“So what’s on tap today, Barry?” Owen asked as he made his way towards the baby raptors’ enclosure. He was carrying an Amazon box. “Anything I need to know about?”
“Wu wants updated measurements.” Barry made a face. “You want to hold them, or me?”
“Neither. This baby just came in this morning with the latest batch of tourists,” Owen said as he opened the box and pulled out a weird gun-looking device. “Our shiny new laser photogrammeter, built to your specs by the engineer who supplies all the top shark people in the field.”
“Just in time,” Barry said with a sigh of relief. “I know they’re not even two months old, but those claws are sharp.”
“Yeah, they like to be held down about as much as Grumpy Cat,” Owen laughed. “Blue being the exception.”
“Blue is always the exception,” Barry smiled. And it was true--the raptors were all sharp as tacks, but Blue was...extra. She was the de facto leader, always the first to figure out tasks, and the most curious. It didn’t mean Blue always did what they wanted her to do--sometimes curiosity would get the better of her. But that wasn’t a bad thing. Not yet. She was still more like a housecat-level of dangerous, rather than a tiger or a mountain lion. But they both knew that day was coming, and it would be sooner than they wanted.
“That she is. So do you want to take the measurements while I run them through the baseline sequence? We need to start proofing them so they can handle distractions, and that should be a low-key way to start.”
Once Owen was geared up, clicker in one hand, bucket of meat in the other, he and Barry went into the enclosure. The raptors were playing--Charlie and Echo were tussling by a tree, and above them, Delta and Blue were in the limbs of the tree, hopping from branch to branch.
“Enjoy that tree now, girls, because you’re not going to be small enough to do that in that tree too much longer,” Owen called out. That got all four of the raptors' attention, but only long enough for them to look at him before they went back to their playing. Good, Owen thought. One day, they’d likely be in an enclosure that visitors could see them from, and he didn’t want them to be constantly disturbed by people within earshot. More importantly, he wanted the raptors to associate the clicker with the food, not people with the food. If Muldoon’s notes were correct, that meant he and Barry only had a few more months to cement that association.
Not for the first time, Owen wished Muldoon had survived the original Park. Of all the people who had been there, Muldoon was the person who knew the most about the raptors’ behavior. Even if they were a different set of raptors. Wu had continued to tweak their genetics, and clearly there were personality and intelligence differences even between these four, but it would’ve been nice to talk to the man. Owen wasn’t sure he’d have liked Muldoon, given the way those raptors had been raised, but the man was a game warden, not a behaviorist. By the time he’d realized what they had, it was probably too late to fix the problem, and if nothing else, he did respect the raptors for what they were.
Owen held up the clicker, and clicked it twice. “Alright, recess is over! Line up!”
They all perked up, but only Blue began to come over to him. As she began descending the tree, hopping down the branches, she turned back to Delta and chirped at her. As Blue landed on the ground, she chirped at Echo and Charlie. They stopped playing, and came with Blue to line up. Delta was still making her way down when the other three got there, and Blue chirped at her impatiently. Delta chirumphed back at Blue, in what seemed a lot like annoyance, if you could ascribe annoyance to a velociraptor. Owen wanted to laugh--Delta always was the grumpiest of the four.
“Okay, you know the drill,” Owen said. He tilted his head to one side, and clicked once. They mirrored his head tilt. He tilted his head to the other side, and clicked once. They again mirrored his head tilt. There were a few more basic tricks they went through, with almost no problems--Delta missed the jump cue, and Echo had dropped her ball, but otherwise, they had the sequence down, even though Barry was there fiddling with new equipment, a clear distraction. Barry signaled to Owen that he was ready.
“Charlie!” he yelled, then clicked three times. Charlie came forward for her treat and waited--Barry measured her with the laser, and then Owen tossed Charlie the treat. They repeated the same with Echo, then Delta, and finally Blue.
“Got everything you need?” Owen asked as Barry checked the digital readout for Blue’s measurements.
“I’m good. But Blue is getting into trouble,” Barry said with a laugh.
Owen looked down to discover Blue face-down in the bucket of meat treats, gorging herself. “Blue! No!” Owen clicked twice rapid-fire, the signal for stop, even as he grabbed the handle of the bucket to take it away from Blue.
Blue held on, and as he lifted the bucket, she locked eyes with Owen and swallowed another treat. It was like she knew she'd bested him. He sighed as the other three broke their line and began hopping around him, also wanting more treats. “You’re just too smart for your own good, Blue.”