initial commit. 14 parts of the book and basic Drone config.

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Alexey Skobkin 2024-05-11 01:13:51 +03:00
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kind: pipeline
type: docker
name: build
- name: build-book
image: 'pandoc/core:3'
- 'echo "Commit $DRONE_COMMIT"'
- 'find ./chapters -iname "*.md" -type f -print | sort | xargs -r pandoc -o book.epub title.txt'
- name: gitea_release
image: plugins/gitea-release
from_secret: gitea_token
- 'book.epub'
- tag

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# Chapter 1
Owen groaned, carrying heavy groceries under his arms and approached his house. To his neighbors, the house was uncharacteristically enormous. The building took up nearly an entire block of space and there wasnt enough room for other houses to squeeze in next to his. The backyard itself was so vast and well kept that it wouldve been sinful just to disturb it with another home. This had not made Owen very popular for his neighbors, but it was a necessity. After all, the house wasnt just his home, but home to…the pack.
Gritting his teeth he used his foot to open the door and kicked it open.
“Im home!” He called. There was no response at first…and the house was dark. A chill ran down his spine. “Yall?! Dont do this! Im carrying groceries and if even one egg breaks, Im making every one of you do laps! You hear me!?” Still no answer. He moved cautiously and carefully to the kitchen to set down the bags, praying that all was well and that nothing had happened to the pack…and that nothing would happen to him. Finally, he set down the last bag and took a single step back.
“AAAAAAAAAAAAH!” Owen screamed as he felt a huge mass come screaming out of the shadows and tackle him to the ground. Long sharp claws dug into his shirt and he felt a long reptilian tail slap around his legs as the figure now stood over him. Snake like eyes stared down at him and sharp teeth were bared.
“DAMN IT CHARLIE!!” The figure was a girl, with short green hair tied back in a pair of small tails on her head. She beamed and started laughing happily as she sat on top of Owen, her tail waving back and forth under her dress. Her feet were not human girl feet but rather the feet of raptors, with three large claws and one of the tree was retractable and longer than the others. She had savage claws for hands, but in truth she wasnt all that dangerous to Owen. Shed never use them on him. She was the youngest of the Raptor Pack.
“I got you good that time, Owen!”
“Youre lucky I wasnt carrying anything!”
“Thats why I waited. The best predators wait for the perfect opportunity to strike.”
“You need to really stop seeing ME as the prey.” Owen growled. “Now get off, I need to get supper started.”
“Maybe you ARE supper.” Another voice said gruffly. Owen turned around to see two more of the pack behind him. Delta and Echo. Delta had a savage sneer on her face and long teal green hair. She was just wearing a button down shirt and a pleated skirt, and her sharp teeth were bared. Next to her was Echo. Echo had longer reddish brown curly hair and brown scales unlike her sisters. She had a gash along the side of her face from a fight shed had when she was young. She was wearing a pink t-shirt and tight torn green pants. She had a nervous look on her face, but didnt say anything. Shed been like this ever since shed gotten that scar…timid and nervous about stepping out of her comfort zone.
“Delta, dont be mean!” Charlie pouted.
“Were predators, Charlie! Its not mean, its nature!” Delta countered.
“But Delta,…”
“No, its true, Echo! Owen knows it too. Thats why he always finds reasons to leave right? He never wants to be around us so were always alone…its cause youre scared of us, right!?”
“Thats not true, Delta.” Owen argued. “It just takes a lot to feed the four of you, so I need to go and work and buy food for you. Its not because Im sca-”
“HORSE SHIT!” Delta let out a predatory shriek and launched herself at Owen, grabbing him and shoving him against a wall.
“DELTA!” Charlie squealed.
“Tell us the truth, Owen…youre afraid of us! Thats why youre gone all the time! You just want us to go away, dont you?” Owen groaned. Delta was always so aggressive…but Owen knew why. He was used to this behavior from her by now.
“Delta, calm down…deep breaths.” Owen whispered softly.
“Dont talk down to me! Im the apex predator here! Youre just food Owen! Wanna see how it feels to be food!?” She snapped.
“Thats enough.”
Every raptor stopped and spun around to see the new figure in the doorway. With short cut blue hair, wearing tight daisy dukes, a white shirt under a navy blue vest, she had navy scales and a fierceness in her eyes. Owen breathed a sigh of relief when he saw her.
“Blue, thank goodness.” He moaned. Blue marched to Delta and grabbed her shoulder forcefully.
“Put him down, Delta.” Delta snarled at her, but Blue glared that menacing stare that turned blood cold.
“B-but Blue!”
“Thats an order!” Blue barked. Delta groaned and instantly released Owen, stepping back and bowing. “Now apologize to the Alpha.”
“Hes not our-”
“NOW, DELTA!” Blue snapped. Delta turned immediately to Owen and bowed.
“Im sorry, Owen.” Owen just held his hand up and she backed up, blushing from embarrassment. Blue nodded at her and then turned to the other girls.
“You should all be ashamed! Charlie, we practice hunting tactics in the yard! Not on the Alpha. Shame on you!”
“S-sorry Blue…”
“And Echo, stop simpering in the corner. Step up! Youre a soldier. Start acting like it.”
“Right, yes maam.” Echo squeaked.
“And as for you, Delta. Get your attitude squared away!” She snapped. Delta nodded in response, looking genuinely remorseful.
“Yes maam.” Delta answered.
“Now all of you! To the yard for 5 laps around the perimeter! DOUBLE TIME!” Every raptor girl spun around and sprinted for the back door to begin their lap, like trained military personnel. She sighed and then looked back at Owen with a smile. “Welcome home, Alpha.”
“You can just call me Owen, Blue…you know that.”
“Proper procedure is to address you by your rank, correct?” Blue asked, standing at parade rest, her feet spread slightly and her hands behind her back.
“At ease, Blue.” Owen rolled his eyes. “Just chill out. Whats wrong with you today?”
“Why wouldnt I be upset!? Were having an inspection today, and the girls need to be in tip top condition to impress!” She cried.
“What inspection?” She walked past Owen and grabbed a letter shed opened up from the counter and extended it to Owen who opened it and read over the form. Sure enough, it was a letter formally announcing that Captain Mark Grayson, the Naval officer who had commissioned this raptor project, would be arriving to inspect the homestead and the general condition of the raptors. Owen groaned in disbelief as he read that he would arrive between 1930 hours and 2000 hours (translated thats 7:30 PM and 8:00 PM).
“I imagine that means hell want to join us for dinner?” Owen asked.
“Considering his time of arrival, I would assume that, sir.”
“Then Ive got a lot of cooking to do in a short amount of time. Can you get the girls cleaned up and properly dressed for me?”
“Affirmative. After their run well hit the showers and then be in our class As in time for the Captains arrival.”
“I dont think class As are necessary…Id just like the four of you wearing something nice.” Blue blinked a moment and then blushed, rubbing the back of her head.
“Um…Owen we dont have any real nice clothes other than our class A uniforms.” Owens eyes widened as he realized that she was right and looked at his feet.
“Well…then this weekend Ill take you four out to get some nicer clothes…not that what youre wearing isnt nice…but you shouldnt have to put on your class As for every nice occasion.” Blue beamed and gave a respectful bow.
“Ill let the girls know.” Blue replied turning to leave. Owen smiled and turned back to the stove to begin cooking.
“Oh, one more thing!” Blue gasped, turning back to Owen, who glanced up surprised. Blue smiled sheepishly and fiddled with her claw like fingers. “Er…permission to speak freely?”
“Blue, you girls can ALWAYS speak freely. You dont have to ask.”
“Of course…um…I just wanted to say, from myself and the others, that no matter what happens tonight during the inspection…were honored to have worked with you. We wouldnt want anyone else as our Alpha.” She said proudly. Owen frowned at this and looked back at the stove.
“I appreciate that, Blue.”
“Are you okay, sir?”
“Its a personal thing. Dont worry about it. Go get the girls ready please?”
“Yes sir!” Blue turned and ran outside to give her orders, leaving Owen lost in aggravated thought.
Two years ago when the Interspecies Exchange Bill had taken off in Japan, America had not been far behind in adopting it themselves. The question remained, however: Could extraspecies personnel be adapted for any occupation in the United States, including military service? After all, the Bill forbade the extra species to harm humans, and vice versa. Would it work? Could it work? So a test study was allowed. The United States Navy funded and commissioned the exchange of four lizardmen raptor variant sisters into the United States, under the condition that they were trained and raised by a former officer like former Lieutenant Owen Grady. Hed been staying with them for almost a month now, and their growth as operators was spectacular. Their raptor predatory instincts made them highly affective in tracking and take down tactics…but Owen had a misgiving that he hadnt voiced to anyone…a misgiving that he feared the Navy wouldnt want to hear.
“They arent weapons…theyre girls.” He growled softly to himself.
The truth was that Owen felt guilty every time he ran the girls through drills or exercises. He felt ashamed they only had a few spare changes of clothes that werent PT gear or their class As. He was annoyed that Blue always addressed him and the other girls in such a military fashion. The Navy was turning these girls into soldiers…when the point of the Bill was to help them integrate into society. Even a soldier has the right to be a person outside of the military. He was grateful that the Navy had given these girls a chance to be a part of American life…but in his soul, he wanted them to actually experience American life…not just the military life. Perhaps that was something he could bring up with Captain Grayson tonight. As he fired up the stove and pulled out the meat for dinner, he looked outside and saw Blue issuing her orders to get the girls inside and showered and he felt his frown slowly shift to a smile. He hadnt expected it when he first met the girls but…hed started to really care about them…like a family.
He would put his best forward tonight…he wanted to keep the girls with him as long as he could. But then a thought occurred to him that caused his whole body to tense up. In all of his training sessions and drills with the girls…never once had he taught them the finer points of dinner manners…and hed seen the way the girls could eat.
“…Im in deep trouble.”

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# Part 2
A month ago, Owen Grady, a Lieutenant in the Navy, had received new orders from Captain Mark Grayson to be taken off ship and returned to the States. There, he was told about a top secret initiative that hed only been made privy to that morning.
Monsters existed.
In fact, all around the world, in hidden islands and countries, were countless species of demi-humans. These extra species persons had lived in isolation for centuries, but were now being brought out of the shadows and into the limelight. Japan had been the first country to adopt an interspecies exchange bill, in which demi-humans and humans could attempt to live and work in harmony with each other. America was next…but Americas bill was somewhat different from the Japanese counterpart. The most glaring difference was that demi-humans could apply for United States citizenship. However, one aspect of the bill in America was the same in Japan: demi-humans could not harm humans and humans could not harm demi-humans. The purpose of the exchange program was to push for interspecies cooperation and harmony. Violence or harm between the two would result in immediate deportation of the demi-human and possible incarceration of the human. So what happens if a demi-human commits a crime that humans cant defuse?
The military had a solution.
In Japan, the Interspecies Exchange Program commissioned the M.O.N Squad, a team of demi-human special operatives who could defuse crimes and dangerous situations involving extra species persons. In America though, Commander Victor Hoskins commissioned the use of his own special operation squad. Four lizardmen, raptor variants. These four girls, known as the Raptor Squad, were sisters, and a perfect fighting force. However, they needed training by a professional…and Lieutenant Owen Grady had a long history of working well with new recruits in the Navy. Being a former K-9 Unit handler in the Los Angeles Police Department, and a trainer in the Navy, who better to train these four special operations raptors than him, right?
Anyone….anyone but him.
“This is going to be a disaster.” Owen mumbled to himself.
At first, things didnt seem so bad. Dinner was coming along well, and it was pork chops, which Owen knew would at least make Delta happy, seeing as that was her favorite. The girls, other than Charlie, were all old enough to drink wine, so Owen had made sure that Charlie was given sparkling grape juice instead. And hed prepared salad and broccoli to go with the food…and that would be the first major problem. Other than Blue, who ate what she was given without complaint, the girls had a strong resentment for anything other than meat. Charlie and Delta turned their noses up at anything green, and Echo, though silent, would just glare at food she wasnt interested in.
And then there was the second problem. The girls had almost no table manners. Blue could handle herself decently enough, but as a rule, the girls ate like savage animals, using their hands to scarf down what they saw on the table and being rather noisy about it too. Itd never bothered Owen too much…after all, hed seen far worse from young recruits onboard a ship. But for this inspections, the girls had to be on their best behavior…could they handle it?
“BLUE! FRONT AND CENTER!” Owen shouted. There was a clamor of movement and, sprinting in from the hallway came a fast object, halting just in front of Owen in the kitchen, who was still half focused on mixing the spices into the pork.
“YES SIR!” Blue cried. Owen turned towards her.
“Blue could yo-OH MY GOD!” Owen instantly covered his eyes as he saw that Blue was only half dressed with a towel around her waist. “WHYRE YOU HALF NAKED?!”
“Y-you called me sir!”
“S-sorry, sir!” She quickly pulled up her towel to cover herself. It was better…but still very provocative. “Um…present and accounted for!”
“Good…um…damn what was it I was gonna…OH right!” Owen shook his head, recollecting his thoughts. “Tonights menu is pork chops, salad, and broccoli.” Blue stiffened a bit, but nodded.
“Sounds good!”
“Im worried that the girls wont eat their greens. Normally its not such a big deal, but tonight they NEED to be on their best behavior. Even if they dont like it…I need them to try to eat everything on their plates.”
“Ill issue the order sir.” Blue bowed.
“Good…and one more thing. Youre going to need to briefly instruct the girls on how to use better table manners. I know its not something youre used to but…”
“No, I understand. Ill teach them what I know.” Blue assured him. Thats not saying much; Owen thought to himself.
“Thanks, Blue. Howre the girls?”
“Charlie is cleaning up with Echo. Delta and I are both done showering and getting dressed.” Blue explained.
“Good…alright thats all I needed.” Blue stood at attention and bowed again, turning to leave. As she ran off, Owen groaned and leaned against the counter in frustration.
“Oh God in heaven, please let this go over okay…”
“You do that often?” Owen spun around in surprise to see Delta leaning against the kitchen wall in the back. She was wearing her class A uniform, which was a black dress skirt under a khaki colored button down shirt. Ribbons of various colors and meanings adorned the left hand chest side of her uniform. Her name tag was resting on the right hand side, and she had a disgruntled look on her face…like she felt uncomfortable in it.
“Do what?”
“Pray.” She explained. Owen nodded and looked down at the skillet where the pork was cooking.
“Yeah, I do. Helps keep me calm.” Owen replied.
“…I guess thats cool.” Delta shrugged.
“That may be the nicest thing youve said to me.” Owen laughed. Delta flushed and crossed her arms angrily.
“Whatever. I just came down cause I smelled porkchops.”
“Yeah. Just because we have company coming, doesnt mean we cant still do your favorite tonight. I promised wed have porkchops tonight, didnt I?”
“….Yes sir…” Delta grumbled. “Youre not poisoning it are you?” Owen groaned and turned to look at Delta.
“What are you talking about?”
“Nothing sir…just a question.” She then turned on her heel and walked out of the kitchen. Owen rubbed his forehead, trying to relieve his stress.
“I dont think Ill ever get these girls.”
It would be another hour before the doorbell rang and, at last, the moment of truth arrived.
*Ding Dong*
“GIRLS! FRONT AND CENTER!” Owen shouted. The stomping of feet could be heard as all four girls sprinted downstairs to stand ready for attention. Owen walked to the door and opened it up to reveal a tall black man in a navy uniform, a captains insignia on his sleeve and a hat under his arm. He gave a brief nod to Owen and a friendly smile.
“Good evening, Captain Grayson.” Owen said, stepping aside to let the Captain inside.
“Thank you for letting me come on such short notice. Im afraid I had some major schedule conflicts and wasnt able to come earlier than this.”
“Well we plan to eat soon, if youd like to join us.” Owen offered.
“I did hope…but didnt want to propose.” He laughed. “Where are th-oh! My how impressive.” Owen turned and smiled to see all four girls, dressed in their class A uniforms and standing at a perfect attention for the Captain. Blue took a single step forward and saluted.
“SIR! ALL PRESENT AND ACCOUNTED FOR, SIR!” She then took a step back, rejoining her sisters. Captain Grayson saluted them in return.
“At ease girls…at ease. I see theyre no less disciplined than when I last left them.” Grayson chuckled.
“I work diligently with them every day.”
“Yes…well need to discuss that after dinner. But first….Im starving. Lets get to that dinner table, shall we?” The girls seemed to light up at the thought, particularly Charlie, who looked so fidgety and anxious to get to the table, her tail wouldnt stay still for half a moment. Twice Blue had to nudge her back into place, she was jittering so bad. Owen finally grinned and nodded.
“Go on. Get to the table!”
“YES!” Charlie launched herself to the dining room with Delta and Echo behind her. Blue stayed close to Owen as he followed after.
“Blue, did you instruct them like I asked?”
“As best as I could…whether or not it will stick is…debatable.”
