I wasn't sure how long I'd napped before I finally woke. I was spooned against the wonderfully furry body of Ben. At some point while we'd slept he'd turned onto his side and now had Elias wrapped up in his warm and powerful arms. Elias was spooned deeply into his new lover. They were both still sleeping soundly. I'd had nearly eight hours already on the flight in and I felt refreshed enough that I wouldn't be able to sleep any longer if I tried.
I got out of bed carefully so as not to disturb them, then I found my clothes and got dressed.
I exited the RV and had a long stretch, then I walked over towards the barracks.
The sun was much higher in the sky now. It looked to be approaching noon. I wondered if Grace had got up yet. It seemed unlikely, because if she had, she would have been banging on the RV door to see me.
I entered the long hallway with the intent to head to the mess hall to see if there was anything to eat. I was really hungry.
As I was approaching the end of the hall, a door to the side opened and I saw Grace rubbing the sleep out of her eyes as she came out into the hall.
She saw me and a big grin split her face as she shouted, "Jake! Oh my God!"
She raced towards me and jumped into my arms.
I held her tight and she said, "I was so worried! Elias was beside himself! We didn't know what the hell happened to you! We were terrified!"
She hugged me harder and I squeezed her tightly to let her know I was fine and I wasn't going anywhere.
She finally pulled back and wiped happy tears from her eyes as she grinned at me and said, "You look amazing! I like the beard. It's so manly. I'm so glad you made it back safe. I was scared out of my wits when we lost Cole and you both."
I said, "I'm sorry I scared you. I was so close to getting back to you and Elias at Nazas. I heard you shout to me, but things got out of hand really quick. I got hurt and I got attacked by one of the new werewolves and I got taken to a hospital in Jalisco. I was unconscious for two days. I would have been dead if it wasn't for you sending Jesse after me. He saved my life, Grace."
She beamed and said, "I knew he would! He's gonna bring Cole back to me too, I know it! He's really something special, Jake."
I smiled and nodded and said, "Yes, he most definitely is. He knows exactly where Cole's located now. He's right here in Alaska. He's somewhere north of us. I guess that's why he sent you and Elias out here. We're going after him this evening. We'll be pulling him out at sunset when we turn to wolves."
"Oh, thank God! I'm so relieved to hear that. I knew I could count on Jesse. Have you seen him lately, Jake? Do you know where he is? I want to talk to him and thank him for bringing you back to us."
I shook my head and said, "I don't know where he is, sorry. I haven't seen him since after we arrived this morning. He might be resting up for tonight. Maybe he's in the mess hall. I'm starving and I was just gonna go in there to get a bite to eat. Care to join me?"
She smiled and nodded and said, "Sure. I could eat. Where's Elias?"
"He's still sleeping in the RV. He was flat out bushed. I guess he stayed up the whole night pacing and waiting for me to get back."
Her eyebrows went up. "He's in the RV? The RV's here?"
I smiled and nodded. "Jesse probably figured you wouldn't be satisfied with a job half done. He wanted to bring your home back to you, too. They have a big transport plane and he drove it right up into the belly and it's parked outside now."
She laughed and said, "Now that's how it's done! I hope he's in the mess hall. I really want to see him again."
I didn't need my wolf's senses to sniff out the fact that she was actually physically excited by the idea of seeing him again. Her body language and the quality of her voice when she spoke of him said it all. She was obviously very much attracted to him and he'd become important to her and was uppermost in her mind right now after Cole. I liked it. She was feeling enthusiastic and positive and it was because of Jesse. I hoped he'd stick to what we'd agreed and not tell her the truth about what he'd done to Cole until much later on. She was ebullient in the face of the hardships she'd had to deal with and the fact that Cole was still not back with her, and it was just because she had so much faith in Jesse. She needed this right now. She needed him to be her knight in shining armor.
I smiled at her and said, "You really bet your money on the right horse when you put your faith in him, Grace. He's a pretty amazing guy. Let's go eat and I'll tell you all about what happened to me and how my wolf told me all about Jesse and what he's like."
We turned to head towards the mess hall and she asked, "Your wolf told you? How exactly does that work? My wolf doesn't tell me much of anything."
I started to explain what it was like for me when I first changed into the wolf, but before I could get far I felt her tense up and saw her become a bit flushed as she grinned and said, "There he is! It's Jesse!"
I looked over and saw him eating with several other of his men. He looked over and saw us and he grinned widely when he saw Grace. He muttered something to the men around him and they all got up to go find another place to sit and they took their plates with them.
He smiled and waved us over.
Grace was almost frozen in place next to me. It was like she was a school girl with a powerful crush and she was almost afraid to approach him.
I put my hand on the small of her back and gently pushed her in his direction and said, "You go ahead and say hi to Jesse. I'll go get us some lunch and be right there."
She grinned at me and then turned to go and join Jesse. I watched as he stood up and she went right to him and without a word she gave him a big hug. I smiled as I saw her put her face into his neck and he wrapped his arms around her protectively and just held her while neither one said a word.
New love was such a beautiful thing to see, and these two were clearly feeling it in a big way. I began to wonder if Jesse should ever tell Grace the truth. It really was just one mistake in an otherwise stellar history of being the perfect man. He was the best possible guy I could ever hope to see Grace hook up with and I would hate to see it fall apart for any reason. I suppose in the end honesty would be best, even it caused problems for a while. I'd have to think about it some more.
I went to get a couple of trays and meals for Grace and me, and then I went over to join them.
Grace had sidled up right beside Jesse and they were holding hands while they spoke softly to each other. I wondered if I should maybe just drop Grace's tray off and make some excuse to go eat somewhere else, but Jesse looked up and saw me and said, "Sit, Jake. Join us."
Grace smiled and nodded, so I placed her tray in front of her and went around to the other side of the table to sit across from them.
We set to eating and Grace asked for the story of how Jesse found me and picked me up. I let him do most of the talking while I ate. Grace was amazed at how close a thing it was that I'd almost died, twice. I could see her elevating Jesse higher and higher in her esteem as he described the hospital rescue, and I smiled. He was playing the role of champion for her perfectly. She was hanging on his every word. By the time the whole story was told and I'd added my side of it she was almost dumbstruck. She told us how she'd simply heard that Jesse had located me in a hospital, that I'd been changed, and that he was bringing me back. She had no idea we'd had such an adventure and that I'd been in such horrible shape in the hospital.
"He really saved my ass," I said. "The government agent actually thought he'd killed me. He pushed the plunger and I would be dead in minutes if Jesse hadn't beaned him with his trusty wrench and pulled out the IV. I was sure I was a goner. I wished he could have been a bit more delicate about getting me out of my casts, but I guess there really wasn't time. He was having a bit too much fun wailing on me with that pipe wrench, though. I think it was half that he was in a hurry, and half that it was just really entertaining for him."
They both laughed.
We finished our meals and talked a bit more and finally Grace said, "So, Jake told me you know exactly where Cole is, Jesse. How did you manage to find him?"
Jesse immediately started to go red and an uncomfortable look crossed his face. I was worried his conscience might cause him to blurt out the truth of it, so before he could say anything I said, "They've got resources you wouldn't believe, Grace. It's a really professional outfit. They'd already tracked those government guys to Nazas. That's how they were there in such numbers already and ready to help with the shit storm we accidentally caused. It was a fairly simple thing for them to keep tracking the agents after they took Cole. We've got a lot to thank them for, especially Jesse. We'd be screwed if it wasn't for him."
Grace smiled and nodded and rubbed her other hand on Jesse's hand that she was already holding. I saw him smile sort of gratefully at me, but at the same time he still looked a bit guilty. I think he wasn't comfortable keeping it a secret from her any longer, but I still felt it was important for him to do just that, at least until we had Cole back, so I tried to change the subject.
"So, Jesse, when you told Elias he couldn't come with us tonight you said you didn't have any gear that would fit him. What sort of gear were you talking about?"
He smiled and said, "I think you might be surprised by it. Samuel made sure we had a lot of really clever people converted to werewolves early on so we could make the most of our small numbers. He's been collecting scientists and doctors and computer specialists and engineers and offering them immortality in exchange for their expertise. For quite a few years some of them have been working on designs to help us do better in wolf form. They've come up with some pretty neat stuff."
Grace said, "Maybe it's stuff like Jake was working on. He built masks that the boys could slip on when they're wolves that let them tap at touch screens and communicate with each other and with us. They even had a tablet they could use to send us messages when they were out in the woods as wolves."
Jesse nodded and said, "Yup, stuff exactly like that. That's how they started, anyhow. They've made a fair bit of progress on that front. They developed a speech processor that allows us to whine, growl and bark with certain patterns that are converted to human speech by their gadget. It's rudimentary but it helps us when we're in wolf form and we need to communicate constantly with each other while on the move, like tonight while we're coordinating the strike on the facility."
"That's incredible! It must take a hell of a lot of practice to use it," I said.
He nodded. "It does. It takes intensive training, and so far only our officers have gone through it all since we need to be able to literally bark out orders while on the run. We've been using the system for years now, so we're fairly adept at it. All of our men have learned some of it too, but they're not as fluent yet. They primarily use it for acknowledgment and for voice activation of other system."
"I'm impressed," I said, "I would never have even thought of something like that. What else have they developed?"
"Lots of really cool toys. We started to refer to the guys that are developing it all as Geek Division, or G Division, which was sort of an homage to the old 'Q Division' after the high-tech quartermasters from the Bond movies. Their stuff is just that good. They're geniuses. I'm constantly amazed by what they come up with. Samuel wanted us to be kitted out like full fledged soldiers. He knew we could ultimately need to defend ourselves against seriously armed threats, and of course we might need to do armed incursions like when we took out that first facility. He values werewolf lives greatly since we're effectively immortal and he wanted us as safe as we could be if we had to fight. One of the first things we knew we'd need is some sort of body armor, so that's one of the first things they developed, and it became the framework on which they were able to hang all the other great shit they built. The base for the armor is made of a loose, super-stretchy multi-layered mesh of a lycra-like material. If we had six inches of it between us with me holding one end and you holding the other, we could stretch it out to a really thin two or three feet of material, and it would snap right back."
"I get it. So you can actually wear it as a human, and when you change it stretches and conforms to the giant wolf!"
He nodded. "Exactly right. One bonus is that when it's unstretched, it's thicker and really warm and it insulates us thin-skinned hairless apes against cold climates like here in Alaska. When it stretches right out it's really thin and the small holes in the mesh are exposed, so we don't over heat too much as wolves. Anyhow, once they fully developed that and created suits that allow for easy shifting from human to wolf and back to human without having to deal with the clothing issue, they started adding on to it. They developed a way of tacking on small plates that are made by covering really thin and hard laminated carbon composite pieces with stretched Kevlar. The plates make the suits into super light-weight bullet-proof armor. They sew them onto the lycra fabric in overlapping patterns like scale mail armor. We look absolutely ridiculous with it on when we're in human form, but it works like a hot damn in either shape. We can move comfortably enough in it as humans, but when we become wolves and the whole thing stretches out, it's like we're wearing almost impenetrable armor that covers the most vital areas like under the throat and the back of our necks, our chest and our hind quarters, yet it doesn't impede our movement at all. We're not completely covered by it, but any place where we might be seriously wounded or potentially killed by a bullet is covered."
"Holy shit, that sounds pretty cool."
"It sounds cool, yes, but like I said, it really doesn't look cool at all, at least not when we're in human form. We look like dorks dressed in some sort of lame B movie monster costumes for a sci-fi convention or something. You'll see. Anyhow, once they had a base they could hang stuff on, they designed a small pack to hold things in for when we're human, like survival kits and water, along with holsters and scabbards for side arms and knives. They also designed bigger, heavier framed packs for other gadgets and weapons like shotguns or machine guns. They made it possible for us to go in and fight as humans, and shift to wolves in the middle of it. Or even go in as wolves, and then shift to humans, and we'd still be fully clothed with all of our gear attached to us. That's a critical feature, since it means part way through the fight, when several might have been injured, they change and are completely healed and ready to continue, while still carrying all of their gear and not just being naked and vulnerable."
