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no church in the wild

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-z-

 

“It can’t be done,” they tell him.

“It shouldn’t be done,” he says, then he looks down at the egg, listens to the sounds coming from the inside, “but that’s never stopped us before.”

 

-

 

In the beginning, Owen tells himself that this is all for behavioral science.  That his work with cheetahs and lions and tigers isn’t as important as this is. 

He promises himself (and his mama and his sisters back in the US) that he won’t get attached.  But now that he’s looking down at the tiny raptor hatching from her egg and, as soon as they make eye contact, he’s falling in love and he knows he’s going to be breaking that promise.

He names her Bravo (his codename is Alpha, he thinks it fits) and when he notices the color of the long, jagged stripe running down the length of her body, he starts to call her Blue.

 

-

 

Charlie and Delta hatch next, nearly simultaneously.  Little Blue sits with him, watching and assessing.

Charlie tumbles out of her egg, blinking up at Owen and crackling up at him – he smirks, rubs a finger down her snout to brush away a bit of egg shell.

“Hello, beautiful,” he whispers.  He knows the scientists are watching him, knows they think he’s insane for what he’s planning.  He ignores them all, focusing only on his raptors.

Delta calls to him, grabbing at the pad of his finger.  She’s already got her teeth and they're sharp as needles – Owen winces and gently dislodges his finger from her mouth.

“Easy, girl,” he says, reaching beside him for the small cup of ground up beef. 

He hands a piece first to Blue, reinforcing her spot in the hierarchy he’s going to build with them.  Then he feeds Charlie, then Delta.  Blue tries to take Delta’s piece, but Owen simply wraps a hand around her chest, pulling her to him, and dropping a kiss to the top of her head.

“Plenty for everyone, Blue,” he says, feeding her a larger piece of meat to keep her busy while he continues pinching off smaller pieces for the others.

 

-

 

The fourth raptor is late and Dr. Wu is sure that the she isn’t going to hatch.

“She will,” Owen says, not sure why he knows. 

He’s cradling Blue in his arms while Delta rests along the back of his neck, snuggled between his neck and the collar of his jacket.  He can feel Charlie shifting around in the pocket of his cargo pants – for some reason not ready to leave behind her memories of small and dark spaces.

“If she waits much longer,” Dr. Wu begins, flicking his eyes down to Blue, “we’ll have to assume the worst.”

Owen doesn’t say anything, just glares.

He’s turning to walk out of the laboratory when he hears that distinct raptor cry – muffled and distant.

“Looks like she heard you,” Owen says to Dr. Wu as he hurries over to the egg.  Delta cries out at the jostling when Owen reaches up and gently disentangles her.  “Come and meet your sister,” he says before reaching into his pocket and grabbing Charlie.

Dr. Wu rolls his eyes before disappearing.  He reappears with a cup of ground beef and places it at Owen’s elbow.

“Thanks,” Owen says distractedly – his eyes only on the egg.

“You’re welcome,” Dr. Wu says and then he’s backing away.

 

-

 

Echo is tiny and beautiful, her skin is paler, a shade of rich light brown that makes her the easiest to spot.  Charlie and Delta bully her for her shares of meat, but Blue is always quick to step in – protecting the youngest of their little pack.

“Good girl,” Owen says, pulling Blue close, chuckling as she nuzzles under his neck and growl-purrs.

 

-

 

The first few weeks of their lives is all about touching them, getting them used to Owen’s scent and voice and commands (they only listen to him sometimes, when they’re in the mood so he makes sure to never really push the issue).  He even learns how to imitate their sounds.

And every time he takes his brood down the road to see Dr. Gordy Howard, one of the island’s veterinarians, he puts soft strips of cloth around their snouts – something they soon recognize to mean that they’re to be on their best behavior (as they get older and bigger, he switches to wire mesh muzzles with Kevlar straps that their claws can’t tear through them so easily).

He begins acquainting different whistles and hand gestures to different vocal commands and they pick up on everything he teaches them.  He watches them play their games – intricate ones where Blue hides, and Echo chases either Delta or Charlie into the waiting ambush – and develops commands for each action.

