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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A scientist specializing in the field of soil participates in hands-on research to discover what killed the dinosaurs. His work is mysterious and dangerous and new developments force him to weigh the consequences his actions will have on his son, wife and history itself.

Submitted: August 10, 2015

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Submitted: August 10, 2015





Two little hands full of fingers and a set of opposable thumbs gripped the terrifying and awesome Tyrannosaurus Rex and launched it onto the fleeing iguanodon. “Raugh!” the beast roared, conveyed through the clenched teeth of Andrew, my eight year old offspring. In the heat of the clash, the nimbler ornithopod slipped from both carnosaur and boy and clattered across the kitchen floor, coming to rest by the heel of my shoe.

“Honey, put your toys away and wash your hands,” ordered Kay, the boy's mother and my wife, the matriarch of our own little nest.

I placed a slab of meat from a recently processed Cenozoic bovine on a plate next to the vegetables and mashed potatoes. Andrew retrieved the fallen toy and padded loudly out of the room and down the hall. I placed the plates on the table. I could hear the bathroom faucet running.

“He’s like you at that age, huh?” mused Kay, cutting Andrew’s meat into squares. “Obsessed with dinosaurs.”

“I think every boy goes through a dinosaur phase,” I said. “When he moves on to other interests, we’ll miss this relatively calm time.”

“You never outgrew your dinosaur phase.”

Andrew’s loud footsteps announced his return.

“Honey, don’t run in the house,” said Kay.

“Raugh! I’m a T-Rex!” He responded. To illustrate this claim, he formed his hands into claws and flashed his teeth.

“No you’re not,” I said. “T-Rexes didn’t have thumbs.”

His thumbs folded inward against his palms. His fierce expression turned into a grin.

“You’d better be a T-Rex with some manners,” warned Kay.

“Dad, did you see any dinosaurs today?” asked Andrew and then stuffed two wads of meat into his mouth.

“Honey, take smaller bites.”

“Oh, I saw a few,” I said. Andrew believes I work in a sort of zoo for dinosaurs. It’s an innocent enough lie, and not exactly untrue; at least, it’s not far from the truth. But if one were to visit my work site, an archaeological camp called Doyle Six, an inference might be made that it was not dinosaurs but I and my colleagues who were the animals on display, caged inside massive walls while giant prehistoric onlookers roamed free beyond.

Doyle Six is located in Montana roughly 64,000,000 years ago in the upper Cretaceous period. I’m part of the Lost World Project, a privately funded effort to study the period and ultimately determine what killed the dinosaurs. Whether it was the oncoming of a sudden ice age, massive cataclysmic volcanic activity, the development of smaller, more adaptable creatures that ate the eggs of the larger dinosaurs, or a comet, we don't yet know. Doyle Six is the sixth effort to pinpoint the turning point in the reign of dinosaurs, each Doyle camp stationed apart from one another not by a distance of miles but by about a million years apart from the one that came before.

I am a paleoedaphologist, a studier of deep soil samples from the past. One popular theory as to the dinosaurs’ extinction comes from the possibility that all the plant life had died, which then starved the herbivores and consequently the carnivores. I examine dirt all day and learn what, if any changes in plant life occurred in the very, very long-ago. It sounds dull, and while my actual work may not be especially exciting, living in the Cretaceous is. It is a chaotic time wrought with earthquakes shaking the still-settling earth, hurricanes that are as common as windstorms, and wild volcanic activity. And also there are dinosaurs.

“Kevin says some dinosaurs had feathers,” said Andrew.

“Honey, don’t talk with your mouth full.”

“It’s true,” I said.

“No it’s not.”

“Who’s the scientist?”

Andrew looked dejected. “I told him he was a liar.”

“He’s right. Your friend T. Rex over there is more closely related to birds than alligators. They had feathers, a lot like a peacock’s. Beautiful bright plumage.”

“None of my dinosaurs have feathers.”