“God help me…”
Owen tried not to watch…the image was just too painful. Blue was managing moderately well, though she had a bad habit of putting her elbows on the table, and leaning across the table to grab bread. Echo wasnt too bad either, but she kept dropping food in her lap, as forks were not easy for her to handle. Frankly, she was more accustomed to just grabbing the food at eating it. Most of the girls had an aversion to utensils. It was Delta and Charlie though that made everything cringy. To Deltas credit, she was making an attempt by putting her napkin in her lap (a feat even Blue had forgotten to do) but she was savage in her eating, ripping the pork with her teeth rather than cutting it with a knife. She would lift the entire slap of meat with her fork and rip it apart piece by piece. As for the salad, she all out rejected it until Blue growled at her from across the table. Now she was picking at it, but hardly eating it. Charlie, by far, was the worst. She didnt seem to have retained anything as she scarfed down the pork. She was more than liberal with the gravy as she doused the pork in it and ripped it apart like a wolf bent on carnage. Blue was flushing from ear to ear at the appalling behavior.
“Captain Grayson, I am SO sorry…”
“Dont be.” Grayson chuckled, though he too was having trouble observing the feast. “Im not bothered.” Owen didnt eat a bite…he was too ashamed.
After an hour, the girls finished and Owen snapped his fingers. They all jumped to their feet, standing at attention, Delta and Charlie had most of their food plastered on their face from their ravenous eating. Owen looked to Blue and nodded his head slowly.
“GIRLS! REPORT TO CLEAN UP! CHARLIE! ECHO! YOURE ON DISHES! DELTA, YOURE WITH ME ON TABLE TEAR DOWN! GO!” The girls jumped into high gear. Delta and Blue began breaking down the table; removing placemats and dishes and running them to the kitchen, Charlie and Echo grabbed dish rags and started tossing dirty plates and skillets in the sink to scrub them. Owen could finally smile at this…they might not be the best eaters, but they were efficient at cleaning messes. It was like they were incapable at being clean and tidy…but were more than happy to clean up the messes they made. An admirable quality. Captain Grayson just silently sipped his cup of coffee while he watched the girls work. It wasnt until they were all out of the room and working that the Captain spoke again.
“I dont have much time Lieutenant Grady, so I suppose I should get straight to the point…I came here to inspect the Raptors and see how they were growing since I last saw them…but I also came with some news.”
“And whats the verdict?” Owen asked.
“Oh theyre doing marvelous. Its reassuring to see how theyve adapted to life on the outside. Last time I saw those four, they were still just children, fighting over who would be leader.”
“And you werent surprised it was Blue?” Owen chuckled.
“Oh Blues biggest rival was always Echo…but it seems Blues really come into her own as their pack leader. I couldnt be more proud of them….poor Echo though.”
“Shes always been like that though.” Owen pointed out.
“Oh, not always. A few years ago, back before you gave them their names, she was just as cold and calculating as Blue…the problem was she had no control of her own ego and that ended up getting the better of her…ask Blue about the scar on Echos face and youll know what I mean.”
“Im afraid to ask about those kind of personal things…” Owen confessed. “But…what news was it you wanted to mention? I think we both got a bit off topic.” Grayson nodded in reply and sipped his coffee.
“Hoskins has demanded a field test.” He answered. Owen sneered at the name. Victor Hoskin was a former Naval officer who was constantly working to develop new weapon systems and advances in military tools and technology. Hed been the one who sponsored the girls staying in America…and he convinced the Navy to continue funding this experiment. That meant he called most of the shots. Without his support, there would be no money for them to live off. “He thinks the girls have had enough time to get familiar with human life and need to be tested in the field on real targets.”
“Damn that man…”
“The girls hate his guts with a passion, I know…”
“Last time he was here, he refused to call them by their names…just their numbers.” Owen snarled. “I dont want to do him any favors.”
“Im afraid the Navy agrees with him. The girls need to demonstrate that their funding is going to good use.”
“As I recall, we started this project to help control extra species criminal incidents. What if nothing happens!?” Owen snapped back. “Lets be honest here, Captain. We both know what Hoskins wants! Hes trying to turn these girls into-”
“Lock it up, Lieutenant.” Captain Grayson barked, silencing Owen before he finished his comment. “I dont like Hoskins any more than you do, and I do agree that hes a fool…but sadly he has a point. We cant spend valuable Navy dollars on an exchange program like this without some kind of evidence our time and energy is well spent.
“…I understand.”
“We will be in touch. When the next extra species criminal incident takes place, youll be our first call….have the girls ready to deploy when it happens.”
“You seem certain something WILL happen…” Owen growled.
“There have been a fair number of criminal activities taking place this last month. The media just doesnt publicize them the way they should be. I fully expect something will happen in a week or two.” Grayson confessed. He stood up and put back on his hat as he made his way to the door. “As I said before, I didnt mean to pop in so suddenly and I thank you for a delicious dinner. Its reassuring to see the girls so healthy and happy….thank you for your hard work Grady.”
“Of course, sir.” Owen gave a nod of respect and Grayson turned, marching out of the house. Grady simply sat in stunned silence, contemplating what hed just been told.
“….A field test….were actually gonna take these girls out in the field?”

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# Part 3
It was just like Captain Grayson had said. Within four days of his visit, theyd gotten a call from Hoskins that they had an emergency requiring the girls response. Owen was now sitting in the back of a large armored police SUV. He was reading a tablet in his lap, detailing the situation to him. Meanwhile the four girls were already gearing up.
For this job, theyd been given tight body armor, each one a different color to indicate their identity to the other without verbal cues. Blue was standing in her navy blue one piece suit, looking like she was a lifeguard or Olympic athlete. She was holding onto a strap from the roof of the van and was inspecting the others to ensure they were ready. Delta was already ready to go in her teal colored gear. She wasnt looking at the others, but rather staring out the window as they tore down the road, the siren from the van warning other cars to stay back. Echo was helping Charlie into her dark green suit. She looked so uncomfortable in it…Charlie had always preferred loose fitting clothes. Thats why she liked skirts. This one piece leotard style gear felt too constricting to her. Echo didnt seem to have any complaints about her red gear. She merely smiled as Charlie stretched and got herself familiar with the outfit.
“Alpha sir,” Blue spoke up, “permission to speak?”
“Granted.” Owen answered.
“You were unclear before leaving as to the nature of our mission aside from it was a hostage situation.” Blue explained. “If its alright, Id like to know the details of our task.” All the girls now turned their attention to Owen, waiting to hear what he had to say. Owen lowered his tablet and stood up, gripping the handle bar above him.
“Alright girls, all eyes on me and all ears open! Heres the situation!”
“SIR! YES SIR!” They answered in unison.
“Exactly two hours ago, at twenty-hundred hours (2000 hours), four orcs, two minotaurs, and at least one devil took control of a shopping mall in downtown Los Angeles.” Owen explained. “Theyve taken at least 49 people hostage and were not sure what theyre demands are. We believe the devil is leading them…possibly through some form of hypnosis.”
“Ruddy little shits.” Delta growled.
“Lock it up, Delta!” Blue snapped. “Sorry about that, Alpha.”
“Your mission is to infiltrate the mall through the roof into the Dillards shopping center. There you are to work as a team to accomplish two objectives. Rescue the human and extra species hostages, and to incapacitate the criminals.”
“Rules of engagement?” Echo asked.
“The civilians are priority alpha…we CANNOT have one of them get hurt, or it would cause issues for the progression of the interspecies exchange bill. For that reason, were sending you in without firearms…we cant risk a misfire or crossfire.”
“Well we havent trained in firearm tactics yet anyway, so thats fine.” Charlie giggled. “Just ol fashion tooth and nail!”
“Damn straight.” Delta agreed.
“Relax, Blue…just commenting.” Delta shrugged.
“Its alright girls, calm down.” Owen grumbled. Once the girls were quiet again, he continued. “The criminals are secondary here. Wed prefer them alive, but if your hands are forced…take them down hard.”
“Yes sir.” Blue nodded.
“Blue, once youve breached, you take point.” With a nod Blue turned to the girls who all nodded their agreement. “Any questions?”
“How much are the targets packing?” Echo whispered.
“The orcs have some illegally obtained firearms, other than that, Im not 100% sure. Your suits will provide moderate protection, but otherwise, do your best to stay out of their line of fire.”
“Any cover you can provide?” Blue asked.
“The local LEOs have taken control of the power to the mall and will shut off the lights to provide cover. Since the sun is down, the night will give you an advantage…but be warned, the orcs are more than capable of smelling you out. Dont hesitate and work as a unit.”
“Will you be talkn to us while were inside?” Charlie asked.
“We have access to the cameras inside the building, and Ill issue orders where I can…but otherwise, this is your op. Like I said, Blue is taking point.” Owen looked to Delta. “What about you, Delta? Any questions?”
“Just point me to who needs to die…”
“YEAH!” Charlie agreed.
“Delta…lethal force only if necessary. Were here to enforce peace.” Blue snapped back.
“Why does everything I say have to get a negative response from you?” Delta sneered.
“Lock it up, both of you!” Owen snapped. “Delta, Im glad youre excited…but Blues right. Lets keep lethal force to as low as possible. Blue, go easy on the team. Everyones a little on edge.” Blue bowed her head.
“Sorry, sir.”
“Yeah…what she said.” Delta grumbled.
“If there are no more questions, take these.” He reached out, holding four ear plugs for them to put in their ears. All the girls took one and inserted them into their right ears. Owen lifted a small microphone to his mouth and spoke. “Testing. Can you hear me?” All the girls head up their thumbs. “Thisll be our means of communication. Were coming to the mall now…this is where we part ways. The chief negotiator will lead you to your assigned location.”
“Thank you, sir!” Blue saluted. “We wont let you down.”
“I know you wont.” The van finally came to a stop and Echo pushed open the door for the girls to climb out. “Good luck.”
“And may the force be with us!” Charlie added.
“Really Charlie?” Echo giggled.
“I knew we shouldnt have bought those dumb movies. Now shes quoting them!”
“Shut up, Delta, they were all great! Even you liked the Empire Strikes Back!” Charlie cried defensively.
“My favorite part was the lightsaber battle where…” Owen shook his head as the girls gossiped their way out of the van and to the tent where the chief negotiator waited for them.
“God help me…what am I gonna do with those four?”
The inside of the mall was uncharacteristically empty. When the monsters had taken over the premises, there had been a mad scramble to escape. Now the only humans left in the building were around 50 to 60 who were all packed in the middle of the food court with a minotaur and an orc guarding them, both armed with submachine guns. They were both tall, male, and bulging with muscles. They hardly needed the guns to look intimidating. Sitting on the bench in front of them, licking an ice cream cone, was what appeared to be a teenage girl with horns poking out of her head, with red skin and dark yellow eyes. She had on thick make up and wings on her back like a demon. She had her legs crossed and was twiddling her fingers board.
“Ugh, so boring…I thought the police might come barging in or something! When I heard I was getting sent to America for my homestay, I was SURE itd be more fun than this…theres nothing to do!” She was a greater devil. A subspecies of the devil race that was teenage in appearance, but just as childish as lesser devils. This one, however, was on the no fly list…she was supposed to be barred from coming to America, but had somehow slipped through the cracks. Now the mall was being held hostage. She pulled out her radio and clicked the receiver.
“Yo pigs…see any other stragglers?”
“No maam…aint seen no-“
Before he could finish, the lights in the entire mall went out. The hostages behind her all squealed with fright and the devil stood up surprised.
“What the hell just happened!? Whyd we lose power? This a joke?”
“Boss, whats happening?!”
“How should I know, you dumb cow?!” She growled at the minotaur behind her. “Just watch the hostages….somethings not right.” Suddenly static appeared over the radio.
“BOSS! BOSS YOU GOTTA HELP! THEY GOT PETE! ITS A-AAAAH!” There was the sound of an animal like shriek and then the line went dead with a loud thud, as if the orc holding the radio had suddenly hit the ground hard. A chill ran down the devils spine and she dropped the radio in a panic. There were predators in the mall…and they werent police.
Owen could see the whole show through the wall of mall cameras he had access to. Two orcs had been walking the same hallway past a Gamestop. From out of the gamestop, like a flash of lightning, Delta had burst out like a missile and tackled the closest one to the ground, knocking him out with a punch to the nose. The other grabbed for his radio, squealing for help from a boss but before he could get far, Charlie came sprinting out of hiding in the womens clothing store and struck him down, slamming her whole body, feet first into his chest with a raptor like shriek. With two of the orcs down, that left two more orcs and two minotaurs, plus the devil. According to the cameras, the devil was with one orc and one minotaur in the food court with the hostages. There was only one way into the food court so it would be hard to use the element of surprise. He needed a plan.
“Blue, do you copy?”
“Affirmative!” Blues voice responded.
“Ive got eyes on the hostages and three bogies. Two armed. All packed in the food court. You only have one P.O.E., a straight hallway down the center. No surprise attacks.”
“Its a game of chess, Blue. Remember last week when I played you?”
“I remember Blue lost…hehehe…it was so funny.” Charlie giggled over the comms.
“Lock it up, Charlie…” Blue groaned.
“Blue…remember how I won. What did I do to take your king.” There was a long silence from Blue, and then suddenly a realization.
“10-4! Alpha, do you have a visual on the other tangos?”
“Your minotaur is upstairs by the jeans. The other orc is trying to make his way back to the food court from the west wing of the mall…I think hes in a panic.”
“Echo! Charlie! Head to the west wing and cut off that pig before he gets home! Delta, head to the upper level and flush out that minotaur!” The girls darted without a moments hesitation and Owen could watch it all happen. Through screens he saw the minotaur panic, as a terrifying Delta burst from out of the clothes lines and sent her screaming back towards the escalator. Meanwhile the orc that had been running from the West Wing was over run and brought down by Charlie and Echo. Echo had jumped and slammed the force of her body into his back while Charlie used her foot claw to slash his leg out from under him.
“Orc is down.” Echo announced.
“Minotaur running for the escalator.” Delta informed.
“Delta, cease pursuit!” Blue ordered. “Pull back and let the minotaur get closer to the food court. Echo, hide in the arcade and engage on my command!”
The devil had picked up her radio and was now calling frantically. “PETE!? A.J? SUSIE!? SOMEONE TALK TO ME! WHATS OUT THERE!?”
“Ya think Susie is okay?” The minotaur man asked, concern on his face.
“Im sure shes fine, Chad. Just-”
“HELP!” All three turned at the sound of the cry. From down the hall, the female minotaur was running, fear in her eyes and she was completely out of breath. Chad broke from his bosses side and ran to her.
“Susie! Youre alright! What ha-SUSIE!” It was too late. From out of a nearby arcade, a bolt of red shot out of the doorway and struck her to the ground with a kick so strong the sound of her broken jaw could be heard across the room. Chad turned to flee, but a navy blue rocket shot down the hall and plunged its fist into his horned head. The orc, seeing the big strong minotaurs get taken down in seconds, ran squealing for cover.
“NO! DONT RUN YOU FAT IDIOT!” It was too late. A teal streak sprinted down the hall and past the devil, leaping out and knocking the orc down, using her tail to trip him up and then using her foot to step on his face, knocking him out. Now the devil could see the hunters. All three stood around her now. Adorned in scales and tight armor, they looked like lizardmen…but werent quite. They had the feet of raptors, and muscles of toned athletes. All their eyes were now on her as the began to spread around her. She held up her hands and tried to speak slowly as the blue haired one drew closer and closer.
“DONT COME ONE STEP CLOSER!” She snapped. Blue stopped. The two locked eyes. “I have hostages.”
“Orders, Blue?” Echo asked, crouched low and ready to move. Delta took the same crouching stance. Blue didnt move a muscle. She was judging…and waiting. The first part of the plan had worked. Just like in that game of chess, shed drawn the knights away from the king and left her exposed…but now she had hostages. What was the next best move?
“Hold.” She instructed.
“You three better back up…back up or I kill one of the hostages…damn, I cant believe all of the gang was taken down by three lizard girls!”
“Well see, youre wrong on two counts.” Blue explained. “There were actually four.” She let out a whistle and dropped to one knee. From behind, Charlie sprinted in, using her back as a spring board, Charlie lept off Blue and delivered a devastating flying kick into the devils face, sending her crashing to the ground. As Charlie stood again, smiling a broad toothy grin, Blue stood up straight and proud. “And secondly…were raptors. Not lizards.” Blue then touched the ear piece on her head and spoke slowly but happily.
“Alpha? All targets are down and hostages are rescued. I repeat: Mission complete!”
“Good job girls. I think youve all earned a meal out tomorrow night.”

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# Part 4
The looks from the guests could be ignored. That wasnt an issue. Owen simply asked that they be put in a room slightly away from the guests. This steakhouse was one that Owen had enjoyed since his college years, and they knew how to accommodate his needs. The sound of the girls eating was…a bit different. There were only so many ways he could beg Charlie and Delta to keep it down and not to make sounds while eating. Blue occasionally had to snap at them, and Echo just kept her eyes on her plate, not wanting to cause trouble or bring attention to herself. The waitress and waiter that were seeing their table were actually nervous to get too close, usually only gravitating towards Owens side of the circle booth that they shared.
Blue had her steak, Delta had her pork chops, Echo was chowing on a hamburger, and Charlie had a plate of kids chicken tenders…though Owen suspected shed want more than the four shed gotten. She had hardly touched the French fries. He just chuckled and returned to his own steak…was it inappropriate to say that eating steak just lost some of its luster when watching the way these girls could put away food?
“Alpha,” Blue spoke up, “do you mind if I ask you something?”
