Rookie agent Rex walked through the garage. All around him, engineers and mechanics worked on building and repairing vehicles, ranging from small ATVs to large jeeps. He also caught a glimpse of a massive tank that was being assembled, as well as a helicopter in the hangar above.
An exalted sense of newfound purpose filled Rex's body with a sort of euphoria. He was now officially signed up as a soldier for the D.I.N.O. Attack, dressed in the standard black and grey uniform. He felt proud to be able to serve on behalf of the world. Now, he would have the power to bring the fight to the Mutant Dinosaurs that had rampaged across the planet. And now, he was assigned his first mission.
Rex found a small group consisting of three soldiers gathered by one of the jeeps. One of them was a man who appeared to be middle-aged, with a round face partially masked by glasses and a full beard. His features were soft and his eyes glinted with a hearty and compassionate light. As Rex approached, the man smiled gently and extended his hand in greeting. "Good morning! You'll be training with us, right?"
"That's right," nodded Rex, shaking the man's hand.
"My name is Williams," the man introduced himself. Then, he gestured towards his two companions. "His name's Walker, and her name's Lisa. We're all rookies here, so don't worry if you haven't got any experience yet... we're all in the same boat."
"You'll need a bigger boat, Williams," chuckled Walker, who also shook hands with Rex. He, like Williams, wore glasses and had a beard, but their physical similarities ended there. He was tall but rather lanky, and although he appeared to be younger than Williams, his thin face had hardened features that hinted at a more caustic outlook on life. As Rex took note of Walker's appearance, he felt as though Walker was scrutinizing him in return with his narrow, beady eyes.
Lisa was a young woman with a pretty face, doe eyes, and short blonde hair. She looked Rex up and down and smiled, batting her eyelids. "Hello, handsome. Got any plans later this evening?"
"Oh, come on, Lisa," Walker rolled his eyes, "do you have to flirt with every single guy you see?" He leaned in close to Rex and muttered, "Trust me, don't go out with her. She'll just break your heart, tear it into little pieces, and throw every piece into the incinerator."
"I'll take your word for it," whispered Rex. To him, the dino attack hardly seemed like a time to be pursuing romantic relationships and crying over broken hearts, so he saw little purpose in investigating Walker's claim. Raising his voice, he introduced himself to the others: "Nice to meet you all. My name's Rex."
"Rex?" repeated Walker, with a small smirk. "Really, we're going with that? Is that supposed to be your real name, or just a nickname?"
Rex shrugged. "It's just a nickname, but about as close I can get to a real name for now." He quickly told them about how he met Frank Einstein, their escape from Mercy Hospital, and the incident with the raptor and the rope that had given him that name.
"So you don't remember anything?" blinked Lisa. "Not even your own name?"
Rex bit his lip and thought for a moment before answering. "I think that I used to be a scientist," he murmured, "and, as you can see, my memory is intact enough that I can still speak English, so it's not as though my mind is the blank slate of a newly-born infant... it's just... well, it's almost as though I remember the lessons, but I don't remember learning them. I can read, I can speak, I can tie my own shoes... but I can't remember my own name. So, unless I recover from my amnesia, I'm just sticking with 'Rex'."
"A scientist?" repeated Williams. "At least I can see such an occupation being beneficial to Dino Attack Team. They need all the scientists they can get so they can study the Mutant Dinos and figure out the root cause of their mutation. I'm a musician, on the other hand. I once went to Adventurers' Island to see the dinosaurs for inspiration for a song I wanted to write, but that's about as far as my experience goes. Lisa is an actress, and Walker's a director. We're neither scientists nor soldiers; we were drafted into the team by the conscription. You'll probably be a greater asset than the rest of us combined."
Rex shrugged. "Well, I suppose being a scientist would be useful... if I remembered anything more than working with other scientists and waking up in a labcoat in a wrecked research facility. Not that it matters; I'm just happy to serve the team in any way I can."
"Doesn't this worry you at all?" inquired Lisa. "I mean, if I had lost my memory and woke up in a ruined city overrun by dinosaurs, like you did..."
"... then I'd have bigger problems to worry about than my own memory," replied Rex, dismissively waving his hand.
Rex knew he was not telling them the whole truth, but he decided it was for the best. Why should he have to burden them with his own problems? Having nothing, not even memories to look back upon, left him with a terrible, overwhelming emptiness that often kept him awake at night. He often felt as though he was peering into a black hole, fearing that what little remained of him would soon be dragged into the darkness as well. At times, he could feel that it was only his sense of purpose in joining Dino Attack Team that kept him grounded in reality.
"I see," nodded Walker. "Don't worry; if you happen have any more memory problems in the future, you can count on me to remember everything for you. At least you have an excuse for going by a nickname like 'Rex'. Frankly, I don't get this whole nickname business that some soldiers are so fond of. Why do I have to call you by some ridiculous nickname? How would I look if I went around telling people to call me, uh, 'Classical Snob' instead of Walker? I'd look like a pretentious hipster, wouldn't I?"
