A World Full of Monsters

Table of Contents

Chapter 8
Raptors in the Mist

We weren’t the only scientists working with zipper theory, of course. There were other labs, but none of them were as commercially successful as we were – we’d gotten there first, you see, and we had Pete’s sim software to give us an edge nobody else had. Most of them were also keeping a low profile because they didn’t want to join us in the Slow News Day Hall of Fame, and they were doing other kinds of research in addition to working with zipper theory. So really, we didn’t have any competition and didn’t expect to have any any time soon. We’d never considered that non-scientists might be interested in breaking into the modding business, though.


The first time we heard about Arizona, it was because Pete had started laughing his ass off over something he’d read online. “People saying they saw dinosaurs,” he explained when Joey wanted to know what was up. “Running around out by that place where all the New-Age weirdos go to play. Somebody’s sacred smoke must have been mixed a little too strong this time.”

He and Joey had a good laugh over that. I wasn’t really taking part in the fun because I was busy working on a mod – I heard him say it, I just didn’t think too much about it. But then that weekend it came up again. Dinosaurs. In Arizona, just outside of Sedona. And this time they didn’t just have scared mystical retreat tourists…they had missing hikers.

Now, we’ve all seen the movie – in fact, we’ve all read the books. So this story was beginning to sound a little too familiar for comfort, or at least just enough to make all four of us get into a discussion about whether or not it was possible. Joey and I ran mod sims until midnight and were grumpy over our coffee the next morning when Dave came in. “It’s possible.”

“Fuck.”

“Gets worse,” I told him. “I got a call this morning, a Ms. Perry from the Department of Public Health is coming in to ‘talk’ to us – they apparently think we’re responsible somehow, she was blathering about monsters and upsetting the natural order. I called Rick already, he said no warrant no records search and he’ll be here before she is in case she’s planning to try throwing quasi-legal stuff at us. And he also says she personally may be behind at least some of the complaints OSHA and EHS keep getting about us.”

Joey was scowling. “We aren’t doing anything wrong!”

“Rick knows that,” I reminded him for the fifth time since the call had come in. “We’ll probably get another investigation out of it anyway, though – which is fine, we know we’re not doing anything wrong either and so do OSHA and EHS.” I tossed myself back in the chair. “What I really want to know is who made the raptors?” Dave almost dropped his coffee cup. “Hey, we didn’t make them. That means someone else made them.”

“Doc?”

“He only does mods on humans, so far as we know.”

“Yeah, so far as we know.” Dave sat down without filling the cup. “So you think we’ve got what, DIY modders now?”

I nodded. “That’s exactly what I think. And I think they made some dinosaurs in Arizona, I just don’t know why. Shits and giggles, maybe? Or they just don’t like Sedona?”

“Or they’ve seen the goddamn movie too many times and thought hey, let’s make it real.” Joey shook his head. “I still think we should call Jeff Goldblum, ask him if he’s gotten any invitations to hit Sedona recently.”

“And then you’d be responsible for killing Jeff Goldblum,” I reminded him. “Because his agent would probably have an orgasm all over that message and then send the poor guy down there with a photographer. You know how those people think.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right.” He grinned. “I’d still like to meet Jeff Goldblum, though.”

“He’d probably rather not meet you on the wrong end of a dinosaur, Joey. Send him a fanboy letter, you can enclose a picture of you and somebody else’s mod-made dinosaur. Caption it ‘Thinking of you’.” He took a swat at me for that, and I got up and went back to the lab to go over my sims again. The mod reversal process wasn’t seeing any real progress, but the moth-modded mouse we were making for the West Virginia Tourism Board was coming along pretty well.

Yeah, a moth-mouse. They’d wanted Mothman, but we’d told them it wasn’t possible and offered something smaller, cuter, and more tourist-friendly instead. The red eyes and velvety blue-white wings sold it, but our first test subject had laid eggs that metamorphosed into the caterpillars from hell so I was still trying to find a way to sort that out before we gave it to them.