“Blue, please…just call me Owen, alright?” Owen laughed. “Were not in the field.”
“Sorry, sir.” Blue blushed. “I…wanted to ask you…how did you find our performance in the mall?” This question caused the other girls, except for Charlie to look up at Owen.
“Well…all around it was a successful operation. All of you performed well and we got the criminals under control.” Owen answered.
“But isnt there anywhere for us to improve?” Blue asked.
“Damn it, Blue…if he says we did fine, take the compliment!” Delta rolled her eyes.
“Well I was just thinking…maybe we shouldve tried to rally the targets into a kill zone and-”
“Its not worth worrying about now.” Echo spoke up. “I mean…its over right?”
“Echos right.” Owen added. “Dont try to overanalyze yourselves. For your first field operation, I couldnt be more proud of you.” Blue and Echo smiled at this, though Delta just huffed and tore into the pork on her plate again. “Charlie, for the love of God, slow down! Youll choke!” Charlie looked up from her plate, three chicken tenders shoved in her mouth at once. Echo sighed and plucked two out as Delta snickered. There were times Owen worried about Charlies, childishness.
“Excuse me, is everything okay over here?” Owen glanced up from the table to see the waitress enter, looking nervous once more.
“Were fine, thank you. Well take the bill when youre ready.”
“Actually…someone has already paid your bill.” The waitress giggled. “Um…thats why I came to see you. You have a visitor who insists he knows you.” From behind her walked a tall heavy set man with a goatee and short cut hair. He adjusted his belt buckle and coughed into his fist to get my attention. The minute the girls saw him, their eyes snapped in his direction, and their expressions were unmistakably hostile. Delta nearly jumped out of her seat to punch him. Charlie growled and began wolfing down fries to calm herself. A flash of anger shone in Echos eyes and Blue herself clenched her fists tightly in rage. Owen was actually impressed by their restraint.
“Hoskins.” Owen muttered. “I guess I should thank you for paying for our meal?”
“Think nothing of it. Thought I could take the opportunity to chat with you about what happened tonight?” He asked.
“Go ahead.” Owen replied.
“More in private if you dont mind. Join me outside for a smoke?”
“Whatever you have to say to the Alpha, you can say to us.” Blue snapped.
“Yeah!” Charlie agreed. “Dont keep secrets, Hog-skin!”
“Thats Hoskins, Charlie…but I agree.” Echo snarled.
“Stand down.” Blue hissed. “All of you.”
“Blue, take charge…make sure the girls clean up and meet me by the truck when youre done.”
“…Yes sir.” Blue nodded. Owen climbed to his feet and walked to Hoskins to step out into the back of the restaurant.
“Thanks for seeing reason.”
“I havent seen ANY reason from you yet…Im hoping youll surprise me.”
While the front of the steakhouse was inviting and enticing, the back of the steakhouse was a junk pile. Two large dumpsters by the gated off parking lot, and several black bags of trash. Flies flew around in the back over old and spoiled meat. The smell was too much for the girls to handle, so it was a good thing they werent there. Hoskins leaned against the railing of the walkway down from the backdoor to the dumpsters. Owen leaned by the door myself and watched him carefully.
“Fantastic work today, Grady.” Hoskins smiled, smoke streaming from his nostrils as he fiddled with the cigarette in his fingers. “Your girls show real promise.”
“That they do.” Owen agreed. “So what do you want?”
“Lots of things, Grady. But for now, Id like your help with something.” He laughed.
“And whats that.”
“Ive got a special project coming up…something that I think your girls are suited for.”
“Pass.” Owen snapped.
“Dont be like that, Grady. You havent even heard what I have to say.” Hoskins argued, frustrated by Owens attitude.
“I know what you have to say…and Ive told you before what I think of your pet projects.” Owen snarled. “You look at those four girls and see trained attack animals. Theyre thinking, feeling, and growing girls. We taught them combat tactics and drills to help teach them social ques, discipline,-”
“AND for dealing with emergency situations.” Hoskins pointed out. “You did that just today, and they did it perfectly against ARMED enemies.”
“We were lucky tonight. The girls had the advantage of attacking at night and being in a confined location like a mall. They are not super soldiers!”
“I know.” Hoskins shrugged. Owen paused and blinked, surprised by his attitude.
“They arent super soldiers. But you cant pretend theyre normal girls either. These girls WANT action. We should give it to them.” Hoskins added. “Cmon Grady, you were in the Navy! You know what its like in combat. Men and women in our armed forces and in our own police forces die every day from criminals and terrorists with new and improved technology. I just saw four raptor girls show that they could overpower a larger force that was armed. These girls…this form of combat. Its the future.”
“If the only future for those girls is to be mindless killers in your screwed up agenda, then you can go ahead and shoot me, because I really dont wanna be around to see it.” Owen leaned back up and turned to go back inside.
“Grady, you cant stop progress.” Hoskins argued.
“Turning those girls into killers isnt progress, Hoskins…its evil.” Owen snapped. “Thanks for the meal…and let us know when youve got another extra species emergency for us to deal with.” Owen didnt let him respond. He simply walked through the door and back into the steakhouse. Hoskins stood there and shook his head in disappointment.
“Sorry to say Grady, but those girls are going to be part of this project…with or without you.” He pulled out his phone, pressed in a speed dial number and held up the phone to his ear. He waited and then spoke when it answered. “This is Hoskins…were moving forward with the project.”
Owen hurried outside, overcome with the urge to take a shower after having to deal with Hoskins for so long. The man was hateful…and ambitious. He knew that Hoskins wouldnt let up…and that would become an issue later on down the road. He walked to the parking lot and saw that the girls had all already piled into the back of the truck…all except Echo, who was standing just a few yards away, brushing her hair back. When she saw Owen coming, she ran to him quickly.
“Is everything alright?” She asked. “He didnt want anything from us did he?”
“He did, but I wont give it to him.” Owen answered. “Dont worry about Hoskins, alright? That goes for you and your sisters.”
“…I dont like him.”
“I got that impression.” Owen teased.
“No I mean…Hes a cruel person…and I dont think he cares about how we feel about…anything.”
“Echo, whats going on?” Owen asked curiously.
“Youre not usually the one waiting for me outside the truck. You have something on your mind, so tell me whats wrong…do I need to make that an order?”
“No sir…Im sorry sir but if the others knew about it theyd…laugh.” Owen groaned and scratched the back of his head. This was the one thing he dreaded most about dealing with four raptor girls….drama. However, as caretaker, he had to bare this burden.
“BLUE!” He shouted. She poked her head out of the truck just in time for Owen to toss her his keys. “Get the engine started and play the radio or something. Echo and I need a minute.”
“10-4!” She called back, returning to do as ordered. Owen took Echos arm and lead her further away from the truck.
“Now, no one can hear…lets talk. Whats wrong?”
“…I only helped near the end of the mission today. I only took down one target.”
“Its not a competition.”
“But its not because I was too slow…it was…because I was nervous.” Echo confessed. “Im not sure Im cut out to be an operator.”
“Whatre you talking about Echo? You perform fine in simulations and drills. And rumor has it you were contender for Beta of the pack.” Owen argued. “Id say your perfectly qualified.”
“That…was a long time ago. And performing in drills is easy. But out there the idea that I could lose…the thought of messing up and putting my sisters in danger…”
“You wouldnt let that happen.” Owen pointed out.
“You dont know that. You dont know about…”
“…Yes?” Owen pressed. Echo hugged herself a moment and looked away, pulling down her bangs to hide her scar.
“I havent…havent been that confident in years…not since…”
“Echo, you may not realize it about yourself yet, but you DO have what it takes to be part of this pack. Youre a sharp, intelligent, and beautiful girl. You have talent, and I saw it tonight.”
“But I hesitated!”
“You were patient.” Owen corrected her. “You were smart and knew not to move needlessly. Delta is just naturally more aggressive and went in guns blazing, so to speak. Thats good in its place…but she could stand to learn a thing or two from you and Blue in terms of patience.”
“…Owen, are you sure about me?” She whispered. “I dont want to drag my sisters down…”
“Echo, if I thought you were a threat to the team or a hinderance, I wouldnt even be having this conversation. Id have already decommissioned you and told you to stay home next time. I care about all four of you, and I wont let anyone endanger you….not me, not your sisters, and DEFINITELY not Hoskins.” Echo smiled softly when Owen insulted Hoskins. He reached over and very, VERY lightly touched her head. Unlike Blue and Charlie, who didnt mind physical contact, Echo was very fragile…she would often shrink back from the slightest touch. But Owen knew just where to approach. He rubbed her head and Echo, though tense now, seemed more pleased.
“Thank you, Owen…”
“Lets get you girls back home. Tomorrow is Hide and Seek day.” Owen winked. At this Echo gasped a glint of excitement in her eyes.
“Ill bet thatll cheer you up…and might even get Delta to simmer down.” Owen muttered. As they walked back to the truck, Echo had a slight more spring in her step…but her hair still covered that scar. Owen made a mental note…he would need to ask Blue about that scar….it might go a ways to finding out what broke Echos spirit. Despite taking care of them…he knew so little about them. Could he really be so critical of Hoskins for not knowing about these girls when HE himself didnt know that much either? A question hed save for another day as he climbed in the truck to take his dysfunctional squad back home.
“Alright, buckle up you four! Were rolling out!”

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# Part 5
Blue squatted low and sniffed the air. It was thick with humidity…the sky was clear and the night was welcoming. Bugs flitted about in the forests of the Appalachian mountains. This was their hunting ground…this was their training field. Her eyes peered through the thick foliage, searching for their target.
“All units, check in…whats your status?”
“This is Delta. Ive got nothing here, Blue.”
“Echo here. Sorry, Blue…no target.”
“Hi! Charlie here! Im drawing a blank too…sorry.”
“Regroup.” Blue instructed, speaking clearly into her microphone and lowering her stance a bit. She waited only 3 minutes before the three girls ran to her side from their positions. Blue sighed in disbelief and rubbed the back of her head. All of them were decked out in their camo body armor and their combat tools. “Damn it, girls…we have exactly 40 minutes before time runs out and we lose!”
“Whyd that asshole have to hide the damn target so well this time!?” Delta snapped.
“LOCK IT UP!” Blue snarled. “Dont talk about our Alpha that way.”
“Sorry…” Delta groaned.
“It wouldnt be a game if it was easy.” Charlie pointed out, tugging on her pig tails. Blue nodded her agreement.
“Hide and Seek is more than a game, Charlie…its a test.”
Hide and Seek was a game that Owen played with the girls every month or so. The Navy would rent a small portion of land or preserve available to the public and, for 24 hours, set an animal loose in the area. Before the game begins, Owen would give Blue a sample of the animals hair or tissue for them to smell and study. Then, using their training, their predator senses, and their instincts, would have until midnight to hunt the animal and kill it. Usually, they excelled at this game. Today, a wild boar had been released…but for some reason the girls had lost its trail in the hills of the area. Now they were lost and getting nowhere.
“Blue, do you still have the piece of its flesh?” Delta asked. “Lets get another wiff.” Blue nodded and reached into her survival pack to pull out the small, bloody clump of meat. Delta and Charlie both leaned in and sniffed it, taking in its scent. Blue and Echo did the same and then, Blue quickly put it away again so it wouldnt distract them from their search. They sniffed the air and the trees, sensing…hoping to pick up something…anything.
“Damn, whyd it have to be a pig? Im getting hungry now!” Delta grumbled.
“Stop thinking with your stomach, Delta.” Blue growled.
“You cant think with your stomach. Your brain is in your head, Blue.” Charlie pointed out, proud of her own intelligence.
“I know that, Charlie.” Blue laughed. “Its a figure of speech.”
“I knew that!” Charlie scoffed, trying to hide her blush.
“That reminds me…Echo, what was it that Alpha wanted to talk to you about the other day after Hoshkins left?” Delta asked. “You looked pretty upset, but then were smiling when you were done.”
“It was…nothing.” Echo whispered. “Alpha was just…giving me advice.”
“What kind of advice?” Blue asked.
“Alpha gives GREAT advice.” Charlie added, giggling. “I remember when he told me I could eat better if I cut up my food first.”
“I dont think he was giving you advice, I think he just didnt want to be sick, watching you try to scarf down everything whole.” Delta cackled.
“Youre no better!” Charlie shouted defensively. “Hes had to correct you on your eating too!”
“Yeah, but the difference is I dont care.” Delta shrugged. “He can command me in the field, not at the dinner table.”
“Youre so cool, Delta.” Charlie sighed.
“Or maybe shes just stubborn.” Blue hissed.
“Why dont YOU lock it up, Blue?” Delta teased.
“Hey…” Echo whispered, silencing them. “…do you smell that?” The girls all stopped bickering and began sniffing the air again. Unlike before, something familiar waifed past their noses…a strange sensation of recognition. Mouths watered and eyes snapped open at the realization.
“Pig!” Delta gasped.
“I smell it too!” Charlie squealed.
“Alright girls, seek and destroy! Delta, you take right! Echo, behind! Charlie, to my left. Weve only got a few minutes to eliminate the target!” Blue ordered. The girls didnt hesitate. Despite their earlier bickering, when it was time for action, they worked like a well oiled machine. The four sprinted through the dense forest and through the mountains, following the smell. Their legs, powerful like the predatory beasts they emulated, were capable of carrying them through any terrain at break neck speed. Currently, Blue was the fastest of the four, but all were able to reach speeds of nearly 50 miles per hour. To increase speed, the girls would lean their upper torso forward to angle their body, and at times would let their arms pump closer to their sides, or merely let them hang back so that they didnt interfere with them. With time being of the essence, the girls were running low and hard, their feet kicking up leaves and debris with tremendous force.
65 million years ago, the raptor was one of the apex predators of the ancient world…instincts like wild dogs, and senses to match. Speed to rival a cheetah and ferocious powerful killing urges. It was in these instincts and natural urges that surged them forward. Their eyes flashed with hungry intensity and their claws dug through the soil with harsh resolve. They were hunters. They were killers. They were raptors.
“Target is 1000 meters and closing!” Delta hissed.
“Charlies, spread out, youre getting too close.” Blue instructed.
“Right!” Charlie pulled off a little giving Echo room to move up. With their high speed running, Echos hair was flying free, showing her scar…but also her cunning sneer. Blue smiled to herself. Itd been a long time since shed seen Echo make that face. It was good to have her back…even if only for a while.
“THROUGH THE TREES!” Charlie shouted. The four girls looked up ahead and, sure enough, there was a faint light through the trees…and the smell was resonating from there.
“ENGAGE!” Blue barked. The three girls let out a loud animal cry like a real pack of raptors and all turned sharply, lunging through the trees, as a aloud terrified squeal filled the air.
The four girls froze in shock at the large bonfire theyd nearly crashed into. The pig they hunted was held over it on a spit. Surrounding the fire were 12 young boys, all wearing Cub Scout uniforms and hats, with neckerchiefs on their sweaty necks. They stared up at the girls openmouthed and in terror as their councilor threw himself inbetween the girls and the boys, trying to shield them with his body. The boys screamed in fear and several jumped up and began running away as Blue, blushing deeply relaxed her stance and looked to her sisters, who were all blushing rather heavily too. Echo was hiding her scar with her hair and Charlie was waving sheepishly as Delta tried to pull her hood over her head and not admit that theyd just busted in on a campsite.
“Um…sorry?” Blue grumbled.
“Are you serious?” Owen grumbled over the phone as he listened to Blues entire report on the events.
“Alpha, I am…so so sorry.”
“Its not your fault, Blue….its mine. I got the dates mixed up. Its on me.” Owen sighed. “I forgot that wed rented the campgrounds for next weekend…not this one.”
“Still, we shouldve recognized the smell of those children…we were so caught up in the hunt that we-”
“Enough. Theres no point making excuses. Howre the others?”
“Well, Echo hasnt said a word since the incident…I think shes mortified she let others see her scar. Deltas sulking in the woods…I think her pride is a bit hurt, but shell get over it. And Charlie? Well, shes become fast friends with the kids.”
“Affirmative. Ive told her to stop bothering them, but the kids constantly want her to play with them. I dont know how to make them stop. Orders?”
“Let her have her fun for now. Its not every day children get to play with a raptor girl. As long as no one gets hurt, I think its fine.” Owen answered with an embarrassed chuckle. “Ill be there to pick you up tonight.”
“What about Echo and Delta?”
“I dont even know where to begin with that. Just make sure you four are at the entrance to the camp and Ill be there at 530 hours.”
“Yes sir…and…again, I am truly sorry, Alph…I mean…Owen.” Owen smiled, glad that she was finally starting to call him Owen instead of just Alpha.
“It happens. Just hang tight.” Owen hung up the phone and rose to get the car started. It would take about 3 hours to get there…he had a long way to go. As he threw on his boots, his phone vibrated again and he laughed. Blue mustve wanted something else. Pulling the phone out of his pocket, he placed it next o his ear and leaned into it to rest in on his shoulder while he tied his boot.
“Blue, just let it wait until I get there.”
“Wrong person, Lieutenant.” Owens eyes widened and his hands topped tying. He grabbed the phone, ready to hang up and walk out the door.
“What the hell do you want with me, Hoshkins?”