"How do you deal with the transition phase? You'd be vulnerable and easily taken out if the enemy realizes you're in the middle of changing."
He nodded, "We always bring along a few like Benjamin. He's a pilot so he's never on the ground with us, but there are others who are heavy commandos. They're covered in regular flak gear and carry big machine guns. They stay back and watch our flanks and our rear mostly. They stay out of the fight for the most part to conserve their ammo, but when the change hits they watch over us and lay down heavy suppressing fire to keep the enemy at bay if necessary. These guys are big and their strength lets them carry chain guns that can rip apart pretty much anything. Having them with us lets us utilize the shift in form if we need to, with less risk. Usually we don't actually use the shift itself during the battle, but rather go in in one form or the other and use the shift back to heal up after it's all over. It's always an option to do it mid-fight if necessary, though."
"That's brilliant. You could do a lot with a small force with that sort of ability. Go in as wolves to take out the enemy outside while in the most deadly form, lots of casualties likely happen right at the start, then heal completely while switching to humans in order to use the guns and to have better access to the environment like getting through locked doors and stuff."
He nodded, "We don't have to rely on the human shape for that sort of thing, though. Whole missions can be carried out as wolves if necessary or if desirable. We were wolves the whole time when we destroyed that first facility and we'll be wolves for the whole thing tonight. Some of the coolest stuff was designed strictly for use as a wolf, and those are the really James Bond-like gadgets that would be sort of pointless as humans, but invaluable as wolves. We have clusters of tubes that can be mounted on the bigger pack frame that launch small unguided, high explosive rockets. We've got bigger tube launchers for RPGs. We have other types of launchers that throw satchel charges or sticky bombs or grenades. We've got something they call a 'door knocker' that's based on the pneumatic captive bolt devices that are used to stun cattle for slaughter, but on a bigger scale. The wolf can press it against any sort of door knob, hinge or latch and it blasts a heavy steel bolt into it with so much force it literally blows it apart. It can be reset and reused a lot of times before they run out of pressure. They developed robotic systems that can swing night vision or targeting systems into place in front of the wolf's eyes, then swing it back away when it's not needed. Just about anything you could imagine that might be useful they either developed already or are actively working on."
I laughed and said, "It really does sound like James Bond. I bet it's a fun job developing all that stuff. I'd love to check out their labs some day. Robotics and electronics are major hobbies for me. It must be cool to think of a problem, like how to open a door with a round handle as a wolf, and then sit down and come up with a solution like the door knocker. That would be a job I could dedicate my entire days to and never get tired of it."
He grinned and said, "They're always looking for more geeks for G Division. It's a pretty exclusive club and they're fairly selective, but I could put in a good word. You're welcome to join it if it interests you, Jake."
"I might just do that. I'll need something to keep myself occupied when this is all over."
He nodded and said, "A man's gotta stay busy."
I said, "So, I would think a major issue when you're a wolf would be the weapons. The wolf shape isn't great for aiming and firing with accuracy and you obviously have no hands to operate anything intricate. How do they handle that for up close work? Is it just all teeth when you're a wolf and guns when you're human?"
He shook his head and said, "No, like I said, we knew we might need to fight whole battles as wolves, so they developed a lot of weapons for us. Mostly just things that don't require extreme accuracy, like the grenade launchers and rocket launchers I mentioned earlier. The high explosive rockets can do a lot of damage to a vehicle, or a door that's blocking your way or something. It can even blast holes in thick walls. They also made us shot guns for close work. Ranged combat is better left to the human shape and rifles for better accuracy, but for close in strikes like the one we'll be doing tonight, the wolf form can be really effective, and there's a certain level of psychological warfare built in that works in our favor. Nothing causes a group of humans to wet themselves quicker than a horde of well armed and armored gigantic wolves coming right at them."
I laughed and said, "I'll bet. It sounds awesome."
Grace chuckled and said, "You boys and your need for all the coolest toys. To me it sounds horrible, and really dangerous. How the hell do you keep from accidentally killing each other with all that stuff? How do you control a gun that's strapped to your back when you're a wolf?"
"It can be dangerous, Grace, you're right. We have to train a lot to use the gear. Jake won't be using any of our weapons, but he'll have the armor and a pack with some weapons he can use in human form if necessary. The trained wolves will be handling the real weapons. The only safe way the geeks could find to control firing a weapon was a combination of voice and muscle control. They didn't want us accidentally launching a rocket or shooting one of our own in the face. I don't know if you've ever watched a dog really close when you scratched at it, but they have the surprising ability of bunching up their skin really tightly. It's like they have muscle control of several areas of their skin. The wolves are the same. Our geeks took advantage of that to develop sensor pads on the inside of the body armor that can detect the bunching of the muscles in several different key spots. They also had already developed the speech devices for use with voice commands, like I said before. It was a simple thing to combine them both to control firing a weapon. You have to really concentrate to bunch up the right muscles and hold it, then you bark the specific command to fire the weapon. Think of it like cocking the hammer using your muscles while you aim, and pulling the trigger using your voice. It lets us keep moving while shooting once we've practiced enough to get good at it. There's no way it can be triggered accidentally because of how much focus it takes to pull it off."
"That all sounds so amazing," I said, "Man, I wish Elias was here right now. He loves cool gadgets as much as I do. He'd be creaming himself over all of this."
Jesse laughed and said, "What guy doesn't love cool gadgets? I should arrange a demo for him some time in the future. I bet he'd like that."
"He'd love it! So would I! That would be great, Jesse."
He chuckled and said, "Well, you won't be needing a demo. You'll be seeing it all in action tonight, but we have to be in wolf form so I can't show it to Elias today. I'll arrange to have someone demo it for him tomorrow maybe. I bet Cole would like to see it all too."
Grace said, "He sure would. It's so good to think of him being here tomorrow to see it. I can't thank you enough for all you're doing for us, Jesse, especially what you're doing for Cole."
Once again he got a guilty look on his face and he said, "You don't need to thank me, Grace, it's the least I can do. We look after our own. You're all part of our bigger family now. The werewolves and lupines have to stick together. We don't have a very big community yet so we're all pretty close."
"Lupines?" she asked, "What's a lupine?"
I grinned and said, "You probably thought your days of ever being a mommy again were gone when you changed to a werewolf, but that doesn't have to be the case if you don't want it to be."
Her eyebrows went up, and Jesse and I explained to her about lupines, and I told her all about Benjamin. She was amazed and thrilled by the idea of meeting one later when I would introduce her to Ben. Jesse told us we'd see several others, too, that he'd called up from another of their compounds and should be arriving soon. They would be helping out with the incursion tonight.
We stayed in the mess hall and talked for hours. Jesse had all sorts of questions about how we all became werewolves and how we managed to get by with no help from the established community. We told him our whole story right up until our paths crossed with his at Nazas, and he was impressed with how well we'd gotten by on our own. We peppered him with questions about the werewolf community and he explained that they were very well setup with schools and doctors and everything a community needed to get by comfortably. They were in several large compounds scattered about in remote areas with environments that were fitting for the wolves and obviously well away from normal people.
He gave us a bit of the history of it all, and told us how he was one of those who had been a werewolf for the longest, that they knew of anyhow, along with Samuel and several others. Nobody really knew how it all began or exactly how long ago it had started. Jesse had been in the military before he was approached by Samuel and asked to join and help them build up a defensive force. He'd been a werewolf for more than thirty years and had been Samuel's right hand most of that time. He'd never had time to settle down with anyone himself, which seemed of particular interest to Grace, so he'd never started a family of his own. He hoped to do so soon, which I was happy to notice also seemed of great interest to Grace.
Later in the afternoon, Benjamin and Elias came into the mess hall. I introduced Ben to Grace and, needless to say, she was utterly blown away by him. Jesse excused himself and said he needed to go take care of some more details for tonight's mission, and that he'd get some rest after that.
The rest of us stayed and continued our talk for a while. Grace had lots of questions for Ben. She seemed intrigued by the idea that she might create such an incredibly beautiful person herself some day. I could only imagine what beautiful lupine babies she and Jesse might make together, and I'm sure she was already thinking the same thing.
It felt so good to be sitting there talking to the ones I loved and thinking bright thoughts about the future. I wished Cole was there to complete the picture, but it wouldn't be much longer now before he would be.
The time flew by as we got to know each other better and before we knew it supper time rolled around and we were still in the mess hall talking, so we simply got up and went to get meals for ourselves and continued our visit while we ate. Jesse had come back to join us and we enjoyed our meal with all of us in an animated conversation the whole time.
After our meals we sort of slowly began to split off into two naturally exclusive lines of discussion. Grace and Jesse had moved a bit away and were sitting closely and smiling and talking to each other and Ben and Elias and I were beginning to think about maybe going back to the RV to enjoy each other some more.
Jesse suddenly stood and turned to me and said, "Grace has agreed to go for a walk with me so I can show her the beautiful landscape out here. We're off for a bit, guys. I'll come get you later on, Jake. Try not to let these two wear you out too much before the mission tonight."
He winked and turned to escort a grinning Grace out into the hall.
Ben was smiling as he watched them leave, and he said, "She's awesome! I wish those two would get together for real. I'd love to be a godfather to one of Jesse's pups some day."
"I'd say there's a fairly strong chance of that happening from what I could see," Elias said.
"Me too. I hope it happens. I've already forgiven Jesse completely. He's a great guy. Grace is walking on air. I've never seen her feeling so good. I think he's perfect for her."
"Yeah," Elias agreed, "I guess I was a bit hard on him before. He really does seem like a hell of a nice guy. I think I owe him an apology. He made a mistake, but in the end I guess he made it for the right reasons. I can't hold it against him for one desperate act to try to protect Ben and his kind, and all that the werewolves have built."
Ben grinned and said, "You both are great guys. I can't believe my luck. I was so lonely before. Now I'm attached to two of the best people I've ever met. Can we go back to the RV now?"
He didn't need to ask twice. We all jumped up and hustled out to the motorhome.
We crawled all over each other and got to know each other better physically for a while, then settled in afterward to talk softly some more about our futures together as we got to know each other more emotionally.
The time finally arrived for me to get ready for the strike against the facility and Jesse came and knocked at the door of the RV to get me so we all quickly dressed.
Elias asked if he could come along and Jesse agreed. Ben went off by himself to get ready for the mission. I assumed that must mean we were going out in the Hercules.
"You should strip down completely before we go out of the RV, Jake. You can't be wearing any civilian clothes at all under your armor."
I nodded and stripped back down.
"Christ you're sexy! If I was gay I'd be all over you, Jake! You're almost as furry as a lupine, cuz!" Jesse joked, "You are one lucky guy, Elias."
Elias grinned and nodded.
Jesse turned to go out the door and said, "Follow me, boys."
Elias and I followed him out. He led us around to the entrance of a long, large supply tent that was right next to the RV on the other side. Inside were long rows of large, dark green, vertical storage enclosures that looked like really big lockers.
Jesse opened one of them and said, "Our body armor is pretty much one size fits all, but you've got to be bigger than you are, Elias, sorry. That's why I said it wouldn't be safe for you. Jake will likely be stretching it close to the limit in wolf form, but he'll be fine."
He pulled out a big, strange looking bundle of thin, diamond shaped, hard black plates that were all tied together and hanging off a sort of stiff frame made of some dark looking, shiny material with a sort of woven pattern almost like fiber glass or something under it's glossy surface. He moved it around until he had it right side up and facing the right way, and he said, "You're so tall, cuz. Maybe you should get on your knees for this. I need to slip it over your head and you need to hold your arms up. I can't reach if you're standing up."
