Copyright Merel Pierce – Do not copy, transmit, or otherwise use this material in any way.
“Dawkins, get down to the pens. One of your dogs won’t come out of the kennel.”
Moira glanced up from the status report she’d been reading, frowning at the burly man standing in the breakroom doorway.
Moira sighed, scooting her chair back and getting to her feet.
“Yeah, whatever.” The man said with a sneer. “They want to try him out, and he won’t come. If you don’t want them using the prods, handle it.”
“Jesus, he’s only been in the program a few weeks.” She muttered, annoyed at the impatience of her colleagues. “He hasn’t even finished his training.”
“Not gonna either, if he doesn’t get his shit together.”
Moira closed the folder and gathered up her things, throwing what was left of her lunch in the trash.
“Tell them I’ll be down in five.”
The man grunted as she passed him on the way out of the lunchroom, and Moira had to force herself to ignore the way his head angled to watch her go.
One of only two women in the unit, she was accustomed to the men ogling her. Sexual harassment was common, but Moira didn’t make a fuss. Her pack relied on her to take care of them, and after two grueling years of hard labor earing their trust, she wasn’t willing to risk being relocated for filing a complaint against one of the soldiers the company employed.
Moira dropped her things at her cubicle and retrieved her laminated badge. She slipped the lanyard over her head as she made her way towards the elevator at the end of the hall, swiping the badge beneath the reader that controlled the shaft doors.
The red light blinked green, and the doors parted. Moira stepped inside, typed in her code on the keypad and chse sub-level three from the menu. A buzzer sounded and the doors closed, a series of electromagnetic locks sealing her in as the elevator started it’s decent.
Once she’d reached her floor, the locks disengaged, and another warning buzzer sounded as the doors opened. Moira exited the car into the passage that led to her packs encloser, unbothered by the cold concrete and infrequently placed lights that composed the hall.
She’d gotten used to the dismal conditions on sub-level three a long time ago. It was like perpetual night here, always dark, gloomy, and impersonal. They insisted it was for safety sake, but Moira thought it was unnecessary for them to keep the unit packs in such a depressing facility. She thought it more likely they didn’t care enough to make the space more welcoming. After all, who cared what the hounds thought?
To most of the soldiers and scientists here, they were just animals, pure and simple. Potential weapons, who were only useful if they could be trained to do the bidding of the men running the show.
This program had been in place for more than eight years, but many of the first specimens had been euthanized due to uncontrolled aggression and violence. It took the arrogant bastards behind the scenes years to figure out that their subjects only responded to certain kinds of training, and brute force wasn’t enough to do the job.
That’s where Moira came in. After a chance encounter with an escaped facility subject that ended peacefully instead of the blood and violence they’d expected when trying to retrieve him, they’d offered her a place in the program.
Well, they’d offered her an ultimatum. Work for us, or we’ll ruin your life.
They had the money and influence to do it. They’d made sure she knew it, too. When she’d refused to answer their calls, they’d shut down her bank accounts and sent the police to bring her in on a fake drug charge that her public defender assured her would put her behind bars for at least ten years.
She’d gotten the message.
Moira turned left at a fork in the hall, flashing her badge beneath another reader by a reinforced steel door. The lights flashed, the door sliding open to allow her passage. The small walkway was enclosed, a door on each end. She had to wait for the first door to close before her badge would open the second, which released her into the observation deck above her pack’s enclosure.
She made her way to the bullet-proof windows – the only thing strong enough to keep them from breaking through – and looked down into the pen below.
Fake boulders and skeletal machinery littered the concrete floor below. Canopies made of netting hung over and between the landmarks, providing a sense of cover for the creatures who called the place home. The same straw that was scattered atop the netting was also strewn over the floor, a pathetic covering. She hadn’t been able to convince the company to provide something more pleasant for them.
Moira sighed. It was like a sad zoo in a third-world country where the animals spent their entire lives in a concrete box. She only hoped her work would eventually convince the higher-up’s that improving the quality of life for the pack improved their trainability and cooperation.
There were three soldiers beneath her in the pen, close to the exit, waiting.