 

The lady from Public Health showed up very snootily at ten a.m. sharp, wearing a Business Barbie outfit with four-inch heels. I stopped her right inside the door, while she was still on the rubber non-skid mat. “Sorry, you can’t come any farther in with those shoes – it’s a safety violation. You’ll either need to take them off or sign a waiver.”

She looked down her nose at me, and not just because of the heels. “Are you attempting to harass me?”

“No, the way I understand it you’re here to harass our lab, by making false accusations against us,” I told her. I stepped aside just enough so I could point to the sign we had up. “This is an OSHA-certified lab, Ms. Perry, and their rules say those shoes are a no-no.”

She huffed. “You are not certified.” I pointed at the certificate, which we keep framed and behind glass next to the sign with the lab rules on it. “You bribed someone, then. I’ll see about that later.”

“You’re still not getting in here with those shoes and no waiver,” I told her. I nodded to the woman who was with her, who looked uncomfortable, and held out my hand. “Dr. Daniel Darling, Ms…?”

“Brenda Sterline,” she responded, returning the handshake. She took a look at her own shoes, frowned, and then slipped out of them. “The heels are low enough, but they’re not non-skid soles. Better safe than sorry.”

I smiled. “I know it’s a pain, but OSHA knows best – or so they keep telling us, anyway. The front here should technically be exempt from the shoe rules, but once they realized we were dragging work all over the building the inspector said no dice.” Ms. Perry had huffily taken off her own shoes, and I stepped out of their way. “Thank you. Welcome to GenoMod. I don’t suppose you brought any more information about the Arizona situation, did you?”

Ms. Perry sniffed. “Why, did you delete yours already?”

I rolled my eyes. “We haven’t done any mods for Arizona – and we wouldn’t have taken them up on it if they’d called and asked us for dinosaurs. I’m pretty sure the state’s tourism department wouldn’t want something like that running loose, not with all the hikers they have. Not to mention what the reservation would probably have to say about it. And we have actually talked to them,” I said before she could comment about that. “I called out there a little while ago to ask if they knew anything about what’s going on, they’re checking into it and they said they’d get back to us.” Rick stood up when we got close to the table; so did Dave and Joey. “Guys, this is Ms. Perry and Ms. Sterline. Ladies, my partners Dr. Cristal and Dr. Montoya, and our lawyer Mr. Rikard.”

This time Ms. Perry sneered. “Innocent people don’t need lawyers.”

“On the contrary, innocent people need lawyers more than guilty ones do.” Rick wasn’t looking impressed. “Ladies, if you’d like to have a seat we can get down to business – we’re all busy people. Now, you had some accusations against my clients. Do you have any proof?”

“The proof is all over the news,” she shot back coldly. “Of course, we’ve all known this would happen eventually. Your lab is conducting immoral, unethical experiments, it was only a matter of time before one of your monst…”

Creatures.” She looked startled by the sharpness of the correction, but I didn’t care. “They aren’t ‘monsters’, they’re creatures – monster is a loaded term used to demonize something that looks different from the expected norm. And I don’t allow that term to be used in my lab.”

“Down, boy,” Joey said mildly. He jerked his head at the cage, where Hana had come out and was fussing with her sewing machine. “Ms. Perry, we would ask that you be respectful of Miss Kim’s feelings while you’re here. A drop bear or a Laughing Dog might not understand the connotations of the words you use, but she most definitely does.”

Ms. Sterline looked horrified. “You keep her in a cage?! I thought…”

“We had the cage before we had her, it’s just a converted room – this building used to belong to a bounty hunter,” Dave explained. “Her bedroom is behind it, see the door? She uses the cage as her sewing room because it’s got better light. Which works out for us, too, because the bars keep her stuff from ending up all over the lab.”

“Which would be another OSHA violation,” I added. “I’m really surprised you don’t know all about that, Ms. Perry, since they told us it was your office that kept siccing them on us.”

