She ran through the forest, skipping easily across the thick and uneven ground. Everything that would have normally pricked at her senses - the movement of the trees; the call of the wild birds; the slither of the smaller reptiles through brush and growth; the vibrations through the ground of much larger beasts, however distant; the different smells of everything around her - all of that vanished. All of it was ignored; her every sense focused only on one thing. The hunt.
She pushed herself forwards, increasing her speed even further. Even as she ran, the bones in her body continued to realign against the straight contour of her back, forming something that was a lot more streamlined, much faster, far more deadly. Her claws dug into the earth and moss beneath her feet, but she used that to her advantage, pushing off with every step to give her more forwards momentum.
The forest was dark, but that was nothing for her keen night vision. Her prey wasn't within sight anyway. Not yet. But that would soon change - his head start wouldn't last for long. She could hear his movements further ahead, feel his footsteps through the ground, smell his sweat, taste his fear... Fear was a highly delectable taste, made even more desirable by the fact that she knew that fear, knew the target that she hunted, couldn't wait to taste him. No other predator could experience that. Because no other predator got to know their prey first before they became food.
But then she wasn't like any other predator. She was neither human nor beast. She was something else entirely. She was the ultimate hunter. Try as he may, her prey stood no chance. She was made to win the hunt.
The world was always changing, forced to adapt to whatever was thrown at it by the human race or even higher forces of nature. Even with the way their planet was always evolving, apparently, nobody could have ever foreseen the world they were living in now. But because he'd been brought up in it, thrived in it, Tate Bellamy couldn't imagine the Earth any other way. Then again, he was well adapted to it too.
He drove slowly through the thick undergrowth of the tropical forest. Mopeds were the ideal mode of transportation, nowadays - they were good for off-roading over the bumpy terrains and they were small, able to weave much more easily through the heavily wooded areas that carpeted around seventy percent of the earth's land. They had no roof to protect you when driving through a storm, but then the trees did a much better job of that anyway.
Besides, a roof would only detract from the whole experience. Tate had always thought that the forests had a particularly delicious smell. There was always that fresh scent of new rain upon greenery, as it rained a good percentage of the time. The rain and river mixed in with the perfumes of pine, earth, heat and a variety of exotic plant life, creating a kaleidoscope of smells that moved Tate every day, even though it was something he'd lived with since he could crawl. All of the various flora and fauna, even the trees, had a very particular look to them that just screamed of something... ancient. Something as old as time. Once, the term prehistoric would have been most fitting. But with the world's history repeating itself, that word no longer had a place.
He drove along the strip that was the closest you'd find to a beaten trail within the forest. The tropical fauna never took long to creep back across it, no matter how often it was used. Most people - those trying to go about their lives as normal - would avoid travelling through the wooded areas if they could, sticking to their more civilised communities that they'd built. This particular trail just happened to be a common one, being the shortest route between the two sides of one of the larger more populated areas, separated by the strip of rainforest like a bridge or a river. It was also one of the safest parts of the forest. The noise and hustle of people on either side tended to deter more wildlife.
There were still exceptions, of course. Like today. But that was what people like Tate were for. They were just as happy in the forests as they were amongst civilisation - in his case, often more so - and they had the skills for dealing with situations like this. Some people saw him as a kind of special or emergency services. He saw himself as more of a greater pest control. It amused him to know that, centuries ago, the same title had been applied to people who had ridded homes of rats, bugs and, on occasion, maybe a raccoon or even a snake on a bad day. They'd have no idea now.
It wasn't difficult to find where he needed to go, once he left the forest behind. There was a distinct lack of people around the usually busy town, as well as a lot of visible damage. He could easily see where the breach had been - a section of the electric fence was down, left trailing on the floor. There had most likely been a fault, leaving the fence easy to break through. They wouldn't be able to fix the electricity until all of the fence was back in place, but they wouldn't be able to replace the fence until the area was cleared.
Tate waved a greeting to the guards in the watchtower as he drove inside. Most civilisations like this tended to have a watchtower posted at each point of a compass, every one manned by two armed guards, in order to keep watch on what was happening around their city. They generally weren't allowed to shoot to kill, unless they believed a breach would pose immediate threat to their civilians. For the most part, they used tranquilising guns and would have to call in a wrangler first to assess the situation, before they decided if heavier fire power was necessary. More often than not, it wasn't. Most of the wildlife didn't pose an active threat. That part usually only tended to come in when they got spooked.