I dropped to my knees with my hands up like I was surrendering to him. He smiled and worked the large opening at the bottom of the armor over my arms and down, with the stiff frame at my back. He made sure my hands went though the holes at the shoulders and then pulled it the rest of the way down until my head popped through the neck hole, which actually went up a bit to cover my neck like a turtle neck sweater.
I stood back up, and Elias immediately started laughing.
"You look like you're half way into dressing like a crow for Halloween," he said, "It looks like you're covered in black feathers."
Jesse chuckled and said, "The frame is made of carbon fiber. It's super rigid but super light weight. Those two curved braces that stick straight up past your shoulders are designed to hold snuggly against the wolf's shoulders once you change shapes. It lets him fire weapons or use the door knockers without the pack wanting to slide backwards when he does. There are several mount points on the frame that various pack configurations can be locked onto. The little plates all over the suit are made of laminated carbon composite with Kevlar stretched over them to be light weight and bullet proof."
I looked down to check it out. It looked absurd, but was actually fairly impressive. The black diamond shaped plates of very thin but incredibly rigid carbon composite were laid out in an overlapping pattern like scale mail or leaf mail armor. The armor covered my shoulders and upper arms to a bit past my elbows, with a bare part of lycra on the inside of each arm to allow them to swing freely without clashing with the leaves hanging on my sides. It covered the rest of my torso all the way down past my waist. It seemed as if it was far too long and it actually hung down past my butt to the tops of my thighs, but I realized that would likely be so that when I changed to the larger wolf, it would cover me right to my waist. I would still be able to move comfortably and freely enough with the armor on as a human, yet it would likely still protect me perfectly right back to my vital organs when I was a wolf. The whole thing felt like it couldn't weight much more than a few pounds, yet seemed like it could likely stop a high caliber bullet. The plates seemed appropriately spaced in the vertical plane, but were crowded a fair bit in the horizontal.
"Check this out," Jesse said, "Grab that other side and pull, Elias."
He took one side under my arm and Elias took the other and they pulled. The underlying lycra fabric stretched easily and by the time they had pulled it quite wide, the thin plates were still slightly overlapped, but no longer crowded. It was clearly designed to easily stretch into the wolf's much larger body. The design of small overlapped plates made it flexible so it could conform to any body shape. The unstretched, multi-layered lycra felt warm and comfortable even in the fairly cool air, yet stretched out it felt like it might breath a lot better.
"That's so cool!" Elias exclaimed.
Jesse nodded and said, "There's another piece. This is where you really start to look a bit ridiculous, but it can't be helped."
He dipped back into the storage enclosure and pulled out the lower half and he turned it around in his hands to find the front, and then held them open in front of my knees. "Step on into these."
I lifted a leg and stepped into the trousers, then I put a hand on his shoulder for balance and stepped into the other side. He stood and slid them up my legs and he pulled the front of it out as he slipped it up over my cock and balls and then wiggled it into its final position, which covered me all the way up to my waist.
Elias chuckled, then moved around to the back and lifted the back of the upper shirt and I felt a sudden breeze back there as Elias started to laugh hard. "They're like assless chaps!"
Jesse chuckled and said, "They couldn't figure out anything that would work for the tail that would be growing in when you change, other than to leave a big hole at the back around your tail bone for it to come out through. It's a good thing the shirt is extra long to compensate for body growth, or we'd be walking around with our butt cracks exposed all the time when we're human. They originally had a big flap there that would hang over the exposed part, and it could lift up when your tail grows, but everyone found it really uncomfortable and distracting to have that thing on the top of their tail when they're a wolf, so we decided to cut them off. It also gives us the freedom to relieve ourselves if we need to number 2 while we're dressed in the armor and we're a wolf and can't pull our pants down. If you look close at the front there you'll see there's a big flap held in place by a wide section of Velcro. You can peel it back easy with your teeth to let your big fat sheath out if you need to take a whiz while you're a wolf, and then close it back up when you're done."
I looked down and saw that the trousers only covered down to about the tops of my calves with the scale mail armor. They must be designed to cover only the larger haunches of the wolf, while leaving the lower legs exposed. The area between my thighs was devoid of plates similar to the insides of my arms. The arms on the shirt also covered only the upper arms just past the elbows which would cover the upper part of my forelegs when I'm the wolf, but leave the lower half exposed. I imagined it was to aid with cooling and overall comfort and to allow the joints to flex more freely.
"Bet you ain't never wore a suit of armor before, eh?" Jesse asked.
"Actually, it so happens I have. It was chain mail though. It was a lot heavier than this, even though I thought it was pretty light for full armor. This stuff weighs nothing."
"Well, this shit's pretty high tech. I won't even tell you how much it costs us to make one of these suits," Jesse said, "Now come the boots."
He held out a pair of lycra booties that had an almost circular, wide, hard rubber grip at the front part on the bottom, and a smaller one at the back for the heel. I slipped them on. They fit snugly up past my ankles, but they felt really odd.
"It will take a bit to get used to the way those feel. You need something to protect your soft feet from the ground, but it can't be too restrictive for the wolf. These are designed to give you protection, traction and stability under the ball of your foot and your toes, like a platform. There's another rubber part under your heel, but it's separate so you have no real arch support. When you change, the front part will be the perfect shape to cover the bottom of the wolf's back paws and the part under your heel will be just up behind his paw and won't bother him at all. He doesn't really need the protection for his feet as much as you do, but we found it's handy anyhow in some cases. It gives him a lot of extra traction at the back for pushing against things when we're on smooth or slippery surfaces. They actually fit the wolf a bit better than they fit you, but you'll find you get used to walking on them fairly quickly."
I moved around a bit and didn't actually find it to be too bad. The round, hard rubber pads on the front under the balls of my feet and toes were about six inches wide. If I stood straight with my feet the normal distance apart there was still a gap between them and they weren't touching each other, so I found I could walk easily and naturally without them banging together. It felt sort of like having a really small pair of snowshoes strapped to my bare feet or something. It didn't take long at all to get used to the feel of them.
"Some of the guys prefer not to wear them, but I thought I'd let you try them out. I like to wear mine. I don't like running around bare foot in the forest. There's lots of sharp twigs and rocks and shit out there."
I nodded and said, "They feel fine. I think I'll keep them on."
He reached into the locker again and pulled out another piece and said, "This is by far my favorite part, not. Elias will love how you look with this on. Lean down."
I bent over and he reached up and slid it down over my head. Elias immediately busted out laughing as I stood back up.
"Holy shit! Where's my camera?! We need to go get Grace so she can see this, Jake!"
"Shut up, you," I said, chuckling.
The helmet for the suit composed of a sort of 'neck sock' made of the same lightweight leaf mail all around with an extra, hard, curved piece of carbon composite that ran up under and just past my chin, and a hard top piece that curved up the back of my head and stuck out a ways over the top. It must look as though my head was sticking out of a giant crow's open beak as he tried to swallow me feet first. Clearly it was designed such that I could easily see and hear and talk and move around as a human, but when I became the wolf it would stretch to perfectly cover the top of his head, under his throat, and all around his neck, and leave his ears free. No vital area of the wolf would be left exposed to gunfire. It was fairly impressive, but looked absolutely ludicrous.
"Remember what I said about psychological warfare, Jake?" Jesse asked, "This shit conforms best to the shape of the wolf and it looks pretty awesome. When a giant wolf comes running towards the enemy dressed in this shit, he looks like a sleek, black, terrifying killing machine. Like something out of their worst nightmares. It scares the crap out of them and their natural reaction is to turn and run. On the other hand, when a human comes at them dressed this way they fall over laughing, so we've got the upper hand again, see?"
I laughed and said, "I wish I couldn't see. I wish nobody would see me this way, but thanks."
"That narrow bar coming up and forward at an angle on your right is a microphone. It's used for the voice commands and communication. There's little speakers on either side pointing downward that will be just ahead of where your ears will be when you're the wolf, too, so you can hear radio comms. There's a port on the back that's used to connect the helmet to the electronics in the backpack. Come on over here," he said.
We followed him further back and he grabbed a pack from a long table that had dozens of them stacked on it.
I turned and he fiddled at my back. I heard several snapping sounds as he anchored the pack to the stiff frame at the back of the shirt. It didn't weigh much and wasn't very big.
"This here contains some survival stuff, just in case. There's water and basic first aid. The upper section is reserved for electronic gear. It controls the weapons systems and voice activation and translation system. I connected yours up, but you'll only be using it as a radio receiver so you can hear any commands being broadcast to the team."
He showed me one of the packs that was still on the table and pointed at various spots around it and said, "Your sidearm is in the holster here, only of any use when you change back to human of course. It's loaded. Have you used one before?"
I nodded and said, "I spent a lot of time at a shooting range. I can handle one just fine."
"Perfect. There's a survival knife in a scabbard on the other side." He flipped the bottom half of the pack open to show me the contents. "Field rations, water, first aid, field radio are all in here."
"So, will you be OK dressed like this? Are you comfortable enough?"
I nodded again. "Yeah, I'll be fine. It's not as uncomfortable as I would have thought."
"Good. There's just one more thing. Move on to the back of the tent, there."
moved to the back and he followed. There were more packs back
here. He picked one up and strapped it onto me, but this time it
was in front, at my midsection. It attached
separately with wide straps that came from behind to wrap around my waist, and over my shoulders, and
even between my legs on each side of my groin. It all buckled
together just under the pack in front. There was a red D shaped ring
at the center in the front of the pack.
"What's this?" I asked.
"That's yer chute."
"Chute, as in parachute? You mean you're gonna chuck me right out of the plane?"
Jesse laughed and said, "We wouldn't chuck you right out, Jake. We'd just give you a gentle nudge is all, and only if you don't have the guts to chuck yerself out. We'll be doing a HALO jump."
"A what now?"
"A high altitude, low open jump. Really, it won't be a true HALO jump. That would be closer to thirty thousand feet, we'll only be jumping at twenty thousand feet. We do it lower to avoid the need for oxygen and the risk of getting the bends really bad. We'll be going up high enough and flying at a tangent to the facility so they can't hear us coming. We need to free fall as far as possible so they won't see the chutes. The LZ is well back behind the big hill the facility is built into, and we'll be coming down with the setting sun to our backs so there's no way they'll spot us."
"What the hell? You do realize I've never jumped from a plane before in my life, right? How the hell do you expect me to be able to get it right on my first try with no training? From what I understand, jumping out of an airplane isn't one of those 'if at first you don't succeed, try, try again' type deals. There is no try again if you go splat the first time."
"Don't worry, Jake. Your chute is just an emergency reserve. See that big handle hanging right at your breast bone? Don't pull it unless you hear a blaring alarm that comes from the pack. It's got a sensor that detects if your velocity it too great for the altitude you're at and it identifies your last chance to open the reserve. You're gonna be attached to me and we'll be jumping tandem. We'll both be riding the same chute down, so if everything goes right you won't hear the alarm. If anything goes wrong I'll cut you loose and you'll have to pull that handle to open your reserve. Don't worry if you bounce real hard and break every bone in your body. It's one of the reasons we time things the way we do. We'll be in human form when we jump. We won't change to wolves until ten minutes or so after we land. You can be pretty badly mangled and still come out as a perfectly ready to fight wolf when the time comes to advance."
"It is! Many's the time someone broke a leg or twisted an ankle real bad. None of us are parachuting pros. As soon as you go through the change, it's all better. You'll be fine."
My shoulders slumped and I sighed and said, "I guess."
Jesse chuckled and said, "Now that's the kind of enthusiasm we like to see around here! We'd just use the choppers if we could, but they'd hear those coming from a mile away and they're fat and slow targets for shoulder launched missiles. We need to go in quiet and fast, so we need to jump. The chute's not designed for the change. Just remember to unbuckle it in the middle here and slip it off as soon as you're on the ground or it'll cause you serious problems when you change to the wolf."