"I think this whole 'nickname' thing got started by Alpha Team," suggested Williams. "They have to operate under codenames, being spies and secret agents and all. Quite a few Alpha Team agents were assigned to Dino Attack and were among the first members. Then, when Dino Attack started recruiting from the refugee facilities, some guys must have thought it was standard procedure and signed up under codenames, too."
"I think there's even this one guy," added Lisa, "who insists that everyone call him 'Batman'."
Walker's face turned bright red and contorted into an exaggerated scowl. "That guy? I hate that guy! I ran into him last night in the mess hall, and he wouldn't shut up about his credit card! What's even the point? It's the freakin' apocalypse; nobody cares about your stupid credit card since you can't even buy anything with it now that all the stores are all out of business! And he has the gall to call himself 'Batman'? It's a disgrace! An insult to the name of Batman! And-"
Rex bit his lip. "Uh, does he do this often?" he whispered to Williams and Lisa.
"Oh boy," sighed Williams, "here he goes again. Once Walker goes on a rant, not even the apocalypse itself can stop him."
Lisa rolled her eyes. "We probably shouldn't even get him started on that, or else he'll start ranting about how nonsensical and ridiculous the whole concept of a mutant dinosaur apocalypse is."
Rex laughed. "Let's hope things don't get any more ridiculous than this."
Rex, Lisa, Williams, and Walker turned around to see a Dino Attack elite agent marching towards them. He wore a sleeveless vest that showed off his arm muscles, with a large knife strapped to his belt. On his head, he wore a wide-brimmed fedora and grinned proudly through a face full of stubble. "Name's Rick, and I'll be trainin' you rookies today!"
"Look out," muttered Walker, "it's the poor man's Johnny Thunder. What pretentious nickname do they call you, 'Adventure'?"
Rick shook his head. "Nah, string bean, but I kinda like the sound of that. Adventure. Now that's a word that perfectly sums me up in one word. Although, 'Testosterone' or 'Explosions' would also work. And that's just what I expect to see from you. Now, I know you're just rookies and one of you is a mighty pretty lady," he paused to wink at Lisa, who returned the gesture, "but by the end of today, I wanna see the Fourth of July out there! No, even better... we'll make our own holiday, one with even more fire and explosions!"
Walker rolled his eyes. "So, we're making a Brichael May film?"
With a gleam in his eye, Rick dramatically pointed at Walker. "Now that's more like it, string bean! We're going out there and makin' the biggest Brichael May film ever to hit theaters!"
Although Williams and Lisa both stifled giggles, the reference was completely lost upon Rex. He frowned in his confusion, wondering if he would have understood what they were talking about if he were not still suffering from amnesia. Then again, he was not sure if he wanted to understand.
"Now," continued Rick, "if you wanted an easy training mission, you should've gone and joined the Headquarters Squad goin' down to Gold City to build an outpost, or maybe you should've gone marchin' up and down the square with that Army guy instead. No, what we're gonna do is a real man's work! A large nesting site for those overgrown reptiles has been found downtown at the old shopping center. It's up to us to neutralize the nest and exterminate those buggers before they run wild."
Rick pointed to the jeep parked next to the group. "Now, this beaut here is the Fire Hammer. Unfortunately, it's the only one available in the lot right now; production hasn't yet caught up to demand, though Bill Ding says he's working on that. I'll drive it into battle with you and keep you covered, but the rest of you gotta drive 'em Steel Sprinters instead." With that, he gestured to a nearby group of small ATVs.
The rookies looked on in undisguised disdain. "Hey, now, wait a second," frowned Lisa. "You're expecting us to be able to take on mutant dinosaurs... in those things? There's nothing separating the driver from a lizard's jaws! We're supposed to feel safe driving those around the city?"
"Sure," shrugged Rick. "Fast, reliable, good for quickly getting out of a pinch. Makes up for a lack of armor with speed and maneuverability. Besides, those reptiles will be the ones needing protection when you're packin' these guns!"
The elite agent handed out weapons to the rookies. They were the not rifles or machine guns that Rex was expecting, but rather futuristic in appearance, colored black and adorned with neon-green lights. They were big and bulky, but Rex was surprised to discover how light one felt in his hands. However, Lisa and Williams struggled to hold them, and Walker outright refused, declaring that his trusty pistol was a much better weapon of choice than some oversized possibly-unreliable prototype.
"Unreliable?" scoffed Rick. "These babies won't fail you! These Sonic Screamers are the products of the latest technology designed specifically to knock those mutants senseless! In fact, they were designed by Specs himself."
Specs. Rex had yet to meet the leader of the Dino Attack Team, but based upon what he heard from his fellow Dino Attack agents, he knew that Specs was a renowned multidisciplinary scientist, an unfaltering commander, and a man to be held in high regard. Looking over the Sonic Screamer in his hands, Rex nodded. "Seems good to me."