She turned away from the viewing window and made her way through yet another door with the flash of her keycard. It was a flight of stairs down to the floor. At the next door, she hung her badge on the wall outside the entrance to the pen, retrieved a remote that controlled the electric collars the pack wore, fastened it around her wrist and fisted the round device before typing a code on the keypad.
You couldn’t wear badges here. They were too smart for that.
She passed through another check-point style room, waiting for the first door to close before she coded the second door that released her into the pen.
Two of the soldiers turned her way as the door opened, electric prods lowered. The third kept watch on the unmoving landscape.
“I didn’t know you were pulling them today.” Moira countered. “Could have saved you the trouble if someone would tell me what is going on.”
“You’ll know what you’re meant to.”
“Are the rest of the boys out already?”
“Three of five. That trouble-making pup and the Beta are still here.”
The Beta of the pack – Tanner, or 23 as he was now called – was still recovering from the pack’s last mission when he’d been too close to an IED that had gone off when they set the pack loose in hostile territory. Thankfully, the higher-ups were smart enough to realize a compromised asset wasn’t much of an asset at all. She was glad he’d been left behind. She wished they’d leave 28 as well. He wasn’t ready for training exercises yet. They hadn’t had enough time to bond properly.
Moira moved between the guards, taking a calming breath as she moved further into the enclosure.
“We’re right behind you.”
She held a hand up behind her, motioning for them to stay put.
“You’ve done enough. Stay there. I’ll get him.”
Moira skirted the hulking remains of a bulldozer, a hand trailing along the metal grill as she searched the shadowed maze beneath the netting. She made a series of clicking noises with her tongue, something she always did when she was coming in – letting the boys know she was there.
It wasn’t until she was out of sight of the soldiers, rounding another large bolder, when she heard the first signs of life. Scuffling, a huff and a sneeze. Moira turned her head slowly in the direction of the sound, not surprised to see Tanner emerging from the shadows of his favorite spot – a low place between several pieces of equipment.
Moira smiled at him as he pulled himself out of the den-like area, feeling a pang of sympathy as she watched him wince for the effort of moving his injured hind leg.
“Hey, Tanner.” She greeted him gently, softening her voice as he got to his feet. “Still feeling pretty rough?”
He chuffed a response, triangular ears drooping as he limped his way toward her, his tail flagging lazily behind him.
Tanner’s fur was tawny – thick and plush. Moira loved burying her fingers in it, feeling the downy undercoat between her fingers. Not that she’d have told the others, but he was her favorite. He was the charmer of the group, with dark eyes that did his smiling for him when a wagging tail didn’t say enough.
He was smaller than the Alpha, but still stood a head taller than Moira, forcing her to tilt her chin up to look at him when he paused before her. As all werewolves were, Tanner was heavily muscled. Broad shoulders, a tucked waist, and thick, muscular bipedal legs that allowed him to move on two legs or lope on four.
She lifted her hand, spreading her fingers and pressing her palm to his chest over his heart.
He gave a low rumble – an odd purr-like noise the weres made when they were happy – and brought his hand to rest over top of hers. Furred and clawed, the underside of palm and digits thick with leathery padding, his touch was surprisingly gentle.
Moira smiled at him again.
“Do you know where William is?”
Tanner grunted, his ears folding back for an entirely different reason this time. He tilted his head to the right, eyes shifting toward the actual den that had been constructed for the pack in the back corner of the enclosure.
Moira scratched his chest, smoothing the hair before she let her hand slip out from beneath his. The pack wasn’t fond of William. He hadn’t been here long enough for them to work out the hierarchy kinks. William had been snatched up right after he was infected. He hadn’t even had a chance to adjust to what had happened to him before he was thrust into the program. The older wolves had all been infected long before the company found them. The transition seemed to be easier once the man accepted his beast. “I’ll come back after I talk to him.”
Tanner dipped his chin in agreement.
Moira continued through the maze, letting her fingers trail along the rocks and machinery as she went. It was good to leave her scent here, it reminded them that she wasn’t far away, or that she wouldn’t be for long.