I nodded. "Got it."
"Alright then, you're set to go. Go over to the Herc and get aboard. I need to gear up and get ready, and I'll be right out to join you. The others are already out there and probably aboard the plane."
I nodded and Elias and I went outside. We walked over to the big plane and several men were pulling the netting off of it already. The back ramp was down and we could see more men similarly dressed in their black scale mail armor with much larger backpacks on them. Several had large pressurized cannisters attached to long, straight tubes sticking straight upwards, well past the tops of their heads. Those must be the door knockers Jesse had mentioned. Some had what looked like clusters of narrow tubes. Those must be the rocket launchers. Some had a couple of larger, longer hollow tubes, probably RPG launchers. Those with launchers had wide solid boxes near the top part of the pack that must contain any additional equipment that was needed to support the launchers. Most had machine guns attached to the sides of their packs as well, likely there just in case the mission isn't over yet by the time we switch back to human form.
Ben was near the back of plane at the top of the ramp. He was talking to two other lupines. One was mostly black colored with some brown mixed in and the other was a mix of white, grey and black. They were heavily muscled and wearing thick, plated flack jackets and heavy combat gear. Hanging down at their right fronts was a large looking chain gun that appeared to be attached to a rig that would allow them to swing the weapon out in front of them to start shooting. It had a flexible looking rectangular tube leading up and over their backs to a hard pack that must contain a long coil of chained ammo to feed the gun. They looked incredibly imposing.
Ben saw us at the bottom of the ramp and waved us up. We walked up and he introduced the other lupines as Joshua and Jeb.
"These guys are the best, Jake. They can mow down a whole forest with those big ass guns if they have to. They'll have your back when you're changing," Ben said, then he leaned in close to me so nobody else on the plane could hear and he said, "We've been friends since we were kids. I asked Jesse to call them in. You can trust them, Jake."
I nodded and shook their hands. Ben introduced me to a few other men who were in a cluster together. He wanted to make sure I was familiar with all of the ones that Jesse had selected as his most trusted. They would all make it their priority to get Cole safely out, even if Samuel decided to turn his attention strictly to destroying the research and dealing with the scientists. The men all smiled and shook my hand and let me know that Jesse had told them a lot about me and they were happy to have me along. They let me know to stick with them and I'd be just fine.
I thanked them and looked around at the rest of the men. I recognized several of them as the ones who'd been casting disparaging glances at us earlier in the morning when they'd seen me and Elias kissing and hugging. These might be the bad eggs Jesse had mentioned. They were all segregated from the others and strapped into the jump seats near the front of the plane.
Someone shouted up that the netting was all removed and we were clear to take off, and the four big engines started firing up.
Ben told me it was time for him to get ready for work and he turned to walk down the ramp.
"Wait, Ben, aren't you flying us out?" I asked.
"Nope. There's another lupine up there. Me and one other lupine will be coming later in behind you guys with the Huey choppers. We'll be the extraction team. We use lupines as pilots because we stay the same shape always. We can't have a human pilot suddenly turn into a wolf mid-flight. It's sort of hard to fly a helicopter with no hands. I'll be coming to get you at the end of the mission, Jake. I'll see you then. Good luck. Be careful out there. Stick close to Jesse."
I nodded and he turned and exited the plane.
Elias and I were about to hug so he could go back out and go find Grace, but I heard my name being called and we turned to see Jesse, fully geared up, walking up the ramp with another man who's face looked familiar. He was older looking. At least fifty or so. He was extremely healthy but had streaks of grey in his hair and older looking features.
After a moment I recognized who he was and said, "Holy shit, that's Samuel Butler!"
Elias asked, "Who's he?"
"He's a billionaire who became a recluse close to thirty years ago. He built a media and transportation empire from nothing. I know you must have heard of Butler Transworld and Butler Communications. They belong to him. I remember seeing his face on TV a lot when I was a kid. Mostly to do with stories of his sudden disappearance from the public eye and speculation about why it might have happened. He basically put others in charge of all of his holdings and faded away. There were all sorts of theories about him becoming terminally ill or catching some weird disease, or going insane, or breaking some law and hiding from justice, or being gay and having found a partner he wanted to settle down with in a time when that just wasn't done openly. Looks like all the theories were wrong."
Suddenly the werewolves' ability to organize and equip themselves so well made more sense. He must be using his fortune to fund them. No wonder he became alpha. He didn't look a day older than he did when he disappeared from the spotlight. He must be over eighty years old by now. It was believed that he was still alive but nobody knew where. The media simply assumed he'd decided to retire from public life entirely to be left alone and they'd given up on trying to find him long ago. I guess his biggest reason for disappearing must have been the fact that he couldn't be seen not aging as the years went by.
Jesse smiled as they approached us and he said, "Jake, Elias, I want you to meet Samuel. He's our leader. Alpha of all of the werewolves and the one most responsible for getting us to where we are today."
I reached out to shake his hand.
The look on his face was neutral as he took my hand in a firm grip and he nodded and said, "A pleasure to have new progenitors among us. My men informed me earlier that you were a kindred, Jake. Is that correct?"
"I suppose so. That's what I'm told."
He looked me up and down as if to assess my physical size and then he said, "I was surprised that Jesse himself didn't inform me of it. It's a rare enough thing that I should have thought he would consider it important."
Jesse cleared his throat uncomfortably and I said nothing.
Samuel shrugged and said, "Well, it's no matter. I trust you'll make sure not to get in our way, Jake. I feel it would have been best for you to stay behind, but I suppose if Jesse's men are willing to keep you safe it shouldn't be a problem. Our mission to take this facility is of the utmost importance to me, and I wouldn't want anything to jeopardize that."
"The mission to rescue Cole is important to you too, I'm sure," I said.
His jaw tightened briefly, then he smiled and said, "Yes, of course. The boy will be removed safely, I assure you. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll be joining my men."
He turned to Jesse and said, "Please ensure Jake stays back with your team. Take the lead on locating the boy. My group can deal with the scientists and their research once we're inside."
Jesse nodded and Samuel turned and went further into the plane to sit with his men.
Jesse rolled his eyes and said, "I wish I hadn't shouted out about you being a kindred this morning with all the other men around. He's pissed that I kept it from him. He really doesn't trust me now, I think. I guess it'll work out alright, though. The men I picked for the mission are completely loyal to me. We'll get the job done more easily now since he's given us the clearance to focus on getting Cole out. We won't have to support him in his efforts to murder all those scientists and destroy their work. I hate that sort of shit anyhow and I have no problem leaving it all to him. When this is all done I think I'll be retiring from my command. That should make him happy. Don't worry, Jake. This is gonna be a quick in and out. We'll have Cole home safe before you know it."
I smiled and nodded.
He turned to Elias and said, "I guess you'd better skedaddle. Take care of Grace for us. She was starting to be a nervous wreck again when I left her a while ago. Try to keep her mind off it if you can. Let her know we'll be back with Cole in a few hours tops."
Elias nodded and said, "Good luck, General. Please be careful, Jake. I love you."
We kissed and hugged and I said, "I love you too. I'll see you in a bit."
He chuckled and said, "I've never hugged a big black turkey before. I wish Grace could see you."
He turned and walked back down the ramp. One of the men punched the button to bring it up and Jesse and I took jump seats along side the group of his other men.
The engines spooled up and the big airplane lumbered forward and turned sharply to begin to get lined up for takeoff.
Jesse turned to me and said, "You'll want to hang on tight and brace yerself, Jake. There's really no runway here and the trees are not far away. We'll be doing a JATO."
"Jet assisted take off. More specifically for us it's rocket assisted, but JATO is still the general term for it. It's one of the tricks a properly kitted Hercules can do. Did you notice the big bulges near the back of the plane on each side? They're rocket boosters. We have to use them here because there's just no room to build up speed the normal way. I don't know if you've ever seen it at an air show or anything but it's impressive as hell. Just be ready for some serious acceleration."
I nodded and braced myself.
The engines spooled up fully and we began to move forward at a faster and faster pace, bumping and jostling and getting our bones jarred harder and harder. Suddenly, there was what sounded like a small explosion followed by a deep roar that vibrated the entire airframe and quickly ramped up to nearly deafening proportions as the plane lurched forward at a dramatic increase in acceleration. We were pulled hard sideways as quite suddenly the plane tilted and was rising into the air at an incredibly steep angle for such a large aircraft. The rockets continued to roar as we quickly gained altitude and built sufficient speed to maintain lift, and then the plane came nearly level but continued to climb as the sound of the rockets died away.
Jesse began to explain what I should expect with the upcoming mission. "The flight won't be very long. Less than an hour. They'll bring us up to twenty thousand feet. See the red light above the ramp there? The pilot will turn it on when we're approaching the jump point. I'll be hooking you up right in front of me facing forward. You'll be tied to me snug and safe while we go down. They'll keep the plane pressurized while we head out. They'll depressurize just before we approach the jump point so we don't get sucked out when we open the cargo ramp. We'll be in low pressure for such a short time on the way down that we won't get the bends or anything. It'll be a little hard to breathe at first but that won't last long at all as we drop into the thicker air. Your ears might start to hurt as we go down and the pressure rises, so work your jaw and do whatever you can to try to keep them from building too much pressure. The best thing is to hold your nose and blow gently until your ears pop and you can feel the pressure equalize. We'll be falling a long way so that our chutes won't open until we're low enough that they won't see us past the big hill behind them and the tall trees all around. We'll be to their west so the setting sun will blind them, too, even if they happen to be looking in that direction. I'll be steering us down and we won't be going too fast when we reach the ground. Just make sure when we're getting close you bring your knees up high and hold your feet up so my feet hit the ground first, then you can bring yours down."
I nodded. "Got it."
"Once we're safe on the ground I'll unclip you. Take your reserve chute off right away. We'll assemble and start making our way towards the facility in human form to get as close as we can. We'll gather at the ingress point and wait for the change to hit. Josh and Jeb will watch over us while we become wolves. As soon as we're ready, we'll run the rest of the way. Samuel's team will deal with getting us inside. They'll take out the guards outside and bust down the door. We'll follow them in. Stick with me, but stay back enough to keep safe. Watch our flanks and our rear. My guys will open the doors as we go."
"Do we have any idea what we're facing? Do we know how big the complex is?"
He nodded and said, "We managed to dig up some intel about the layout from when it was first built back at the start of the cold war. It has two main sections on the same level. One was the living area for the men stationed there and the other housed the computer equipment and radio and satellite communications gear. It was built so long ago that the computers and comms gear took up whole rooms. Samuel figures the comms and computing section will have been converted to the lab area where the virus research was done and where they'll be working on the cure. The living section will likely still be where the scientists and guards stay. The lower level is made up of the mechanical and electric, food storage and kitchen, and an oversized supply area at the very back meant to keep them supplied for a year or more back when it was a secret listening post. That's most likely where they'll be keeping Cole. There's a set of stairs leading down to it right at the entrance to the main building at the end of a long hallway. We'll be splitting from Samuel's team right as we go in and we'll be heading down."
I nodded again.
"It's gonna be a cakewalk, Jake. We're probably over dressed for the job. There won't be much of an armed presence there. We'll want to be well away from the site before Samuel's demolition guys blow it to hell. Half that hillside will be vaporized if they do their usual thorough job. Ben and another lupine will be coming in to extract us. Stick to Ben's chopper. I don't have a good feeling about the other pilot. I think he's more loyal to Samuel. Ben will be more inclined to get us the hell out as soon as we have Cole safely aboard. We're not sure how long it will be before the government sends in a response to our attack. We should have plenty of time, though."
"Sounds good. I'll just follow your lead, Jesse."