“Happy to hear you too, friend.” Hoshkins chuckled. “Look, believe it or not, Im not calling about my project. You told me to let you know if there was another case that needed your girls. Well we got a situation.”
“Alright, whatve you got?” Owen asked, making his way out the door to go get the girls. As he listened to Hoshkins, he silently thought about only one thing: how much he genuinely didnt want anything to do with this man. He didnt even brush his teeth without an agenda…so one could only wonder what strings were attached to this proposal.
“Alright girls! Alpha will be here in 3 hours. Lets get our gear squared away and move to the front of the camp.” Blue shouted. Echo was sitting by the wall of the activity cabin near the large lake. She looked up, her face still red with embarrassment, but she didnt seem as traumatized as she was.
“Hes not upset is he?” Echo asked.
“No…though I expect were going to hear about this little incident for a while.” Blue grumbled. “Wheres Charlie?” Echo pointed past Blue to the other side of the activity building where Charlie was playing a game of hand ball with the boys who were now fully awake. Despite it being only 2:30 AM, the surprise of meeting a real raptor girl mustve been like a huge dose of caffeine for these children. They squealed and laughed and hollered, as Charlie ran around, swatting a tennis ball back and forth with the boys. Blue shook her head.
“Charlie, we should get going!” Blue called.
“Just 10 more minutes! You DID say that Alpha wouldnt get here for three hours! We can play a little longer!”
“Dont you think the kids need sleep?” Blue asked.
“But were not tired!” One boy called.
“Yeah! We wanna play with Charlie.” Another agreed. All the boys started jumping up and down excitedly, tugging on Charlies hands to get her to keep playing. Blue sighed and placed her hands on her hips.
“Forget it…just make sure youre ready to go in three hours. If not, youre running laps all day tomorrow.”
“YAY!” Charlie shouted running off with the tireless children to continue their games. The councilors were either watching through tired, blinking eyes, or asleep on the wooden floor themselves. Blue looked back at Echo and smiled sadly.
“I sometimes wonder if she still respects my authority.”
“She does…but shes also still a child herself. Fun is always going to trump orders for her.” Echo explained.
“Regardless, we need to get Delta. Ill be back.”
“No, let me go get her, Blue.” Echo offered. “I think itd…probably be better if you…um…”
“…I think you need some rest.” Echo finally whimpered, shyly.
“Excuse me?” Blue asked, surprised.
“Ever since we ran in on that bonfire, youve been beating yourself up and worrying about if wed get in trouble. Now that we know its going to be okay…you should rest a while.”
“Thanks, but I really dont need to sleep right now.” Blue growled.
“No, but…cant you just…sit down for a bit? Relax some?” Echo asked, fearfully. Blue couldnt help but look at her with disappointment. The fire in her eyes during the chase was all but gone. She was back to being scared of her own shadow. It made her pity Echo…and she hated to pity her sister like this.
“…Alright, go get Delta if you want…but make sure you hurry back, alright?” Blue finally conceded, not wanting to hear Echo whimper like this anymore.
“Affirmative!” Echo ran out of the cabin towards the forest, leaving Blue to sit on the floor and watch the handball game that Charlie was clearly winning. As she watched, Blues eyes began to get heavy from fatigue.
It didnt take Echo long to find Delta. She was standing just 100 meters into the woods, next to a tall waterfall that lead to the creek beyond the camp. Delta had her hands in her pockets and her hood pulled back, letting her hair out for once.
“Delta?” Echo called. “Blue says Alpha is on his way to pick us up. We should get back to camp.”
“Is Alpha angry?” Delta asked.
“No. Blue says hes okay.”
“…Bet that makes her happy.” Delta growled.
“Huh?” Echo asked. “What do you mean?”
“Oh cmon Echo! You cant tell me you dont see it! Blue sucks up to Alpha all the time! She eats out of the palm of his hand!”
“Hes Alpha though. Hes in charge.”
“He doesnt deserve to be.” Delta snapped. “Blue led us just fine before we met him. Now she does whatever he asks like a good lap dog. Didnt you feel it earlier, Echo? I saw it in your eyes!”
“Saw what?”
“Your instincts!” Delta answered, turning to face Echo, her face smiling and her eyes flashing excitedly. “It was exhilarating. We felt…FREE! Like real wild beasts! No Alpha…no humans…no cities…no facility. Just US! The four of us! We were unstoppable! We were killers! Why do we need Alpha anyway?”
“Stop it, Delta.” Echo insisted. “Alpha is our leader.” Delta shook her head.
“I know he is but…I just….Echo what is missing!?” She cried, slamming her fist against a tree painfully. “I know we need Alpha…I know hes a good leader…but…but I just want…I want to be free again. I dont want to feel like we did back then…not back when we were….”
“We wont.” Echo answered. “Were not there anymore, Delta. Were free of that place.”
“…But not of the memories. And when Hoshkins showed up to see us at the steakhouse…I remembered those days…when we were kids…when we were…”
“Stop it! Stop it Delta please!” Echo pleaded, hugging herself fearfully. “Dont talk about then…please.” Delta blinked and ran to Echo, hugging her tightly.
“Im sorry….Im sorry, I didnt mean to…remind you.”
“Its okay I just…Delta, were not there anymore. We left and Alpha took us in. He wont let us go back.”
“…Are you sure?”
“Thats why Blue trusts him, right?” Echo asked. “She knows he wont…and…and I believe her.” Delta looked down with uncertainty, but then let out a long sigh, smiling apologetically.
“Maybe youre right…hes a human but…yeah, he hasnt hurt us yet I guess…”
“Right.” Echo nodded.
“But I still wont go easy on him!” Delta snapped, waving a finger at Echo. “ I gotta make sure he never does!”
“Hehe…I feel safer already.” Echo giggled.
“You should.” Delta nodded firmly.
“Now, Blues waiting on us.” Echo whispered, nodding towards the camp. “Think we should go back?”
“…Yeah, better get back to it. Charlie isnt still messing around with those kids, is she?”
“She is…”
“Shes impossible.” Delta groaned.
“Shes a kid.” Echo laughed.
“Shes also a raptor…we all are. I wonder if these humans still remember that?” Delta sighed. Echo didnt answer that. Deep in her heart, she was trying not to think about the horrifying nightmares theyd endured in their childhood. And she also contemplated what Delta said. They were raptors…and when theyd picked up the scent of the pig, she had felt it…for the briefest of moments, she felt that instinct inside her. They were apex predators…they were raptors. They could be enforcers easily…but could they really integrate with humans? Charlie and Blue seemed to think so….but Delta? She was still on the fence.
“I think Alpha remembers it…” Echo finally whispered.
“Yeah…I think he does.”

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# Part 6
“Im so very sorry for the trouble weve caused.” Owen apologized to the camp councilor. The two were seated in his office, in a large cabin near the entrance to the camp. The two had mugs of coffee in front of them and had been seated for only five minutes…but in that time, Owen had apologized no less than ten times. The councilor, named Garth Hill, just waved it aside with a polite smile. The room was dark, but light was beginning to slowly eb its way in as the sun was rising. The crisp feel of morning stirred the tired souls.
“Dont worry about it. Its alright. If anything, the surprise was enough to make the kids happy.” Garth chuckled. “To be honest, most of these kids have never seen an extra species person before. To have four just burst out and surprise us like that? Its a rush to say the least.”
“They were in attack mode…they smelled the pig you were cooking and thought theyd caught their target.” Owen answered.
“Either way, the girl named Charlie seemed to have a good time with the kids.”
“Shes kind of a child herself, to be honest.” Owen answered.
“The tallest one? What was her name? She seemed like the leader.”
“Thats Blue…and shes the Beta. Im Alpha.”
“No offense young man…but youre no raptor. Why are you the alpha?”
“Hmph…Delta would ask me the same question if Blue and Echo werent there to make sure she stays respectful.” Owen chuckled. “The details of how they came to be under my command is classified, and I cant talk about it…but what I can say is that the reason Im their Alpha now is because they need a firm but guiding human hand to teach them how to thrive. The place they came from before is….its not a place any living creature should be rotting away in.”
“Sounds like those four have a history to them.” Garth acknowledged. “I could tell that with the Delta girl and…Echo, was it?”
“…Those two have scars I dont know if I can ever heal.” The two sipped their coffee a moment and Garth leaned forward.
“You know this camp…its not just a kids summer camp.” He explained. “Were funded and founded by a Church organization with a focus on saving lost souls and children with no homes.”
“I know where youre going with this,” Owen smiled apologetically, “but I dont think sending these girls to camp will fix their issues.”
“Maybe not…but what about letting them try to unwind?” He asked. “This place…its a refuge for so many who dont know where theyre going. Why not let them stay a while? Let them take in the mountain air and rest? Maybe God will provide clarity? Healing?” Owen frowned and toyed with his mug, giving a shrug.
“I…dont know what good it will do.”
“Well think about it for a while. I know you rented this site for the weekend next week, but if you wanna give us a try, let the girls stay here a week or two. Well provide their needs.”
“….Youre a good man, Garth. Ill consider that. But for now, they have to come with me. I have a job for them.”
“God speed.”
The girls climbed in the back of the van as Owen climbed in the drivers seat. They all had to adjust their tails and clawed feet to fit properly, but it was only a few minutes before the van was roaring down the road again.
“Alpha…we deeply apologize again for our error.” Blue muttered.
“What matters is that no one was hurt and no one is in trouble.” Owen replied, smiling. “But Im sure the brass will have some questions about this.”
“I hope we get to come back! This was fun.” Charlie squealed, waving out the window at the camp.
“Get your head inside, Charlie! Youre embarrassing yourself.” Delta groaned.
“Im not embarrassed.”
“And thats precisely the problem.” Delta grumbled back.
“Would you both chill out?” Owen asked. “Jesus, we havent been on the road 10 minutes and youre already bickering. Delta, whats eatn you?”
“Shes still embarrassed we stumbled in on all those campers during our exercise.” Charlie giggled.
“Im NOT embarrassed.”
“And thats precisely the problem.” Charlie answered, giving her best Delta impersonation. Both Blue and Echo stifled giggles as Delta blushed and pouted.
“I said cool it.” Owen called back. The road took a few turns and sharp twists down the mountain, causing the girls to bump into each other and lean against the doors in surprise just how hard Owen was turning to keep up with them. “I hate driving in twisting roads like this…”
“Are we going home?” Echo asked.
“Negative, Echo.” Owen called back. “Unfortunately, not.”
“What?” Blue asked, surprised. “Where are we going?”
“Greensboro airport.” Owen replied. “We have a private jet waiting to pick us up.”
“A WHAT!?” All the girls cried, now in complete, undivided attention. Owen grimaced and sharply turned the car, sending all four of them spinning into the back of the van. “AAAAH!”
“Goddamn it, dont crowd me like that!”
“S-sorry, Alpha.” Charlie winced.
“Get your tail out of my face, Echo!”
“Get your hand off my-”
“LOCK IT UP!” Owen bellowed, losing his cool demeanor. Even Blue looked unnerved by the anger in his voice. Delta frowned but didnt say a word, and Charlie practically yelped like a wounded dog. “For Gods sake…the four of you bicker like warring countries! And to top it all off, I hate that I cant take you home after all this. Leaving you out there in the camp all night with barely any rest…and sending you on a mission so quick…”
“A mission?” Blue asked.
“Yeah. Got a call while coming to get you. Weve got an escalating situation on an island off of the Gulf of Mexico. Its a tropical island, so youll be in your element, at least.”
“Whats on the island that we have to deal with?”
“Well, supposedly its a branch off point for illegal extra species persons. They get dropped off on the island before hitching a boat ride into Florida or Louisiana. Youre going in to shut it down.” Owen explained.
“Now THAT sounds fun.” Delta grinned. “Plenty of action and excitement.”
“Sounds dangerous too. If its a large operation…theyll likely have some tough muscle.” Echo added. Charlie was nodding, taking in the conversation. Blue though was still starring at the front seat where Owen sat in silence.
“Alpha…something else is bothering you.” She whispered, so the other girls couldnt hear. “What is it?”
“…Shouldve known YOUD notice…” Owen whispered back. “To be honest, yeah…Im a bit unsettled. See…Hoshkins was the one who assigned the mission.” Blues eyes narrowed in disgust and she resisted the urge to spit, which seemed rather painful.
“Whyd you agree to it, sir!?”
“Not much choice. Hes my contact with the Navy. Since they pay for you to live here, there are some things he says that I cant say no, to.” Owen replied. “But what bothers me is what is he planning with this. That fat-ass doesnt brush his own teeth without an agenda in mind. Hes meticulous and cunning…so I know he didnt just give you this job for no reason.”
“You suspect a trap?”
“No…frankly I dont know what to expect. I dont even know if I SHOULD be worried.” Owen admitted to Blue. “I dont think hed jeopardize you by leading you into an unescapable trap…doing that would ruin any hopes he has of recruiting you. But that doesnt mean there are WORSE things he could do. Maybe Im just over paranoid?
“Its Hoshkins…thats reason enough to be skeptical, right?” Blue asked.
“Yeah…but keep this in house, Blue. I dont want the other girls panicking or letting this interfere with their jobs.” He muttered. Blue nodded and sat back, watching Delta and Echo continue to discuss tactics. Blue sat in silence, as Owen drove them further and further way from the joys of the camp, and into the hands of whatever fate Hoshkins had set up for them.
Planes were a mixed bag for the girls. Each one responded differently to the jet. Echo was perfectly at home in the jet, easily being able to relax and get comfortable in the cushioned seats. Perhaps the private aspect of it made her feel more comfortable? Delta was stir crazy. Without something to nag at or be upset over, she was without a source to vent, and thus often spent her time with arms crossed and pout expressed. Blue loved planes though. Owen could remember all the times shed said she wished shed been born a harpy or bird of some kind so she could fly any time she wanted. Looking out at the sky filled her with joy, and watching clouds pass by made her giddy like a child.
Charlie on the other hand…
“Just some turbulence. Settle down, Charlie.” Owen said for the 9th time.
“B-B-But it was louder that time! What if an engine blows out! W-Well crash and die!!! I dont wanna die!! AAHH GET ME OUT OF THIS THING! PLEASE!!”
“And where the heck are you gonna go, you baby? Were in the air! Weve been in the air for hours! Stop screaming.” Delta mumbled.
“Delta, dont be mean to her.” Echo sighed.
“Im not being mean! Im being practical.” Delta retorted.
“Theres nothing to be afraid of, Charlie.” Blue agreed. “Deltas right. Were in the air and were fine. Nothings going to be happen. But you should see the sky! Its purple! Were so high in the sky the atmosphere looks different. Its gorgeous! Like a dream or something.”
“I dont wanna see! I dont wanna see!” Charlie whimpered. Owen sighed and scooted over in his seat.
“Cmere and sit by me.” Owen offered. Charlie nodded and jumped into the sit, hugging Owen tightly in fear, burying her face in his shoulder.
“I hate heights…I hate airplanes…I hate helicopters. They suck! They all suck!”
“Shhh, settle down.” Owen whispered. “Youre alright.”
“Planes…why did it have to be planes?” Delta teased.
“Hey, check you out with the movie references.” Blue laughed.
“Hell yeah! Indiana Jones is the shit!”
“Language!” Owen snapped.
“Oh cmon Alpha, youve dropped swear words too.” Delta pointed out.
“I dont make a habit out of it.” Owen answered. “Neither should you.”
“Attention,” the pilots voice spoke over the intercom, “we are now beginning our descent. Everyone fasten yourselves in.”” Owen took a moment to tighten Charlies seat belt and then his own as the plane began its slow crawl to the island.
“Listen up girls!” Owen announced. “I dont know whats waiting down there fore you. Your priorities are the same: Get in, take out the targets, and pull out.”
“And only target extra species persons, right?” Echo asked.
“Correct. If there are any humans in the facility, radio me immediately and well reevaluate the situation.”
“Do we know the location of the facility in question?” Delta asked.
“No, but we have a rough guess that its on the north side of the island. We imagine its pier or docking area.” Owen answered. Were going to land on the southern landing strip. A good forty miles from your destination. Once we land, grab your gear, get suited up, and head to the rendezvous location.”
“Yes sir.” The girls answered together. After that, the plane ride fell silent. Charlie whimpered quietly as the plane rumbled its way to the earth…and the rest of the girls felt a sense of dread wash over them. Though no one could place it…they all felt like something was very wrong with this job…
The evening air was humid and the girls loved it. This was the kind of night that they enjoyed more than any other. The humid air carried such fragrance on the wind, and the stars above were like a thousand little eyes staring down, trying to pick them up out of the foliage. As they moved like shadows under the branches of the jungle trees, the four stayed in constant ecstasy. Charlie, having forgotten her previous fear was now running neck and neck with Delta, who had put aside all earlier grievance and annoyance. They were the top predators of the jungle…the ones to be feared.
“Hold! Were close.” Blue hissed. The girls all nodded and slowed their running to a slow walk and hunched over. There were lights ahead that broke through the tree line. The smell of the salt air and the sound of waves told the girls they were near a beach…and the sound of gulls and the stench of rotting wood told them that there were docks. A pier was nearby.
