October 2163, Exilon 5
Stephen pushed open the metal hatch that covered one of the many tunnel entrances leading out to the stony wasteland beyond New London. The hatch was well camouflaged—dirty and covered with tiny rock fragments—to make it look like part of the landscape, and the entrance was hidden behind large rocks that were strewn around. The soundproofing ability of the omicron rock in the tunnel from which they had emerged gave them the advantage, preventing the military on the surface from hearing them arrive and from tracking them.
Crouching low behind a large rock, Stephen watched the military in the distance; not far away from him to his left was his intended target. The wolf had caught the scent of the meat Stephen had left as a lure behind a tall cluster of rocks, out of sight of the military, and was wandering away from the biodome towards it.
Stephen’s foot accidentally scuffed some loose rubble. The wolf looked up sharply and Stephen could smell its fear. But it stayed where it was, clearly willing to take a chance and snatch the meat before it had to flee. Serena emerged from the tunnel and moved closer to Stephen’s side, her eyes narrowing. He could hear her low growls as her hunting instincts kicked in.
He stood up and risked a look over the top of the rock to check the position of the military in the dark expanse. Ever since Anton had returned with the bomb that exploded underground in the Indigenes’ tunnels, the military had increased their patrols in the area. With Stephen’s advanced vision, he could see their silhouettes as they stood casually leaning against their vehicles; their aura colours confirmed their relaxed attitude.
‘They don’t know we’re here,’ he whispered to Serena. ‘We have time.’
Serena looked at him, then at the military. ‘Can you hear what they’re thinking? I can’t make out anything they’re saying.’
Stephen’s eyes snapped back to the wolf which was dangerously close to reaching the bait. It sniffed nervously at the edge of the rocks, its head flitting from left to right as it looked around on occasion. It was not fully grown. If it had been more mature, it would have retreated by now; the fully grown biodome animals were smart enough to recognise a trap when they smelled it.
The military suddenly caught Stephen’s attention. ‘We’ll have to make this quick,’ he said. ‘They’re thinking about making a move.’
‘How do you know that?’ Serena asked.
‘I can hear them. They’ve spotted the wolf.’
Serena shook her head. ‘All I hear from them is a collective rumbling. Nothing they say is clear to me. How is it that you have no problems?’
Stephen smiled at her, but deep down he was puzzled by her inability to hear as well as he did. All Indigenes had that ability, didn’t they? He switched his attention back to the wolf again. They needed to capture it, for Pierre’s sake.
The wolf was distracted now, tugging at the piece of meat that was staked firmly into the ground. Stephen suddenly bolted out from behind the rock, and before the wolf even had time to turn its head, he was standing in front of it, his eyes fixed on the blood that dripped from the animal’s sharp incisors. Stephen’s mouth watered. Its hackles raised, the wolf turned towards him. Behind Stephen, an out-of-breath Serena caught up with him. He could hear how erratic her thoughts were, as if her mind was being pulled in different directions.
‘Are you okay?’ he asked, his eyes not leaving the cagey wolf.
‘I’m fine. Why do you ask?’ She had adopted the stance that all Indigenes did when they hunted—one leg pitched in front of the other as if taking a huge stride, head straining forward, back low, arms poised to snatch.
The young wolf growled.
‘Are you worried about something?’ he asked her, adopting the same pose, crouching low until his fingertips almost touched the ground.
She shook her head and closed her eyes. He was just straightening up and about to speak again when he felt the displacement of air as the wolf lunged unexpectedly at Serena.
The force of the animal knocked her to the ground. Stephen heard a high-pitched scream. He watched the animal stand over her, pinning her in place, its sharp teeth clamped on the fleshy part of her shoulder and snarling through a mouthful of Indigene flesh.
‘Come on, you’re stronger than it,’ Stephen urged Serena. ‘You can take it.’
She screamed again. ‘Get it off me!’
He waited a few seconds but could watch no longer. The muscles in his arms strained as he lifted the wolf up by the scruff and snapped its neck. Only then did its teeth unclamp from Serena’s shoulder and she fell back to the ground. The glistening teeth marks on her shoulder instantly began to heal.
He dropped the limp animal’s body as Serena scrambled to her feet. ‘I can’t believe that just happened,’ she said, smiling now. She wiped the dirt from her dark hunting clothes.
‘Come on. We have to go!’ he said, throwing the dead wolf over his shoulder.
Serena looked around her anxiously. ‘How far away are they?’
‘Not far. They’re getting into their vehicles.’
Stephen took off, running as fast as he could with Serena close on his heels.
‘Can you make it with that thing on your shoulder?’ she asked, panting.
‘I think so. It’s heavier than I thought,’ Stephen said. His legs strained with the extra weight. ‘Run up ahead and open the entrance. I’m not going to have time to stop.’
Serena raced towards the unremarkable cluster of rocks and the hidden entrance as if there had been a beacon flashing outside. She pulled open the metal hatch and stood back.
Stephen didn’t slow down. When he was within range he threw the wolf neatly through the hatch, vaulted over the top of the largest rock and propelled himself feet first through the opening, landing face to face with the dead wolf’s open eyes and snarling jaws. Serena jumped in behind him and pulled the hatch closed, securing it with metal bars on the inside.
‘That was close,’ she said, releasing a short, relieved puff of air.