
She leads the way across the raptor exhibit, trailed by three humans and, more distantly, all four curious raptors. Ignoring them, Miriam settles Lex and Malcolm in the small kitchen-slash-break-room built off the raptor shelter, shows them how to lock and unlock all doors, gives them the first aid kit and a radio, and heads back to the Jeep.
At that point she remembers Ibram. “Hey. I’ve got Patricia with me, and Ian Malcolm and Lex in the raptor kitchen. They say the power went down and Rexy went nuts. No clear info on where or how the other four are doing. Gonna try to use the raptors to track Rexy down and hope the humans are near her.”
It’s a moment before he responds. “You’ve been fucking busy.”
She laughs. “Any other input?”
“Security has pulled everyone else in, it’s just those four and you guys out now. Six species have been contained. Want the list?”
Miriam swings into the Jeep, silently demanding keys from Patricia. “Please. And the storm?”
“Gonna get worse before it gets better.”
She snorts without interrupting him, hair plastered to her head.
“Six contained: Dilophosaurus, Procompsognathus, Segisaurus, Herrasaurus, Iguanodon, and Microceratus.”
Miriam nods, forgetting he can’t see her. Four of the species are the smaller dinosaurs, and the iguanodon and dilophosaurs are both under one month and haven’t been released to their exhibits yet. “Roger that. Over and out.”
She puts the walkie-talkie down and whistles for the raptors.
It takes a minute, Patricia fidgeting impatiently, but then they appear out of the rainy dark, four narrow heads, dark brown and sleek from wet.
Miriam takes the bag of tyrannosaur feathers and opens it, tossing the feathers on the ground. “Seek!”
All four gather around, sniffing and doing the side-to-side wiggle that meant excitement. Their heads pop up again almost together, and in the gloom she can’t tell who takes off in front, only that there’s very little noise and squabbling.
Not wanting to lose sight of them, she shoves the Jeep into gear and takes off through the dark. Patricia shrieks, which she ignores, and then begins lecturing, which she tunes out. The other trainer has a lot of ideas on how to get the raptors to stay close by, and how to keep them from attacking anyone, all of which Miriam dismisses as either outright trash or too distracting to implement.
Besides, the majority of her focus is, as it has to be, on maneuvering a large vehicle over unpaved and ungraded land. The raptors aren’t following the road, they’re headed straight for a scent, and the Jeep is unwieldy at best.
The drive takes forever. The rain is unceasing, pounding hard and fast against everything, and somewhere along the way the walkie-talkie fizzles out. Patricia is also unceasing, something she ascribes to panic, and she only half pays attention to the trainer’s prattle about proper handling.
Finally they come up hard against the electric fencing. The raptors scramble over, unfazed, while Miriam takes one look and slams on the gas.
There’s a moment of hesitancy and then they break through, roaring down the tour trail after the raptors. The dinosaurs have clearly got the scent, zooming along at—she checks the speedometer—twenty five miles per hour. The Jeep is easily able to handle that, and she settles in behind them.
The herbivore exhibit separating Deinonychus from Tyrannosaurus seems undisturbed, and they clip past it. It’s clear once they cross over into the tyrannosaur area: the raptors come to a halt, heads up and swivelling.
Miriam eases the Jeep around them and keeps an eye in the rear-view mirror as she checks out the tour cars.
Both are abandoned and their windshields shattered. One has claw marks all over and the other—with a quick, flickering glance at the raptors, Miriam throws the Jeep into park and jumps out.
The second tour car has blood splattered over one side, shining oddly in the glare from the Jeep’s headlights. She bites her lip hard and steps towards it carefully, keeping an eye on the muddy ground. A few feet away she stops and only barely manages to swallow back vomit.
“What is it?” Patricia demands, still in the Jeep.
Miriam breathes, slow and steady, through her nose. When she has control again, she says, “Donald Gennaro.”
It looks like he got out of the car somehow, and then knocked down at least once—from the bright red scratches on his face and tears in his shirt collar—before being pinned down and chewed on. His torso is out of shape and there are several gaping wounds in his stomach. She can’t see a specific cause of death but there are any number of options.