 

-x-

 

“Those things are going to be the death of you,” Vic says, watching warily (and from a distance) as Owen scratches the underside of Blue’s jaw.

“I’ll be fine,” Owen says, not even bothering to look up.

Vic sighs and shakes his head.  Owen has the young raptors down on the bank of one of the many streams along the island and he’s settled with his bare feet in the water, the raptors charge into the water – snapping at the splashes.  Only Blue seems to be staying close to Owen’s side, seemingly content to stay close to her “mother”.

“It takes a special kind of person,” snaps Thomas, one of Vic’s underlings, and his tone is harsh – a mix of spite and sneering derision.

Owen doesn’t respond right away – just nonchalantly flops down into the grass, letting the raptors jump over him and gnaw on his fingers.

But Vic knows him (as well as anyone can, the man purposefully seems to stay out of human contact unless he likes them) and he knows that there’s a reason behind each motion, each movement.

“If I react to what you just said to me,” Owen says after he’s closed his eyes, his tone is light, “it’ll upset the children.”

Vic glances down at the raptor on Owen’s chest – she’s got a long blue stripe running down the length of her – and though she’s nuzzling into the palm of Owen’s hand, Vic notices that she’s watch Thomas.  Her too sharp eyes flicking between Thomas and Owen.

Thomas is opening his mouth and stepping forward – but Vic grabs him by the neck.

“I’ll see you later, Owen,” Vic says, nodding before he tightens his hold on Thomas and physically drags the younger man off.

 

-

 

“What the fuck were you thinking?” Vic snarls, shoving Thomas away when they were out of ear-shot of Owen and his little raptor brood.  “Why are you trying to make enemies with the guy raising veloci-fucking-raptors?”

“Because the guy is fuckin’ weird, okay?” Thomas yells back.  “He thinks he’s so high and mighty because he works the raptors,” Thomas turns and spits on the ground, “he can’t even deign to eat with us regular folks.”

Vic just looks at Thomas.  He had never seen Owen like that, had never believed that anyone could.  Owen was invested in his job, knew that in order to work with the raptors for the rest of their lives – he’d have to be their mother (so to speak).

And Owen had never thrown his work with the raptors into anyone’s face, had never brought them up with Vic unless Vic asked after them.

Vic doesn’t say of this to Thomas.  Instead he glares and straightens his back, asks: “Don’t you have bags to check at the hotel?”

He watches as Thomas’s fists clench and his jaw flexes.

“Yes, sir,” Thomas says, turning away brusquely.

 

-

 

“Why can’t we all just be happy working here?” Owen asks with a sigh before he bites into his sandwich.  It's one of the few times Vic has seen him without a Raptor somewhere on his person.

“I don’t know,” Vic answers.

“You’re just special that way,” Theresa, head of the paleobotanist department, says as she throws a chip into her mouth.  She had her thick black dreads pulled back into a pony tail today, Vic noticed, which meant she would be out in the valleys later – checking on her various plants and tending to them with the same enthusiasm Owen did his raptors. 

Owen makes a non-committal noise in the back of his throat and takes another bite.

“And how are your girls coming along?” Vic asks, knowing that they were on the verge of having Owen shut down.

Despite what Thomas and some of the others may have thought – Owen was averse to talking about himself.  What he can talk about is his raptors, all day if Vic let him (which he normally did), telling stories of what Delta had done to Charlie, or how Blue and Echo were going to be the best team.

“They’re growing so fast,” Owen laments and the conversation turns from there.  He tells them a story about Echo chasing a grasshopper, the story lasting far longer than it probably should have.

Neither Vic nor Theresa make any noise to stop him.

 

-x-

 

They do grow quickly and it’s not long before Charlie can no longer fit into his pockets (much to her dismay if her high pitched calls mean anything) and Delta can no longer curl around his neck (she keeps trying anyway).  Blue still looks up at him, her head cocked to the side and her eyes demanding to be picked up.

