Veloci struggles, pinned beneath his perfect Tyrannosaurus. The blood staining its teeth isn’t his, but it soon will be. Nearby, four of his men (not his, never his) help Joanne (the traitor) to her feet. The noise of the rain drowns out everything but his heartbeat as blood stained puddles overflow. He can’t return to his human form, lest he be crushed to death, so he closes his eyes. This is it.
And the jaws close around him.
He counts. One, two, three, four steps to the car. Five, six, seven, eight to get in. Then he breaths, relaxes, and puts the numbers out of his mind. Fiona, always at the wheel, smiles at him in the rearview mirror as Max and Caruso struggle over the last strawberry toaster strudel. He buckles in as she tears down the road to Roger’s house, listening to the chatter and the overdramatic actings of Caruso as Max wins and tosses back the box of raspberry.
“Buzz. Hey, Buzz.”
Max leans back to nudge him, grabbing his attention.
“Did you get that worksheet done last night? I want to double check some answers.”
For a moment he thinks, twists his earrings to remember, and begins fishing for it as the last member of their group crawls into the backseat. Everything is as it should be.
“For the last time, I’m not interested!”
He knows that he’s gone too far again as the tears begin to well in her eyes.
“Look, Tina, you’re a great gal, but I don’t date.”
She’s crying. He hates it when they cry, but if they would just leave him alone it wouldn’t happen. Of course, he doesn’t notice the fist until it hits him. Her eyes are dark underneath the tears, filled with something deeper than anger. She runs off after that, and he can only sigh at the headache that is already blooming. No doubt there will be more than enough rumors by the next day, but he can’t find it in himself to care.
“Caruso? Are you alright?”
He starts, turning to find Max. It’s eerie how silent the football player is, but they all have their quirks.
“I’m fine. Just turned down another admirer, that’s all.”
The laughter is comforting, chasing any dark thoughts he could have had away. Caruso follows his friend back to their group, waiting for the two of them before they head off to the lighthouse. He really couldn’t ask for more.
Ms. Moynihan is a Velociraptor. She still has her instincts, and sometimes they are too powerful. Roger finds this particular fact out when he tests one of the drones he made in the garage. It gets about five feet before a rather playful Velociraptor tears it apart.
He just sighs when she gives him one of her holier-than-thou looks and darts away with the wreck in her jaws.
“She’ll give it back when she’s through with it Rog. Trust me on this.”
Max, the traitor, is smirking.
“When we said we didn’t mind her going dino, this isn’t what I meant.”
As much as he whines, they all know that Roger is fine with it. He will make more. A few hours later the wreckage is deposited on his desk by his blushing teacher and he laughs so hard he thinks he might cry. And then he makes sure to build a couple of dino-proof ones for her to chase around.
It’s only six in the morning when the lights blow.
One by one the candles light, and one by one they descend to the garage. The scent of burnt flesh is there, slight.
“Roger, are you okay?”
A low rumble from the direction of his work desk leads them to a very irritated Styracosaurus. Roger shifts back, grumbling at the chuckles all around. His hair stands straight up, small burn marks along his hands telling the cause.
“Come on Mr. Mad scientist, lets get you bandaged up.”
She doesn’t know which one of her boys said that, but all she does is hit the gas. Their screams of fear mix with her screams of excitement as Veloci’s men crash behind them. Faster, faster , faster !
“Fiona! Fiona, they’re gone! You need to slow down!”
She isn’t listening, not anymore. The faster she goes the happier she is, and her fangs will attest to that. A hand grasps her shoulder, green scales battling for dominance. She can see Max out of the corner of her eye. He’s terrified.
She looks ahead to see the dead end, and even as she hits the brakes she knows that they won’t get out of this one unharmed. Then everything is dirt and dust and blood and screaming as the car hits the curb and rolls. When everything stops spinning, she is still smiling.
“Oh, my head . Fio, you okay?”
She doesn’t answer, nodding as the giddiness finally starts to die down. Horror quickly invades as she takes stock of what she has done. Max is about five seconds away from going dino, pupils blown and scales already growing. Buzz and Caruso are bleeding, one from a head wound and another from the arm. Roger looks like he’s concussed, and the window has a rather large crack where he probably hit it.
Oops doesn’t cut it this time, she knows that, but they have no time to argue. They crawl out just in time before the car (stolen anyway) bursts into flame. And then explodes.
“ You get to explain this one to Ms. Moynihan.”