“Lets try to get a sightline. Pick our targets, then we radio in to Alpha.” Blue growled. “Delta, Charlie, you both move to the West and flank the facility. Look for openings and evidence of illegal smuggling of extra species individuals. Echo, stay with me. Well do the same to the East.”
“Affirmative.” The group split and took off in their respective directions. Blue had all but forgotten the earlier fear and doubt she felt…and yet, something was eating at her. Echo seemed to feel it. As they trotted to the Eastern side of the jungle to analyze the building, she slowed down some.
“Something doesnt add up.”
“What is it?” Blue asked.
“If this is a location for illegal immigration of extra species persons…where are they?”
“Were not the only extra species creatures with hyper senses. Surely a few of the immigrants down there should be able to pick up on us by now.” Echo pointed out. Blue paused and nodded, slowly feeling a sick feeling wash over her.
“…Unless there are no extra species persons down there.”
“Blue, we got something here!” Delta hissed over the comms. “You need to get your tail over here, FAST!”
“On our way!” Blue replied. “Echo, on my 6!”
“Roger!” Blue and Echo darted across the jungle to Deltas location until at last they caught wind of her, ducking low beneath a bramble of bushes.
“Status?” Blue hissed.
“Youre not gonna like it, Blue…Charlies scouting a little a head to verify…but those arent extra species. Theyre humans.”
“What!?” Echo gasped.
“Charlie, can you confirm?” Blue asked into the coms.
“Yes maam!” Charlie called back. “Theres no sign that extra species individuals were ever here to begin with. If I had to guess…it looks like there are a lot of guns here…like…a LOT of guns.”
“Guns?” Blue asked.
“Gun running operation.” Echo whispered.
“You mean were walking in on gun smugglers?!” Delta growled. “That is NOT what we planned.”
“Charlie, get back up here, fast! We need to radio Alpha.”
“BLUE GET DOWN!” Delta cried, throwing herself on top of Blue and knocking her to the ground. Just where Blue had been there was a screaming blast as debris and trees flew all over creation. The ground shook with force as the blast from an RPG sent all the girls sprawling to the forest floor.
“CALL IN!” Blue screamed.
“Im good!” Echo shouted.
“Im fine too!” Delta answered.
“O-ow, Im hit!” Charlie cried. Echo climbed to her feet and ran to Charlies position, while Blue tried to adjust her comms.
“ALPHA COME IN! ALPHA! OUR POSITION IS COMPROMISED! THE TARGETS ARE HUMANS! REPEAT! THE TARGETS ARE HUMANS! REQUESTING ORDERS!” Blue called. There was no response…only silence… “ALPHA RESPOND!” The sky began to ring with machine gun fire and Echo nearly dropped Charlie as she pulled her out of harms way. “ALPHA!? OWEN, ANSWER ME PLEASE!”
“Why else would he be so goddamn nervous about this if he didnt have something to hide!?” Delta cried.
“Can we argue later?” Charlie whimpered, clutching her wounded shoulder. “It hurts…”
“Is it bad?” Blue asked. Echo nodded.
“Its probably broken…but nothing life threatening.” Echo whispered.
“What was Alpha hiding from us?” Delta snapped, bringing up the subject again. “Did he know this would happen?” Blue just bit her lip.
“…Hoshkins…he said…Hoshkins gave us the job.” Delta screamed a cruse word and kicked the ground, pulling her tactical knife and trying hard not to plunge it into the nearest tree.
“He couldnt refuse him!” Blue argued.
“Well now he cant bail us out!” Delta countered. “Whether this is his fault or not doesnt matter! The tangos know were here and are gonna find us soon. What do we do, Blue?”
“Alpha told us not to hurt any humans if we found them.” Charlie added.
“…But we cant reach Alpha.” Echo added. “Blue…youre the Beta. You…you have to make the call, okay?”
“Whats it gonna be Blue?” Delta asked.
Blue knelt down and bowed her head, listening to the sound of angry men shouting and scrambling over themselves to get to the girls. She could hear Charlies whimpering sobs as blood dripped from her shoulder. Deltas heavy breathing and the smell of sweat on her brow as the reality of their situation made itself known. The sounds…the smells…the sensation of the jungle. It stirred in her, and there was no Alpha to calm her…no Owen to reach out with a reassuring hand and tell her it was okay. It couldnt be his fault. He didnt mean for this to happen right? Of course not…he was her Alpha. She trusted him….but that trust didnt change their situation.
“Sorry Owen…” She whispered.
“Your orders are simple.” She hissed, a primal anger flashing in her eyes. “Engage. Lethal force authorized. Kill everything that moves.”

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# Part 7
“Whatre you talking about!?” Owen snapped. They stood in the airport control room, he was with two other men. One a very overweight Hispanic man named Jorge, who was leading this operation. He had a thick black beard and a red beret on his head. He had a cigar in his hand and he looked positively flustered in his corpulent face. Jorge didnt speak English, so next to him was a translator named Paul, who spoke both languages fluently. He was a thin man with a meek constitution. Unlike Jorge, Paul was shakable…easily startled. He had nearly pissed himself when he saw the girls step off the plane earlier. But now it was Owen who he was frightened of.
“You mean we have NO contact!?” Jorge spoke rapidly in Spanish and Owen turned to Paul.
“Erm…he says that he cant explain…that there must be some sort of interference, likely coming from the smugglers hide out.” Paul answered in a stutter. Owen cursed and rubbed his brow.
“Shit, and I cant get word out to them. How heavily armed are the monsters at this smugglers den?” Paul respoke the question to Jorge who blinked a few times and tapped his cigar.
“Monstrous?” He asked. “Que?” This time it was Owen who looked confused.
“He doesnt know what you-”
“I know what he meant!” Owen snarled. “Im trying to figure out what hes talking about!” Jorge turned to Paul and spoke carefully and matter of factly. Paul nodded.
“He…He says there are no monsters on the island. Just gun smugglers.”
“WHAT?!” Owen shouted, causing Jorge and Paul to jump. “YOU MEAN THIS ISNT A MONSTER IMMIGRATION HIDE OUT!?”
“N-no!” Paul cried.
“Then why were we called!? My squad only deals with extra species situations!” Owen turned, grabbing his backpack and running for the door, waiting on Jorge to respond.
“He says that we received a call from your superiors saying they were going to deal with the situation on the island. We didnt even know about the smugglers den until we got the call, so we trusted your Navy to provide!” Owen spat and threw open the door. He looked out and saw two motorcycles waiting nearby. He turned back to the shaken Paul and Jorge.
“I need this bike.”
“But y-”
“Dont argue!” Owen shouted. “Right now, on the other side of this island, there are four girls with predatory instincts in the middle of ground zero, and I cant communicate with them! They are trained, but they are DEFINITELY not domesticated. If they feel threatened, they will resort to their instincts…and god help us if they lose themselves to it.”
There were 24 men in the jungle. All of them gangsters…thugs…and some were even former military. They all were ruthless and desperate. They knew theyd seen something moving in the trees…theyd heard the planes and helicopters flying overhead recently and theyd assumed that the American or Cuban government might be onto them by now. It was a good gig they had going, and none of them wanted it ruined. Theyd kill anyone in that jungle…but right now they didnt see anything. No soldiers…no spies…not even a bird chirping.
“Hey, got something!” What called out. Three broke off to investigate and they knelt down. There, on the log, was a few drops of blood. They had hit something! Something was in the jungle with them…but who?
“You hear that!?” One spun around, gun on his shoulder and aiming down the sights.
“Hear what?”
“Thought…didnt you it?”
“SILVEO!” The men spun around at the sound of Silveos scream, but just as it was heard…it was gone again. Matthew had his pistol drawn, when suddenly he let out a cry of fright as a massive force hit him full on and threw him to the ground. The men shrieked and ran to back him up, but each time one had his back turned another let out a scream. One after another, until only 18 remained. If the men were nervous, now they were beginning to panic. Whatever was in the jungle…it was systematically taking them down, one after another…and no one had fired a shot.
Ricky raised a light machine gun up…and then he saw it! A flash of blue run through the bushes. He fired fast, screaming furiously as he swore he saw it had a…a tail? He fired after it, but the figure was already gone, slinking back into the foliage.
“COME OUT! GET OUT HERE Y-AAAAAH!” Out of the bushes to his left, a green figure screeched and threw itself on him, digging her vicious claws into his chest and ripping it out, biting down on his throat until the screaming stopped. Delta spat out the blood and snarled, rushing back into the woods to continue the hunt.
“I FOUND ONE! ITS SOME LIZARD GI-AAAAAAAH GET OFF GET AACK!” Jeffery never finished alerting the men to Charlies location…Echo had silenced him with a knife buried deep in his neck. One of the men, an older block named Russell came running out, a submachine gun drawn. He saw Charlie and started shooting. She moved like a snake, sliding in and out of the shot until, with a primal roar, she headbutted him into a tree and began savagely cutting him down with her combat sword.
Within 7 minutes, the 24 trained and anxious soldiers were reduced to just 8. As one saw his comrade fall, he would chase the attacker, only to be attacked from behind by another, on standby. This was their way of hunting…it was primal…it was instinctive…and it was merciless. With cruel and deadly efficiency, the soldiers were hunted, slaughtered, and silenced. And all the while, the girls knew they could not communicate through words…so they communicated in the way of raptors…through their screeches and roars. And thus, the sounds of wild animals filled the night as screeching, hisses, roars, and growls could be distinctly heard…a language known only to the raptors, but foreign and horrifying to their prey.
There were only 5 now…five to kill…five in their way. Blue let out a hiss that alerted Delta and Echo to engage. The man had no idea what hit him. Echo attacked from the left, throwing him to the ground. The second man, who saw Echos assault was so busy aiming his gun, that Delta was nothing but a shadow as she dealt the fool his final blow; a sword through the back of his heart. Charlie had broken off from the group and was circling around to seek out the stragglers and the ones running for cover. It was better this way. With her injured shoulder, she could take them down more efficiently. Blue was issuing orders, and striking where necessary. But, just as she was about to draw back, one final soldier in the tree line was making a break for the main road. Blue pursued, her snarl evident on her face as she lunged towards him. She lept through the air, bursting from the ferns to tackle the bastard.
Owen flew through the jungle on the bike, hearing the familiar sound of gunfire and screaming…and a frightening sound of raptor calls. His fears were realized. He brought the bike to a halt as he saw the body of a gun smuggler on the ground, his body mangled and slashed by a blade…and a claw. As he stepped back to appreciate the efficiency of this kill, there came a man bursting out onto the road. Behind him, flew the beautiful Blue. With uncanny viciousness, she fell upon the smuggler and drew her combat sword she had strapped to her back in a holster. Her eyes flashed dangerously and her fangs were bared.
“BLUE!” Owen roared. Blues eyes darted up at him and they starred…taking him in. “STAND DOWN RIGHT NOW!”
“A-Alpha!?” Blue squeaked, the predatory glare gone from her eyes.
“I ORDERED YOU TO STAND DOWN! GET OFF HIM!” Blue swiftly put her sword away and jumped off the man, who scrambled to his feet. As he got up, Owen threw his arm out and, with an angry grunt, clotheslined the runner as he hit his back hard. He didnt even acknowledge him…his eyes were fixed on Blue. “Get the girls here…now!” Owen hissed. Blue nodded quickly and let out a raptor like bark from her throat. Within moments the other three came running out of the trees. Their eyes fell on Owen and they started to growl…until they recognized the anger in his face. Instantly their moods and their expressions softened into guilty glances away from his accusatory eyes. Even Delta frowned and looked away from him, cleaning blood from her chin.
“What happened?” Owen ordered. “Tell me what the hell happened!”
“We were outnumbered…and attacked.” Blue answered weakly. “We surveyed the situation and discovered we were dealing with human hostiles.”
“We did try to contact you…but…” Echo whimpered.
“But we couldnt reach you.” Delta finished. “And Charlie got hit.” Charlie pointed to her bleeding and broken shoulder with a painful squeak.
“Why didnt you retreat!? Return to the command center?” Owen ordered.
“Because…because…” Blue tried to rationalize.
“We had a job to do!” Delta argued. “We were sent in to deal with a threat and it was dealt with. Right?”
“NO!” Owen barked. “Human targets are prohibited!”
“But our lives were in danger! They attacked Charlie!” Delta exclaimed, though the look in her eyes seemed more directed at herself. She was making excuses to herself more than Owen.
“…Delta…Echo…take Charlie back to the command center and let them now were leaving immediately after Charlie gets patched up.”
“Im okay, Alpha…I can-”
“I didnt ask for input Charlie.” Owen hissed. “Thats an order. Just go.”
“…Yes sir.” Delta and Charlie saluted and took off down the road, Charlie sniveling and holding her wounded shoulder. Echo looked briefly and Owen in an apologetic way and ran off too, leaving Owen and Blue alone.
“Blue, what the hell were you-”
“Alpha, theres no excuse for our actions…but please listen!” She begged.
“Fine. Talk.”
“Sir, we were scared. Charlie was wounded. We couldnt get in contact with you and with all the confusion I had to make a split second decision.” She explained. “Im not saying it was the right call, but I felt we had no other choice.”
“It was against protocol.”
“It was to protect my family.” Blue countered. “With all due respect, Alpha…I did what I thought you would have if you were in my situation.” Owen looked her up and down and then let out a curse, shoving his hands in his pockets and walking over to a tree to lean against it, his hand trembling violently as he fought back angry tears.
“Goddamn it…”
“Alpha, I cant tell you how sorry I am.” Blue muttered.
“Neither can I.” Owen answered. “…I dont know which is worse: the fact that you deliberately broke protocol and now will be punished for it….or the fact that youre right, and I wouldve done the exact same thing you did.” Blue looked up at Owen in stunned disbelief; flabbergast at his admission.
“You…wouldve done the same thing!?”
“You made a judgement call for the safety and preservation of you family. I cant blame you for that…its what any respectable soldier would do.”
“Then why are you angry with us?”
“Im angry because of what this means now. Whether you made the right decision or not is irrelevant; you killed humans…and now there will be discipline from my superiors to me and you!” Blue looked away and bit her lip; a nervous habit of hers. Owen rubbed the back of his head in frustration.
“Im angry because I dont want to lose you…and I might.” Owen admitted. “If the judicial board determines you broke the law, it could be grounds to end my contract with you, and this whole experiment will end. Well be separated…and youll go back to the island.”
“NO!” Blue cried. “Alpha, well do anything! We cant go back…we have to stay with you. Youve made us a family. Even Delta admits youre a good alpha! We need you…we need to stay…please!”
“…Ill do what I can, Blue. But for now, we need to get back to the mainland. Youre dismissed. Regroup with the others and prepare to leave.” Blue walked around Owen and paused, reaching out her claw like hand to touch Owens shoulder.
“Alpha…forgive me.”
“…I already have.” He answered closing his eyes grimly and touching her hand. “Im proud of you Blue. You and Delta, Charlie, and Echo…I just dont know how to fix this mess.” Blue felt hot tears stream from her golden eyes. The same eyes that had flashed with a blood lust to slaughter 24 armed soldiers, now wept bitter tears of regret for just one.
“Ill see you at the plane.” Blue whispered, turning and running into the night, fighting the urge to burst into sobs. Meanwhile Owen walked into the jungle to inspect the damage his girls had done. Though he knew it made no difference as to their circumstances, he could not dislodge the morbid curiosity he had for the girls hunting efficiency. As he looked among the bodies of the soldiers on the ground…the mangled and mutilated…the savagely ripped apart and cut up…he remembered a very sobering truth that perhaps he should have realized and kept in mind long ago: They were girls yes…soldiers definitely…but they were still primal predators.

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# Part 8
Owen hadnt worn his dress blues in a long time. Hed been wearing casual clothes for so long hed forgotten how they automatically made him feel stronger and more masculine. In all honesty, he needed that right now. The courthouse was the last place he wanted to be. He had been called in to talk with his JAG attorney for next steps. The attorneys name was John Hammond. He was an older fellow, but a very cheerful man. Short, pudgy, and with a white beard on his face. He walked with a cane due to a limp in his left leg. In many peoples opinions, he should have retired long ago, but he loved his work too much for that. Owen had known him for a few years and seeing him often brought a smile to his face. As he walked towards him, Hammond held out his hand with a big smile on his old face.
“Good to see ya Mr. Grady! Always a pleasure.” He said with a thick Scottish accent.
“Hey Mr. Hammond. Sorry were seeing each other again under such circumstances.” Owen sighed. “Im sure youve heard what happened?”
“Yes, yes…quite the pickle were in, Id say.” Hammond nodded. “Lets go to my office and talk. I think we have a chance to get through this.”
“It requires some doing, but I do believe it will be possible.” He answered, hobbling off to his office not far away.
“Your leg okay?” Owen asked, noticing the limp.
“Hip replacement. Dont worry, its hardly a concern.” Hammond chuckled. “Weve got bigger problems to contend with.” They made it to a large mahogany door and Hammond shoved it open. Owen followed close behind and closed the door to the office behind him. The inside had a library of books to the right and left, a few nicknacks to the side, and a few miniature dinosaur sculptures, including a t-rex. Hammond took a seat behind his desk and sighed, satisfied to be off his legs.
“Like dinosaurs, Mr. Hammond?”