Contrary to what common folklore taught people about werewolves, they were quite intelligent, their human mind still perfectly intact. They were more primal, short tempered, and strong, but otherwise, the man remained intact – trapped inside the wolf, so to speak. The loss of control wasn’t the only thing folklore had wrong, though. Those afflicted with a werewolf’s curse didn’t suffer it only on the full moon. In fact, it was exactly the opposite. They lived and breathed their curse every day, only returning to their human form through an excruciating transformation during the full moon.
Still human at their core, the violence of the weres had been successfully tempered by her presence in their lives. In the beginning there had been a lot of terrifying moments when Moira was afraid she’d be torn to pieces, raped, or injured when the pack fought over her attention. Eventually, though, things had worked themselves out.
With so little pleasure in their lives, her company was a balm that soothed and helped them keep in touch with their humanity. They grew protective, eager to please. One of the reasons Moira and the weres got along so well was that she still treated them like men. She was the only one who did in this place.
When she reached the den, she dipped low to clear the entrance. Inside, she could already hear the bristling growl of the were who was hiding in the relative darkness of the makeshift cave.
“Please stop growling at me, William.” Moira admonished as she entered the space. She waited for her eyes to adjust, sweeping over the room and its three alcoves. The straw was thicker here, rustling beneath her feet as she stepped inward. The steady grumbling of the youngest pack member told her where he was even before she could see him.
Black as pitch, William may as well have been a shadow. Tucked back into one of the alcoves, huddled low, the only thing she could see was the white gleam of his teeth as he continued to snarl and growl.
Cautious, Moira came within a few feet of him before she stopped.
“We need to talk.”
The growl changed pitch, but William didn’t move.
Moira crouched down in front of him, giving him a half-hearted smile.
“I know you don’t want to go with them, William. I don’t blame you,” she began, her tone one of practiced sympathy. “It’s terrifying, degrading, frustrating… I know. But this is how we survive.”
A snort sounded amid the growling, the dry grating of straw on concrete detailing his movements as he turned his face to the corner and gave her his back – trying to ignore her.
“William, come on.” Moira pleaded. “Someday, they won’t be able to treat you like an animal anymore. But until we find the loophole that lets us out, we’ve got to work together. Otherwise, well… What they threatened to do when you attacked the guard your first week? They’ll actually do it.”
She scooted a little closer, reaching forward to place a tentative hand on his furred shoulder. He twitched, but the growl died away as she started working her fingers through his fur.
“It isn’t fair that their making you go before you’ve had a chance to do more training, but I’m sure it will be an easy exercise.” Moira promised. “If you stay close to Jack and the others, you’ll be fine.”
His shoulders slumped, an unhappy sound escaping his muzzle as she continued to work fur and muscle beneath her hand. He had never been mad at her, and she knew it.
Confidence boosted by the relaxing of his posture, Moira went to her knees behind him, laying herself over his back and pressing her cheek to his shoulder. Hugging the giant furred creature to her chest, she jostled him what little she was able.
“It’s just a training exercise, William.” She assured him, inhaling his woodsy scent deep. It always surprised her how they weres managed to smell like the wilderness, even locked in a concrete box. “The boys usually like it. They tear shit up, make a mess, blow off some steam… It’ll be good for you all. Don’t you want to get out of the enclosure for a while?”
William huffed, shrugging a shoulder.
Moira gave him another squeeze, then got to her feet. She wrapped her hands around his upper arm and gave him a tug. “Come on, William. I’ll walk out with you. It’ll be fine.”
With a grumble, the were let her pull him out of the alcove. He stayed on all fours as they moved to the den entrance, Moira’s hand resting on his shoulder. Once they exited into the main chamber, the sleek black creature got cautiously to his feet.
Nervous golden eyes searched the terrain, his ears swiveling back and forth as he listened to every living creature in the enclosure who was making enough noise to be heard.
Moira gave him a minute, not wanting to force him forward before he was ready. When the tension in his muscles lessened minutely, she wrapped her arm around his and gave him another tug.
“Come on, William. I promise it won’t be so bad. You’ll probably even have fun.”
He searched her expression, as if trying to judge whether or not she was telling the truth. Finally, his ears drooped in surrender.
“Good. That’s the right attitude to have. Come on then, lets get this over with.”