“... That’s fair.”
Quite a few citizens of Kittery Point have come face to face with a dinosaur. Every single one will tell you that they were terrified. In the face of something so primal, yet so intelligent, they will always attest that they were lucky. Something so big, so huge, so intimidating couldn’t possibly be tamed.
The children of Kittery Point will stop you in the street and tell you that the big dinosaurs in the forest are nice. They will describe how the T-rex let them climb all over him and how the Spinosaurus took them out into the middle of the lake for a swim. They will reenact how the Styracosaurus and the Stegosaurus led them out of the forest when they were lost, and they will excitedly recount how the Pteranodon flew them home when they fell asleep in their special clearing. To them, these gentle giants are something to be treasured, rare playmates that will look out for them.
It really is up to you to choose who you want to believe.
She will always remember that day. The flash of light that had caught her eye, the primal fear as the asteroid came down upon the earth, and the rain of fire that followed after. She remembers the panic as she stumbled through the dust, grabbing the only other of her pack she could find before stumbling into the cave. After that everything went dark, and it would be millions of years before she awoke to the soft cries of her young one. She has revisited that day many times during her sleep, and every time she wakes she finds it fitting that humans were so unwittingly perceptive. Though she may not care for religion much, she finds the descriptions of Hell quite fitting for such an event.
Max really has scared them all. Her other four charges have not left his side since they rescued him from Veloci, and as Caruso had said ‘infection be damned’. She doesn’t want to move the submarine until she is sure that he will be alright, and she wakes up the next morning to an empty med bay. For a moment she panics, and then she tracks them to the nearest land mass.
“Heads up Caruso!”
Bundled up and wearing their thermal regulators, she stares in bewilderment at the small building that they have managed to craft. It’s small and haphazard, but it is an igloo. Joanne is tempted to call them back in, especially since Max isn’t 100% cured yet, but the smile on his face as Roger holds him close is enough to squash that impulse. No matter how responsible they may be, they are still children.
She isn’t quite sure when the kids became hers. It’s something that happened during their fight, snarling out a telepathic threat as she tangled with Victor, and she didn’t question it at the time. Now, with everyone recovering, she has plenty of time to think. Of course, being confined to bed rest helps with that.
“Ms. Moynihan? Do you need anything?”
The smile that finds itself on her face is genuine. Max stands in the doorway, obviously concerned.
“No Max, not since you asked fifteen minutes ago.”
He gives her a small smile back, obviously resisting the urge to hover.
“I’ll be fine Max. Go get some rest.”
Max is protective, and it can be endearing, but he needs as much rest as the they do. The boy is prevented from further argument as Caruso appears from down the hall to drag him off. Their banter fades as they descend to the sitting room, and Joanne resumes watching the surf through her window. The warmth of the sun lulls her as she listens to the soft murmur of voices, letting herself drift off into dreamland with the assurance that everything will be alright. She can analyze when she wakes again.
For a moment she thinks that someone is injured. The screams and wheezing would suggest so, but when Fiona enters the living room, all she finds is the boys.
It’s Buzz who is screaming in laughter, dino vocalizations bleeding through as he lays on the floor. Caruso is wheezing, also in laughter, propped against the coffee table. Max and Roger are supporting each other on the couch, in tears through silent shaking.
“What is going on with you four?”
More laughter meets her statement. Fiona sighs, grateful that Ms. Moynihan is at a teacher’s meeting for another few hours. In between wheezes, Caruso points in the general direction of Roger’s laptop.
“Really? What could you possibly find so hilarious?”
A glance at the screen shows a picture of a familiar figure. She blinks, takes another look, and then begins to giggle.
“How did you find this?”
It’s a rather disgruntled Victor Veloci being knighted for ‘services to mankind’. What those services are isn’t listed on the website, and the features and hair are a bit different. It is him though, and the look on his face is absolutely hilarious. Fiona knows she has to ask Ms. Moynihan for this particular story, and then she joins the boys on the floor. How deliciously ironic for poor Vic!
“How is he doing that?”
Max is surprised that it took Fiona this long to ask. Keeping an eye on Caruso as he works his magic on Veloci’s henchmen, he whispers back.
The prickle of claws on his jacket is playful, but annoyed.
“Acting! You’ve seen him before, he couldn’t act to save his life!”
Buzz snorts, trying to stifle laughter as he remembers that particular incident. Max can imagine Roger’s expression of horror as well.