This time, Rex was the target of Rick's dramatic index finger. "I like your attitude, mate!" he grinned. Then, scratching his chin, he looked Rex over. "Hey, ain't you that fellow who saved Dr. Einstein using nothin' but rope? That takes some real bricks, son, and that's what I wanna see! Rookies, I'm gonna call this guy 'honcho' because the rest of you should follow his lead!"
Rex suddenly found himself feeling uncomfortable as Williams, Lisa, and Walker all stared at him. Being thought of as a leader or a role model was not something he was accustomed to. He was also surprised that Rick had already heard about his rescue at Mercy Hospital; apparently, even if the other rookies had not yet heard about it, word spread quickly through Dino Attack Team.
Rick clapped his hands together. "Right! Now, let's see... you've got your guns, your vehicles, and you've all been given standard-issue radios, I'm sure-"
"That's correct," nodded Lisa, holding up her handheld radio. "My friend Danny showed me how to operate these a few years ago. What frequency should we use?"
"Set your frequencies to 140.15," continued Rick, "and keep those things on at all times. You'll hear some comm chatter from other squads, but that's normal. This way, we can keep in close contact even if we're far apart, and if you're in danger, send out a S.O.S. immediately." He turned away to turn on the radio on the Fire Hammer's dashboard. He also grabbed a bundle of rope, which he casually tossed to Rex. "Here, honcho, see what you can do with this!"
Rex wrapped the length of rope around his torso, allowing both hands to be free. Just as Rick said, he could overhear some chatter on the jeep's radio:
"Come in, Condr. I repeat: come in, Condr!"
"We just located four civilians who were trapped in a broken-down elevator at Mindstorms, Inc. We need a rescue vehicle so we can evacuate them out of the city as soon as possible."
"Steer clear of the water. I don't know what's in there, but it's big, it's got tentacles, and it's not friendly."
"Has anyone else seen these black vehicles?"
Then, Rick turned around one last time to face the rookies, and Rex saw that his expression had turned uncharacteristically serious. "Oh, and one more thing," he added. "Just remember. These mutants are practically machines. Killer machines that are programmed to terminate you. Don't bother bargainin' or reasonin' with them, 'cause they don't understand any of that. They don't know fear. They will always go for the kill... so you gotta shoot first."
Rex nodded firmly, remembering the savage behavior of the Mutant Lizards and Raptor he had encountered at Mercy Hospital. He locked and loaded his Sonic Screamer, prepared for battle. I'll stop at nothing until they're extinct once more, he thought with grim determination.
"We need back-up!"
"Since when do T-Rexes shoot lasers from their eyes?"
"Excuse me! I'm in need of medical attention!"
"There's a raptor nest here, but some street gang keeps harassing us and won't let us neutralize it. Requesting authorization for... uh, aggressive negotiations."
"I'll slay every last one of you dragons!"
"Never give up, never surrender!"
"Did Zed just join Dino Attack Team?"
Just a few moments ago, the parking lot outside the ruined shopping center had been as quiet and still as the grave. Rex thought it was incredible how the arrival of Rick and his squad suddenly transformed the area into a chaotic battleground.
He steered his Steel Sprinter through the maze of rubble and abandoned cars, but the remains of downtown's pre-apocalyptic days were the least of his concerns. All around him, dozens of ferocious Mutant Lizards snapped their jaws at him, sometimes missing by mere inches. The air was filled with snarling and hissing as the lizards pursued their prey.
Rex took aim with his Sonic Screamer and fired. Without any prior experience in firearms, he struggled to aim the large weapon, but luckily, the lizards were so numerous that nearly every shot was guaranteed to hit a target. He already taken down a few, but for every one he shot down, another took its place.
"Looks like we've stirred the hive!" he called out as a pack of Mutant Lizards chased after his Steel Sprinter. Fortunately, the sounds of growling and hissing gave way to the firing of the Xenon Multi-Mode Launcher as Rick's Fire Hammer provided cover.
"Yeah!" Rick's voice rang out on the radio. "How do you little buggers like that? There's plenty more where that came from, so come get some!"
"There's plenty more where they came from, too!" retorted Walker, who drove past Rex with at least dozen Mutant Lizards pursuing him.
Rex drove after Walker and tried to provide back-up. He successfully shot down a few of the lizards, but was suddenly forced to swerve to the left to avoid a flying glob of acid. Turned around, he fired upon the lizard that had spat at him.
As the mutant fell, Rex took note of its yellow scales. He remembered that the acid-spitting lizard he and Einstein had encountered in Mercy Hospital was also yellow. "Interesting," he murmured under his breath, wondering if the colors of the lizards' scales denoted particular strains of the mutation.