She backs away and almost stumbles into Alpha. The raptor chirps and begins stepping towards Gennaro’s body. “Leave it!” Miriam barks, not daring to move until Alpha turns back towards her. Then she scatters treats, and holds out a salvaged feather from Rexy. “Seek!”
Alpha sniffs and takes off once more, into the tyrannosaur exhibit. The others follow her quickly. Miriam makes her way back to the Jeep. “We’ll have to leave him!” she says, shouting to be heard over the sudden arrival of thunder. “Come back in the morning!”
Patricia was deadly white. “That wasn’t the tyrannosaur.”
Miriam doesn’t want to take the time to disabuse her of any inconvenient notions, and shoves the Jeep back into gear, roaring after the raptors.
“It can’t have been the tyrannosaur,” Patricia insists. “She’s dangerous but not like that.”
Studiously ignoring her, Miriam focuses on following the quick moving raptors. They’re not as fast now as they were on the road, but their size and agility gives them speed that the Jeep lacks.
Still, she manages to keep up until they all spiral into a large clearing and everything goes straight to shit, again.
Her first glance shows three people in a tree, one more backed against it, and Rexy in the middle of the clearing, head down. The raptors have come to a halt as well and are screeching loudly, feathers poofed.
Miriam slams on the brake, fishtailing the Jeep in the mud. However this goes down, hitting one of the dinos with a car is not an acceptable solution.
She’s unbuckling even as the Jeep shakes to a halt, but even over the wind and rain she hears a thump. Sliding out of the vehicle, she turns to look at Patricia and only then realizes that the other trainer has been silent since they entered the clearing.
What she sees makes her stomach cramp violently. At some point in the skid, Patricia had been flung forward and hit the dash. She’s now hanging limply from her seatbelt, blood welling on her forehead.
Miriam almost goes to help, but one of the raptors shrieks and that situation must be dealt with first.
The arrival of the Jeep has changed only Rexy—she’s now pointed towards the raptors. Everyone else is frozen and she runs through a dozen different ideas. The only one that makes any sense is trying one of Patricia’s cue words.
“Down!” she snaps, and as one the raptors lay down, tilting glances at her back over their shoulders. Rexy doesn’t respond. Miriam tries again, voice higher. “Rexy, down!”
Instead, the tyrannosaur steps toward her and roars. The sound reverberates through her, and she can only imagine what the dinosaur will sound like fully grown. As it is, she’s able to grit her teeth and stand her ground. “Down,” she says flatly, pitching her voice to carry.
Rexy shakes her head and snaps her jaw, making sounds almost like a seal. Then she steps forward.
Miriam flinches, and is sure she must reek of fear. No evolutionary drive prepared her for a predator at her eye level and she appreciates the instinct that drove the guests up a tree. “Down,” she repeats, not daring to try anything else.
Roaring again, Rexy breaks into a run straight for her.
She jumps back, slips in the mud and falls hard. For a second she thinks this is it, and then her vision clears enough to show only rain. Pulling in a faltering, shaky breath, she hollers, “Seek!”
For a second there’s a too-large face over her, too-long teeth and too-hot breath almost on her chest. Then something screeches and movement, and it’s too dark to see better, so she scrambles backward, hands and feet slipping in the mud.
It still takes a minute to figure out what’s going on. Rexy is fighting for the first time in her life, and the raptors are unified against her. Even collectively they still weigh less than she does, but their experience tussling shows, and it’s not long before Rexy pulls away, thrashing her head.
Miriam takes the opportunity to circle around—letting Rexy get between her and the Jeep, but she sees no other option—and head for the tree. The boy—Tim—is the one standing at the base, unable to get up, and all three seem unharmed aside from minor cuts.
“Climb down!” she yells over the wind. “I can get you back!”
Grant gives her a shaky thumbs up. “Working on it!” Dusk or no, she can see him look past her and tense. “Shit!”
She spins, barely managing to stay upright.