And because she was first, Owen tries – but after another week, she’s too big, her claws too long.

 

-

 

After a month, their heads reach to the middle of his thighs and he begins teaching them how to identify certain scents, teaches them the commands he’s been developing (he keeps the words simple, accompanies them with hand gestures and whistles).

The raptors take to the lessons eagerly – working their way up from chickens to turkeys to goats.

 

-

 

Charlie is four months old, reaching just above his hips (just a hair’s breadth shorter than Blue), when she first challenges Owen’s authority.

She snaps at his hand as he pats Echo’s side and he’s quick to react – flashing out his other hand and rapping her quick on the snout.  It’s the first time he’s struck her and she backs off quickly, lowering her head and walking backwards.

He glares at her, making sure his body projects disappointment and anger.  She snorts faux-casually and begins to nose around in the dirt – she never sees Blue coming until she’s on her.

Blue’s teeth dig in deep and tear and Charlie screams as she falls sideways.

“Off!” Owen yells, accompanying the word with a commanding whistle.

Blue jumps away with a snarl, but she holds her head up – obviously proud of herself.  Owen kneels next to Charlie as he grabs his cell phone, quickly dials the vet’s number.

“Hey, man,” he says when Dr. Howard answers, “Blue just attacked Charlie and it looks pretty that bad, she definitely needs stitches.  Okay.  Okay, I’ll see you in a bit.”

Echo and Delta ease their way over, investigating, as Blue prowls along the edges of the walls.

Owen’s got a rag over Charlie’s wounds when he hears the veterinarian’s voice just outside of the enclosure.

“On me,” Owen orders – and the raptors do it.  It was a command Owen had instilled in them early, as a way to keep them close.  It was also for when he took them outside of their enclosure to bring them back to his side when they inevitably started wandering too far.

Delta’s upper lip curls into a snarl when Dr. Howard enters the enclosure – the vet quickly stopping, he’s starting to turn around when Owen says: “The sooner you get over here the sooner I can get the others back into their stalls.”

Dr. Howards nods shakily and eventually makes his way over to Owen.

 

-

 

They’re seven months old and they almost reach Owen’s shoulder now.  He’s itching to take them out of their paddock, itching to take them out on a real hunt.

Owen looks at his motorcycle and wonders.

 

-x-

 

“You want to do what?!” Claire asks, her bright red hair flying as her head whips around.  She’s not entirely sure she heard Owen right, because everyone knew that the man was crazy – she just didn’t think he was that crazy.

“It’ll be fine,” Owen says.

She doesn’t believe, not for a second.  But she also knows that he’ll do it anyway, so she pinches her nose and says: “Just be careful.”

She pretends she doesn’t see him quietly fist pump as he turns away.

 

-x-

 

It takes only a day for the raptors to get acclimated to the bike’s engine. 

The next day, he settles them into their stalls – and when the secondary doors open and Owen takes off on the bike, they follow him readily.  Blue runs at his right, Echo at his left, Charlie and Delta just behind.

He runs them like this for a week – then he takes them down to the Gallimimus Valley (it’s the off season, and the park is empty of visitors today).  His first instinct is to turn them loose, to see what they’ll do on their own.

Instead, he orders Blue and Delta: “Sneak, sneak,” and smirks as they dart away from the herd and into the tree line.  Then he’s turning to Charlie and Echo, says: “Follow,” and then he’s revving the engine and heading towards where he knows the Gallimimus are.

He whistles and makes a sweeping motion with his arm and Charlie and Echo peel away and disappears into foliage.  The foliage crests the top of the hill, so that when they exit – they’ll be at the front of the herd of Gallimimus.

As he rounds the side of the hill, the herd is already charging and it’s easy to sharply turn the bike – making sure none of the dinosaurs try to disappear into the far tree line, making sure they all stay in the valley.  A glance over his shoulder shows that Charlie and Echo are doing the same thing, just on the other side of the herd.

He gives two quick, sharp whistles and his raptors pick up speed.