“That wasn’t his stage. This is his stage.”
The waterworks begin as Caruso brings everything he knows home, creating a spectacular incident.
“Fiona, get ready to go. We’re going to have to get out of here fast.”
Then the chaos begins, with screaming and crying and police everywhere taking henchmen into custody. Max chances a look at Fiona. She stares in disbelief as Caruso talks to the officers and then disappears into the crowd as an irritated Veloci storms up. Not even a minute later he slides into the back seat and Fiona takes off.
“Dude, I will never doubt your acting abilities again.”
Max can already hear the sound of Caruso’s ego inflating at Buzz’s praise. Looks like everything was finally heading back to normal.
The silence begins to press in on him five minutes after he arrives at the house. Not home, he will never call this place home. It’s empty, as usual, and the only sounds come from him as he rummages through the fridge for a snack. Every night alone has gotten more difficult since the field trip, but he won’t admit it to anyone other than himself. A quick flip through the different channels on TV doesn’t reveal anything interesting as he eats, and homework is completed before six.
“Hello, Mother, it’s me. I need to know when you’ll be coming home. Call me back if you get this.”
He knows that this isn’t worth it. She won’t answer the phone. Neither will his father, but he still tries. He doesn’t think of them rotting in a ditch somewhere, or of them leaving him behind to start a new family, or of them coming home in the dead of the night with their boss in tow. He doesn’t think at all, instead burying himself within one of his favorite books and shutting the world out. They still pay the bills, have the groceries delivered, and show up whenever they need to be seen in public with him. What more could he possibly want?
(He wonders sometimes, would they even notice if he left?)
They all pretend not to notice over the years. The way that they have to think about what they should look like, the lack of wrinkles, the way they never feel older, and especially how they wake up in the middle of the night and watch the years fade away in the bathroom mirror. They make-believe and try to grow up. They get married and adopt children and hold steady jobs and try to ignore the fact that Joanne Moynihan is reborn as Annette Jones after she fakes her death. She never brings it up when they continue to visit her at their lighthouse, still startled at how young she looks, but they see it in her eyes. They see it in Victor Veloci’s “son”, who visits as the spitting image of his late father. They see it every time they see a reflection of themselves. They remember asking what it was like to live forever, and now they reap what they have sown. More than once, one of them looks back and wonders. What if they hadn’t jumped in that day? And more than once they realize that they don’t regret that decision one bit.
The shrill screams of the fire alarm are par for the course at this point, but that still doesn’t stop the irritation.
“ Caruso ! Would you quit it already?”
A rather loud explosion rocks the ground, even more alarms beginning their cacophony of sounds. Everyone is pretty sure that was Roger’s newest invention, and their worry quickly abates as a sooty, but otherwise uninjured, genius runs up from the basement with murder in his eyes.
“I’ll have you know that I worked on that for two month. Two. Months. Only for you to ruin my only functioning prototype with- with baked goods !”
Caruso at least has the decency to look sorry as he begins the now familiar process of airing out the kitchen. Ms. Moynihan runs back in with a fire extinguisher, spraying the flaming pastries on the counter. She looks like she really regrets her decision to help him learn how to bake in time for the fundraiser.
“At least we don’t have to replace the oven this time?”
Buzz wasn’t kidding when he said that being a dinosaur was awesome.
<Are you going to come down anytime soon? We do have homework you know.>
He doesn’t listen, swooping through the air as if he belonged in the sky. He felt weightless, drifting along the updrafts and the wind. Refreshing himself every once in awhile by slipping through the waves. Up here he could let go and fulfill the dream he had held onto since childhood.
<Go ahead and do your stuff Max. I’m going to be a while.>
Up and down, over the forest, over the sea, letting the cool air wash over him. This was the life. For the first time in a long time, he felt free.
Regular human hunters don’t usually register as a threat to them. The majority of them run at the first few trembles of the ground, well aware of what lurks in the forests of Kittery Point and beyond. They never expected the ones that actively sought them out. The big game hunters show up one by one, eager to bag the ultimate prey, and suddenly every transformation comes with paranoia and pain. More than once they have been grazed by bullets. It hurts more than they imagined it would, always bigger and needing stitches once they are human again. Then Roger takes a bullet to the flank and the team finds themselves wishing for Victor Veloci. At least he only used tranquilizers.