This one had definitely been spooked. Tate followed the path of destruction and empty streets. There were upturned mopeds and buggies, one of the latter lying in pieces with the open roof caved in. Everyone had clearly, smartly, fled the scene. Walls of nearby buildings were left crumbling, some with long rips taken out of them and others now nothing more than rubble.
The damage led to the culprit. He'd managed to corner himself in what was almost an alleyway, where some of the taller buildings backed onto each other. Two guards were hovering at the entrance to the alleyway, guns aimed, but unsteadily, clearly unsure what to do. They seemed highly relieved when Tate pulled up and climbed off his moped. He left the engine running. He'd learnt from experience that it was a handy option if you suddenly needed to make a quick getaway. In his line of work, that was unsurprisingly often.
"Tate Bellamy?" enquired one of them.
"The one and only," his mildly dry response.
"Thank god. We've been trying to tranq it, but the darts just aren't piercing him. We were worried that even if we switched to bullets, we'd just have the same problem."
"Yeah, their hide is a lot thicker than most. You have to hit them just right," Tate established, glancing into the alleyway again. "But I've got this. You guys head on back to your watchtower and start making plans for getting the fences fixed and the electricity back up and running."
"Are you sure?" the second guard asked uncertainly.
Tate didn't really look like he could handle this on his own. He was tall, sure, and clearly toned enough from the slight strain of his well-fitted shirt, but his face and hazel eyes were friendly, black hair and almost beard trimmed short and neat. He looked overly good-natured and unobtrusive. Not at all intimidating - nothing like the fearless wrangler of beasts that he was supposed to be.
"I'm sure," Tate assured easily. "If things go badly, then I'm gonna need to get the hell out of there and fast. You guys will only get in my way and I don't need that... No offence." He added the last as an afterthought.
Though still sceptical, the two guards didn't need more convincing to hand the responsibility to someone else. They muttered their good lucks and scuttled off, leaving Tate to it. He was happy with that. This was his preferred way to work. He turned back towards the alleyway and took in the situation he was facing.
The intruder was a bulky quadruped. It stood at around five and a half feet tall - a good foot shorter than he was - but at a whole twenty in length, weighing a good six tonnes at least. Its mottled, rust-coloured body was covered in heavy, almost impenetrable armoured plates and bony half rings covering its neck. Two small nubs of bone decorated each side of its head. Its tail was shorter than a lot of quadrupeds its size, but definitely still lethal, as it was finished with a heavily bony club. Tate knew that tail could snap his spine or crush his skull with one swing. It had already been proven to break down walls, after all.
Ankylosaurus. Or close to it anyway. The dinosaurs didn't look quite the same the second time around - not to how they did in the history books. Maybe they'd adapted differently this time. Or maybe humans had just gotten their interpretations wrong. With no clear way of knowing, the various sub-species of dinosaur weren't given new titles. Instead, they were named after that which they most closely resembled - names given by specialised archaeologists centuries ago, who had dedicated their lives to analysing the first time that dinosaurs had walked the earth, never knowing that it would one day happen again.
It had all been down to global warming. Throughout history, scientists had warned of global warming being the earth's downfall. Polar ice caps melting, the ozone layer being destroyed, entire species getting ground to extinction... But nobody could have predicted this. Nobody could have ever guessed that history would repeat itself. And nobody could certainly have guessed that the human race could adapt to it just as well as every other creature had.
Global warming had indeed came, but at an accelerated rate that nobody had expected. It brought about all of the destruction that had been predicted. All of the ice caps had melted away, whole civilisations had been lost to flooding and species to extinction, billions of trees and plants withered as the rips in the ozone layer dramatically changed the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the planet's atmosphere, causing many, many people to die of illness and disease.
Yet, through the miracle of nature, the earth somehow picked itself up again. After withering, the plant life began to mould itself to the changed atmosphere, adapting their lives to the newly tropical climate. The animals, the birds and the fish all followed their lead, evolving into much greater forms - forms that they'd had to adapt from in the first place. It was a true circle of life.
It wasn't an easy process. It was slow-going, spanning out over several centuries of time. The numbers of people dwindled greatly over that course of time, yet still they held on. Many species were lost, but those that survived learnt to thrive in their new world. The human race could only learn from them. It was the only way. And, despite all odds, man evolved to live peaceably beside the dinosaurs.