“I am a lover of the human imagination.” He smiled. “And dinosaurs have always aroused and challenged the imagination. What a treat it would be to actually see them today, wouldnt it? To touch one? See them in real life instead of as dead fossils? I suppose the closest well get though are those girls of yours, yes? Hahaha.”
“All the more reason to protect them.” Owen answered.
“Absolutely. So firstly, lets go over the incident in question. Walk me through it.”
“I wasnt there for when the girls actually attacked, but I got a call from Hoshkins saying he had a job. He indicated extra species smuggling on the island and my girls would take care of it. When we arrived, the girls were briefed, armed, and then sent out on mission. Our comms were then jammed and the girls were fired on by the gun smugglers. With one wounded and having no way out, they fought to defend themselves and fell back on predatory instinct. They stood down as soon as I arrived on scene.” Hammond was taking down notes as I spoke.
“The girls all assumed it was an extra species situation?”
“Yes. We had no reason to think otherwise.”
“Not we.’” Hammond corrected. “Did the GIRLS all assume?”
“I mean…yes, they did.”
“And did the girls make the decision for themselves? You had no say in the matter?”
“Yes. They acted without my permission.” Owen retorted.
“Who made the decision?”
“Blue. As Beta, she is second in command and is required to make tactical decisions in the field.”
“But youre Alpha?” Hammond asked.
“Correct.” Owen answered. Hammond nodded.
“Do the girls always do what you two say, or do they make decisions of their own? Are they defiant?”
“Delta can be defiant…but she will always obey orders in the field.” Owen explained. “And Charlie is a little immature and doesnt always listen, but she knows better than to talk back or resist orders.” Hammond frowned and leaned over his notes.
“I should tell you now, this isnt going to be easy to do with what we have.” He explained.
“They acted in self defense! They were protecting themselves.” Owen argued.
“I agree with you, but we also have to keep in mind these girls arent human and are hardly recognized as United States citizens. They are assets to the Navy, not soldiers.” Hammond explained. “If the court views the girls as property of the Navy, then you will be held liable for gross negligence. As the girls were under your care and control, they are your property and you could lose your commission on the girls and they will be returned to Hoshkins.”
“Are you serious!? They arent just assets! Theyre thinking and feeling creatures!”
“By your own admission, they never defy an order and will always obey.”
“Just like any soldier would!”
“Not just like any soldier.” Hammond corrected “They are not soldiers, they are dinosaur, extra species girls. The Navy does not readily recognize them as humans or soldiers, thus their cognizance is in question.”
“Youve gotta be kidding me. Theyre just guns to these people!? The Navy sees them as tools!?”
“I agree that its not fair.” Hammond smiled apologetically. “Im simply explaining how the courts will come at you. I think we can combat this, but to do it, we need to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that these girls are cognizant and sentient beings.”
“Okay, what do we do? How do I prove it?” Owen asked.
“Well you cant prove anything, with all due respect.” Hammond laughed. “They do! The girls have to prove it.” Owen paused a moment as this sank in and he leaned forward, placing a hand on the desk so he could get closer to Hammond.
“Wait, youre saying…that we need to bring the raptor girls to court?” I asked.
“I think wed only need to see two. Blue would be one. Obviously, as Beta, she answers directly to you, so we need to ensure she is capable of her own autonomy. And then any one of the others would be fine. Anything to prove that they too are thinking and feeling for themselves.” Hammond explained. “Where are the girls?”
“I left them in a safe location for the time being. Ill head there after our meeting and bring Blue and another with me. Theyll prove everything.” Owen muttered. “But God, who to choose?”
“Two more laps girls! Almost done!” Blue called.
“MAAM! YES MAAM!” Echo, Delta, and Charlie all sounded off as they ran yet another lap around the large lake. Owen had dropped them off at the camp theyd accidentally barged in on only a few days ago. The councilors had agreed to let them stay in one of the cabins while Owen tried to work things out legally. Blue had laid out for them the severity of their situation. The very knowledge that they could go back to the “Facility” scared even Delta into silence. She too prayed that Owen could work this all out. After they rounded the lake again, Delta pulled up along Blue and smirked.
“Better not fall behind!”
“Better not step on my feet. Youre getting cocky.” Blue smirked back, picking up the pace. Delta laughed and pulled ahead, only for Blue to move faster to catch up. Blue blinked in shock as Delta got even quicker in her sprint. When had Delta gotten so much faster? It alarmed her how much her sisters were growing up without her even realizing it. Blue pushed herself harder to catch up, lapping the lake again incredibly fast. Echo and Charlie struggled to surge after the two competitors.
“Hey guys! Slow down!” Charlie cried. “I cant keep u-AAH!” Charlie let out a squeal as the grass under her caved way to the mud and she slipped, falling into the lake with a loud splash. Blue and Echo both stopped and ran back to her.
“Charlie!” Echo cried. “Are you okay?” Echo held out her hand as Charlie shook her head hard, her pig twin tails swinging in all directions, and throwing dirty water around.
“Darn, Im all filthy now!”
“You already were filthy. Weve sweated up a storm.” Delta pointed out.
“Yeah, but now Im muddy too.” Charlie groaned. Echo grabbed her hand and yanked her out of the water, to help clean off her pants and legs.
“Well get a shower and youll be good as new.” Blue sighed. “Cmon girls…might as well call it there for now.”
“Hey Blue, why not finish our race first? I was just about to win!” Delta called back.
“Maybe later, Delta. Right now I think we need to rest up.” Blue answered, sighing. Delta snorted in response, but followed after her all the same.
“Think the mess hall has anything good to eat?” Echo asked, trying to change the subject.
“They always do!” Charlie giggled. “They have really tasty food at this camp.”
“Yeah, but you eat too much, Charlie.” Blue noted. “Were guests here…we shouldnt be mooching off the camp staff like this.”
“Are you kidding?” Delta laughed. “They seem happy to have us.”
“Either way, its what would be polite.” Blue argued.
“Blue,” Echo spoke up, “when did Alpha say he would return?”
“Tomorrow, hopefully. Hell call the camp director if anything changes.” Blue answered.
“I still dont really get it.” Charlie muttered as they walked to the shower hut. The far hut in the middle of the cabin area was where the campers could take showers. Since this week there were no campers and only councilors, they had the showers to themselves.
“What dont you get?” Echo asked.
“We didnt do anything wrong. Alpha himself said so! We were defending ourselves.” Charlie argued. “Why should we get in trouble for it?”
“Its not just us who would get in trouble.” Blue explained. “Since Alpha is our handler, he will be held responsible. The human court needs to decide if what we did was wrong or not.”
“I think theres more to it than that.” Echo answered. “Im not sure but…I think if it were a group of humans who had killed those men, it would be a different story all together. I think part of this has to do with the fact were raptors.”
“So now were being persecuted just for being raptors?!” Delta growled. “Just great…”
“Calm down, all of you! Alpha wont let anything happen to us.” Blue snapped. “Now to the showers, then we go for some lunch.” The girls quickly stripped own and ran to the showers with Blue right behind them. Though her words of encouragement seemed to relax Charlie a little, they did little to ease her mind. As she stood under the pouring water, her heart felt heavy. What on earth would happen to them if Alpha couldnt succeed in court? Would they really have to go back…there?
“No. It wont happen…I wont let it happen.”
Blue heard her cellphone ringing in her bag just outside the shower room. Running out of the shower, she threw a towel around herself and dug into the bag with her soaked hand until she found her phone. Lifting it to her ear, she smiled, realizing it was Alpha.
“Alpha! Are you okay?”
“Im fine Blue, howre the others?”
“Theyre alright. Were staying active and trying to be productive while were here.”
“Im glad to hear it. Listen, in order to win this thing, Im going to need your help.” Owen muttered darkly.
“Whatever you need, well do it!” Blue answered firmly.
“It wont be easy Blue. I need two of you girls to show up in court and testify.” Blue paused a moment, blinking in surprise.
“Testify? We…have to appear as witnesses?”
“Its kind of complicated to explain, but the Navy needs proof that you and the girls are sentient and more than just animals. The only way to prove it is for you to show them. Im going to need to borrow you and one of the other girls to do this.”
“Well…its strange but Ill do it.”
“I knew you would, Blue…but heres the hard part. Which of the other girls should testify? Each one spells trouble.” Owen growled. Blue blinked, thinking it over in her mind, and then she began to bite her lip nervously.
“Oh god…who SHOULD come with us?”
“Whoever we pick is going to be asked to take the stand and maybe asked some very difficult questions. Im leaving it up to you Blue…you need to decide which of the girls we bring to court.”

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# Part 9
“I dont like this Alpha…” Charlie muttered, squirming in her suit. It had been a chore just to convince her to put on her dress blues for court. It wasnt an easy decision to determine which raptor to bring in besides Blue, but Blue had actually recommended Charlie. Delta was a definite bad ideas…she wasnt good with authority on the best of days, so being in a court room would likely cause more problems. Echo was more mature and levelheaded, but had an intense fear of crowds and being judged. She likely would have a panic attack on the stand. Charlie was immature and wild, but was able to handle scrutiny better than the other two. She was the only one who might be able to handle the stand. So, while Charlie was brought to the city for court, Delta and Echo had remained at the camp until further notice. However, looking professional was not easy for her…considering Owen knew there was nothing at all professional about Charlie.
“Just deal with it a little longer, Charlie.” Blue explained. She was already in her attired and wearing it very well. She had buttoned on her coat and had on the skirt that fell down to her reptilian knees. They didnt bother with their shoes…in fact the girls never wore shoes. There was no point. Their raptor claws were too large and sharp to handle any form of foot ware. Their tails were allowed to slide out of their skirts. The rear of their skirts were cut up the middle to allow for their tails to slide out. Owen had even talked Blue into wearing basic make up, though Charlie was still adamantly against the notion.
“You both look good.” Owen assured them. From behind, hobbling on his cane, was Mr. Hammond, smiling broadly at the two girls. “This is Mr. John Hammond. Hes representing you today.”
“Attention!” Blue shouted, causing both her and Charlie to jump to attention and salute Mr. Hammond, who just chuckled.
“My, what quick reflexes. Im afraid theres no need for such formalities. Please, relax girls…it will look a lot better for you in the courtroom.” Both Charlie and Blue relaxed some and Hammond indicated a few chairs around the room where they could sit. Charlie and Blue hurried to their own chairs and sat down, careful not to sit on their tails. Hammond sat across from them while Owen stood by the door.
“Im going to level with you both,” Hammond explained, “but the fate of this trail hinges heavily on the two of you.”
“What do you need from us?” Blue asked.
“I need you both to relax and be yourselves.” He answered warmly. There was a childish cheerfulness that seemed to radiate from Hammond that made both Owen and Blue seem to relax, and made Charlie seem more invested in him. “The court is going to try to determine your competency. To the eyes of the Navy, you and your sisters are just weapons; tools to be used. If the Navy feels this way, then the one responsible for the events last week will fall under Officer Grady…or Alpha, as you know him.”
“It wasnt his fault though!” Charlie cried, losing her disposition. “He wasnt even there!”
“I know that dear, but if the Navy sees you as his weapons, then he is responsible for the lives you took. The Navy needs to recognize that you are thinking and feeling creatures. That you are sentient. If they see you as soldiers and not as weapons, then your actions were your own responsibility, and thus it can be seen as self defense.”
“If our actions are seen as self-defense, will Alpha be okay?” Blue asked.
“Yes. You and Owen will both be free to go about your usual business.” Hammond laughed. “But Im afraid that depends entirely on you both.”
“What happens if we cant?” Charlie asked. Hammond didnt answer but just coughed uncomfortably. Charlies eyes flew to Owen. “What would happen?”
“Well…youd have to-”
“It doesnt matter what would happen.” Hammond answered, reaching out and placing a hand on Charlies clawed fingers. “Because you both will do just fine.” Charlie beamed happily and looked at Owen and Hammond excitedly. Blue, though smiling, looked much more concerned.
“What do we have to do to prove our sentience?” Blue asked.
“Well youll be required to answer a few questions from myself and the prosecution.” Hammond answered. “Thats what were going to talk about here before we go in.” Hammond reached into a briefcase sitting by his chair and pulled out a notepad and a pen. “So let me go through what kind of things were going to talk about in the trial.”
“Were ready for anything.” Blue assured him.
“Im sure you are. I promise that nothing I ask you will be difficult or hard for you.” He smiled. “Ill simply ask you questions about your daily routine and how much of it is controlled by Mr. Grady.” He pointed towards Owen. “However, what the prosecution will say will be much more hurtful, I fear.”
“How so?” Charlie asked.
“For starters, they wont be as polite. Theyll likely make inferences and suggestions about your relationship with Owen that are simply not true.” Hammond sighed. “They will be trying to tempt a reaction out of you to defend him…or to make yourselves look prone to violence.”
“Were not scared of questions.” Blue assured him.
“…Maybe you should be.” Owen grumbled.
“Why dont we practice a little? Im going to pretend to be the prosecution and you pretend youre on the stand? It will help you understand what youre confronting.” Hammond offered. Blue and Charlie nodded and thus a long and difficult afternoon of trial prep began. But nothing could have prepared them for what came in only a few days when the trial began.
The courtroom was packed on the day of the trial. There were dozens of people there, many not even military, who were only there to get a look at the raptor girls that were sitting in behind the defendant table. The prosecutor was a short man with a fine trimmed beard and cold eyes that made Charlie and Blue uncomfortable, so they felt it best not to look at him. Owen sat next to them, smiling encouragingly. When the judge walked in, he too let his eyes rest on the raptors, taking them in a moment in awe before sitting down himself.
The trial moved slowly and it was hard to follow everything at first. Owen didnt fully follow all that was said, as he was busy trying to keep Charlie from squirming or moving around in her chair. She was ADHD in a meth pipe…there was no convincing her of keeping still or steady. Finally, the fateful words were said that Owen dreaded to hear.
“Would the raptor designated Blue please take the stand?” Blue stood up quickly and marched around the table causing a bunch of oos and aaahs from the crowd. She climbed onto the stage and sat down, her feral eyes darting around to take in the setting around her. Hammond walked toward her first and gave a polite grin.
“Hello, Blue. How are you today?” He asked.
“Im fine, thank you.” She answered. Owen beamed. She was being professional and polite. Everything she was supposed to be.
“How would you say you feel being here?” Hammond asked.
“I feel a bit uncomfortable.” She answered. “I dont like being put on the spot like this.”
“So you would say you feel conscious of all of us here?”
“Of course I am.” She growled in frustration.
“Blue, do you understand why you are on the stand today?” Hammond asked.
“You want to know if Im a sentient creature. If I am capable of thinking for myself.” She replied forcefully.
“How does that make you feel, Blue?” Hammond asked.
“With all due respect? Pissed off.” Blue snapped. “From the moment I was hatched, my sisters and I have made our own choices, forcing ourselves to make difficult and harsh decisions just to stay alive. Do you even know what we went through?” Owen shot her a dangerous look. Blue was losing her cool. But with a single sigh, Blue began to breathe again and calm herself. This was good…and what Hammond had taught her to do. Getting upset would only hurt their case by making Blue and the raptors look highly strung and emotional…showing they were prone to violence. It was vital that they maintained calm.
“So you make difficult choices regularly?”
“Thats what it means to be a leader.” Blue answered. “My sisters need me.”
“Because they cant make decisions themselves?” Hammond asked, curious.
“No…because Im their older sibling…and because its an older siblings job to take care of their younger siblings.” This got a soft hum from the crowd…a good sign. Hammond smiled and walked away.
“No more questions.” The prosecutor stood up after him and adjusted his tie, smiling at Blue, though his grin had no warmth or friendliness in it…more of a smoldering arrogance.
“So you make the big decisions for your sisters?” He asked.
“Yes.” Blue answered.
“Was that always the case?” He asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Who made the decisions before you were their leader?”
“No one…we chose the leader out of the four of us.” The prosecutor reached for a notebook on his table and looked over it a moment and then smiled again. That smile was starting to piss off Owen.
“The second oldest of your sisters…Echo, right?” He asked.
“What about her?”
“She has a long scar on her face, doesnt she?” Blue stiffened and even Charlie trembled and lowered her head solemnly. “Howd she get that?”
“Objection!” Hammond called. “This question isnt relevant.”
“If you give me a moment, your honor, I will reveal the relevance.” The prosecutor assured the judge. The judge looked him over a moment and then sighed.
“Ill allow it…but tread carefully.” He cautioned. The prosecutor turned back to Blue.
“Well? How did Echo get her scar?” Blue sneered and looked towards her feet.
“…We got into a fight when we were younger…this was before we met Alph-um…Owen.” She grumbled.
“What was the fight about?” He asked.
“…To determine who would be the Alpha of our pack.” Blue answered.
“So you fight to decide leadership? Seems a bit…excessive.”
“OBJECTION!” Hammond shouted.
“Sustained.” The judge replied. The prosecutor nodded and returned to his questions.
“So what made Echo unfit to be the leader?”
“Thats not important.” Blue answered.
“It is to this court.” Was the fierce reply. Blue tensed up and the judge looked at her curiously.
“Do you need a moment?” He asked.
“…Echo is my sister. I love her…but…she was arrogant and hot headed. She was more in love with personal strength than she was leading our pack. I told her not to challenge me for leadership…and she didnt listen… so we fought.”