“That’s a violation. I’ll report them…”

“Funny, that’s what they said about you,” Rick told her, pushing over a piece of paper. “Their boss came out the last time, talked to all four of the owners of this company and then came and talked to me. Which it is within his right to do, because you’re wasting his agency’s time and money with baseless accusations, Ms. Perry, and that isn’t exactly legal. He’s filing a complaint against you, and he gave me this affidavit from their lawyer with the suggestion that we might want to do the same.”

She went red. I turned my attention back to Ms. Sterline, who had taken the copy of the affidavit and was looking it over. “Ms. Sterline, if I may ask, what is your role supposed to be here today?”

“I’m one of the department’s legal assistants,” she answered at once. She held the paper up. “Is this copy for us?”

“Yes.” Rick gave her several more papers. “These too. Alfred had court today?”

She shook her head. “Alfred is in the Bahamas. But he wouldn’t have come out for this even if he was here.”

Rick smiled. “No, most likely not – every lawyer’s main career goal is to have juniors to do the legwork for them.” He indicated the papers. “The lab’s current project list is proprietary information, and the work contracts specify that client information won’t be disclosed without a court order which specifically names the client. But I did give you a sworn and notarized affidavit which states that the lab has never done a project for the State of Arizona or for any private clients in Arizona.”

Ms. Sterline fished out that piece of paper and looked it over, nodding, but Ms. Perry’s nose had gone back into the air. “That’s not worth the paper it’s printed on.”

Rick’s smile hardened a little. “Did you just call me a liar, Ms. Perry? Did you really just call me that on camera?”

“We’re on…we didn’t give you permission to record this meeting!”

“You don’t have to, it’s our security system – the lab is on-camera twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The only places we don’t have the security cameras watching are the bathrooms and Hana’s bedroom.” My phone went off; I checked the number and stood up. “Everyone hold that thought,” I said, and then answered while I hurried back into the lab so no one could hear me. “This is Dr. Darling, what’s up?”

Twenty minutes later I was back out, and carrying an overnight bag. Everyone was still right where I’d left them, although Rick was now drinking coffee and Ms. Sterline was in the cage with Hana oohing and aahing over whatever was going on with the sewing machine; Ms. Perry, coincidentally, looked like someone had given her a lemon to suck on. I ignored her. “Dave, Joey…draw straws. The Tribal Council found our DIY modders, on the reservation no less, and they want us to come out there and see if we can help clean up the mess.”

They looked at each other, and Dave shook his head; Joey stood up. Rick did too. “Danny?”

“They either reverse-engineered the process, or they bought a DIY mod kit from someone else who did. I’ll know once we get there, but Joey and I have got to run because they’ve got a private plane waiting on us.” His eyebrows went up, he started to ask… “Yeah, it’s that bad. Whoever did it was trying to make velociraptors, and there are four running loose right now as we speak.” Hana squeaked in alarm; I threw a smile and a headshake at her. “No, we’ll be fine. They aren’t actually raptors, they’re some kind of lizard mod. And the reservation is pulling in the wildlife guys to help contain them.” She bounced out of the cage and I got an armful of bunnygirl. I patted her back. “No really, we’ll be fine, I promise.” She scolded me, chittering. “Okay, I don’t promise, but that’s what I believe. Better?” Another hug, and she bounced to hug Joey before cuddling up to Dave. I sighed. “Okay, Dave, don’t burn the place down while we’re gone.”

“And no wild parties either,” Joey warned him, “since we won’t be here to join in.”

“Can’t anyway, that’s an OSHA violation.” Dave shook his head. “Don’t play bait for anything, guys. Remember, raptors hunt in packs.”

“So do the wildlife guys,” Joey said. “Don’t worry, we’ll stay out of trouble. We’re just going down there to be science guys, right Danny?”

“That’s what they told me,” I agreed. “Ms. Sterline, pleasure to meet you. Ms. Perry…well, it wasn’t, but c’est la vie. You have the rest of this, Rick?”