Well, peaceably most of the time. There were still those who hunted for sport. There were still creatures that posed a threat towards civilisations - ones that couldn't be dealt with in a less than lethal capacity. Tate hoped that this case wouldn't be one of those instances. A lot of people believed that only the meat-eating dinosaurs posed a threat to them, but that wasn't true. A lot of herbivores were very well-equipped to protect themselves if need be, ankylosaurus included.
Tate pulled round one of the rifles he was carrying on his back, holding it firmly in both hands. It was a tranquiliser gun, like the ones the guards had been equipped with. He really hoped he wouldn't have to use the other gun he carried. That one certainly didn't contain darts.
This thought only increased as he entered the alleyway. The ankylosaurus was a gorgeous specimen. It was a little larger than average with particularly defined diamond-shaped scales across its snout and a tough ridge sitting at the back of its broad skull. Male, going by the brighter colouring of its scales. Scientists were still trying to conclude if the colouring was its way of attracting a mate. They were evolved from birds and lizards, after all - a lot of which had followed similar concepts.
The ankylosaurus snorted as Tate cautiously approached, puffing air through his nostrils. He scuffed his foot against the gravel. Ankylosaurs weren't the type to charge - for the most part, they were generally slow moving, though they had the capacity to make quick movements when necessary. The gesture simply showed that he was nervous. A light, slow swing back and forth of that dangerous tail confirmed that. The herbivorous reptile bowed its head in a show of defence. Tate was sure that even a good smash from that skull would leave his bones in splinters. The bones in an ankylosaur's skull and shoulder blade were fused, designed to increase strength. Strength that he didn't want to be on the other end of.
"It's alright," he muttered soothingly, holding his gun low, less threatening. "I want you out of here just as much as you want out too."
With all that bony armour, his tranq gun had no hope of working. That hide was designed to withstand the teeth and claws of ferocious carnivores - it was no wonder the guards' darts hadn't done anything. His would only have the same effect. What he really needed was to get underneath that hide and get access to the soft underbelly it was protecting. But to do that, he'd have to get well within swinging range of that lethal club tail.
In a situation like this, he normally would have preferred to head his target into a more open area that was much easier to work in. In this case, as the ankylosaurus had already backed himself into a corner, that option was out. He was just going to have to work with what he had.
"Alright then," he said decidedly, half talking to the ankylosaurus and half talking to himself. "Come at me. Take that swing. I dare you."
Whilst not as stupid as its cousin, stegosaurus - the dinosaur known for its tiny brain - the ankylosaurus could obviously not understand Tate's goading. He'd have to convey through action instead. Sudden movements were the best way to provoke a reaction from a creature that was already spooked, so he faked a lunge towards the reptile, still keeping out of swinging range of his tail.
Sure enough, the ankylosaurus let out a bellow and swung its tail in his direction. Tate was out of reach, but the blow still took a great chunk out of one of the buildings towering over them. Brick and mortar rubble peppered the ground at Tate's feet. Good. He wanted to get the beast riled before he moved in. To anyone else, riling up an animal before getting closer to it would seem like a very stupid idea indeed, but he was hoping that the ankylosaur's agitated state would provide the cover he needed to find a way to duck underneath that hide and sink a few darts in.
He continued to feint in and out of the path of that club tail, chanting, "Hey, batter, batter, batter," in a taunting fashion.
Sure enough, the dinosaur's distressed bellows became more consistent, his tail constantly in motion. Tate decided to try and take the opportunity. Clutching the tranq gun tightly, he made a sudden dart forwards, feinting quickly to the right and then diving left. Ankylosaurs apparently really were designed to make fast movements if needed. Even with his fake-out on direction, that club tail still came swinging towards him with great force and great speed.
He was forced to duck and then half fall back onto the floor in the split second that he realised ducking wasn't enough to clear him. He hit the ground harder than he'd expected, watching the osteoderm club sail past above him, where his head had been only mere moments before. However, he still wasn't in the clear yet. Realising that his attacker had avoided the blow, the ankylosaurus swung his tail again, this time smack down on top of him. Tate managed to roll to safety at the last second, using the momentum of his own body to get him back on his feet in the same movement.