The raptors have let Rexy back off, although all four are as fluffed as they can get while also soaking wet. Rexy, for her part, shows a few lines of blood through her coat. But what got Grant’s attention is that she’s started moving towards the Jeep, and both Grant and Miriam can put two and two together.
The mud makes it impossible to run but she manages to move quickly. She’s shouting—nonsense she can never remember, but then eventually she screams, “Hold!”
For a split second Rexy twitches towards her, and she almost hopes—but then the tyrannosaur takes one last step forward and bites down on Patricia’s arm.
Miriam shrieks, the sound torn out of her. Patricia doesn’t move, doesn’t open her eyes and she can only think—
Rexy jerks and shakes her head until Patricia’s arm comes free with a spurt of blood.
Her whole chest tight, Miriam vomits until she dry-heaves, and can hear those behind her doing the same. Shakily, she shoves herself back upright, unclear when she fell to her knees, and starts walking towards the Jeep.
The vehicle is their only way out of this now, and as much as she hates the thought—unmoving, head trauma, now blood loss and shock—Patricia isn’t walking out of here alive. The raptors move out of her way, giving little worried chirps.
She doesn’t stop long enough to think about what she’s doing, just swings up into the Jeep and unbuckles Patricia’s body. Rexy is only a few feet away, worrying at the arm, but she looks up at Miriam’s movement.
Swallowing bile, Miriam shoves the body out of the Jeep. It hits the mud with a squelch and Rexy begins moving over. At 350 pounds, she’s still relatively agile and quickly lashes out with one foot to pin the body.
Miriam doesn’t move.
One large eye on her, Rexy grabs the body with a flexible foot and pulls it toward herself.
Miriam remains perfectly still.
Satisfied, Rexy bends her head to feed.
Slowly, Miriam slides into the driver’s seat and turns the key. The rumble of the engine makes Rexy pop her head back up.
In a second, though, Beta comes leaping over the hood of the Jeep, throwing herself into Rexy’s space and squawking.
Using the raptors as a welcome distraction, Miriam sides the Jeep through the mud towards the tree. Equally slowly and carefully, all three guests climb in the Jeep.
Rexy is watching them, but at the same time she’s focused on protecting Patricia’s body from the raptors. A tiny part of Miriam’s mind worries about letting the raptors eat human flesh, but the vast majority is focused on getting everyone—the survivors—out and safe.
She gets the Jeep turned around without incident, Grant sitting tense in the passenger seat, Sattler and Tim pressed tight together in the back. Then she faces the thought of squeezing past Rexy back out the way they came and changes her mind. What’s left of Patricia’s body can be collected in the morning, along with Gennaro’s; any attempt to take it would be like dangling steak in front of a wolf.
Keeping her movements slow until she’s almost out of the clearing, Miriam gets the Jeep pointed towards a sidetrack, one she can only hope leads to the access trail or the tour road. As they’re just entering the trees, she turns around and hollers, “Raptors, come!”
Two days later
In the end, that there were two fatalities from a complete power failure is a minor miracle. Alan—they can’t be on a last name basis after that night—has many words about Hammond’s security, but so does Miriam, and what it came down to in the end was Miriam’s control of the raptors.
Two other species—Baryonyx and Triceratops—had put lives in danger that night, but the worst injury was a twisted ankle.
Phone calls to families had to be made, something Miriam was quietly relieved could be left to Hammond. Escaped dinosaurs had to be recaptured, not the least of which being Rexy. Eventually Medical had provided an anesthesia, and they’d knocked her out and put her in her restored exhibit.
The raptors were, by any telling, one of the heroes of the story, but as far as they were concerned nothing had changed. Miriam made sure of that.
When she sleeps, she can see Rexy tearing Patricia’s arm off, and she fears she’ll never forget it. It’s the worst sort of victory, the absolute worst way to prove her training methods better, and the only scant redemption is that Hammond finally sees clear to putting her in charge of all training and hiring more behaviorists.
But what it comes down to, in the end, is being able to sit down with four predators and whistle at them.
And hear them whistle back.