Raptor Island

Amy watched the heavy blast doors slide shut, a foot of reinforced steel that boomed like a gong as it sealed. It was dark inside the shelter; with several hundred people in tight quarters, it already smelled of human bodies, sweat, and fear. The bombs dropping above and to the east sounded like the padding of a tyrannosaur, steady and relentless and heavy. Dust shook loose from the ceiling and the walls; people coughed.

“Why are they dropping the bombs?” Amy asked. “I thought they wanted the herds.”

“They do,” her father said, “but they don’t want us to have the infrastructure to strike back. So they’re bombing the docks and the planes.

Amy didn’t know what “infrastructure” was. She imagined it was something like courage.

“Those ceratops aren’t going to go easy,” her mother said, huffing spitefully. “I’d be surprised if they can move them at all, with the bombs going off.” Her face tightened. “They’ll be taking the hadrosaurs though. And the plesiosaurs will already be gone, there’s no catching them in the open waters.” She closed her mouth in something like a smug half-smile, but her eyes were still angry and worried.

“And the raptors?” Amy asked, her own eyes mirroring the worry.

Her mother patted her shoulder. “They’ll go hide in the forest like they always do. They’ll be back at the houses shaking their tail feathers and crowing on the rooftop by morning. They won’t be after the raptors, they’re too little and not useful enough for the other islands. We’re the only ones who keep them.” This made her smile.

“We’ll get the hadros back,” my father said. “They’re too valuable to kill, even if they’re difficult to retrain. It’s been like this ever since we came to the island when I was a child – one group gains a slight advantage, one of the others take them down a notch.”

“Oh Amy,” her mother said with a sudden frown. An infant velociraptor poked its head out of the top of Amy’s jacket, its face still covered in soft, gray chick feathers. She wrapped her arms protectively around it and didn’t even try to offer an excuse for why she’d brought the chick when explicitly told not to. Her mother’s mouth opened, on the verge of a lecture, then she stopped, mouth still open, and looked askance.

“That’s not a bomb,” she said.

The pounding that sounded vaguely like a tyrannosaur had stopped. A different, more distant thumping had begun, barely audible. One of the techs reading the monitors spoke up, reading off his display, which he projected up onto a ceiling panel for the rest of the group to see.

“Large theropod reading off the coast. Now heading inland. … Through the village, it’s not even pausing at the hadrosaur paddock.” Amy’s mother released her breath. “It’s going through the forest. … It’s following the path to the shelter.”

The horror of the implication hit the crowd all at once. They watched the red dot come closer, and listened to the pounding of its three-toed feet as it thundered closer, faster. There was nothing vague about this. That rhythm, that thudding weight moving rapidly across the ground was familiar to them all – the sound of something big, accelerating.

“They’ve never tried to KILL us before,” someone said, not at all helping.

“What is it?” a slightly boy near them asked. “A Tyrannosaurus? A Spinosaurus? Allosaurus?” He tried to sound calm and cool, but his voice broke.

“I don’t know,” the tech said. “Something big.”

“There’s more coming!” someone said. Their collective attention turned back to the screen, and they watched more red blips appear from the edges of the screen and converge on the lead blip. But as they reached the attacking theropod, the new lights went out, one by one, inconsistently.

“What’s going on?”

“Who are they?”

“They’re the velociraptors.”

It was Amy’s mother who had spoken, and horror came into her face unlike anything she’d yet shown, even when she feared for her hadrosaurs. The expression spread to everyone in the room as they turned back to the screen. Their hands went to their faces, covered their mouths. They were all picturing the same thing. Their raptors, their knee-high companions, frighteningly smart and alien and agile. Their emotional lives, as complex and passionate as any dog. They were picturing their hens with beige striped or calico or mottled coats, talking to their chicks in hoots and clicks and bellows. The roos, with their bright plumage and gregarious personalities, shaking their wing feathers in their funny dance, dozing with their hens as they took a group dust bath, the chicks hopping on everyone without an ounce of respect. The loners, hiding under tables and between human legs, adopting human homes when their own packs pushed them out, for reasons only known to other raptors.