He nodded and we both sat quietly for the rest of the flight.
I started to reflect on what we were about to do, and everything we'd gone through to get here and I chuckled.
"What's funny?" Jesse asked.
"I was just thinking about the day Elias told me the truth about him. It seems like such a long time ago. My life was so boring before he came along, Jesse, I wasn't sure how much longer I could take it. I realized when I'd learned he was a werewolf that it would likely never be boring again. I could never have imagined I'd end up running from government agents, trigger a small scale werewolf apocalypse, and one day be dressed like a giant crow, about to HALO jump into an incursion mission on a secret government installation with a team of heavily armed werewolves and lupines with chain guns. I'd say that's just about the most extreme possible opposite of boring."
He laughed and said, "I guess it is, but it's not that unusual for us, Jake. Trust that we'll get the job done."
Suddenly the red light came on at the back of the plane and a loud hissing began as the cargo area started to depressurize. Jesse and the others unbuckled, so I did the same.
We all stood and Jesse grabbed a couple of pairs of clear goggles that were hanging on the wall and then he turned to me and said, "Put these on. We get to jump first. It'll be harder for me to accurately steer our free fall with you attached to me, so we'll go first and the others can adjust their flight to stay close to us. Don't worry about keeping your arms and legs out like you might have seen skydivers do. I need to be the only one doing that so I can steer us. Keep your legs tight together and your arms tight against you if you can, to present as little resistance as possible. It's probably gonna be a bit scary for you but it won't be a long drop at all."
He waved me to follow and I put on the goggles he'd given me and we walked to the back. He went around behind me and I heard a loud clicking sound as he secured himself tightly to the rig of my reserve chute. He twisted the lever and punched the button to drop the ramp and we were assaulted by the roar of the engines and the massive propellers driving us forward and the rush of wind around the edges of the ramp. He lowered it until it was down straight and level and he stopped it.
He began to hustle me forward along the platform towards the open sky beyond. I instinctively reached out to grab at anything to keep myself from falling to the Earth as more and more of it came into view, but there was nothing there to hold onto. I was hesitant to go forward but Jesse just kept pushing at me so I began to take small steps along with him until we approached the end of the platform.
I felt my nuts begin to tighten up and it seemed like my sphincter could likely snap a pencil it was so clenched as I saw the world so far below us with nothing in between me and it. I could see beautiful snow-capped mountains and massive tracts of deep green forests interspersed with small open sections of tundra. There were blue glacial lakes and rivers and streams criss-crossing the landscape and at the edge of it all was the setting sun, washing everything in a warm yellow glow and casting long shadows everywhere. It was beautiful, breathtaking, exhilarating, and absolutely heart-poundingly terrifying.
I hesitated when my feet reached the end of the platform and I looked down and my heart began to race faster and faster. I wasn't sure I could go through with this. It seemed insane to think of hurling ourselves down from this height.
Jesse was snuggly against me in behind and I could feel the ramp bouncing lightly as the others lined up behind us. Suddenly the red light began to flash repeatedly and a klaxon sounded. It must have been indicating we were at the drop point. I wasn't sure if I should just go over or what, but Jesse let me know by simply leaning against me and we both fell over the edge.
I'd used the toilet just before Jesse had come to get me in the RV and I was now glad of it because if there'd been anything in me, I'd have crapped myself through the handy hole at the back of my armor for sure.
The sudden sensation of free fall made my bowels and bladder feel like they were about to release and I immediately wanted to scream for my life, but I managed to contain it.
Jesse already had us under control as I tried to resist the urge to flail my arms and legs and I just held them tight together. He leaned so we were head down and he brought his own arms back more as we began to dive faster and faster and the roar of the wind as we accelerated grew louder and louder.
The terrifying feeling began to fade after a few moments as we kept falling and my body began to acclimate to the lack of gravity. It started to become more exciting than scary and I couldn't help but grin widely.
The air was incredibly frigid and was a little hard to breathe, but not too bad.
We fell for what felt like about a minute or two with the wind rushing deafeningly past us before I finally noticed the tiny features way down there on the ground were getting much larger. Small bumps were becoming large hills and green patches were resolving into individual trees. I felt myself slowing a bit as Jesse pulled back so we were a bit flatter as he tried to control our decent. The ground quickly got closer and closer and the excitement began to be replaced more and more by the fear that something must be wrong. We were going to hit the ground at over a hundred miles an hour at any moment. Then I felt Jesse tap me on the shoulder to warn me he was about to deploy. I braced myself and quite suddenly I was yanked hard to a vertical orientation by the heavy straps of my chute's straps as Jesse's chute snapped open and quite suddenly arrested our rapid descent. We began to slow dramatically as the trees got closer and closer, but we also began to turn and move forward as Jesse guided the parachute towards an open patch of land slightly ahead of us.
As we quickly approached the ground I brought my knees up to keep my feet well above the level of Jesse's just as he flared the chute to slow us down almost to a standstill and we hit the ground roughly, but in control. He took a couple of stumbling steps but quickly gained his balance as I dropped my feet back onto solid ground.
Jesse quickly unbuckled himself from me and he undid the fasteners for his chute and dropped it to the ground. I did the same for my reserve chute. We both took off our goggles and dropped them with the chutes.
Jesse said, "Let's go over by the trees to get out of their way so they don't come down on our heads. I looked up and saw several chutes already opened and several more unfurling as I turned to follow Jesse.
While he waited for all of the others to land he asked me, "So what did you think of the trip, Jake? Did you enjoy it?"
I grinned and said, "I've never done anything that butthole clenchingly exciting in my whole life! I almost wish it was a longer trip. I never thought we'd get down so fast."
He nodded and said, "It doesn't take long in free fall if you dive to offer as little resistance as possible. If we did a high open instead, it would probably take a good ten minutes or more to get all the way down."
Before long all of the others were down and out of their chutes and already forming into two groups, one with Jesse and the larger group with Samuel.
I noticed Jesse and several of the others had a massive looking watch with a stretchy strap on it. It looked sort of like one of those sports watches with GPS, compass and altimeter on it. He brought his up and fiddled with it a bit, then moved his arm out to indicate our heading and he took the lead. We moved as quickly as we could through the trees following him for nearly ten minutes before he stopped us.
"Comms and electronics on, settle in for the change," he ordered.
He reached behind me and fiddled with my pack at the top right and I heard a brief electronic crackle come from the speakers on my helmet, then he reached behind himself over his right shoulder and flipped the same switch on his pack. I saw the others all doing the same.
Everyone then fanned out and began to lie down on the ground on their sides and I suddenly realized this could be a problem. My wolf didn't know any of these people. They were strangers to me even in human form. How the hell could I stop my wolf from going into a rage and attacking?
"Jesse, this might not work for me. You guys must all be used to each other if you're able to change together like this. I don't know what will happen if I change in the middle of this crowd of strangers. My wolf might attack. Maybe I should go off into the bushes somewhere."
He smiled and said, "Sorry, Jake. It never occurred to me that nobody ever explained it to you. If you go into the change feeling calm and safe and nothing happens to change that in the middle of it, the wolf won't rage. There's a moment when the two of you cross each other when you're on the way out and he's on the way in. Just send him happy thoughts and I promise he won't fly into a rage. That must be why things got so out of hand at Nazas. If Grace and Elias didn't know that simple trick, and they were already stressed out from losing Cole and you, and terrified about what would happen, their wolves would be in a panic too and completely out of control. I suppose Grace might still have had a problem since her link to the wolf would be so weak, but Elias should be able to control it if he really tries. You're a kindred so you'll have no problem at all. Just tell it we're with you and everything is OK and it will understand. So long as we're not surprised by anyone or anything it will go smoothly for all of us. Trust me."
I thought about what had happened the first time I changed and it made sense. I'd been focusing on my hatred of the government agent and I was full of anger and the pain was all new to me. The wolf flew into a rage and shredded him as a result. If I thought good thoughts about these men and how they were here for Cole, then the wolf should respond by remaining calm.
I nodded and said, "OK. I'll give it a try."
Jesse and I chose our spots and lay down on our sides to wait.
Josh and Jeb pulled their huge chain guns around and stood guard, ready to cut down anyone who might try to approach while we were vulnerable.
In just a short while I heard several beeping watches. Seconds following that the first spasm hit and I hung on tight for the incoming storm of convulsions.
It was even easier to take this time and I realized it would likely only get easier each time for the next while. Even severe pain can be fairly easily ignored when you know it's brief and doesn't actually mean anything bad, like you're dying or something.
I soon began to sense the awakening of the wolf again and my heart swelled as though I was being reunited with a long lost twin brother. His presence grew as mine began to fade and I could sense his happiness at being given access once again to this new power.
As I slipped further down and the wolf asserted more strongly I tried to think of the others as friends. They were here to help us. We needed them. They were not the enemy.
As the wolf become more aware I sensed his understanding. The pain was less of a concern this time and he also seemed to know what to expect and he was not in a rage. He watched my emotions and thoughts and he understood. These were the pack. They were not to be harmed. He acknowledged what I'd tried to impress upon him. I felt relieved, and even that was noted by him as I faded into the depths of unconsciousness while the shape of our brain became more his than mine.
The last of my ability to focus faded and I sank completely into the depths of oblivion.
Eventually the brain took its final shape leaving room for me to return and I began to resolve back into consciousness. I felt the wolf watching and waiting. Without me he was still just a wolf. I felt his anticipation at gaining access to this new intelligence once more. To understand so much more about the world than he ever could have done as only wolf. I felt a sort of sense of him greeting me and releasing control to me as he turned to watch from the background.
I was already standing on all fours. I looked back and saw that indeed the suit had stretched to perfectly cover the much larger shape of the wolf. My tail was sticking out through the hole at the back but my haunches were covered down to just above the first joint of my big back legs. I was covered from around my shoulders all the way to my waist just in front of my hips. I could feel that the helmet fit much better, though I couldn't see it. The large upper arms of the pack frame now hooked firmly over my shoulders with the curved parts hooking slightly inward to secure the pack from sliding backwards.
I looked over to where Jesse had been and saw him standing and looking over at me. He looked fantastic. He was so much bigger than Elias and Grace had been. All of them were. I could see their scale next to Joshua and Jeb, who were stowing their chain guns and moving among the pack to make sure everyone had all of their gear still in place. The muscular lupines who had both looked to be a little over six feet tall now looked much less imposing as they walked among the gigantic wolves whose heads came nearly to the lupines' shoulders.
The armor was impressive looking. Now the leaves were all aligned with the length of the wolves' bodies and it looked black and sleek and deadly. They looked like serious killing machines. The helmets perfectly rested on top of their heads and conformed to the shape of their skulls to a point just behind the eyes and the solid piece underneath protected the throat up to just at the back of the jaw.
Now all of those who had weaponry on their packs had it horizontal and aiming forward well over their heads. They could launch rockets ahead of them or shoot their shotguns or launch their grenades forward. The door knockers on those who had them had stood up high above the heads of the humans, but now they were horizontal and extended just past the end of the wolves' snouts above their heads so they could look up to see the business end clearly. The knockers had large air tanks on either side and a fatter tube at the back that likely contained a geared motor to pull the tethered captive heavy steel bolt back into the chamber to reload the device for another shot.
They all looked like a pack of giant, black, deadly, cybernetic wolves. It was awesome to behold.
The wolves had various colors of fur on their lower legs, muzzles and tails where they were exposed, with mixes of browns and blacks and greys and whites. I looked over towards Samuel and saw that, just as Jesse had said, he had dark black fur in all of the exposed areas except the very tip of his tail, which was white, and his paws, which were a sort of dappled dark and light grey. I noticed him looking back at me, at my tail, then at my feet. Clearly he was seeing now that I was completely black, assuming my muzzle was. I still didn't know.