“Go,” he told me, flapping his hand toward the door. “Call when you get back.”

We went. We stopped at Joey’s apartment to grab a bag for him and then rushed to the little airport where the private plane crowd hung out. Our pilot was waiting for us, looking grim as hell, and he hustled us into his plane and we took off. It wasn’t a pleasure plane, it was more of a work sort of plane but that was fine with me; it had seats and seatbelts, and I didn’t see any duct tape holding anything together. Joey got the pilot talking –  his name was Sam – and found out he was usually hauling cargo around to places where the boys in brown didn’t go. Joey got him telling stories and talking about flying under different conditions, and by the time we got to the reservation the two of them were buddies. Joey is good at that.

Sam stayed with his plane while we went with the guys who came to get us, one guy from the Tribal Council and one from Fish and Wildlife, and the rifle the wildlife guy was packing widened my eyes. “Are they really that big?”

“The reports we have so far say man-size, maybe a little taller,” he confirmed grimly. He was a wildlife manager – basically a game warden – and his name was Scott Adams. “We don’t have any pictures yet, though. Any idea what they might have been made out of?”

I shook my head. “No, but if they’re that big they must have started with something big. You have any really big lizards out here?”

The Council guy snorted. He had introduced himself as Michael Benally. “Iguanas don’t get that big, boys. Two, three feet, tops – and that’s including the tail.”

I shook my head again. “Nope, not big enough, not even if they modded with a bigger animal – you can only stretch something so far.” I frowned. “So, probably something they brought in to play with, not something they just had scooting around. Exotic animal pipeline out here?”

That was directed to Adams, who shrugged. “I wouldn’t call it a pipeline, but we’ve got a few idiots who’ve brought things in. No crocs or gators, though, if that’s what you’re wondering.”

“I was, thanks.” And I was really glad I’d been wondering wrong, because the bunyips were modded from a crocodile base and they were fast and mean in spite of their size. The jeep took a few more turns, and all of a sudden there was a sort of gate up ahead with a big, familiar-looking sign over it. “The hell?!”

It said ‘Welcome to Arapaho Park’. Beside me, Joey took a picture, and then another one. He wasn’t quite snickering, because with four dead hikers tallied up that wouldn’t have been appropriate, but I knew he could see the funny side of it – honestly, so could I. “Tell me you have these idiots in custody?” Joey asked.

Adams shook his head. “We have their ‘park custodian’, but he didn’t do the actual work,” he said. “He’s…well, he’s a chickenshit coward about the animals, I’m not sure why they even had him out here since he’s scared to death of them. But he did say his masters were out getting more stock because they had an idea for making a T-rex.” He looked back at us from the front seat, meeting my eyes. “You can’t actually do that, right?”

“I seriously doubt it,” I assured him, even though I was pretty sure that if we really tried we could come up with something pretty close – in miniature, but it would be close. “I can’t think of anything you could start with to get a creature that big. Even elephants aren’t big enough for that.”

The Council guy was navigating through the gates, which were open – and which, up close, were pretty shittily constructed, more like a stage prop than an actual gate. “A whale, maybe?”

“Only if it was beached,” Joey told him. “Otherwise it would probably drown. And even if it was beached, the transformation would probably kill it. You have to anesthetize an animal before you start the process, I’m not sure that’s even possible with a whale.”

Adams made a face. “Chances these guys are that ethical?”

Joey and I looked at each other, and he shrugged. “Probably zero to none, considering the current situation, but if they’re getting their stuff as some kind of kit it might be all-inclusive or at least have directions for use. Not to mention that importing large illegal animals would be hella expensive, so where ethics probably wouldn’t give them a twinge when it comes to being careful their wallets most likely would.”