They’re almost to the ambush point when Blue and Delta cut out of the foliage too early, giving those in front of the herd enough time to change course.  He glances back, sees that Charlie and Echo are exhausted and knows that they won’t be able to do much more running – so he yells: “Stop,” and holds a splayed out hand.

Blue watches as the Gallimimus disappear over the ridge before turning back to growl at Owen.

“Well if you hadn’t cut early, it’d be fine,” he says to her, pinching her neck – something she would do (with her teeth) to any of the others to keep them in line.  She hisses at him but lets it go.  “Next time,” he tells her, “you can’t always be successful right off the bat.”

(The next hunt does go better, much better, and even Claire is impressed.

“Just make sure they don’t decimate the herd,” she tells him.

“It’s basic population control,” Owen says, itching to get out of the control room and back down to his raptors.  She must see it because she gives him a dismissive wave of her hand and turns away.)

(Later, she tells him that he’s going to do the same thing – but this time, with visitors watching.)

 

-

 

The raptors are a year old and Owen still spends hours every day with them.  The Gallimimus hunts continue to go well and he leads them down to the valley twice a day.

After they’re done with their kill, Owen maneuvers his bike between the raptors and fallen Gallimimus, jumping off and picking at the body as if he were eating.  And, when he’s had his “fill” – he steps away and whistles for Blue and the others.

Sometimes Charlie tries to push by him, but Owen is always quick to pinch her neck and smack her snout, yelling her name – and then Blue is there to back him up with actual fang and claw (always, she’s always there).

 

-x-

 

The raptors are a year-and-a-half when Owen comes down with the flu.

“They’re losing their minds,” Vic says, scratching at his forehead as he looks down at Owen.  “I think that they think you’re dead – they’ve been vocalizing non-stop.”

“They’re trying to call me back to them,” Owen says, voice guttural with his cough-sore throat.  His nose leaks phlegm and he wipes at it quickly with a tissue.

“Yeah, well,” Vic tips his hat backwards and away from his face, to rub at his eyes, “you need to hurry up and get better, because they’re not taking too well to my men just dropping a cow in with them.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Owen says, grinning even as tears fall down his face and he begins to sneeze – and then he coughs.

“I’m just going to—” Owen waves Vic away, not even letting Vic finish his sentence as Vic motions for the door.

“Make sure no one fucks with my girls while I’m out of commission,” Owen manages.

“Of course,” Vic readily agrees from his spot in the doorway.

 

-

 

The raptors haven’t stopped vocalizing – high-pitched, staccato calls that echo throughout the park.

“Those are the velociraptors, miss,” Vic says to a little girl, squatting down so he could be eye level with her.  “You see, one of their buddies is very sick, so he’s in quarantine.  They miss him and don’t understand where he’s gone – so they think he’s lost and they’re trying to tell him where they are.”

“That’s so sad,” she says, voice earnest in only the way a child’s can be.  “What wrong with their buddy?  Will he be okay?”

“He's just a little sick,” Vic says, smiling in reassurance, “but, yes, he'll be okay.”

 

-

 

Owen’s had the flu for three days when Vic hears that the raptors have stopped eating.  He rushes over to their paddock and stops cold when he looks inside. 

Blue has her left arm in her mouth, her teeth gnawing along the whole of her arm – pausing only to throw her head back and cry (it’s what Vic calls the rumbling, rolling sound that comes after their staccato calls).

“Oh, Blue,” he says, and then he looks over the rest of the pack and sees that they’re all in the same state. 

Charlie is on her stomach, holding her foot tightly in her mouth – blood dripping down her jaw.  Delta lies on her side, her head upright as she stares longingly at the gate – her claws digging into the sand.  Echo is pacing along the walls and there’s blood from an open wound on her head and deep gouges on her neck (he sees her pause in her pacing before bringing her hind leg up and scratching at her neck – deepening the wounds).

Vic turns and runs back towards the hospital.

 

-

 

Owen is shaking as Vic tells him about the raptors’ states.

“Fuck,” Owen says, he tries to sit up – but his body is too weak.  “This is bullshit.  I heard them calling me, but I didn’t realize it was this bad.”