“And you won?”
“So you put her back in her place?” He asked.
“No! Thats not it at all!”
“It isnt? Your subordinate was out of line and you put her back into it, didnt you?”
“I think her scar might say otherwise.”
“OBJECTION!” Hammond roared.
“Withdrawn.” The prosecutor sighed, turning away. “I have no more questions.” The room was deathly silent and Blue only sat in defeat, looking like shed lost at a battle or game of some sort. I tried to show encouragement towards her, but she wouldnt even meet my gaze. The knowledge of how she and Echo had been rivals in the past and how shed hurt her the way she had…it was still a point of contention for her. How could the prosecutor had known this though? Owen himself hadnt known about that scar and the reason for it until Echo and Blue had told him about it. Who told him? How did he know about the scar? Hammond smiled and pat Blue on the back as she came back to sit down, but he too looked a bit nervous.
“Your honor, may I request a 10 minute recess?” Hammond asked.
“Granted.” The judge answered, as everyone began to rise, Hammond leaned over to Owen, a look of anger and frustration on his face.
“How does the prosecution know this information?” He asked.
“I dont know…but Im gonna find out.” Owen grumbled.

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# Part 10
“Wed like to call Charlie to the stand.” Called Dr. Hammond. Blue glanced to Owen with enough fear to show that she wanted to run out of the room, and fast. Charlie rose up and made her way to the stand, smiling her usual excited grin. Owen and Dr. Hammond had tried to brief her on what would be asked and how she should answer, but whether or not shed retain it was the real question. Charlie took the same oath, and then Dr. Hammond stood up and approached her, beaming broadly.
“Good afternoon, Charlie. Howre you feeling today?” He asked.
“Im okay. I dont really like wearing my uniform though.” She answered.
“Charlie, do you know why youre here? What this trail is about?”
“Yes sir,” Charlie answered with a slight sneer, “youre trying to prove that me and my sisters are sentient, right? That were not just weapons.”
“Do you think youre sentient?” Hammond asked.
“I dont really know what it means…but I know that were not weapons.”
“How do you know that?” Hammond asked.
“Do I look like a gun to you?” Charlie snapped. The courtroom hummed with a ripple of laughter. The judge banged his gavel once to return silence to the room, but Charlie as already accomplishing what Owen and Hammond had hoped for. Though immature and childish in every situation, this would help prove a case for sentience and cognizance. They werent blind and unthinking animals. Hammond smiled at Charlie and nodded.
“You certainly dont to me.” He laughed. “Charlie, what happened on the night you and your sisters were called to duty at the smuggling compound?”
“We got shot at.”
“Did you get hurt?”
“I did.” She answered, pointing to her arm. “It hurt a lot…and it was really scary.”
“When you found out that the targets youd been sent to deal with were humans, what does protocol say to do in this circumstance?” Charlies brow furrowed a moment as she thought about it.
“Im not as good at understanding the protocol stuff…”
“Objection!” The prosecutor stood up in frustration. “This witness is bordering on incompetent. If she cant even explain the fundamental protocols shes supposed to follow, then how can we trust her testimony on it?” The judge glanced at him and then at Hammond.
“Sustained…change the question or move on, counselor.”
“Allow me to rephrase the question.” Hammond sighed. “What do you know you were supposed to do in that situation?”
“Well, we were supposed to pull back and regroup with Alpha…erm…sorry, Officer Grady.” Charlie answered. Hammond turned to the jury and smiled.
“The protocol clearly states, doesnt it, that in the event of confronting human hostiles, your team is not to engage and instead to report to their-”
“Objection! Asked and answered!” The prosecutor shouted.
“Charlie knew what the protocol was but didnt realize she did. Im simply restating what she said so the jury can recognize this as a case of misunderstanding.” The judge groaned.
“Please move on, councilor.”
“Im not sure I like the prosecutor much.” Blue whispered to Owen.
“Youre not supposed to. Just bear with it a little longer.” Owen answered. They both looked back to Hammond as he approached Charlie.
“Charlie, were you afraid for your life?”
“I was.”
“When Blue gave the order to engage the targets, did you agree with the decision?”
“I wasnt sure.” Charlie answered honestly. “I knew that we werent supposed to, but it was a desperate situation, right? We had the right to protect ourselves.”
“You had the right to?” Hammond asked. “So you believe yourself independent and capable of thinking and acting for yourself with your own inalienable rights?”
“Well…I dont know what en-alien-ble means….but yeah! Were soldiers, arent we? We should be treated like it.”
“I couldnt agree more.” Hammond beamed. “Just one more question Charlie…if you were given a second chance, would you still follow Blues orders to engage those men and kill them?”
“Objection!” The prosecutor scoffed, standing up. “Not only is this hardly relevant, but were not here to debate what could have been done.”
“If youll permit me your honor?” Hammond asked, reasonably. The judge rubbed his forehead in frustration but nodded.
“Last chance, Councilor.” He raised a finger to symbolize it was his last chance and Hammond turned back to Charlie.
“Well,” Charlie shrugged, “I dont think I would have. I mean…look at all the trouble its caused my family. I dont wanna put us through this ever again.”
“Full awareness of your actions and the consequences. Ive never known a gun that could do that.”
“Withdrawn.” Hammond smirked, turning and walking back to his table. “Thats all for this witness.” Charlie smiled as Owen gave her a thumbs up. The prosecution stood, adjusted his tie and then looked to Charlie with a smile that held anything but warmth.
“On the night in question, you said you were injured. Did that impact your decision making?” He asked.
“Not really. I mean, I was scared but I wasnt worried about making bad decisions.”
“Why not?”
“Well…Blue makes the decisions.” Charlie answered. “Shes the Beta, so shes second in command. If Alphas not around, then…oops, I mean…if Officer Grady isnt around, she makes the decisions.”
“Is that always the case?” He asked.
“Yes. Always.” Charlie answered.
“Have you ever questioned Blues decisions? Or even Alphas for that matter?” He asked. Charlie shrugged.
“Sometimes…but they know whats best. Its easier to just trust their decisions.”
“So, it could be said, that you dont think for yourself?”
“Objection!” Hammond snapped.
“I do think for myself!” Charlie snarled. The judge banged his gavel again to silence the room.
“The objection is sustained.” He growled.
“Sorry, your honor.” The Prosecutor replied. He turned back to Charlie. “Charlie do all of your sisters follow Blues leadership?”
“Of course.”
“No matter what?”
“OBJECTION!” Hammond shouted. “Asked and answered!”
“What happens when you dont?” he continued, without skipping a beat. Charlie tensed up a little as the Prosecutor walked back to his table and pulled out a series of laminated photographs. Each one had a different profile shot of Echo when she was much younger. They each had a fresh image of the scar that ran across her face. They were the medical photos from after the incident. Owen had seen them only once, but he didnt have access to them. Blue looked away in disgust and disdain and Charlie bit her lip. Hammond was beside himself.
“Objection! I request to approach the bench!” He shouted. The judge nodded and waved both of the lawyers up to speak to him privately. Blue was trembling with rage as Owen stared at the bench, trying to hear what was being said. He couldnt hear, but he could tell it was a heated discussion.
“How do they have those?” Owen hissed. “Everything that happened to you girls on the island is classified.”
“Alpha, this is bad…I dont think I like what theyll ask Charlie.”
“Lets hope Hammond can shut this down.” Owen agreed. After a few more moments of discussion, the judge waved them back.
“The photos will be admitted into evidence.” Hammond sat back down, anger etched on his face.
“Hammond, those are classified images! How can they admit them?”
“Its complicated, Ill explain later.” Hammond whispered. “Dont worry, Ill make sure that he doesnt take things anywhere they shouldnt go.”
“Charlie,” The Prosecution proceeded, “do you remember Blue giving these scars to Echo?”
“I do…”
“And do you remember why?”
“…yes…Echo was vying for leadership.”
“So Echo wanted to be the leader…and when she did that, Blue put her back in her place?”
“Let me try a different question, does Blue usually physically injure her subordinates when they dont do what she says?”
“NO!” Charlie cried. “Blue loves us! She only did what she did for Echos own good!”
“So that scar on her face is for her own good?”
“Its not like that!” Charlie cried. Owen swiftly had to grab Blues arm to stop her from leaping out of her seat in a fury.
“Then tell us what its like!” He nearly shouted. “What good came from this?” Charlie had tears building up in her eyes as she tried to think of the right words to say.
“Were all smart…but we cant act alone. Since we were hatched, we dont remember our parents, so we always had to look out for one another. Blue was the wisest. She knows a lot and knows how to lead. She cared about all of us and wanted what was best for all of us. Echo didnt. She was full of herself and she was kind of braggy…if thats the word for it…so Blue knew she wouldnt make a good leader. They fought, and Blue won.”
“So Blue knew what was best?”
“And because she knows whats best, you do anything she tells you to do.”
“And if she told you to kill Delta, Echo, or even Alpha, would you do it?”
“OBJECTION!” Hammond roared. Blue was on her feet and Owen had to grab her around the middle to pull her back down.
“NO! Id never do that!”
“But you just said youd do whatever Blue told you.”
“Stop! Stop confusing me!”
“Whats so confusing, Charlie? Youre a soldier, arent you? You do what youre told! So if Blue told you to kill your comrade FOR YOUR OWN GOOD, would you do it, yes or no!?”
“STOP IT!” Charlie cried, covering her ears as if she could block out the question.
“OBJECTION! THIS IS OUTRAGEOUS!” Hammond bellowed. The judge slammed his gavel on the desk with tremendous force three times.
“THATS ENOUGH, COUNCILOR! One more word, and Ill hold you in contempt. Sustained on all counts.”
“Your honor, Id like to redirect!” Hammond pleaded. Charlie was bent over, crying into her knees as she held her hands over her ears.
“I dont think shes in a fit state for that.”
“Trust me, your honor…please…” The judge gazed down at Charlie before finally giving a brief nod for Hammond to go ahead. Hammond stood and approached Charlie slowly and calmly. “Charlie…Charlie calm down. Can you hear me?” She nodded. “Charlie…why did that question confuse you?” Charlie didnt answer at first, simply sitting still and sobbing. “I need to know Charlie, why couldnt you answer the question.”
“I cant…I cant kill my family…because theyre all I have.” Charlie whimpered through sobs, making Blue shake as she too began crying. “We need each other…B-Blue would never tell me to do that…because if I did…wed all die too. I love my sisters…and Alpha!” Without another word, she ran from the stand and flew to Blues arms, who caught her and held her in a warm embrace, stroking her hair reassuringly.
“Shhh~” Blue whispered, trying to console her. “Its okay…”
“This court is adjourned for the day.” The judge sighed. “I think we could all use a break. Well reconvene tomorrow at 9:30.” With another bang of his gavel, the court began to disperse. Owen stood up from his seat and smiled sadly at Hammond.
“How bad is it?”
“We can make this work for us. By forcing Charlie to cry on the stand, he further validated their emotional state. He wont win on that argument alone. I have to go back to my office and prepare. Be ready, because tomorrow hes planning on calling you to the stand.” Hammond said.
“Id like to meet with you tonight to go over what hell likely ask.” He turned and started to walk away, but as he passed out of view, Owen saw someone else…and overweight figure moving through the crowd.
“Son of a bitch…” He hissed.
Owen moved fast once he was outside of the courthouse and he could catch up to the much more slow and lumbering fellow in front of him. He moved swift and efficiently like a guided missile.
“Hoskins, you arrogant son of a bitch!” He snapped. Hoskins spun around just in time for Owen to grab him by the collar and slam him against the wall of the courthouse.
“AGH! Whats the matter with-”
“What the hell are you doing, you fat bastard!?” Owen spat. “Youre the only one with clearance to have access to those photos of Echo. Youve been feeding information to the Prosecution on this case, and I wanna know why!”
“Just what kind of game do you think youre playing, Grady?” Hoskins answered forcefully. “The Navy didnt hand those girls over to you so you could play house! Theyre trained and efficient killing machines, and its time the world realized that!”
“THEYRE GIRLS!” Owen bellowed. “They deserve a life and a future that doesnt involve ripping open throats!”
“And the fact you think that shows that leaving them in your charge was a mistake!” Hoskins snapped. “Under your roof, you have four of the most effective weapons the world has ever seen. A perfect combination of prehistoric and modern killing power! You saw it for yourself on that goddamn island!”
“I saw four girls terrified for their lives, reacting to a dangerous situation.”
“And what I saw were the most deadly weapons in forest combat Ive ever laid eyes on.” Owen stopped a moment as the realization hit him.
“You were there…you knew what would happen!” Owen snapped in disbelief. “YOU SET THIS UP!” Hoskins adjusted his shirt as Owen released him and he coughed very professionally.
“Its time you woke up and realized what was going on here, Mr. Grady.” He explained. “This is march of progress. Progress breeds warriors and creates success…and it always wins in the end.”
“If this is what you call progress; taking these girls and putting them back on that island of yours…turning them into nothing more than guns…then I hope to God progress loses this round.”
“You have a good day, Grady.” Hoskins answered, marching off, and leaving Owen fuming behind him, wondering what on earth his next move would have to be.

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# Part 11
At the camp, Echo was sitting by the lake, looking out over the still water. There was a mist rolling from the mountains and settling itself over everything. It was gorgeous…like something out of a dream. She swished her tail along the grass and smiled softly, imagining Blue and Charlie back here…and Delta too. They could all sit here together and laugh while they watched the mist drift along and the sound of birds chirping could sound them to sleep.
But could that ever happen? Echo frowned as she thought that chilling statement to herself. Her mind drifted back to the island…the place they were born and where theyd lived before meeting Alpha. There were no pretty views like this in the island base. There were no birds chirping. In fact, the more she thought about it, Echo didnt remember much of what the outside of the base looked like. She remembered stuffy rooms and large running spaces with little to see or look at. She remembered observation windows on all sides where men in military uniforms and lab coats watched her and her sisters while bickering. Shed remembered a time shed wanted their approval…wanted to prove something to them. She thought back to those days with no small degree of contempt as her hand gently ran along the scar on her face.
“Who says you get to be our alpha?” Shed mocked Blue. “Just cause youre the oldest, you get to be in charge? Im every bit as tough and as knowledgeable as you.” Charlie had been hiding behind Blue then. They were still young…Charlie being the youngest. She hadnt wanted to make a scene, and she hated being watched. She often stayed close to Blue or Delta. Delta just smirked as she observed. She knew Echo wasnt fit to be leader…but she thrived on the competition. Always one for a bit of action, perhaps the thought of a little sibling rivalry would shake up the mundane for her?
Blue hadnt budged. “If I thought those things were all it took to be leader, I wouldnt care about handing over leadership. But they arent all that matter.”
“What else does?” Echo asked.
“Patience. Humility. Wisdom.”
“There you go again,” Echo laughed, “holding yourself over us with your self righteous bullshit.”
“Echo stoppit…Blues a good leader.” Charlie whimpered, not wanting to see her sisters fight.
“Yeah she is…but we need a better one.” Echo took a step forward, flashing her foot claw. Now Charlie was scared and quickly stumbled away. Delta backed up too, but didnt take her eyes off of them. “Lets see if you can fight your way to the top, Blue.”
“…Dont do it, Echo.”
“Dont tell me what to do!”
Echo remembered it all. The vicious attack she made on Blue…the ferocious striking at the hip, which Blue had evaded. How Blue had not thrown the first strike but kept dodging and weaving out of her way. It made Echo furious…it was ridiculous. Fight back Blue, shed thought. Show me you deserve to be leader more than me! Do something with your useless hide. We all wanted off that island, so why not prove you could be the one to take us there!? If you wouldnt help us off, she had said to herself, then Ill take the lead…and leave you here to rot.
But it was her own arrogance that did her in.
The last thing she remembered about the fight was her making a flying kick at Blue. Blue pivoted to dodge and brought up her leg in a round house kick, which struck Echo across the face with the claw of her foot. Echo had meet it with the full force of her own momentum and was knocked back several feet, her face practically ripped open. Charlie had screamed. Delta had gasped and run to her side. Blue…she stood there stiff as a log, unable to believe what had happened. As for her…as for Echo…she faded out of consciousness.
The stiches took weeks to finish healing, and the scar would never fully heal. Every day she looked at that scar, it broke her internally. It was a reminder that Blue had given her, even if not intentionally: Youre not fit to lead us. Shed taken that message to her heart and soul, and it broke every ounce of confidence she had. She didnt resent Blue…she loved Blue with all her heart…and she followed her willingly as her leader from then on. But nothing would ever bring back her old confidence. Delta had tried to spar with her to bring it out, but little worked. Charlie had tried playing with her and cuddling close at night to make Echo feel better…but it never made a difference. She was broken. The old Echo was gone, she thought.
Was it a bad thing though? She wasnt entirely sure.
“You okay out here?” Echo spun around in surprise to see a tall young man standing on the hill. He had brown hair and deep brown eyes. A full beard covered his chin and sides of his face making him resemble something like a lion of a man, but he had a handsome smile and he didnt look especially dangerous. He reminded her a little of Alpha. “Sorry, didnt mean to startle you. Names Baloo.”
“Baloo?” Echo asked.