They watched the lights that belonged to their lifelong companions, beautiful and strange and loved. They watched the lights go out one by one. They watched the light of the large predator stop. It stayed stopped. It went out. Only four of the velociraptor lights remained. Then another went out. The other three moved away, together. One stopped, then the others stopped a ways down the trail, as if waiting. It went out. The other two continued on.

“Who were they?” someone demanded. “Which raptors?”

The tech referenced a screen and a book. “Felix and Laertes,” he said. A new grief fell over the assembled mass. Two surviving raptors. Both males.

No one bothered to hide their sobs. Her parents held Amy and each other as she bawled, stroking the baby raptor she’d hidden in her coat as it looked at us, bewildered. Other people came by us, red-eyed and wet-faced, and stopped to pet the chick, tears running freely down their cheeks.

 

They opened the shelter shortly before dawn. The people took another, longer path back to the village; no one wanted to see the large theropod and the dozens of dead raptors. There were too many to bury; they’d have to be burned, together. If they had been hadrosaurs, they might have eaten them. But not the raptors. It would have been like eating a dog.

As they walked, Amy’s mother stroked the little raptor chick who half-perched, half-clung to my sister’s shoulders. “She’s one of the last now,” her mother said. “I hope there’s a nest left with a few chicks. But if a hen left her chicks to go fight, they’ll be dead by now. It’s just too cold for chicks.” As if to illustrate the point, Amy’s chick dropped down into the front of her jacket.

“There’s still some hope,” my father said. “Try to be optimistic.”

“Optimistic?” my mother repeated, though she was too tired to really fight. “We’ve lost them. Even if there are a handful left, there won’t be enough to repopulate them. Not to what they were. We’d need … what, three or four clutches?”

“We’ll just see. No use worrying about anything but fact.”

 

The gate to the hadrosaur paddock stood open, and there were no dinosaurs in sight, but there were also no dead dinosaurs, no blood or struggle. Amy’s father patted his wife’s shoulder. “You’ll feel better when Porthos and D’Art are back in there,” he said. An implied promise – that they’d come back. She walked in. “You don’t need to dwell on –“

“No, there was a nest back here,” she said. “In the back of the well house. Nancy’s big girl had a clutch. I don’t know if they hatched or not.” They watched from the gate as she opened the door and went inside. A few beats passed, and then she hooted happily, and laughed. Amy ran to her and peered around her legs.

There in the corner, an enormous velociraptor hen lay on a nest of shredded burlap sacks. Her infants lay between her front legs, cradled against her feathery arms. There were at least a dozen, a large clutch, sleeping in little balls as they had in the egg. But there were also many other chicks, of varying ages, climbing on her, scooting under her, lying across her tail, and playing with each other around the nest. There were at least a half-dozen clutches worth of chicks around her.

“Where did they come from?!” Amy cried.

“We knew there were some hens nesting in the woods this year,” her mother said. “We just never dreamed so many. The alpha females were letting the betas breed too. That has to be it.”

“But why are they here?” my father said. “In the well house?”

“Their mothers put them here before going to fight,” Amy said, her eyes flickering wide with the flash of insight. “She’s the babysitter.”

The raptor hen yawned and laid her head down, carefully, next to her chicks. “She’s their mother, now,” her own mother said. She put her arm around Amy. “You know how it is. You cling to whoever you have.”

“She’s got a lot of babies clinging on her,” Amy said. Her chick woke up and glanced out of the jacket at the racket, and hid back in her jacket. She looked up at her mother. “Can I keep my chick in the house?”

Her mother nodded. “Yes, I think so.”

They left the last velociraptor nest and went back to find the rest of their small island family, to tell them the good news.

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