"Hey, Walker!" Rex heard Lisa's voice on the radio. "Just pretend they're all carrying credit cards!" Seconds later, gunshots rang out as Walker started madly firing his pistol while yelling incoherently, followed by the sounds of screeching lizards.
Rex laughed and shook his head, impressed that Lisa's idea had worked so successfully. Then, frowning, his glanced around and looked for Williams, whose Steel Sprinter was nowhere to be seen. He briefly listened to the comm chatter, hoping to hear Williams' voice.
"... until SUDDENLY DINOSAURS."
"That's odd. Are the trains still running?"
"Bogey on my six. Get this reptile off of me!"
"Dinosaur activity has been reported at Enchanted Island. I'd recommend sending a squad of six heroes to take care of the problem."
"Last one to the Res-Q station is a rotten egg!"
"Nah, I think that was Raines."
"Dinosaurs, Francis! They're mutant dinosaurs, not dragons!"
"What? Don't be an idiot!"
"Hey, don't use that word. Say 'cool dude' instead."
"Did they send me children when I asked for men?"
"Williams!" Rex called out, feeling worried. "What's your stat-"
He was cut off by the unexpected sound of music. A bombastic military march resonated through the air as another Steel Sprinter raced past him. Rex felt relieved when he recognized the ATV's driver as Williams.
"Hey, are you playin' music, mate?" inquired Rick.
"Why not? I figured it could boost morale and make the action even more exciting," explained Williams.
"And it's workin', alright!" laughed Rick. "Why didn't I think of this? Remind me to install some subwoofers in the back of this Fire Hammer when we get back to the garage. Life calls for some adventure music!"
Rex steered his Street Sprinter around an overturned pick-up truck and was immediately greeted by a group of Mutant Lizards. They eyed him hungrily, sneering with sharp teeth. He aimed his Sonic Screamer at them but did not get a chance to shoot.
A large van barreled through the parking lot towards them, plowing through everything in its path. Rex swerved out of the way even as the lizards scattered to avoid being run over. As it passed, he could see that the van was covered with makeshift armor composed of steel plates, lattices, and chains. The windows were barred and he could not make out the faces of those inside.
Just as quickly as it had arrived, the armored van was gone. Incredulous, Rex spoke into the radio. "Rick, did you see that van? It doesn't look like a Dino Attack vehicle to me."
"I'd reckon it's one of them survivors," suggested Rick. "Most civilians are still unaccounted for. Those who haven't been rescued and evacuated over the past two weeks learned to fend for themselves and make use of whatever scraps they can salvage."
Rex nodded. "How resourceful," he murmured. "We could use more men like that in the team."
"I found one of the nests!" reported Lisa. "It's over by-"
Rex did not hear the rest of the message. A Mutant Lizard with black scales screeched shrilly before pouncing onto the front of his Steel Sprinter. Startled, Rex scrambled to point his Sonic Screamer at the creature, but with a swing of its tail, it knocked the weapon out of his hand. Growling, it bared its teeth at him.
Thinking quickly, Rex slammed on the brakes. As the ATV skidded to a stop, the lizard was flung off his vehicle and landed beside a large black truck. The impact left the lizard with a large scratch across its snout. It was back on its feet in seconds and snarled angrily, ready to attack once more.
Adrenaline kicked in as Rex found himself in the primal choice between fight or flight. His eyes narrowed, he gritted his teeth, and he balled his hands into fists as he made his decision. Although he had lost his weapon, he was not going to back down. In an attempt to intimidate his opponent, he yelled: "Get some, you freak of nature!"
Then, a gaping red eye opened on the side of the large black form that, Rex now realized to his horror, was not actually a truck but rather the head of a colossal beast. Rudely awakened from its slumber, it produced a deep, guttural rumbling from its throat. Then, it lifted itself off the pavement and reached towards the heavens, bellowing an earth-shaking roar like the sound of thunder.
The Mutant Lizard screeched in terror and scampered away as quickly as it could.
Rex was awestruck by the sight, finding that he could not help but admire the behemoth. Such raw power, such unbound strength. A feral force of nature with the terrible wrath of a hurricane. "It's... beautiful..." he whispered, unable to pull his eyes away.
"It's a MegaBloking T-Rex!" screamed Walker. "Retreat!"
Rick laughed, almost maniacally. "Now this is more like it! C'mon, mates! Let's give it a burl!"
"Are you mad?" gasped Lisa. "You're gonna get us all killed!"
"What's the matter, sheila? Afraid of dyin' young? March forward, Williams! Tear those lizards apart, Lisa! Keep firing that pistol, Walker! And Rex, you-"
Rex did not hear his order, as it was cut off by the Mutant T-Rex's second roar. He shook his head, snapping himself out of his awed stupor and back into a very dangerous present reality. The T-Rex leered down upon him, and Rex was willing to bet that, after being rudely awoken by screeching and shouting, it was not in a pleasant mood.