The dirt road from the gate led to a surprisingly nice little concrete box of a building, which Adams confirmed had been some kind of wildlife research station years before. He thought it may have been someone studying native birds. I could see what looked like chain link dog runs on one side, all of them roofed over with more fencing or corrugated metal and positioned to take advantage of shade from nearby trees. Or possibly the trees had been planted to provide shade for the cages, no telling. One cage had a big branch looking thing in it, so yeah, birds. I walked around the side of the building and saw that one of the other cages had a big hole ripped in it, and I walked right back around the side of the building again. “Okay, well, we know they’re strong.”

“It’s separated at the seam,” Adams reassured me. “I think that was a patch, probably there used to be a gate panel there.” He led us into the building, which was about two degrees cooler than the outside was and had a dry, eerie sort of feeling. Abandoned buildings? Not my thing. “Well, Doctors, here you are. We didn’t let anyone move any of the paperwork or anything, so have at it.”

“Just don’t destroy anything,” Benally warned us. “We’ll need it for evidence later.”

“Yeah, we know how that works,” Joey reassured him, and then we started going through rooms to see what we could find.

The two guys wandered around for a bit and then went back out, and when they came back in to check on us they seemed surprised to find a flurry of activity: we’d found the files and were trying to decipher them. Joey had Dave on the phone, reading things off for him to look up while I dug through their computer and made notes and compared the notes to the paperwork. Finally Joey pushed a piece of paper over to me. “It was a crocodile monitor – a fucking huge, venomous lizard,” he told me. “Dave confirmed it three ways. They’re in the same family as komodo dragons…and damn, do they look like half a raptor.”

He held out his phone, showing me the picture Dave had sent – luckily we actually had some bars way out here – and yes, that did look like something that had already wanted to be a man-eating dinosaur. Or possibly had already been one but was happy to get the chance to be all that it could be again. “You’re gonna love what they modded it with,” I told him. “I guess they figured go big or go home and nobody wanted to go home, so they used a fucking ostrich to get their little pet walking on its hind legs.” I looked him in the eye. “They did a fifty-fifty, Joey.”

He blanched, and Adams got concerned in a hurry. “Fifty-fifty?”

“The mod percentage,” I explained. “When you mod an animal, you have to decide how much change you want, so you go by percentages. I did twenty with a giant fruit bat on the miniature horse we used to make New Jersey’s cute little devil mascot, just enough to give him wings and fur and change his face a little, not enough to screw up his hooves or mess up his joints. The three-way mod we did to make Australia’s bunyips started out with manatee mod on a crocodile at forty and then twenty-five with platypus on top of that – and twenty-five was more than enough to carry over the platypus’s venom.”

“These morons did fifty-fifty with two fast, mean animals, one of which has venom,” Joey continued. “We’re pretty sure now that they didn’t really know what the hell they were actually doing, they got a DIY mod kit from someone else.” He waved a hand at the lab area we were in. “They don’t have the equipment here to make their own mod, they don’t even have the right software to do sims. I don’t know how they even decided what animals to use.”

“I do.” I pulled it up. “Image morphing software, the kind kids use to make two-bit special effect pictures to share online. So they didn’t actually have any tech knowledge, and from the looks of the notes they made nobody was a geneticist. Or a biologist, or a zoologist, or any other kind of ologist either. One guy seems to have known something about animals, though, so maybe a veterinary student? His notes have terminology in them that points to someone who’s more than casually familiar with the lingo of animal medicine but not all the way to professional. So they know just enough to follow instructions and think they know what they’re doing.”

The wildlife manager swallowed. “Any leads on their next project?”

“They want to make a T-rex,” I told him, and then grinned. “But they can’t, and they do know enough to know that. So their next project is to make those poisonous spitting dinosaurs – you know, the ones that have only ever existed in the movie? Some kind of fringed lizard modded with cobra is the plan.” I held up my hand when he went sort of green. “Dude, those lizards aren’t even a foot tall, it’ll be a venom-spitting mini-lizard with a really long tail and really short legs. Because fifty-fifty with a snake won’t leave you much real estate between the creature’s feet and its belly, and then it’ll have to drag the tail…it won’t be moving all that fast is what I’m saying. And it’s going to look stupid, too.”