<Don’t worry Roger, we’ll get you back to the lighthouse.>
Max sounds a lot calmer than he feels. Their only saving grace is the fact that in his pain-induced panic, Roger had hit the guy and thrown him into a tree. Nobody really wants to check if he’s breathing or not. It’s a slow journey back to the lighthouse, but all of them are thankful that this particular mission was in Kittery Point itself. They manage to get the bullet out and stitch the wound up with Ms. Moynihan’s help. After that they go to town on getting dinosaur hunting banned. It sounds like a ridiculous concept, but they manage. Nobody wants a repeat performance.
The soft hum of his computer is the only thing permeating that eerie three A.M. silence. He runs program after program, testing theories and writing down new ideas before that train of thought runs into something else.
Mikey. His little brother. He turns to see him, rubbing his eyes in the doorway of the living room.
“Hey little man. Did I wake you up?”
A shake of the head, meaning that he probably got up to eat something.
“Whatcha doing? You should be in bed.”
He can only smile at the serious expression on Mikey’s face. The kid worries entirely too much about him, but he supposes that is part of being siblings.
“I couldn’t sleep, had too many ideas running around in my brain.”
“Oh. What are they?”
And this is what he loves about his little brother. Mikey is always curious, always willing to listen to him even when their parents won’t, and always ready to try and understand him. He pulls up everything he’s got that isn’t dino-related and waits for Mikey to curl up next to him. He finally fades into rest while explaining how the concept of zero-emissions engines is plausible to a sleeping Mikey. Neither of them wakes up until noon the next day.
Victor despises the night sky. Every twinkling light is a grim reminder of the deadly power that lies outside of his control.
“You want to do what ?!”
He is slightly pacified when the man cowers and begs not to be eaten, instead trying his level best to stay calm.
“Explain to me why we need men in space? If you remember, my plans only concern this planet.”
Whatever the man babbles out as an explanation is lost in his mind, his eyes far away from reality. Victor remembers that day, not as clearly as Joanne, but enough for him to realize what had happened.
The man, Roberts, goes as fast as he can run. The door to his office slams shut with a resounding boom as Victor spots the first star of the night. He knows that humans keep a tradition in which they project a wish onto it, reciting a rhyme in order to have that wish granted. It is one of the only things that Victor pities humans for. He pities their naivety. If only they knew what that peaceful sky was capable of, maybe they would be a little more hesitant.
He fears the predator that he keeps locked beneath his skin. Max will never tell a soul, but there are times when that cool reptilian instinct begins to smother his reason. Times when he wants nothing more than to kill the prey that stands so close to him.
<Max, dude, I could use some help over here!>
Buzz. He looks, smells the fear of Veloci’s henchmen masking his friend, and launches towards the ones pinning him down. Powerful muscles, teeth like knives, he knows he looks terrifying. He feels terrifying too. The net is easily pulled off, and Max can sense Fiona covering them.
He doesn’t smell blood, but Buzz isn’t moving. He should be back in the air, less vulnerable up there.
<I don’t know, one of my wings, I think it’s twisted.>
Pain radiates off of Buzz’s mind, and Max can feel the growl deep in his chest. He isn’t entirely sure that he could keep from killing whatever comes near his injured teammate right now, and he makes sure to broadcast that with a roar that he hasn’t unleashed in a long time. The henchmen take the hint. They may be fanatically devoted to Veloci, but they aren’t suicidal.
<They’re pulling out. You scared them off killer!>
Caruso’s bouncy presence pulls him up a bit, keeps him from sinking entirely, so he allows Roger to examine Buzz. He supposes that today is not a day to fear himself, but a day to be thankful for the fearsome visage of one of the greatest predators of all time. Still, he stays on the alert until the only thing left of the battle is the scent of oil and nylon. Then, and only then, does he go back to being human.
Rumors fly with an alarming speed in their school. There are so many theories as to why five students that hated each other with a passion suddenly became the best of friends. It ranges from dating to making up the big project they failed to mind control. Even then there is no explanation that can fully encompass the oddness.
“Did you hear that Fiona just disappeared after fourth period?”
“And Buzzmati followed her, right?”
“The other three went after fifth period. What do you think they’re doing?”
People have tried following the five, only to end up back where they started. Ms. Moynihan seems to be the only teacher willing to spend time dealing with their issues, and she isn’t any help at all. The only thing one girl could get out of her was the oddest sentence.
“One would have to look underneath the surface to truly find what makes up the inner workings of a friendship such as theirs.”