“Yeah, my staffer nickname. But if you wanna know my real name, its Garth. Just dont tell the kids.” Echo blinked a few times, amazed this person would be so open to talking to her. “If Im interrupting anything…”
“No I was…just thinking.”
“The Lake is a fine place to do that.” He agreed. “But you know, the campers are done with lunch and the staff has plenty of leftovers…Honcho wanted to know if you and your sister would like to…you know…have some?” Echo didnt answer at first and Garth walked closer, sitting down beside her. “Guess youre not that hungry.”
“I would like to but…I dont want to impose.” Echo replied shyly, trying to cover her face. She didnt want him staring at her scar. Garth laughed and shook his head.
“No imposing around here. You and your sister are our guests here.” When she didnt answer he shrugged and grunted. “Well, in that case, I may go for a swim.” He stood up and took off his shirt and Echo glanced up. The first thing she saw as his shirt came off made her gasp in horror.
Three long scars ran up from his hip to his left bicep. They were long, ugly, and dark red. One looked massively torn up and rigged and she quickly looked away. Garth paused and flushed a little.
“Oh right…youve never seen this before. Its why I got my nickname. This right here I got on my first year as a staffer.” He explained.
“What happened?” Echo asked. Garth laughed and threw his shirt down, shaking his head.
“Everyone always asks…alright alright, guess you can hear the story.” He stands in front of Echo and starts speaking loudly and clearly. Hes obviously become used to telling this.
“So when youre a first year staffer, you have to go on a hike for three days with your other first year staff and Honcho. We hike out into the mountains and camp among the wildlife, we share stories, get our nicknames…all that fun stuff. Well on our second night its raining really hard and I see a cave up ahead and say we should camp out in there. Why set up a tent in the rain when a dry cave will do? Honcho says we shouldnt because bears live in caves…and…well bears are crazy.”
Echo giggled, and Garth continued.
“So Im too full of myself to listen. I was excited, arrogant…maybe even a little stubborn, and I go up to investigate the cave. Sure enough, I take three steps inside when a huge old black bear suddenly roars at me. I scream and start to run, when that beast takes a swing at me and cuts me wide open.” He pointed to his scars. “I fell down the hill a bloody mess. Honcho had to run over and shoot at the bear to scare it off, and as for me? It looked REALLY bad.”
“Whatd they do!?”
“Well I faded in and out of consciousness a few times, but I remember they carried me as far back to camp as they could and called for a rescue chopper. Soon I was being hauled out of the woods by a bunch of medics and carried off to a hospital.”
“Thats horrifying!” Echo cried. “Im…I dont know what to even say to that. Are you really okay now?”
“I wasnt for the first week or two. I could barely walk or move. I was bed ridden for a while. And worse was the wound got infected so I got sick for a while too. It was…really awful.” Garth sighed. Echo sighs long and low and curls up on the grass.
“I got my scar in a fight with my sister…” She admitted. “I was kind of…arrogant too, I guess.” Garth nodded.
“I kind of guessed that might be the case.”
“How could you guess that?”
“I dunno…just…sort of the way you carry yourself. You look like someone who was on top of the world and got knocked off.” He explained.
“Well…you dont.” Echo growled, darkly, feeling a little insulted. “Whats your excuse for not being timid and miserable?”
“Me? Heh…I guess I dont have time to be miserable.” He laughed. “These scars on my gut are just a reminder of the fact that I ate myself a slice of humble pie and lived to tell about it. Not everyone can say that.”
“But youre mutilated…scarred for life.”
“Just a reminder not to be an arrogant moron.” He laughed. “Im glad I have these. For one thing, theyre a fun story to tell. And for another reason…a lot of people are arrogant or full of themselves these days and they have to work hard to remember to be humble. Me? Ive got three nice big reminders I can look at every day. Saves me a lot of trouble.” Echo just laughed to herself and shook her head.
“I never thought of it that way. I always saw this as…well…a reason to be ashamed.”
“Sure, I feel ashamed of what I did back then, but I also am proud of myself for getting over it.” Garth beamed proudly and then walked to the water. “Anyway, Ill let you decide if youre hungry or not. The mess hall is back that way.” He pointed back up the road towards the center of camp. Echo smiled as she watched Garth dive into the freezing cold water and then ran a finger along her scar across her face and flushed deeply.
“…Proud of it, huh?” She whispered. “Could I be proud of this? Would Alpha…be proud of me?” She asked.
From the edge of the forest, Delta watched Echo get up from where she sat to walk to the mess hall. When shed seen that councilor guy walk over to talk to her, shed stuck around to see if anything happened. Nothing seemed to be wrong, and she hadnt heard what was said…but the smile on Echos face told her she had nothing to worry about. What was it theyd talked about, she wondered.
At the courthouse, miles away, Owen Grady was finally being called to the stand. The courtroom was silent as he approached the bench and sat down. Blue and Charlie both sat stiff as they watched their Alpha prepare to be interrogated. Hed told them not to say or do anything during this…not to move a muscle if they could help it. As Hammond had said, his testimony would be critical. The prosecutor walked up and smiled politely, but with as much civility and kindness as a pit viper.
“Lt. Grady, do you know why were here today.”
“To judge whether or not the Raptors should be considered sentient and responsible for their own actions. That they arent just tools or weapons.”
“You think they are sentient?”
“Ive lived with them and trained them for quite some time now…I can tell you honestly they are perfectly sentient.” Owen answered.
“Why do you think this?”
“Because they think for themselves. They can be stubborn and hard headed and there are times they wont do what I tell them to do. They have their own interests and dislikes, like any normal person would.” Owen replied.
“Certainly, so they make decisions for themselves…what about for you?” He asked.
“Objection, the witness is not on trial.” Hammond called.
“Lt.. Grady is the raptors handler. He bears a degree of responsibility to these events.” The prosecutor replied.
“Sustained.” The judge replied with a nod.
“Ill reask the question: The girls can make decisions for themselves, but what about for you?”
“I dont think I understand the question.” Owen answered honestly.
“Whats the relationship between you and the girls?” He asked.
“Relationship? Its like you said, Im their handler.” Owen laughed.
“Anything more?” Owen paused a moment, taking in the question. Now he understood…now he realized what angle this was going. He stiffened and his eyes shot to Blue and Charlie, both now curious to what he said. He was trapped….and he knew it. His eyes spun to Hoshkins in the back of the room, smirking to himself. This was his doing too, wasnt it?
If he answered that they were nothing more than his squad that he handled, the girls faith might be shaken in him, and it would ruin the years of hard work hed done with them. But if he said it was more complicated…said that they were more to him than just his agents that he worked with…then his ability to be objective and professional would be called into question publicly and they might be removed from his care. There was no way out of this…no way out of this trap.
“Goddamn you…” Owen hissed.
“Im sorry, I didnt hear that, could you speak up?” The prosecutor asked.
“Answer the question, Lt. Grady.” The judge urged.
“Ill ask one more time…what is the relationship between you and those raptor girls?”

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# Part 12
“Do I need to repeat the question?” The prosecutor asked. He didnt need to repeat it. Owen had heard it very clearly…and he wish he hadnt. This trap was far more clever than hed anticipated, and he was struggling to find a way out of it. The room felt like it was closing in as the ghosts of both outcomes kept haunting his shoulders, daring him to choose their side….daring him to misplay his hand. There was nothing he could do…he had to answer honestly, and the truth would do anything but set him free.
“I am the handler of the Raptor Squad.” Owen answered.
“Are you more than that?”
“…If you mean if Im romantically involved, then no, Im not. That would be a breach of our professional relationship.” Owen answered, his eyes daring to dart to Blue and Charlie who were both sitting stiff and rigid, neither moving or responding. They were just as interested in how this shaped up. He felt a pang of anger at them for this…could they not anticipate the horrible thing he was about to say?
“Certainly youre not romantically involved, but after living with four healthy young women for as long as you have, surely feelings have come about.”
“Anything done between myself and the squad is strictly professional.” Owen answered flatly. The prosecutor smiled. Here it comes…and Owen had to brace himself.
“If thats true, would you object to a reassignment? After all, if this case goes south, you could very easily just reassign yourself and this all goes away. It becomes the responsibility of their new handler. Why go through this whole trial and façade when your relationship to the girls is simply professional?” He asked. Owen had no where to hide now. It was true. The trial was meant to prove the girls sentience, but there was deeper context. If the girls were found sentient, then they were simply soldiers acting in self defense. But if they were not sentient, then the Navy would be held responsible for not handling their “weapons” properly and the girls would be taken away and the Navy would take the fall. The easiest thing to do at this point was resign as their handler. The girls were not technically considered soldiers as of yet, and thus reassigning himself wouldnt be much different than signing over his sidearm for a different one. Just exchanging faulty tools and being done with it. But Owen couldnt. Such an action would ruin the relationship he had with the girls…the thing he was pretending didnt exist.
“Lt. Grady,” the prosecutor pressed, “if the girls are just soldiers under your command, then why are we here?”
“Objection! Badgering the witness.”
“Overruled…Lt. Grady will answer.” The judge responded, waving the objection aside. Owen groaned and finally conceded the only option he could.
“The girls are soldiers.” Owen replied slowly and carefully. “Theyre naïve, inexperienced, and in many ways…ignorant. They require proper handling, time, and care to be used effectively. Theyre a lot like dogs; they respond well to people they trust. I have the good fortune of being someone they trust, and thus respond well to me. If the Navy expects them to work at maximum efficiency, then Im necessary to lead the Raptor Squad. Anyone else would be hard for the girls to trust.”
“So your relationship is necessary for them to perform at their best?”
“It has nothing to do with love, or compassion?”
“….Those things cant be afforded in our line of work. I care about the girls because they are an essential unit that the Navy needs to use right now in these confusing extra species circumstances we find ourselves in. Without the Raptor Squad as a test case, we have no basis on the potential of an extra species response team…this is the prototype: the beta. As such, these things must be handled delicately and therefore Im needed. But as I said…….there is nothing between myself and the Squad that would be considered more than professional and…business.” Hed said it, and as he glanced at Charlie and Blue, there was an obvious expression of disappointment…even crestfallen disbelief. Hed worked so long to show these girls he cared about them…that he wanted them to rely on him like they were family. And now, in front of the entire court, hed announced it was all an act to keep them in line…a means of earning trust to make them efficient. His heart broke with the force of bones shattering. The prosecutor stared him up and down and then stepped back.
“The people rest.” He replied. Hammond rose to his feet quickly.
“Your Honor, I move for a directed verdict.” The room erupted into a hushing hum of disbelief and Owen found himself staring around at everyone, surprised himself by Hammonds suggestion.
“On what grounds?”
“The peoples case hinges on the argument that the girls are not cognizant of their actions and feelings. As weve proven through this trial, they are more than cognizant. I think thats more than enough to consider the facts as they stand.” The judge looked from him to the prosecutor and then inhaled slowly. As he exhaled a long and thoughtful sigh, he nodded.
“Will the people and the defense rise?” The two tables followed his direction quickly and willingly, climbing to their feet. Blue and Charlie stumbled up fast, standing at attention. The judge waited a moment for dramatic emphasis and then carried on. “As soldiers, its our duty to monitor our weapons…to clean them, care for them, and know how to use them properly. With this interspecies exchange program in place, and the advocation of extraspecies soldiers, the question has been raised whether we consider them soldiers or another form of weapon to be used. I have always stood impartial, and I was interested to finally see for myself which side held water. After hearing the testimonies of Charlie and Blue, I am convinced of three things that I was not previously.” Blue and Charlie were holding their breath.
“The first is that the Raptors in this room are some of the most frightening killing machines Ive ever seen. To think that only four of you could engage a force of hostiles over four times your size is astounding, and the Navy should reconsider its stance on how to best utilize you.” He explained harshly. Charlies face fell in disappointment and Blue wrapped an arm around her. “The second is that despite your clear killing prowess, you are empathetic towards others, even humans. You clearly care about lives lost and lives saved…which is something no gun could ever do. Therefore, I can see that you are cognizant, and thus fully in control of your actions, and capable of thinking rationally. That is beyond doubt.” He ran his hand through his hair and snorted with an almost laugh. “And thirdly, I hope that this little experiment is a success. If we could have more units like yours associated with the armed forces, I cant begin to imagine the benefit that might be to our country.” He then raised his gavel. “I find the Raptor Squad and Owen Grady not guilty on the grounds of self defense in the line of duty, as per any other commissioned Navy operative. Were dismissed. Get the hell out of my courtroom.”
Blue nearly collapsed from the relief and Charlie squealed, jumping up and down in a completely unreserved fashion. Owen ran to both girls and threw his arms around them in a tight hug. For a moment, the awkwardness was past. He knew that what hed said would be brought up later…he knew there was no simple taking it back. He prayed with all his heart that Blue and Charlie would forgive him…but for now, they were still together and safe. Hammond nodded and shook Owens hand, both giving continuous thank yous to one another.
“Does this mean we can go home now?” Charlie asked.
“Yeah. Well pick up Delta and Echo and head home right away.” Owen answered.
“Home…sounds wonderful.” Blue sighed. Owen glanced at her and, though she was smiling, there was a shadow of doubt in her eye. Charlie didnt notice anything and was running to Hammond to thank him, forcing her way through dozens of onlookers who were simply trying to snag a glimpse of the raptor girl.
“Blue…about what I said.”
“Alpha, you said what you needed to say.” She said stiffly, straightening her back and forcing her smile. Forced though…it was forced.
“Blue, you girls mean more to me than-”
“No sir, you were right…” Blue interjected. “Were soldiers, and we have to trust our commanding officers. There was nothing wrong in what you said. Dont feel ashamed of it.”
“Im not ashamed of it, Blue.” Owen muttered. “I want you to know that its…not how I really feel.” Blue finally relaxed a little, but the feint shadow of disappointment was there. It would have to do for now, but one thing was for sure…the group was together again, even if a cloud hung over their heads for a long time to come. Owen did what he had to do, even if it hurt…but he couldnt help asking if it had been worth it.
“That no good bastard.” Hoshkins hissed from the lab desk. The doctor on the other side, a short Asian man with cut close hair and slanted eyes was sipping tea calmly behind the desk, gazing at the lab notes to the corner of his white desk. There were glass walls on all sides, all showing the lab work going on outside. A yellow tint was made on the windows, giving the illusion that they were surrounded by walls of gold or amber. There was a soft hum of generators powering the equipment around them. “I cant believe it…I cant believe that son of a bitch…”
“Relax, Hoshkins.” The Asian doctor replied.
“Relax?” Hoshkins hissed. “What the hell do you mean, relax?!’”
“I mean that things are still proceeding on schedule and theres no immediate need for the Raptors yet.”
“The longer we sit on this, the more likely theres an investigation. Do you know what the medias gonna hit us with if they find out-”
“The Raptors wont talk about this island, and even if they did, they dont know whats been going on here. They have no recollection or knowledge of the operation. I highly recommend that we think on the matter at hand.” Hoshkins paused and glanced back at the good doctor.
“Whats that supposed to mean, Henry?”
“It means shes reached maturity.” Henry answered with a smile. “Would you like to meet her?” Henry stood up from his desk with his tea cup still in hand and walked past Hoshkins out of the lab door down a long and blank hallway. There were various doors and gates leading off to different locations on the compound. Each door and gate had signs and numbers on them, marking what was inside, where the path lead to, and the quantity. But at the farthest end of the hall was a door marked with the letter “I” and a number 2 that was scratched out and replaced with the number 1. Henry pressed his hand on the pad and the door slid open. The path beyond the door lead out to a walkway with bulletproof plexiglass walls and roof around them, allowing Hoshkins and Henry to look out but nothing to get in. They stood on this elevated pathway looking down at a paddock nearly two acres in radius with jungle fauna all around. Below them, sleeping in a patch of the tall trees, was a figure that made Hoshkins blood curdle and his hair stand on end. Its hair was white, and its body was large…nearly 9 feet in height if it were standing. Spines ran along its back and there were traces of red stains around its lips which Hoshkins didnt want to speculate on what left them. It was horrifying, and yet striking at the same time.
“Precisely.” Henry agreed. “And shes almost ready. Ill be calling our financiers at the Navy to discuss next steps, but for now you can see why the Raptors are not our top priority right now. If we can have her fitted, trained, and ready for deployment, no one will even care about the Raptor Squad.”
“I ever tell you that youre one optimistic son of a bitch?” Hoshkins muttered. “If that thing is as dangerous as youve claimed, I aint sure what kind of man could train it.”
“Definitely not our Lt. Grady.” Henry scowled. “It was a mistake to trust the Raptors to his care…hes too sentimental. Theyre animals at the end of the day. All these extra species people are more animalistic than society would like to admit. If you sympathize with them, it only detracts from the animalistic tendicies that separate them from us. What use is there in domesticating these people when it is their wild nature that so intrigues us to begin with? The world is boring enough as it is, in my opinion…why take all the fun out of it?”
“And you think THIS will make it more fun?” Hoshkins asked.
“No, but it will certainly make things more interesting.” Henry answered. Hoshkins turned walking to the door. “Done?”
“Get me the hell out of here. I dunno who scares me more, that monster…or you, Dr. Wu.” As the two walked out of the pathway, the creature in the paddock opened a single yellow eye, tracking their movements and smiling to itself. It now knew how they got it…and how it could get out.

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