He turned to move towards Jesse and I heard him whining and barking in a strange pattern, then a bland and low pitched computerized voice said, "Take the lead, General."
Jesse nodded, then he turned and came over to me. He looked me up and down and front to back. I noticed now that he was closer that I was a fair bit higher than him and had to look down a bit to look him in the eye. I also noticed the thin microphone I'd seen sticking up beside his head was now perfectly positioned beside the wolf's mouth.
He nodded his head at me and whined and barked and huffed for a moment and then a slightly higher pitched computerized voice came over the comm system and said, "You're huge. All black. Impressive."
He winked and I nodded.
I heard Samuel growl and bark loudly and I waited for the robotic translation, but there was none. I guess he was just indicating his impatience. He was the alpha and had given the order to move and had expected it to be followed immediately.
At the thought of 'alpha' I sensed my wolf take note and begin to appraise Samuel more closely.
Jesse looked back at the leader, then back to me, and as if petulantly trying to irritate Samuel just a bit by ignoring his growl to get moving, he whined and barked some more and the voice said, "Ready to go, J-A-K-E?"
The voice system was fascinating. It must be almost like learning a new language. It had to take a lot of practice to learn to use it. Clearly it wasn't able to handle the myriad of proper names it might have to deal with so they had to spell them out.
I nodded my readiness.
As Jesse turned to take the lead again I sniffed at him, half expecting to see an aura around him just as Ben could do, but I saw nothing with my eyes of course. I smelled a great deal though, and as I looked inward I felt that I could see in my mind's eye what I smelled, just like before. It was all white and all good. I could smell Jesse from before the change all over his armor, and I could smell Jesse the wolf. They were both just as good as the scents in the hospital had shown Jesse to be before, and the wolf took careful note and once again sent me his deep approval of this pack mate. The hint of grey I'd seen before had faded almost completely to be replaced by a sort of assurance that he would redeem himself. I could feel his loyalty and it was strong and sure now, but it had indeed shifted. I followed its source to a scent that was strong on him too, Grace. He was now completely devoted to her and his loyalty went to her, and by extension to Cole and even to me and Elias. He was loyal to her above even his alpha and the wolf took note of that and used it to further adjust its appraisal of Samuel as leader.
As we formed up to follow Jesse I sniffed around at the others, trying to let superfluous information slip by and focus just on their overall character. There was an unsurprising mixture of greys and whites, with some darker streaks mixed in. These were fighting men so it wasn't a shock to see some darkness there. Those clustered more closely to Samuel had very little white in them. They were more dark, muddy greys mixed with black and only small traces of light. The more surprising was Samuel. He had a completely contrasting mix of dark black and bright white in equal parts. I wasn't sure exactly what it meant but I assumed it had to do with the fact that he was about to murder a bunch of scientists, but that he felt that it was completely the right thing to do for his people. There were no grey areas for him. It was all black and white.
I thought about the fact that Samuel was a kindred too. Could he see these traits of character so easily? Could he see mine? Could he see Jesse's shift in loyalty and did he know what it meant? It must be easier as alpha to keep the ones most loyal to you close, while keeping a closer watch on those who were not. That was likely the other reason Samuel floated to the top to lead all of the werewolves. Since he was kindred and likely had the same skill my wolf gave me, it was easier for him to know who to trust and who to exclude from leadership roles beneath him, thus strengthening his position of power.
I remembered what I'd discovered about how important context was. Without it I couldn't really know what the meaning of the colors really was. It would likely take a lot of practice to get better at reading it right. He's had decades to practice it. It was pointless for me to spend too much time doing it now. The time to hone the skill would have to come later. Right now we had business to attend to.
I put away the ability to read feelings and instead turned my focus back to paying attention to what was going on.
The pack seemed to be naturally spreading out into a sort of phalanx formation with Jesse at the head of it. He started out slowly, likely thinking of me and the fact that I was still new at being a wolf, but he quickly began to ramp up the pace. I could sense the joy in the wolf at working his body and running with the pack and I shared in it.
We flew across the landscape at astonishing speed and I felt the ground begin to slope upward. Jesse began to turn more and more to the side and we followed him around the massive hill towards the other side of it where the entrance to the facility was hidden.
As we approached the location he'd been working towards we slowed and stopped. He turned to the group and his right front paw came up and he made some odd patterns in the air and then pointed to one of the wolves from Samuel's team. The wolf nodded and turned to the rest of the pack and pointed at four others, who immediately moved in behind him. He then quietly whined in an unusual pattern and suddenly I heard the sound of small geared motors and I saw the side panel of the upper part of his big backpack pop open and a sort of hinged arm unfolded and moved a set of dark goggles forward and into place in front of the wolf's eyes. I could see a sort of greenish glow coming from inside the goggles against the wolf's face as he went low and moved swiftly forward to disappear into the forest followed closely by the four he'd chosen.
As I thought of the robotic night vision and looked around at the interesting assortment of gear attached to the large packs of all of the wolves around me and wondered what other goodies might be hidden inside them, I resolved to remind Jesse later on to put in a good word for me with G Division. I absolutely had to get involved in the group that got to design stuff like this.
Jesse then turned to the rest of us and indicated a new heading, and we moved further down the slope of the hill and away from the direction the other wolves had gone, then we began to turn again with the hill somewhere off to our left through the trees. Eventually Jesse stopped us again and checked his watch as if to confirm his location. He looked at us and brought his paw up and sort of brought it down a couple of times and everyone crouched low, so I did the same. He began to slink forward very slowly and we all followed.
The dusk was steadily fading towards complete darkness, so the low wolves all dressed in black armor would be extremely difficult to see hidden in the trees, but the wolves could see everything clearly. One of the things humans had traded for their improved color vision, was a greater concentration of color sensing cones on their retinas at the cost of light sensing rods. Canines have a much larger density of rods than humans, along with larger pupils to let in much more light. I could see so much more detail in the low light than I could ever hope to do as a human that it was surprisingly like seeing as much in the dark as wolf as I could previously see on a grey cloudy day as a human.
Before long we approached a tree line and off in the distance at the back of the clearing beyond I could see a guard standing in front of a large, solid looking metal door that was recessed a fair bit into the hillside. The guard was holding a machine gun and leaning against the wall.
This was it. Cole was somewhere beyond that door.
Jesse observed the area, and as he looked further up the hill he paused. He then turned to one of the other wolves from Samuel's group and raised a paw to indicate him, then turned and pointed up the hill. I looked up where he'd indicated and high up in a tree I could see what looked like a small satellite dish and next to it was a large, metal, high frequency radio antenna. They were mounted directly to a tall pine tree. I saw the other wolf nod and move off to the side as if looking for a better location, then he whined quietly in an odd pattern like the other had done earlier, and once again a set of goggles popped out on a hinged arm and moved to slide into place in front of his eyes and he was faintly lit with a dull reddish glow from the back of the goggles. I then saw him begin to reposition his body so that it was angled up towards the communications antennas in the tree and then he held steady. On his back were several of the small tubes that I'd assumed must be the high explosive rockets. The pack must also be emitting an infrared laser beam that was painting the spot the rockets would hit, and his goggles were showing him the mark so he could aim more accurately by placing the mark on his target.
We all waited and suddenly the radio crackled to life and a slightly higher pitched version of the bland robotic voice I'd heard Jesse use earlier said simply, "Set."
Jesse whined into his mic and I heard his deeper robotic voice say, "Go."
Right at that moment I heard a loud hiss and a swoosh followed quickly by another and I saw two small rockets shooting up towards the communication array. One hit the satellite dish directly and it exploded into a million pieces as the next rocket hit the tree's trunk squarely and blasted it apart. The top half of the tree fell and took the radio antenna down with it. It looked as though the facility was not going to be able to call for help.
Jesse and the other wolves all rushed forward into the open and straight at the guard standing at the door, while I heard snarls and screams of pain coming from all around. Off to the side I saw another guard come out from the trees, staggering, and one of the wolves who'd split off earlier followed him out and fell upon him to finish him off. I realized immediately that the other wolf with the goggles must have led all of the others he'd taken with him to the locations of the guards who were hidden out in the trees, and set one wolf on each of them, ready to take them out when the word was given. They would have sniffed them out to get a general location, then used thermal imaging to pinpoint them from a distance in the trees. All of the other wolves who'd broken from the pack earlier ran in towards us to join back up after dealing with the guards hidden in the trees.
The guard at the door had already raised his machine gun when he saw the rockets shooting out of the tree line, but as the pack advanced there was another swoosh and I saw the smoke trail of another rocket headed right at the door. The guard moved to dive out of the way, but it was too late. The rocket hit the door and the explosion killed the guard instantly as it blasted him out into the clearing.
When the smoke cleared the door was still mostly intact. It was damaged on the side where the locking mechanism was, but it still appeared to be secured shut. It must be made of solid metal.
The pack came to a stop and without a word another wolf came forward and his goggles came out. There were two longer tubes on his pack. He was about to launch an RPG. The wolves all went very low and I copied them.
The wolf tensed and barked and a rocket propelled grenade shot forward across the clearing toward the heavy door and the wolf ducked low to avoid any debris from the coming blast. I remembered seeing how these deadly anti-tank weapons work on the Discovery channel in a program that was describing the weapons of war. They're designed to pierce the metal of armored vehicles with superheated molten copper from an inverted cone in the warhead. A small explosive charge heats the cone to melting while forcing it to turn inside out while stretching and expanding forward. The molten metal slices through armor like a hot needle and continues to expand to create a hole right through the armor for a much larger, delayed shaped charge to go through when it detonates. The business part of the explosion in effect happens on the other side of the armor to utterly destroy everything and everyone inside the tank. Sure enough as the warhead hit, the heavy door deformed and exploded outward and fell to the ground with a smoking hole at its center.
The wolves immediately stood and began to move forward again and I followed. As the smoke cleared we could see into the entryway. A short way behind it was a set of double doors. They weren't as heavy and they'd already been blasted inward by the force of the explosion.
One of the wolves shoved at the inner set of doors and one opened widely while the other fell off its hinges to the floor. He went into the wide hallway beyond and the rest of the pack moved to follow him in. Jesse looked back to see where I was and he seemed satisfied that I was staying at the back, but still following.
Just before I entered I saw Jeb and Joshua taking positions on either side of the entrance with their chain guns ready, to stand guard and protect our rear. I realized they were likely under standing orders not to engage in combat if unnecessary. The lupines couldn't self regenerate so they were in greater danger than any of the wolves. They needed to hold onto their ammo as well for the important task of protecting the pack when it changes back to human form.
Beyond the inner set of doors was a fairly long and wide hallway that led to yet another set of doors. This was likely to insulate the inner part of the facility from the extreme cold of an Alaskan winter. It had been dug deep into the hill.
One of the wolves with a door knocker moved to the front. The double set of doors had a latch that locked them together, and a round handle on each door. He placed the device against one of the round handles and leaned against it while tensing slightly, then he barked and there was a deafening bang as door shuddered. Immediately I heard a whirring sound as the motor wound the steel cable tethering the heavy captive bolt back into the chamber to reload it. The wolf stepped back and I saw a hole where the door handle had been. It had been blown right through the door into the hallway beyond. I heard shouts coming from the other side and then I heard gunfire and all the wolves ahead dropped down. One who had a shotgun mounted to his pack that stuck out well past and above his head moved forward and placed the barrel into the hole. He tensed and then began to bark repeatedly while his semi-automatic shotgun blasted over and over again sending spent shells flying out from it to bounce off the wall. In the middle of it all I heard more shouting and people crying out in pain and eventually the gunfire coming from the other side stopped.
He pulled his shotgun from the hole and stepped back and the wolf with the knocker stepped forward again and placed the device against the latch that connected the two doors. Another loud bang and the doors both shuddered and swung loose on their hinges. Even as they opened, two wolves from Samuel's team who were armed with shotguns advanced through them and I heard gunshots and shouting once more, then silence. They continued to move forward and Samuel and his other men followed them.