The T-Rex raised one massive foot, easily the size of the Steel Sprinter, and Rex suddenly knew that he would be crushed like an insect if he did not act in that instant. He threw the ATV into reverse and floored it, backing away just before the foot came crashing down upon the pavement. The whole city block shook with the impact.
Even if Rick thought that a team of rookies in ATVs could possibly take down a T-Rex on their first mission, Rex knew that he would be dead meat if he did not regroup with the others. Shifting the gear back into drive, he turned around and sped away, making a hasty retreat.
The Mutant T-Rex roared in indignation. Daring to glance over his shoulder, Rex saw that the dinosaur was now pursuing him. Each footfall of the great beast felt like the firing of a cannon as it crushed everything in its path, leaving a trail of debris in its wake. Although the Steel Sprinter had a head start, the small vehicle would quickly be overtaken.
Rex remembered what Rick had said about the Steel Sprinter ATVs: their greatest strengths were speed and maneuverability. It would not be fast enough to escape a T-Rex, but a beast that size would have difficulty reacting to the movements of a smaller, more agile target.
With that thought in mind, Rex waited until the T-Rex had nearly caught up to him before making a sudden sharp turn to the right. Sure enough, the T-Rex's bulk made it for it to react, and so Rex was able to buy himself a few extra seconds as the dinosaur's momentum carried it in the wrong direction.
In those extra seconds, Rex came up with a plan. He unlimbered the rope that he had wrapped around his torso as he made another sharp turn to throw off the T-Rex again, then began tying it into a lasso. In his head, he could see the scenario playing out perfectly as he used the Steel Sprinter's agility to his advantage, weaving in and out between the T-Rex's legs while wrapping the rope around its ankles. "The greater the beast," he murmured to himself, "the harder he will-"
A shrill screech was the only warning Rex had before a dark shape hit him. Suddenly, he bore a great weight on his back and struggled to keep himself from falling off his vehicle. Straining his neck, he glanced over his shoulder and saw the face of a black-scaled Mutant Lizard staring back at him, with a familiar scratch across its snout.
"Great," Rex muttered. "The last thing I needed was an uninvited hitchhiker."
He tried to shake the lizard off his back, but it clung on tightly even as he swerved the Steel Sprinter left and right like a drunkard. The lizard tried to snap at him, so Rex responded with a quick punch to its snout. This only enraged the creature, which snarled and started to claw at him.
Rex realized that he would not have a chance to use the rope against the T-Rex as he had planned if the Mutant Lizard killed him first. Gritting his teeth, he threw his lasso up at the hissing, scratching, biting creature on his back, and then tugged with all of his strength. The lasso had wrapped around the lizard's neck. Feeling itself caught, the lizard began writhing wildly in an attempt to get loose, but its erratic movements only got itself tangled in the rope.
"Yes!" whispered Rex, grinning in triumph as the Mutant Lizard screeched again.
And then everything went black.
It was a strange sensation, to say the least. Rex could still hear, feel, and smell the world around him, so he knew that he was still alive and conscious, and there was nothing that hit him or could have otherwise impaired his vision. His eyes were wide open, and yet, as if he had been blindfolded, he had lost his sight and became trapped in a world of pitch-black darkness.
He remembered a similar incident in Mercy Hospital. Could it be the black-scaled Mutant Lizard that was casting this field of shadow?
With a feeling of panic, Rex realized that he was still driving his Steel Sprinter through a debris-filled city with a Mutant Lizard on his back and a Mutant T-Rex chasing him... and he was completely blind while doing so.
He scrambled through the darkness to pick up his radio. "Mayday!" he shouted. "Mayday! I'm driving blind and-"
Rex's stomach lurched as he felt a brief sensation of flying through the air before crashing down upon the ground. At once, his sight returned to him, and he was seeing stars. He ached all over and felt as though a rockslide had fallen on his head. Still, he was alive, and he found the strength to slowly pick himself up and look around, trying to get his bearings.
He found himself in what appeared to be a small deli, though much of the food was gone, most likely scavenged by survivors or dinosaurs. There was broken glass all over the floor, and he winced as he wondered if he had crashed through the window and potentially cut himself with glass shards. Fortunately, with most of his skin covered by his Dino Attack uniform, he appeared to be safe in that regard, though he was still sure that he must have been bruised from head to toe.
He found his Steel Sprinter, overturned and nestled between a smashed table and pair of chairs. Although Rex was no mechanic, he was willing to wager that it was in no condition to drive. Searching through the wreckage, he recovered his radio.
"This is agent Rex," he spoke into the radio. "My Steel Sprinter crashed in a deli on... uh..." He poked his head outside the building just for a moment to look for a street sign. "It's a deli called 'Tzenovich's Sandwiches' on Playwell Avenue. Please send help!"
In response, he only received white noise. There was not even any comm chatter from other squads.