The tail came swinging round again before he'd really had time to prepare. This time, it connected, though thankfully, only with his gun. He quickly dropped his hold on it to save losing any fingers from the impact. It would have worked better if he'd accounted for the strap slung around his neck that kept the gun in place. As the weapon was sent clattering past him, the strap went whipping round with it, almost choking him as it was pulled taught against his throat, cutting off his airway for just a second. Tate gagged, before the pressure against his neck was relinquished again just as quickly, as the gun fell down against his back.
"Well, that was unprecedented," he wheezed to himself, rubbing his neck with one hand and righting his gun with the other. "Somebody fights dirty."
As he avoided another swing from that stubborn tail, he ducked underneath it and threw himself into a slide across the ground. He slid right underneath the dinosaur. Clutching the tranq gun in both hands, he sank three darts up into its underbelly in quick succession. The ankylosaurus roared a furious cry and, this time, it wasn't the tail that came crashing Tate's way - it was a great foot.
He managed to roll out of the way, but only into the path of the next one. The tranquilisers in the darts were some of the fastest-acting in the world, but on such a big target, they weren't instantaneous. Now, Tate's daring move had landed him in a tight spot. Literally. With his tall form, he had no room to roll out from underneath the beast to safety, each way blocked by four giant feet that could easily crush him in an instant. And things would be even worse in the tranquilisers kicked in now. Six tonnes of weight going to sleep on top of him would kill him in seconds.
With some manoeuvrability and a lot of luck, Tate managed to scramble forwards without getting squashed by the giant's rampant footsteps and escaped from underneath the ankylosaurus by what seemed the safest direction. By its head.
Ankylosaurs weren't biters. At least of anything other than plant life. Their faces formed beaks, protecting rows of flat molars that were shaped for mushing up leaves. But that didn't mean that its head wasn't dangerous. With its attacker now at the furthest point from its most offensive weapon, the ankylosaurus pulled out its next best form of defence by ramming its head into Tate's side.
Tate felt pain explode through him. He didn't even have time to try and get up before the ankylosaurus head butted him again, crushing him up against the adjacent wall and driving the air from his lungs. It was a real rock and a hard place situation. Ankylosaurs weren't designed for butting, but just the sheer size and strength of the fused bones in its head made a very effective tool against a mere human. It was like getting hit with all the force of a battering ram.
Tate curled up into a foetal position as best as he could in the small space between the wall and the ankylosaur, trying to protect his head from the barrage of blows that ensued. He hoped his ribs would take the brunt, rather than his spine. That was the lesser evil. Even so, every butt of that giant head sent spikes of pain coursing through him and crushed what little air he had left from his body. He kept waiting for something to break. He was surprised his ribs had held up this long.
Then, after what felt like the twentieth blow, but had probably only been the fifth or sixth, the onslaught stopped. By this point, Tate was completely winded and gasping to replace the air that had been battered out of him, but his brain still knew to take advantage of the break. Ignoring the scream of protest from his side and chest, Tate struggled to his feet, using the wall to help balance himself. He found that he'd been cradling the tranq gun to his chest. He guessed it had been natural instinct to protect that too, as well as his head.
As he'd guessed from the fact that the ankylosaurus had stopped attacking him, the tranquilisers had finally kicked in. It had already sank forward onto his head, legs folding underneath him. Its back end followed with a large crash. Its eyes fluttered closed as sleep took over. Tate would have felt guilty for the helplessness he'd brought upon the great creature, had it not just been knocking him around like a rag doll.
He slung the gun back over his shoulder, a hand immediately going to his ribs. Nothing felt broken, at least, though he was probably going to have a hell of a lot of bruising. Now that he wasn't getting head butted anymore, it already felt like a great improvement.
He pulled a beaten up walkie-talkie out of his pocket and adjusted the frequency. Each area of civilisation used a different frequency, which they'd plaster over their watchtowers for everyone to see. Tate knew most of them by heart. Walkie-talkies were the most straightforward method of relaying messages. Apparently, centuries ago, the world had been overrun by portable phones that had thousands of options, most of which had nothing to do with contacting people. Technology nowadays had reverted back, much like the creatures had. This was much simpler.
He pushed his thumb onto the button. "Anyone listening? Your rogue ankylosaurus is having sleepy-byes now, so it's time for you guys to bat. We're gonna need a truck, a winch and some good ol' manpower."