Jesse hung back as the rest of us passed through the doors. To the right was another door. Just a single one with another round handle but no lock. Jesse turned to one of his wolves that had a knocker and nodded towards it. The wolf turned and placed the device against the handle and fired it. The handle blew apart, once again leaving a gaping hole in the door and it swung easily open to reveal a stairway leading down. Jesse nodded his head to another of his wolves who had a shotgun and he led the way down the stairs as the others followed. I was last, and just before I turned to enter the stairwell I looked down the hall and saw several corpses of men who'd been killed by the shotgun blasts. Most were guards but at least one looked like a civilian, probably a scientist. I heard more gunshots and a great deal of shouting coming from further down past the end of the hall.
My wolf smelled death in the air and I could almost sense it pacing and anticipating the chance to get involved. It knew why we were here. It knew these were the ones who held Cole. These were its prey and it wanted blood. It did not seem to appreciate the idea of following. It wanted to take the lead. It wanted to make these insignificant creatures pay for what they'd done to Cole.
I forced it to maintain its control and I turned to go down the stairs and rejoin with Jesse's team.
The stairs went down to a fairly large and open area with a bare concrete floor and walls. There was machinery all around that looked like generators and water heaters and boilers for heating the building. There was an open sort of hallway that passed through the middle of it. At the back end was another set of double doors that was easily dealt with by the door knockers.
Beyond those doors was a shorter hallway with doors along either side labeled for cold storage, kitchen, utility and maintenance, and supplies. At the end of the hallway was another set of double doors with an electronic keypad beside it. The doors looked heavy, but once again there was only a single latching mechanism that secured them both. The knocker had to be used twice before it finally broke the doors apart. We continued on through and on the other side we found a long row of cages to the left, separated by concrete walls. It looked almost like prison cells.
On the right was an enclosed area with thick glass windows in the upper sections of the walls. Inside the enclosure was a man who's eyes quite suddenly went wide at the site of this group of gigantic, armed and armored wolves barging in.
I muscled my way past all of the wolves and moved down the hallway looking into each cell as I went. Cole had to be here somewhere.
The first couple of cells were empty but the next two were occupied by large wolves that were mostly grey and white.
As I moved further along to try to find Cole's cell I saw an open section to the right beyond the windowed enclosure and what I saw there made my wolf suddenly lunge forward to assume control. At last here was something it understood well and knew best how to deal with. Prey.
There was a large metal table and splayed out on it, legs tightly strapped at the four corners, was Cole! He had several electrodes stuck to his head at various points and the bundle of cables from the sensors connected to various machines on the other side of the table that were likely taking readings of his body's response to whatever was about to happen to it. He was conscious and snarling and snapping as he pulled at the restraints to try to free himself.
A man in a lab coat with a long rubber apron and a full-face acrylic shield to protect against any splatter was hovering near him. He had large heavy rubber gloves on. His back was to us so he didn't see me. He was wearing headphones and he was bobbing up and down to whatever loud music he was listening to. In his gloved hands he held what looked like a large bone saw. He was powering it up and getting ready to saw at one of Cole's legs.
I snarled in rage as I lunged forward and my jaws closed on the upper part of the arm that was holding the saw and I gave the wolf complete control to do what he felt was best. I heard the man cry out in surprised agony as the wolf lifted him into the air and flipped him over and smashed him face first onto the floor. The wolf placed his massive paw on the man's back and pulled hard, and the man screamed in pain until he passed out as his arm was torn from its socket and ripped from his body. The bone saw fell from the arm's dead hand to the floor as the wolf tossed the arm to the side.
The wolf then grabbed the man's leg and swung him fully around and flung him at the enclosure with the glass windows and the terrified man inside watched as the other man's head hit the thick glass and exploded against it in a spray of blood and brain matter.
I took back control and I turned back to Cole and I tore at mass of sensors and the straps that held him. I ripped them loose one after the other and he pulled his legs in and wiggled backwards away from me on the table until his back end fell off onto the floor and his front end followed. He was wobbly from being tied in the awkward position but he managed to find his legs and stand. He seemed confused and frightened by this massive, strange wolf who was facing him, and his tail went between his legs and his hackles went up and his ears went back as he backed away from me uncertainly and began to growl.
I didn't know how to tell him who I was. I wanted so badly to let him know he was safe and we were here for him and he had nothing to be afraid of anymore.
I turned back to Jesse and barked desperately at him, and he loped over beside me.
Jesse lifted a paw and pointed at Cole, then he put his paw on my shoulder while he began to bark and whine and huff in a long sequence of sounds. Before long his speakers started emitting his bland robotic voice and it said, "C-O-L-E, this is J-A-K-E. We're here to take you home to your mom."
Suddenly Cole stood up straight and his ears came forward and he cocked his head to the side as he looked more closely at me. His tail came up and began to wag so hard that his rump was moving side to side along with it as he began to yip and bark and then he ran towards me put his muzzle against mine and began to rub it up and down as he whined his joy. I whined back and I rubbed at his face with mine and licked at his nose and my own tail began wagging like mad. Cole jumped up on his hind legs and hopped a couple of times, then came back down and moved underneath me and rubbed his back up against my belly, then ran back out in front and began to lick at my nose.
My heart soared at finally being with him again. He knew who I was and he knew he was safe. The wolf smiled and understood as he watched the reunion play out. This was love. This was mate.
Jesse then barked and whined several times and the voice said, "We need to go."
I barked and nodded and Cole nuzzled me one last time and then nodded to Jesse.
The general turned and walked up to the cells where the two other wolves were being held and looked over into the windowed enclosure at the man still in there, staring wide-eyed back out at us. Clearly they'd wanted to take no chances and must have used Cole's blood to create two more test subjects yesterday during the first change Cole would have gone through while in their custody. That must have been their first order of business before they started their experiments during today's change that might put their valuable guinea pig at risk.
Jesse nodded to the wolf with the door knocker and indicated the enclosure. The wolf approached the door and placed the knocker against it and fired it. The man yelled and jumped to the side as the loud bang drove the door handle through the door and into the room to hit the wall right beside him.
The wolf advanced into the room and the man began to beg, "Please, don't kill me! I'll release them. Look!"
He turned and began slapping at buttons on a control panel and we heard the electronic locks on the cells release one after another all along the opposite wall. The two wolves who'd been held pushed out to join us and sniffed at us.
Jesse whined and barked and huffed and then the robotic voice said, "Come with us."
They both nodded.
Jesse nodded to the wolf with the shotgun, who led the way back out to the maintenance area and up the stairs.
I kept Cole in front of me where I could see him and Jesse was just in front of Cole with all of the other wolves ahead.
Before long we came up the stairs to the main floor and I could hear shouts of fear and pain and general mayhem still coming from further in where the labs and living area must be.
We turned away from it and went down the long hallway, back through the destroyed doors, and out into the darkening night.
Jeb and Josh were still standing guard outside. It was only the second night of the new lunar cycle so we would not be wolves for much longer. Jesse had been right. It was a quick in and out. The heavily armed wolves seriously outclassed the limited guard presence. Just as he'd said, it looked as though the facility's only real defense had been the extreme secrecy of its remote location.
As we emerged I saw Cole turn and he began to bark at Joshua over and over again, then he turned to me and cocked his head, then turned back to look at the large lupine.
Joshua smiled and said, "What's wrong little guy? Never seen a lupine with a chain gun before?"
The small wolf shook his head and Josh chuckled and said, "Well, don't worry. We're pretty harmless if you don't cross us. We're here with Jake and we'll watch over you and keep you safe when you go through the change."
Cole whined and barked at him once more and then walked around him as he looked him over from head to toe. I could imagine just how surprised he might be at seeing Joshua. I couldn't wait to introduce him to Ben.
As though Ben was answering my thoughts, I suddenly noticed the thwapping sound of helicopters off in the distance and our radios crackled to life and I heard his voice say, "Extraction incoming. We're one minute out."
Joshua turned to the two new wolves and said, "You two need to go well into the trees and change away from us and each other. If you're new at this you won't have proper control and you'll rage when you change back. Come back and join us when you're done. If you don't, we'll leave without you."
The wolves nodded and split up as they ran off into the trees.
Joshua then approached me and said, "Come on, Jake. You and Cole should change a little ways away from the others. Cole might lose it if he's among all these strangers when the change hits. It's coming real quick."
He headed out back towards the tree line and Cole and I followed him. We went a little ways into the trees and Josh said, "I'll watch over you, but I'll keep my distance. Cole, think happy thoughts when you change. You're gonna see your mom in a little more than an hour. Think of that. Everyone is here to help you. Stay calm."
The small wolf nodded and Joshua turned to head back out of the trees and then he stopped a little ways away and stood his ground as he tilted his chain gun to level and swung it out in front of him on its support arm to hold it ready.
Just then the radio crackled again and I heard the low-pitched robotic voice of Samuel's computer say, "Jeb, I need you. Main floor at the back. Everyone else stay out there."
Jeb immediately disappeared into the facility. Jesse and the others didn't move from the position they'd taken near the center of the clearing. Jesse looked over to where I was, then back at the door. Then he barked and whined a bit and his robotic voice said, "Settle in for the change."
Everyone spread out again like before and the wolves lay down on their sides. There was still no sign of Samuel or his men. They must have decided to go through the change inside.
Joshua moved a little closer to the rest of the pack to guard over everyone.
The sound of the helicopters had been growing steadily louder and just as the first spasm hit I saw them clear the trees and settle into a hover and then begin to descend to land at the far side of the clearing. The two Hueys were armed with chain guns and rocket launchers. It looked like we really didn't need Jeb and Joshua out here to watch over us. The two large gunships would make short work of any unexpected threats that might appear.
I moved in closer to Cole before the next spasm hit and I lay right next to him as the convulsions began. He was on his side and facing me as he began to tense and jerk. The change went smoothly once again and before long I was regaining consciousness, still lying on my side, and there in front of me was Cole, naked and grinning at me. We waited as the last bit of squirming finished and our spasms quieted.
I sat up and pulled my helmet off and tossed it to the ground as Cole got up and jumped into my arms.
"You came for me! I knew you'd come! I knew you'd find a way! You came so quick! I told those guys what would happen to them if you found me!"
We both laughed and cried at the same time as we hugged each other hard.
"I was so scared for you, Cole. I'm so glad you're safe. I love you."
"I love you too, Jake. I love you so much. How did you find me? Who are all the other wolves? Who are those big guys who look like wolves and men at the same time? They can talk! They look so cool!"
"It's a long story," I said, "I'll tell you all about it a bit later. Let's get moving. We're gonna go back to your mom and Elias in those helicopters. They're waiting for us. It won't be long now."
He grinned and said, "I get to ride in a helicopter? Awesome!"
I picked up my helmet and we stood and he grabbed my hand as we walked out into the clearing.
Jesse and the others were standing in the middle of the clearing and facing the entrance to the facility. I saw two naked men emerging from the trees and moving to join them.
I came up beside Jesse with Cole in tow and I asked, "What's going on? Where's Samuel?"
"They must still be placing the charges in there. I don't know what's taking so long. I don't know why he called Jeb in there. I don't really like the feel of this. Maybe you should get Cole into Ben's chopper and get ready to bug out."
I noticed Cole looking up at Jesse's face while he spoke, and he asked, "Do I know you, mister? You look sort of familiar."
Jesse began to turn red with shame, but before he could respond Samuel emerged with several of his men and they stood right outside the entrance to the facility. They were holding their machine guns out and ready.
Jesse turned his attention to the alpha and asked, "Are we ready to go? Where's Jeb?"
Samuel said, "Jeb will be staying, along with me and my team."