Rex bit his lip. He prayed that the radio did not break during the crash. It appeared to be working, with a frequency set to 141.12, but for whatever reason, he could not contact his teammates. Worried, he paced around the deli as he considered his options.
If he left the deli, he would leave himself at the mercy of a dangerous city overrun by dinosaurs. If he stayed in the deli, he had no idea how long it would take before he could be found, and would he be found first by Dino Attack or by a hungry dinosaur?
Rex was so lost in his own thoughts that he nearly tripped over a body lying on the floor. Snapping back to reality, he regained his balance and then looked down to see who it was.
It was the black-scaled Mutant Lizard. It was still alive, but the creature was so tangled in rope that it could barely move. Several large shards of glass were embedded in its tail, which bled onto the floor.
Immediately, Rex knew what had to be done. He ran behind the counter and found a large knife for cutting bread and meat. Then, he walked back to the lizard, stood over its body, raised the knife, and prepared to end the miserable creature's life.
The Mutant Lizard stared back up at him. It whimpered softly and slightly raised its injured tail off the floor in a futile effort to ward him off.
Rex's hand stayed. Here he was, finally able to bring an end to this monster that had caused him so much trouble. This was doing his part to save the world from the threat of these beasts. So why was it so hard for him to finish the job?
Rex shut his eyes, and his breathing became heavy. "Just do it!" he whispered to himself through clenched teeth, but his arm muscles would not obey. He stole just one more glance downward at the pitiful creature.
There was no mistaking it now: there was fear in the Mutant Lizard's eyes.
He could not handle it anymore. Rex threw the knife down upon the floor, and it rang with a clatter when it hit the tiles. Angry with himself for his own weakness, he let out a disgusted sound as he sat down beside the lizard and buried his face in his hands.
Out there in the shopping center's parking lot, when it was Rex and four other soldiers up against a whole nest of Mutant Lizards, he did not find it difficult to shoot them down. It was different then. To him, they were a bunch of nameless, faceless, mindless monsters driven by urges to destroy and kill, and he was doing his proud duty to the world by exterminating them. The only thing holding him back was his inexperience in aiming firearms, for he surely could have taken even more lizards down if he had been trained beforehand.
However, this particular Mutant Lizard, which now lay beside him in a tangled mess of rope, was more than just a faceless shadow. Twice, it had pounced onto his Steel Sprinter and tried to kill him. The first time, they inadvertently woke up a T-Rex. The second time, they crashed into the deli and left him stranded without radio contact. For all intents and purposes, Rex knew that he had more reason to want to kill this particular lizard for all the trouble that it had caused him.
And yet, when he stood there over its fallen, vulnerable form, and they looked at each other eye-to-eye... he suddenly found himself unable to perform the act of ending this creature's life.
Rex glanced back at the Mutant Lizard beside him, which was still staring warily at him. "Why," he murmured, "would a mindless killing machine know fear?"
He exhaled slowly as an epiphany dawned upon him. Dino Attack's purpose is to destroy these monsters, he thought. How can we achieve that goal if we let ourselves become monsters in the process?
The tremors of great footsteps snapped Rex out of his thoughts. He looked out the broken window to see a Mutant T-Rex, most likely the very one that they had woken up, prowling Playwell Avenue. The beast's red eyes scanned the street and shops for prey, and Rex guessed that it was hoping to find those two pesky nuisances who dared to disturb its sleep.
I'm too close to the window, thought Rex. If it sees me, it can just poke its snout in and swallow me whole! Slowly, he rose to his feet, then took a couple steps back. He froze when he heard the high-pitched crunch of glass beneath his boots. The T-Rex instantly turned its head in his direction, and he could feel its red eyes boring into him.
Once more, the primal instinct of flight or fight kicked in, and this time, Rex knew that flight was the appropriate response. He turned on his heel and sprinted towards the deli counter, as far away from the broken window as he could get. However, halfway there, he skidded to a stop and glanced back at the Mutant Lizard on the floor, still helpless and tied up in rope. Already, the T-Rex had lumbered towards the deli.
"I can't believe I'm doing this," he muttered.
Before he could second-guess himself, Rex was running back to the Mutant Lizard's form. He grabbed the ropes and tugged with all of his might, dragging the lizard across the floor and towards the counter.
He did not get very far before the T-Rex poked its head in through the window. A pair of great nostrils loomed over Rex and the lizard, sniffing the air between them. Razor-sharp jaws were mere inches away, and he could taste its rancid breath as hot air washed over him. Fortunately, the window was not large enough to allow the beast to get any closer.
Beads of sweat dripping down his forehead, Rex continued to tug at the ropes and pull the Mutant Lizard to safety, putting as much distance as he could between them and the T-Rex's jaws. He did not stop until they were both hidden behind the counter.