“What do you want me to do?” Vic asks.

Owen stares at the window in thought, then he smirks, says: “Get me one of those super megaphones.”

 

-

 

Vic calls in Theresa and she brings in a megaphone.  When she gets there, they manage to get Owen over to the window.

“This is going to hurt,” he says, before devolving into a coughing fit.  When he recovers, he takes a sip of water, and then puts the megaphone to his lips.

Vic had expected a whistle, instead Owen lets out a three high, scraping barks followed by chirps.

The response is immediate – the raptors answer back with the same sounds, the vocalizations carrying from their paddock a mile away.

 

-

 

The next day, the raptors are eating again.

 

-x-

 

Owen is finally released from the hospital after a week.  Every day after that third day, Owen would make his way to the window and call out to his raptors.  And always, they would immediately answer.

The first time he steps into the paddock, he looks at the raptors – at their still healing wounds and he curses under his breath.

Blue lets out a happy cry and then she’s rushing over to him, Owen plants his feet and just barely manages to stay standing as he wraps his arms around her head.

“Hey, beautiful girl,” he says – and then the others are surrounding him and he coos at them and hugs them each in turn.  He chirps and whistles at them.

Since the raptors have gotten older, Owen has always been more careful.  But today, he throws it into the wind as he settles next to Blue and leans against her.  The sun is warm against his skin and with his body still recovering, it’s easy to let his eyes close.

Blue shifts behind him, her head twisting so her nose was buried in his thigh.  He peeks an eye open and watches as the others join them – curling around him and closing their eyes.

 

-

 

Owen jolts awake to the sound of panicked shouting.  He looks up and sees several guns pointed down at him and the now awake raptors.

 “What the fuck is going on?” Owen shouts, surging to his feet.  Blue and the others do the same and they form defensively around him – their lips curled up as they hiss-snarl at the guns.

“Holy shit,” one of the guys with a gun says, Owen thinks his name is Bradley, but he’s not sure, “you’re alive?”

“Yes, I’m fuckin’—”

Owen is interrupted by the gates to the paddock slamming open and four motorcycles flying in.  Owen pushes between Charlie and Echo, putting himself between the raptors and bikes, and begins to wave his arms, trying to wave off the bikes.

Blue screams and is about to rush forward, but Owen manages to get an arm around her neck and plant his feet.

“Stand down, stand down!” he shouts to her, pushing her back and turning his back to the bikes (thankfully, after seeing that Owen was alive, they sharply turned and fled out of the paddock, the gates slamming behind them) and puts his hands out to his riled up raptors.

“Easy, girls, easy,” he says to them, Blue snaps her jaws and keeps glancing at the gates.  Charlie ducks her head and twitches her tail in agitation.  But they don’t try to break past him, so he says: “Good,” drawing out the word.

Echo tries to sneak around Blue, but Owen just takes a step back.

“Stand down,” he says again, spreading out his hands and motioning them downwards.  Echo’s lips tremble and she huffs, but she takes a step back.

He counts that as a win.

 

-

 

“What the fuck was that all about?” he shouts at Bradley – who turns out to be the head of the security team who was patrolling the area.  They had peeked into the raptor paddock when they didn’t hear any noise coming from inside.

“We thought you were dead, sir,” Bradley says, “you can’t blame us for doing our jobs.”

“No,” Owen says, his eyes hardening, “but I can tell you right now that anyone riding into that paddock on a motorcycle is asking to be eaten. Did you realize that?  Moving targets are their favorite – it’s why I take them hunting.”

“It won’t happen again,” Bradley says, his face a shade paler.

“See that it doesn’t,” Owen snaps.

 

-

 

Owen is cleaning up his motorcycle after the latest hunt when Vic pulls up into his dirt driveway.  “Claire wants to see you,” he says, “you’re not going to believe this.”

“What is it?” Owen asks, wiping his hands on a greasy rag.

“You know that new dinosaur she’s been secretive about?” he asks.  Owen nods and Vic says: “Well, she’s here.”

 

-z-

 

End.