It is a unanimous opinion that the girl was trolled. And so they continue on their wild conspiracies and guesses, unaware of the five laughing silently in the background.
Vicious. Wild. Terrifying. All have been words used to describe him. He rather likes those, but his favorite is when some poor disillusioned human cries out in desperation: “Monster!” The pathetic apes, so weak compared to him, always beg and plead for their lives in the most amusing ways. Most of them are his own employees, kept in line through his very presence. Of course, a strategic disappearance or two didn’t hurt either.
“S-sir? The lab has readied the next batch of primordial ooze.”
The intern, rather amusingly, seems more nervous about the subject of his announcement than his bloodied maw not two feet away. One of the few that he may allow to survive when his plans come to fruition. He doesn’t even bother to shift back, grabbing the last bloody steak off of the tray and eating it on the way out the door of his office. The intern follows behind, and Victor revels in the recoiling of most of his staff. He looks forward to the day that they become what they rightfully should be, his prey.
Day after day, week after week, they toil. It takes more concentration than they thought it would. Buzz is the first to fully transform, hard work paying off.
“You look amazing Buzz!”
He tells them how he managed it, and slowly they begin to progress faster. Roger is next, accidentally putting a hole in the wall, but managing just the same. Then Fiona and Caruso at the same time, leading to an interesting lesson on controlling dino instincts so they don’t kill each other. Max is the last to transform, and he does so far, far away from civilization. He doesn’t know how well he’ll be able to handle the instinct of a Tyrannosaur. Needless to say, it takes several sessions before he’s able to move without destroying a clearing.
All five of them are terrified of themselves for a while, but at the same time are filled with childish desire as they learn about this new part of themselves. Joanne couldn’t be more proud.
Watching all of the Alien movies in one night was a mistake. Roger will admit that freely. Having nightmares about it is something else he can admit. However, facing off with a mutant that has an uncanny resemblance to his nightmares is not something that he can handle well. Especially when he can’t harm the creature.
<MAX! GET OVER HERE!>
It doesn’t help at all when the entire team (minus him) decided to split up. Honestly, at this point Roger is running on fear and instinct, and this thing is almost as nasty as the Xenomorphs themselves. That ‘almost’ is the only thing keeping him from lashing out at whatever the mutant is. The relief he feels at the tremors caused by Max’s steps is absurd.
<Thank god. You keep it busy and I’ll cure it. Be careful, it’s nasty.>
The look Max gives him is distinctly annoyed, even as a Tyrannosaur, and Roger knows he’ll probably be banned from watching those movies for the rest of his life. The chiller and the spiller are quickly taken from the bag he placed nearby when he shifts back, and Max pins the smaller creature down after a lot of struggling. The chiller and spiller don’t work. Whatever it is, this thing isn’t a mutant. Then Max roars in pain as the thing breaks free and Roger begins to scream. They end up killing it in the end. Nobody is particularly upset about it.
(As far as Roger is concerned, the government can deal with this one.)
Buzz wonders sometimes. He knows that Ms. Moynihan can change what she looks like, and he knows that Veloci can do the same, but when he looks for them in the history books he will only find one. Victor is found almost everywhere you could think of in history, and Buzz wants to know why. So he asks Ms. Moynihan. She gets a good laugh out of some of his examples, hinting at stories to tell on a later date, and does her best to explain.
“Victor was originally fascinated by humans. He was more interested in their development and culture than I was. Of course, at that time I was more focused on keeping us alive and raising him correctly than allowing myself to appreciate what was around me. Much to my chagrin he always wanted to be at the center of history, and despite my best efforts it seems as if he succeeded. After the middle ages however, his distaste for the species as a whole set in. Any time he showed up in history after that it was usually coincidental.”
“So… he basically photobombed history because he was young and stupid.”
Ms. Moynihan laughs for the rest of the night.
Ground Zero is their affectionate nickname for the place that brought them together. Every year they visit on the day they were infected, an anniversary of sorts. Ms. Moynihan only shakes her head fondly as they pack up for a day at the beach. They memorize every nook and cranny, every species in the tide pools, and even manage to find a couple of hidden caves systems a bit of a ways down. They never swim in the water though. None of them can bring themselves to do it. This place is both good and bad, comforting and terrifying. Every year they go back and every year they ask each other the same question.
“Was it worth it?”
Their answer is always the same.
“ Yes .”