The Mutant T-Rex let out a low growl as its prey literally slipped out from under its nose. Then, to Rex's relief, it pulled its head out of the deli and resumed lumbering down Playwell Avenue. While he had no doubt that the T-Rex could have easily ripped the building from its foundation, he guessed that, perhaps, the towering behemoth had decided that a pair of scrawny snacks would not have been worth the effort.
Rex's heartbeat did not return to normal until the beast's great footfalls were distant and no longer shook the street. Only then did he let out a long sigh, easing his tense muscles.
The trail of blood along the floor drew his attention back to the Mutant Lizard's tail. He pursed his lips. It would have been pointless to save the lizard from the T-Rex's jaws only to have the poor creature die from blood loss. He bent down and gently laid one hand on the lizard's tail. Then, with the other, he carefully grabbed the largest of the glass shards embedded in its flesh, then slowly pulled it out.
As he predicted, the lizard screeched and writhed in pain, but he kept his hand placed firmly on the tail, holding it in place so it would not hurt itself. "Hush," he whispered. "I know this hurts, but I'm trying to help you." He knew that the lizard would not understand his words, but he hoped it could understand his tone.
One by one, in a slow and meticulous procedure, Rex removed each glass fragment from the lizard's tail. They left deep, open cuts in the flesh, so when he was finished, Rex ripped off his left shirt sleeve and wrapped the fabric around the lizard's tail. It was, by no means, a sterile bandage, and he wondered if the wounds would become infected, but at the very least he hoped that it would help stop the bleeding.
"There we go," he murmured, gently patting the lizard. "That's better, isn't it?"
The lizard stared at him, then quickly glanced at a few strips of corned beef laid out on top of the counter.
Rex nodded, understanding what it wanted. He stood, took the corned beef, and put it down beside the lizard. It sniffed tentatively at the meat, then snapped it up in a couple quick bites.
Once more, Rex sat down beside the Mutant Lizard. He took out his radio and looked it over one more time. He sighed, shaking his head. It did not appear to be damaged. No dents, no snapped parts, no missing pieces. It just simply was not picking up anything at the frequency of 141.12...
"Wait a second, that's not right."
Rex blinked as a realization dawned upon him. For several minutes, he adjusted a dial and set the frequency to various different numbers before finally settling upon 140.15. Instantly, the radio crackled to life with comm chatter:
"Don't be ridiculous. He's got to be, what, a hundred years old by now? I don't care if he'd be up for a quest next year; he's too old to be fighting dinosaurs."
"Seriously, are you two still arguing about that?"
"I swear, this whole thing is just a shameless rip-off of that one movie with the dragons!"
"I love the smell of dinosaurs in the morning!"
"How many times do I have to tell you? This comm chatter is for serious discussions only. No more movie quotes or pop-culture references!"
"Ah, you're no fun anymore!"
"I repeat: come in, Rex, do you read me?"
"Back-up has arrived!"
"Loud and clear, Rick!" Rex spoke into the radio. "This is Rex!"
Rick responded with a hearty laugh. "Honcho! You had us - uh, I mean, you had the other rookies worried! What happened?"
"I got blindsided by a Mutant Lizard and crashed my Steel Sprinter," explained Rex. "I've got more bruises than I'd care to mention, but otherwise I'm okay. The Steel Sprinter's busted, though, and it took a while to get the radio working again... the crash must have knocked it off the right frequency. I'm in a deli called Tzenovich's Sandwiches, located on Playwell Avenue."
"Stay where you are, mate," ordered Rick. "We're comin' for you! Now, just hang on tight, and we'll be there as soon as we can!"
With a sigh of relief, all tension seemed to leave Rex's body. They were on their way, and he would be rescued.
Then, he turned back to look at the Mutant Lizard. It still stared at him, unable to move or escape from the rope knotted around its form. Rex frowned. When Rick and the rookies arrived, they would surely notice that the creature was still alive, and he could not be sure that they would understand why.
Rex sighed. "You're nothing but trouble, aren't you?"
Slowly, he rose to his feet and returned to the broken window, where he retrieved the knife. Then, he walked back to the lizard, bent down, and solemnly raised the blade once more.
I can't take any chances, he decided. I have to do this now.
And he cut the rope.
No sooner had he done so that the Mutant Lizard sprang to its feet again and then pounced upon him, tackling him to the floor. Caught by surprise, Rex dropped the knife and now lay pinned beneath the lizard's claws. His heart pounded in his ears and he swallowed hard, knowing that he had just made a foolish mistake and was about to pay the ultimate price. The lizard locked eyes with him and pulled back its lips, hissing as it bared its teeth.
And then, to Rex's astonishment, the Mutant Lizard turned and scampered away.
Rex lay on the floor for a few more moments, unable to do anything more than blink in incredulity. He could not believe what just happened. The Mutant Lizard did not go for the kill.