Benally tried, he really did, but he couldn’t stop himself from laughing and after a minute Adams joined in. Joey smiled, shaking his head; he knew I’d done that on purpose.

 

We were still working when the wildlife guy said he had to take Benally back to town and check in himself, and like idiots we volunteered to stay there for a few more hours while he did his thing and then he’d come back to get us. We took our time and got all of the notes and things in order, but he still wasn’t back. So we dug around some more and then noticed that it was starting to get dark outside, and he still wasn’t back. We were starting to wonder if we were going to be spending the night in the fake lab when we heard an engine, but before I could go out Joey stopped me. “Danny, that’s not a jeep. You don’t think…”

I peeked out one window and saw three figures getting out of what looked like an SUV. And through one open door I saw what looked like small cages and the kind of holed cardboard boxes you bring hamsters home from the pet store in. “Well fuck, it’s the idiots. What should we do?”

I shouldn’t have asked Joey that question, because Joey’s plan was absolutely crazy…and it totally worked, because the guys really were idiots. They came in calling for their ‘park custodian’, and Joey called out that we were in the lab. And we were, seemingly working. He took in their dumbfounded looks when they saw us and gave them a roll of his eyes in exchange. “What, he didn’t call and tell you we were here? He split, man. Hopefully the raptors didn’t eat him on his way out…the way they did those four hikers this morning.”

“What?”

“Four hikers? Got eaten by your velociraptors?” I reiterated, rolling my eyes too. “Why do you think we’re out here? Everyone thought you’d probably split too, or possibly been eaten, so they brought us in and left us out here while we tried to figure out what you did and if anyone could stop it or not.” I pointed at the lizard cage one guy was carrying, shaking my head. “No, that isn’t going to give you a frill-necked venom-spitting dinosaur, it’s going to give you a frill-necked venom-spitting snake with stumpy little legs. You’re not making a dinosaur out of that, you’re just making a mess.”

He put the cage on one of the tables, making a face. “How do you know? Nobody knows about this shit, it’s new. Some guys in California invented it…” I raised an eyebrow…and he burst into the biggest shit-eating grin I’d ever seen. “Oh shit, you’re them! Guys, it’s just like a movie, they called in the big-gun experts to figure out what was going on!”

I looked at Joey, and he looked at me, and if we’d been a comic book there would have been a shared thought bubble between our heads: Idiots.

 

Scott Adams, the wildlife manager, showed up a couple of hours later and very apologetic about not having made it back sooner, and I have to say he was really surprised to find Joey and I playing with frilled lizards while the founders of Arapaho Park sulked outside in one of their raptor cages; I had suggested to Joey that we put them in the one with the hole in it and see how long it took them to figure it out, but he said we’d had enough fun for one day. Adams came back inside after he’d spent some time talking to the idiots and then called it all in. “So they just…walked in here and you fed them a line?”

Joey snorted. “Man, we didn’t even have to feed them a line. We just told them why we were here and said everyone thought they’d taken off or died, and they decided it was just like a movie and wow, that was really exciting.” He indicated the lizards. “Your pipeline has a spigot just this side of Phoenix, the animals come from a dealer network in Mexico. And right now we’ve got to figure out what to do with four fringed lizards and two king cobras – they’re over there, in the closet,” he added quickly when the guy almost jumped backwards. “And a box of DIY mod kit that I’d like to take back to our lab for analysis, because we have the equipment there to find out what’s in it.”

“We know it’s evidence,” I put in before Adams could say it. “But you need to know what exactly is in it and so do we, and for that we need a real lab. If you’ve got one of those we could use around here, that would work too.”

He looked doubtful. “The state police have an evidence processing lab…”

“Wrong kind of lab,” I told him. “And those guys aren’t going to have any idea what they’re looking at, they’re just going to see chemicals and biological extracts. We can tell you how it’s put together, though, which might give you or someone else a clue about who made it.” He still looked unsure. “Tell you what, since I do kind of understand how the chain of evidence works…have someone come with us while we do our thing, here or in our own lab your choice. Our lab would be faster because we already have everything set up, but a university lab in the zoology or biology department would work if we can’t have that.”

