The screaming of the boy as he was caught by the pack of wolves and ripped down from the tree he had frantically tried to escape up went unheard on the muted monitor as Tela looked on. It was dark there, which made it difficult to study the carnage as it played out. But evidently, the wolves were toying with the boy because it was several minutes before the computerized voice announced, "Subject 3285 from Division Two terminated."
"Shame," said Tela, "I liked him."
The Researcher, seated at the desk over which Tela leaned, stabbed at the pause button to stop the feedback. He swiveled in his chair to face her, annoyance wearing his mouth thin. Dark circles bloomed under his narrowed eyes; his white lab coat was mis-buttoned.
"You realize that's the fifth one they've caught in two days," said Stan.
Tela pressed the heel of her hands into her tired eyes, rubbing them vigorously, wondering again why he had called her in so early.
"Have orders come in yet?" she asked, when he came back into focus.
Another irritated look crossed his face, though this time it seemed to be directed elsewhere.
"Not yet," he admitted. "But if they keep this up, you can bet they will."
Tela stretched her arms over her head, trying to get the blood flowing so she could shake off her remaining fatigue. "What makes you so sure the wolves will continue at this rate? Were they fed before they were released?" she asked with a grin.
Stan merely frowned. "The geneticists over did it on this batch. They made them too intelligent and too aggressive, the villagers are too frightened to even try and hunt them. If the pack keeps this up they will have to be taken out, the population is low enough in that Division as it is and –"
"All right," interrupted Tela. She thought for a moment, glancing once more at the paused playback on the computer screen where the pack of wolves was bent over the body of the boy though she could no longer see him. "Have they tried the outsider approach? Send someone in to see if the villagers can learn how to kill them?"
Stan shook his head, pushing his glasses back up the bridge of his large nose. "No good, not enough time."
Tela grunted, leaning back on the heels of her boots, trying to think of another angle. What good were Analysts if they couldn't figure this out? She suppressed a yawn.
"Fine. Send me the tapes. Rome and I will take a look and start developing a strategy if the orders come."
"When they come," replied Stan stubbornly.
"Whatever you say," said Tela. She gave a half-hearted wave as she turned to leave Division Two's Monitoring Lodge behind and enter the main compound.
It was quiet this time of morning as most were still asleep. Why Stan had woken her up so early for this was beyond her. Checking her watch, Tela decided to go in search of breakfast since trying to go back to sleep would be a waste of time. Entering the mess hall, she was surprised to see her partner, Rome, already seated at a table.
He was picking at his food, lost in thought, when Tela came over and dropped her breakfast tray on the table with a clatter. He didn't even flinch.
Taking a bite of her apple, she began talking around her mouthful, "Stan is over-reacting about the pack of mutant mutts Genetics released into Division Two a couple days ago. He wants us to look at the tapes and start figuring out how to take them down. He's positive that Fontaine is going give the orders."
Rome nodded, but didn't say anything, still brooding over his food. He was naturally quiet with a propensity for overthinking things, but he wasn't usually stone silent. Tela snapped her fingers under his nose.
"Hello?" she asked. "You still asleep or what?"
"I heard you," he sighed. "We can take a look at the tapes but there's not much to do unless we are told."
"That's what I told Stan, but we can still make a plan. Or better yet, we can go tell the geneticists to lay off so we don't have to keep cleaning up their messes. I bet they wouldn't be so eager to pump prototypes full of steroids if they were the ones who had to track them down after."
Rome nodded slowly. "We should talk to them," he said after a minute. "They might have something useful we can use against the wolves."
Tela rolled her eyes; that was not what she had meant. She liked Rome, but sometimes his almost melancholy demeanor grated on her nerves. Though, it was precisely this difference in personality that had matched them in the first place.
"Well whenever you're ready," she said, picking up her tray, "I'll be at the Guardian Post."
"We have the new recruit today," Rome called after her.
Tela spun on her heel to face him again. He had finally looked up from his tray, his gray eyes regarding her neutrally from under his long blond hair. "That's today?" she groaned. He nodded. "Fantastic."
"I'll pick him up from the dock and meet you at the Post," he offered.
"Thanks," she said, turning again to throw out her tray and leave the mess hall.
Tela was in one of the playback rooms, re-watching the video of the boy getting ripped apart, when the door opened, casting a large slant of light across the darkened room. Her chair returned to all four legs with a bang as she let the leg propping her up fall from the table so she could twist in her seat.
Rome entered the room followed by a tall, gangly boy who didn't look old enough to be out of Second School let alone training to be a Guardian. His long dark hair was tied back and the shadow of a beard darkened the edges of his jaw, but his wide blue eyes flitted around nervously. The fingers of his right hand were digging into his arm behind his back.
"He'll be lucky to survive the first assignment," she thought.
"I see you brought fresh meat to feed the wolves," she said instead, grinning wickedly at the boy. He met her gaze, his face reddening slightly, and then looked away.
"This is Martin," said Rome, ignoring her jibe.
"Tela," she said, holding out her hand. Martin took it, bent her wrist up and down once, and then let go. His hand was sweaty.
"Well, as long as you follow orders and are quick on your feet, we won't feed you to the wolves, animal or human" she said, with a wink. "And you're just in time to watch Rome and I start a new assignment."
"Yes, he started telling me about it," said Martin. His voice was deeper than Tela expected, perhaps because his eyes made him look so young. "He said something about wolves in Division Two? I concentrated on Division Two in training," he added.
"Studying isn't the same as doing," said Tela, seriously. "You can't throw a book at a mutant and hope to solve the problem."
"He came from the same academy we did, Tela," said Rome. "He'll be fine."
"I'm just giving him a fair warning," she said, putting her hands up and swiveling in her chair to face the screen again.
Rome sighed, and though she couldn't see him, she could almost feel the shaking of his head.
"Don't let her scare you," he said to Martin as she rewound the tape yet again. "She gets bored in between assignments, and she gets a sick joy out of frightening off new recruits."
"Better me than a real-life monster," she said, shrugging nonchalantly. "Now would you stop gossiping and come and look at this tape?"
Rome and Martin moved closer to the desk and took a seat on either side of her. She played the video again, this time her gaze flickering between Rome and Martin to gauge their reactions. Rome remained impassive as always, studying the footage intensely, taking mental notes. Martin, on the other hand, tried to appear as though the violence didn't bother him, but slight winces or cringes rippled across his face and body, betraying him.
"No sense in breaking him easy," Tela thought. It was unlikely to get any better should he become a full Guardian.
"So what do you think?" she asked Rome, once the screen had faded to black.
Rome waited a minute before answering, taking the time to choose his words carefully. "They're cunning," he said finally. "The trap they set for the boy was at a much more intellectual level than basic instincts."
"Their communication skills are also advanced," said Martin, quietly. He shifted uneasily in his seat as Tela and Rome turned to look at him, as though he was unsure he should have spoken up. When they didn't say anything he continued, "If you look closely, you can see them—the wolves, I mean—exchanging glances and sort of barking specifically at each other. Normal animals don't do that."
"What do you know?" said Tela with a sly grin, "Maybe he'll be useful after all."
Martin cracked a small smile, showing a little pleasure that he had done something right.
"So what happens now?" he asked, almost eagerly.
Before either could answer, Tela's and Rome's pagers went off, an incessant beeping filling the small room. They both reached automatically to read the incoming message.
"Now," said Rome, "We have orders to meet with Director Fontaine."
"Time to go wolf-hunting." Tela grinned devilishly. "Welcome to Project Genesis."