When his breathing returned to normal, he stood and walked to the broken window. He only caught a brief glimpse of the black-scaled Mutant Lizard, with his left sleeve still wrapped around part of its tail. It briefly glanced back in his direction before quickly disappearing into a dark alley. Where was it going? Off to stir up more trouble for Dino Attack Team, he supposed.
Despite himself, Rex chuckled softly as he shook his head. "That's right. That's what you are. Trouble."
Only a few minutes later, Rex heard a triumphant militaristic march announce the arrival of the rest of his squad. The Fire Hammer, followed by three Steel Sprinters, parked in front of the deli.
Rick climbed out of the jeep, looked Rex over, and grinned. "Well, there you are, honcho. Too bad you missed out on all the fun!"
Rex wiped sweat off his forehead and shrugged. "I think I've had plenty of fun today."
Walker rolled his eyes. "Yeah, 'fun' is one way to describe it."
Williams smiled gently. "It's a relief to see that you're alright, Rex."
Lisa ran up to him with a worried look on her face and started asking a dozen questions too quickly for him to answer any. "Oh my First Builders! What happened to you? Are you okay? Were there any dinos? Why wasn't your radio working? I was trying a bunch of radio frequencies to reach you! What happened to your shirt? You're missing a whole sleeve!"
Rick laughed, patting Rex on the shoulder. "I see you just wanted to show off a little manly muscle, eh? Good on you! Keep followin' my lead, and you'll be an elite agent in no time!"
"I don't think being sleeveless has anything to do with ranking," muttered Walker.
"And that little bugger who blindsided you," continued Rick, "I trust you took care of it, right?"
Rex nodded firmly. "I took care of it, sir." That was all he said.
"Good, good," grinned Rick. "Now, you see, I could have easily beaten it with my bare hands the same way I wrestled 'em crocs back home, but I imagine you city folk don't see much of them, so this was a very good learnin' experience for you!"
"Yes," murmured Rex. "It was a very good learning experience."
Rick clapped his hands together. "Alright, rookies! I'd say this trainin' mission went brilliantly! Let's get back to base, because you earned a good rest. Be up bright and early tomorrow mornin', though, because we still got plenty to do! Another day, another adventure!"
With a beckoning gesture, Lisa said, "Come on, Rex. Let's take you away from this place."
Since they were now one vehicle short, Lisa volunteered to let Rex drive her Steel Sprinter while she took the passenger seat in Rick's Fire Hammer. Dino Attack Team would later retrieve the crashed ATV from the deli and bring it back to base for repairs.
As he climbed onto the Steel Sprinter, Rex leaned in close to Williams, who was parked right next to him. "What do you think about all of this?" he whispered.
Williams frowned. "What do you mean?"
"Exterminating the Mutant Dinos," explained Rex. "I mean, I understand why we're doing it... after all, they created the apocalypse... but maybe they're not the monsters we make them out to be. Perhaps they're just wild and confused animals trying to act on instinct in a world that's 65 million years beyond them. I don't think Rick, Walker, or Lisa would understand, and I'm asking you because... well..."
Williams chuckled. "I strike you as the sort of fellow who would rather see the dinosaurs as majestic, beautiful beings than dark, evil monsters?"
Williams shook his head. "I cannot deny that what we're dealing with is no ordinary outbreak of prehistoric reptiles. For whatever reason, these aren't like the dinosaurs at Adventurers' Island. These are mutants, and they seem far more volatile and vicious than their natural brethren."
"I know," sighed Rex, "but that being said... perhaps we should be focusing on capturing them and studying them so we can learn about their true nature and finding a cure for the mutation... you know, instead of just mindlessly killing them. It's the apocalypse, but we can't afford to sacrifice our humanity and become monsters in our fight for survival."
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness," murmured Williams. "Only light can do that."
Rex's eyes widened. "Yes, exactly!" he nodded.
Williams smiled gently. "For what it's worth, Rex, I do believe that, in the end, life will find a way. It always does. And life... life is an awfully big adventure."
As the Dino Attack agents started up their engines and departed from Playwell Avenue, Rex shot one last glance down the dark alley where the Mutant Lizard had gone. He thought he might have imagined it, but he saw a pair of eyes in the shadows watching him leave.
For some reason, Rex thought, I've got a feeling that I haven't seen the last of that Mutant Lizard.
He continued to let his mind wander as he followed the others back to Dino Attack Headquarters. If we ever saw each other again, would we recognize one another? Yes, of course we would. So long as my left sleeve is still wrapped around that lizard's tail, I'd certainly recognize him. When we return to base, maybe I'll have the opportunity to speak with the founding members about this. I could try appealing to Specs' scientific nature. Perhaps, even, they could grant me permission to catch that little troublemaker the next time I see him. That way, we could study him and learn the truth about this mutation. We could certainly learn a lot more from a living specimen. Who knows? I might even learn how to train a Mutant Lizard!
Rex smiled to himself as he reflected upon Williams' words.
Life is an awfully big adventure.