He was nodding now, so we’d obviously gotten through to him. He pulled out his phone and called someone. “Jerry, it’s Scott again. The experts we brought in want to examine the stuff these guys were using…yes, they know that, but they have a point; we don’t have the facilities here for that kind of thing. And they said we could send someone with them so the chain of evidence isn’t broken. Yeah…their lab would be better because they could work faster, yeah. Get the Council to okay it, since we’re on tribal land the state can’t say jack to us anyway – Mike was out here, talk to him. Is our pilot…good, okay, let him know we’re heading back his way, with cargo this time.” He pulled the phone away. “You boys want the animals too, right?”

“We can take the lizards,” Joey told him. “Let me check in and see if we can handle the cobras.” He called the lab. “Hey Pete, me. No, we haven’t. We’re coming back to do some testing on the DIY mod kit for the Tribal Council, but I need to know if we have what we’d need to handle two king cobras…yes, really. Yes. Well, can you get hold of that one snake guy, the one who works downtown? Because we have two king cobras incoming, and the boxes they’re in are heavy so they aren’t small.” He waited, then started nodding. “Okay, okay…okay, let me check on that.” He took the phone away from his ear. “The snake expert said he’d help with the cobras, but he wants to know if they can keep them once you don’t need access to them anymore – they’re one of the few places around that makes antivenin for more than just rattlesnakes.”

Adams, shrugged. “Hey, we don’t want them. Tell him sure thing, just so long as they’re kept alive and findable until our investigation is over.”

Joey  nodded. “Okay Pete…oh you heard that. Yeah, tell him it’s a done deal. We’ll have some fringed lizards with us too, but they’re in cages already. Yeah, yeah…okay, done deal, then. We’ll call when we hit the airstrip. Yeah…no, not a sign of them, hopefully someone is out tracking them down…” A scream outside brought me right up off my stool and almost made him drop the phone. “Well shit, I think the babies may have come home to mama for the night. We’ll call you, Pete.”

He disconnected without waiting for a response, and I raised an eyebrow at him. “Way to go, you just put us squarely in the middle of that same movie the three idiots thought they were the opening act for.” I could hear something big outside, stomping around the cages from the sound of it. And then a rattle and groaning of metal. “You’ve got to be kidding me, they didn’t just come back for the night like the neighbor’s cat, did they?”

Another scream, then another. We circled around to a place where we could see the cages through a window, careful not to get right in front of the glass. “Holy shit.”

“I second that.” They really did look like fucking velociraptors, except that they had sleeker black skin and some pin feathers here and there. Their eyes were yellow and round, and they had crests of what looked like spiky feathers on top of their heads and on the back of their ‘arms’. And then I remembered something. “Oh shit, did you leave that door open in the back?”

Adams swore and made a run for it – and we followed right behind him, because if you send a guy off alone after asking him a question like that, he gets eaten by a surprise dinosaur. Which was actually outside the door sniffing around, and wasn’t too happy when we slammed said door practically on its snout. The door almost immediately shook from having a man-sized DIY dinosaur push on it, and Joey and I threw the deadbolt on and looked for something we could brace the door with just in case while Adams called back in, this time in full panic mode. “The animals are back!” he said. “Our three perps are outside in one of the pens, but the animals are trying to get in there and into this building. They’re god-damned dinosaurs!”