"What do you mean, staying? Why did you need Jeb?" Jesse asked.
"We needed him to watch over us while we changed back, and to put down any of the remaining scientists that might cause trouble. They're our prisoners now. We need them for a little longer. We'll be holding this facility until we can get the research and the delivery system secured to move them safely to another location along with the scientists."
"Move them? That was never the plan. You were gonna destroy them!"
Samuel shook his head and said, "No, Jesse, I had no intention of destroying them this time. If we did, we would only be causing the humans a minor set back, just like the last time. It took them only a few years to do it all again. If we destroy it now they'll get to work on repeating all of their work yet again, but next time we may not be so lucky as to find out where they're doing it. This time, thanks to your friend here and the mess he caused at Nazas, they'll have all of the werewolves they could ever want to do research on, so we'll never have another opportunity to use one as bait to track them. It's time to end this once and for all. Nazas was a disaster and it exposed us completely to the world, but it did have one good outcome. It enlightened me to a better possible course of action for us. I realized what we did last time was a mistake. We should never have destroyed their work, we should have kept what they'd created and used it."
"What the hell would you want a cure for?" Jesse asked.
"Not the cure, the delivery system. I want the virus, and they've finished it. It's perfect."
"For what? If you don't want the cure, then why do you want the delivery mechanism?"
"To deliver a payload. The opposite of what they'd intended. The researchers in there think they've isolated the cause of the werewolf infection. They needed to do it in order to try to find the cure to completely control it all. Instead of using the cure, we're going to use the cause of the werewolf infection as the payload for their wonderfully effective little virus. It will spread the werewolf infection to the entire world in a matter of weeks. A true, global werewolf apocalypse. Your friend's antics in Nazas made me realize this is the best solution. His small werewolf outbreak showed me the way. I realized the only way to beat the humans was to convert them to our side as quickly as possible. The humans will no longer be a threat to us if there are none left. Everyone left standing will be a werewolf, and immortal. It will completely level the playing field so no one country can have any advantage over any other."
"That's crazy," I shouted, "You'd be wiping out the human race! There would only be werewolves and they can only ever create lupines. The human species would be gone forever!"
Samuel shrugged and said, "It would be no great loss. The lupine species is far superior. The humans have had their chance and squandered it. They're destroying the world they were given. It's time to give it to the lupines instead."
Jesse said, "That can't be sustainable! Think about it Samuel! All of the billions of people in the world will suddenly be immortal! None of them would ever die, but the lupine species would continue what was previously the human expansion when all of those werewolves begin to breed."
Samuel smiled and said, "I've thought of that, too. There were many fatalities when the new wolves raged in Nazas. There will be tens of millions of times that many when the whole world rages at once. The weak will all succumb to the stronger wolves, just as it should be. The virus causes a very debilitating flu and it will spread like wildfire through the world. The elderly and the infirm will die from the virus itself. The healthy ones will continue to sicken and the hospitals will become overcrowded. The sick will begin to fill schools and churches and emergency shelters worldwide. When the disease reaches its climax and begins to be die off inside the hosts, the payload it carries will be released into their systems. Think of it. Massive crowds of people with the disease who are all lying in close quarters will suddenly start to change when the next moon rises, and all of those new wolves will be in a rage and completely out of control, fighting each other to the death before their change is complete. In one fell swoop all of the weakest will be wiped out, and only the strongest will survive, to be completely healed by the change back to human form later on. The world will be instantly purified by the basic law of evolution. Only the fittest will survive the first nights of the apocalypse. I would estimate the world's population would be reduced by at least sixty to eighty percent all told. There would be plenty of room and resources left for the lupines to claim, and there will be a massive gene pool of only the strongest progenitors to ensure their viability as a species going forward. It's the perfect solution."
"I can't let you do this, Samuel," Jesse said, "You'd be murdering billions! Besides, it's too dangerous. What if it doesn't work quite right? What if the virus kills everyone? The risk is too high! It isn't right to just eliminate the whole human species! Who are you to make that call?"
"I am your alpha!" Samuel shouted at the top of his lungs, "You will do as I command or I will end you here and now!"
Samuel's men all raised their rifles. Jesse's men moved beside him and raised theirs as well. The two sides were suddenly in a standoff.
Samuel asked, "What's happened to you, Jesse? You were my right hand. My most trusted. We saw eye to eye on everything. I smelled you earlier when we changed. It was the first chance I've had to do it since before Nazas. I likely would not have even brought you along on this mission if I'd had a chance to smell you before. Something's changed in you. Your loyalty has shifted. You used to follow me without question. It's why I gave you the position you now hold. You used to follow your instincts and trust in your alpha."
Jesse said nothing, and Samuel's eyes narrowed and his voice lowered as he looked over at me, and then back at Jesse and said, "Or is it that you've been looking for a new alpha?"
Jesse turned to me and said, "Get Cole to the helicopter. Get out of here. Let me deal with this."
"Do not take one step!" Samuel warned. He turned to his men and said, "If they make for the helicopter. Kill the boy first."
The men responded by aiming their weapons right at Cole.
Jesse moved to block them and protect Cole and I stood next to him.
"Let us go, Samuel. You can do whatever you want here. I doubt we could stop you. There's no reason to harm the boy. There are two helicopters. You only need one. Let us take the other and bring Cole home to his mother."
Samuel said, "No. I think not. You've commanded my army too long, Jesse. I don't know how many might be more loyal to you than to me. I do know of a few that I can trust though. Jeb is one, for instance. Many of the lupines see things the way I do. They don't like the humans. They have no qualms about replacing them with progenitors. You're right though, we do need only one helicopter."
Samuel raised his hand and motioned at the Huey being flown by the other lupine. Both helicopters still had their engines spooled up and rotors spinning while they waited for everyone to get aboard. They must have heard everything Samuel was saying over their radios.
Suddenly I heard the engine whine on the helicopter Samuel had motioned to as the pilot added torque to the collective and the helicopter began to lift off and turn to face Ben's chopper.
Ben saw what was happening and reacted fast. I heard the turbine engines strain as he added collective to his own Huey and it began to lift off the ground.
The pilot of the first helicopter squeezed the trigger and I saw the chain gun mounted on the side begin to spin and it spewed fire as it began to shoot at Ben's Huey. Ben was already on his way up so he avoided most of the gunfire, but I heard the staccato clang of bullets hitting the armor just as he popped up out of the line of fire.
Ben deftly maneuvered his Huey as he kicked the rudder and the tail of the chopper suddenly swung around as he nosed it over to face the first helicopter. There was a hiss and a swoosh and a pair of rockets shot out towards the other chopper. There was no time for the pilot to react and one of the rockets impacted just below the rotor while the other went into the cockpit. The Huey exploded into a fireball as it's own fuel tanks detonated and the rotor was blown apart as the chopper crashed to the ground. I saw a piece of it zoom out and ricochet off of Ben's chopper and I saw a puff of smoke go up, but it didn't seem to do any serious damage as Ben was able to maintain control and he kicked the rudder again to bring the tail back and face the helicopter towards Samuel and his men.
Samuel roared and his men brought their rifles around to shoot down the Huey, but I heard a loud whirring and suddenly there was a different and much louder roar as Joshua's chain gun began to unleash a hail of bullets that swept towards Samuel and his men. One of them dove to the ground and began shooting at Josh and he was hit in the neck just under his ear and he went down, blood spewing from the wound.
Several of Samuel's remaining men began to fire on us and everyone hit the deck and Jesse dove right on top of Cole as several bullets ricocheted off his armor and I heard him cry out in pain.
Samuel's other men quickly dragged him back into the facility to protect him.
Jesse's men began to return fire, but it was too late. The last of Samuel's men lunged into the facility as we heard Samuel's voice shout over the radio, "Jeb, we need you at the entrance!"
Jesse stood back up and I saw him bleeding from a wound on his leg as he shouted to me, "We've got to get Cole out of here before Jeb gets here with that chain gun!"
Ben was already bringing the chopper to the ground as everyone stood back up, and I hustled Cole along as we all ran towards it and began to pile aboard. Jesse was limping as he followed us in and he moved to the front and hopped into the gunner's seat next to Ben. I secured Cole in one of the seats in the middle of the large helicopter and then I moved up between the two seats at the front.
Just as Ben was beginning to lift off we saw Jeb emerging and his chain gun began to spin up. Before he could get a shot off Ben thumbed the weapons release and I heard the familiar hiss and swoosh and Jeb suddenly dove back inside as a pair of rockets rushed towards the entrance of the facility. They impacted just short of the entrance and they blew a crater in the ground. Before Ben could get another shot off Jeb emerged again, but this time he was running at an angle toward the tree line at top speed.
"Get us the hell out of here!" Jesse shouted, "If he finds a good position he'll be able to shoot us down!"
Ben nodded and he pulled the collective higher as he pushed the cyclic forward and the engines roared to compensate for the sudden increase in load as the chopper began to rise and slide forward towards the hill at a faster and faster rate.
Down below I saw Jeb stop and turn and his chain gun began to spin up again, but it was too late. Just as the flash of fire erupted and the first few bullets hit underneath us at the back we passed over the tops of the trees and out of his line of fire behind the hill. I suddenly heard the engines change tone, then they recovered.
"Shit! He hit a fuel line!" Ben shouted.
"How bad is it? Can we make it back?" Jesse shouted.
Ben looked at his panels and nodded and said, "I think so. We're loaded down heavy, but I think at the rate we're using it we should have enough to make it back. It'll be close."
Jesse said, "Radio to base. I need to talk to someone out there I can trust. We need to lock down the armory and the vehicles."
Ben shook his head and said, "Can't do it. I got hit by a piece of that other Huey's rotor. It took out the radio transceiver."
Jesse shook his head and said, "Shit. Well, we'll be back soon enough."
He turned to me and said, "That fucking crazy bastard! I told you he was starting to get flaky, Jake. I had no idea he'd gone right over the edge."
"What now?" I asked.
Jesse thought about it and said, "He won't be able to use the short range comms to get help. We destroyed the communications array for the facility, so he can't call out for help that way unless they can get it working again. The satellite dish is toast but they might be able to repair the high frequency antenna. We need to get Cole back safe first, then we need to head back here and finish what we started. We need to destroy that facility before Samuel can get that shit secured and transported out of there."
"What if he manages to get that radio fixed? What if he calls out for help before we can get back there?" I asked.
"We just have to hope that doesn't happen before we get back to base. Nobody else will know what's happening yet. I'm still the general of our militia as far as they're concerned. I'll need to get on the horn and try to secure all of our other compounds before we head back out here. I need to get those who are loyal to me to lock out everyone else. We can't let anyone get hold of an aircraft that could carry Samuel out of there before we can get back to finish them off. It'll all come down to how many are with him in his crazy plan, and how many will follow me, instead."
Ben said, "I can't believe they killed Joshua. I can't believe Jeb sided with them! He's always had bad feelings about the humans, but I didn't know it was that bad. I'm not a big fan of the humans, but I don't see any need to destroy the whole species! Whatever progenitors Samuel makes, that's all there'd ever be! There could never be any more, because there would never be any more human babies!"
I nodded and said, "The werewolf numbers could only ever go down from that point on. I think his biggest concern is the lupines, though. He just wants to give his children their best chance. It's insane to do it at the cost of the whole human race, though."
Jesse said, "We'll stop him, Jake. Don't worry. He's the alpha, but I've been the commander of our army for a lot of years. In a way I've got more power than he does, but It'll be hard to figure out exactly who to trust from now on. We'll need to be careful."
We settled in for the flight back. It would take longer to get back in the slower Huey than it did to come out in the Hercules but at last I'd have my whole family back together again.
With any luck, Jesse would be able to send someone back to destroy the facility before Samuel could slip away with the research and the scientists.
If not, the whole world might be in for a very sudden, and very dramatic change.***
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