I took the phone away from him and took a deep breath. “This is Dr. Darling, one of the experts you brought out to have a look at this stuff – Jerry, right? Yes, the animals came back – Scott got a pretty good scare, he went to shut the back door and one of them was right there thinking about coming in. Yes, they’re about man-sized – I’m just a little under five-eight and it was looking down its snout at me. Well…” I eyed the door, which wasn’t shaking any more. “It looks like that one got bored pushing on the door. Yes, they probably are smart, but I think this one was just curious. Or possibly looking for whatever its creators had been feeding it…well, crocodile monitors are meat-eaters, so yes, we would. I’m going to take everyone back to the inner lab now, because it doesn’t have a window big enough for one of these things to get in. Yes…yes…” I grinned. “Yes, we realized that earlier, but hey, we’re where we’re at and we promise not to let Scott try to make a mad dash for his jeep. No, honestly I’d suggest sending out someone to try to tranq them – they’re just big lizards, Jerry, not magical movie dinosaurs that can open doors with their claws. Yes, I’d suggest asking someone at the nearest zoo for help, tell them you’ve got four genetically modified crocodile monitors you need to contain. No, for the moment we’re fine, but the idiots outside in the pen are screaming their heads off – no, they’re still all three screaming so I’m pretty sure they’re still alive. If we see a chance to get them back in we’ll take it. All right…all right, thanks. Yes, one of us will call if something changes. Talk to you later, Jerry.”

I handed Scott back his phone. He was looking embarrassed, and I sighed and patted his shoulder. “Scott, you practically walked into its mouth – I’d have peed my pants, you’re still dry so you did just fine in my book. Now, let’s go make sure we’ve got the lab doors secured because all your evidence is in there, and then we’ll see if there’s a place we can watch them from so we know what they’re doing.”

We ended up watching them from the big windows because there was no reason not to – the cages were on that side, so there was heavy chain-link fencing between our glass and the prowling lizards and there were nice bright lights out there too. The lizards were just obviously looking for food, they probably remembered getting some at the cages and had come back to try to score an easy meal. The three DIY modders were hysterical and holding on to each other, but they seemed to be pretty safe in the cage so apparently what Scott had told us about the torn cage having been patched was accurate. The lizards prowled around, growled, fought with each other a little bit, and finally went into the torn cage and sat down.Waiting.

We called Jerry back and let him know the dinosaurs were tired and considering turning in for the night, and Jerry being a bright guy came into the yard and drove right up to the cage with his truck – which had a welded steel cow-catcher on it – and used that to plug the hole. Tranqing them was like shooting fish in a barrel after that, and within twenty minutes they were all laying on the ground…well, snoring. Scott went out and released his perps, who all but climbed into his arms and probably would have blown he and Jerry both if they’d requested it. And then everything was loaded up, the lizards were moved to lockable cages and left with food and water and with a guy in the building to keep watch over them, and we all rode off through the cheesy fake Araphao Park gate.

Sam was waiting with Michael Benally when we hit the airstrip, and the pilot cocked an eyebrow at Joey. “So, what was it really?” Joey’s response was to show him a picture, and Sam went a little wide-eyed. “Fuck me, those really do look like the real thing, don’t they?”

“Even moreso up close,” Joey told him. “Still just a lizard, though. They modded it with an ostrich to make it stand up and run.”

Benally squinted at the photograph. “Was that a Komodo dragon?”

“Related – it was a crocodile monitor.”

“Well crap. They’re safely contained now?”

“Yeah, and someone is out there watching to make sure they stay that way.”

He was happy about that, and he climbed into the plane to find a seat – apparently he was going with us too. Sam was giving the boxes Scott was unloading a suspicious look. “And that is…”

“King cobras,” Scott told him. “Don’t worry, they’re secure – we’re meeting a snake guy on the other end who’s going to take charge of them. Nobody out here wants them.” He responded to the raised eyebrow with a shrug. “You know I’ll put you down for dangerous cargo pay, Sam. I’m not the head office.”

“Thank God for that.” Sam got up into the plane’s cargo section and directed the placement of the snakes and lizards, making sure the space he had set aside for humans was well away from it but had a good view so there wouldn’t be any surprises. And then we all buckled in, and if I thought I heard a certain movie theme playing as the plane took off it was probably just my imagination.

That, or Joey was playing the music on his phone. I couldn’t really blame him, that’s not an opportunity you get every day – not even in our line of work.

 

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