It’s true; even before the advent of the Wells-Well tunnel that takes us back to the very distant past had allowed us our first actual glimpse of a living dinosaur, we knew that birds had evolved from dinosaurs, and we had learned that dinosaurs had some kind of plumage. In fact, genetically a Tyrannosaurus Rex has more in common with a chicken than a crocodile, although both are archosaurs, a group of which dinosaurs, birds, and crocodiles all belong to.

Despite the scientifically established avian characteristics of dinosaurs, the fierce, scaly imaginings of artists and toymakers was ingrained into society and toymakers, and filmmakers were recalcitrant to science, and reluctant to change their ways. I suppose they thought people aren't going to find anything scary about what they might think of as a giant prehistoric emu, but from first-hand experience I can tell you that when you’re looking down the dagger-filled maw of a giant bird roaring at you, the feathers only add to the terrifying display.

“Your toys are outdated,” I said. Suddenly Andrew’s eyes lit up, but I interjected before he ensnared me in his trap: “That doesn’t mean you need new toys.”


“And about your friend, the next time you get into an argument, you might try to tell him that the burden of proof falls on him to authenticate his claim. You’d still be wrong in this case, but it would buy you some time. Maybe he'd forget about it after a while.”

“Greg, that’s terrible,” said Kay.

“Burden of proof,” mumbled Andrew.

“Andrew, what are you going to say to Kevin the next time you see him?” asked Kay.

“That he’s a dinosaur-brain.” He burst into a fit of giggles and I chuckled along with him. Kay’s glare cut him short. “I mean, that he’s not a lair.”


“And I’m sorry.”


“A T-Rex doesn’t,” he began, but relented from pursuing this argument.

“Eat your vegetables, don’t play with them.”

I stirred the greens around my plate while I thought. An enviro-logistic omni-investigation (ELOI; yes, we adore our early science fiction Victorian literature references) robot had returned through the Wells-well two days ago with strange information. We were at the latter days of Doyle-Six, having nearly completed our five-year exploration of 64 million million B.C.E. and were throwing out a line to see what might await us a million years later. The ELOI is not really so much a robot as much as a construct designed by theoretical physicists using the same sort of abstract science that brought us the Wells-well. It tests the waters of a time and location without actually going there. The obvious reasons we don’t open the Wells-well at any old time and place is that for all we know we may be opening up a hole in the ocean, sending all that Mesozoic water into our laboratory with no way to close the valve. We could open the door into the Precambrian era right into the melting pot of primordial soup. Or it could open into a volcano, or even outer-space, if someone’s calculations were off by a degree so small I can only understand it through scientific notation. Or maybe the area we want to investigate may be so saturated with radiation that nothing could possibly survive, which is the most improbable thing that the ELOI could report, but that’s just what it did.

“Greg?” asked Kay.

“Hm?” I looked up from the green tree-like broccoli.

“I was talking to you. I said, eat your vegetables, don’t play with them.”

“Oh. I thought you were talking to Andrew.”

Andrew giggled and I poked him on the nose.


At work my colleague Jim initiated the day with a joke: “Man, the security sure is getting excessive. An eight-point security verification process? It took me sixty-four million years just to check in.”

Other variations of this observation included traffic density and the long walk through the Wells-well (it is roughly one mile of steel, concrete, and florescent lights with a Mesozoic jungle on one end and a lobby and vending machine on the other.)

We were in the Doyle-Six deep-soil excavation and extraction dome, a large enclosure with a plastic bubble about thirty feet above us rapping violently against the hot wind and rain. I thought it was interesting that the bubble was formed using fossil fuels that originated from the era we were now in. It boomed loudly like a thunderous typewriter and looked like nature would tear it apart. I had to rely on faith in the men and women who built it; I was not knowledgeable in the ways of twenty-first century polycarbon engineering. It was as esoteric a science as mine must be to them.

A shadow passed above, beyond the bubble’s thin membrane. A pteranodon, with its batlike wingspan of almost twenty-five feet and its ghostly white fur. It awed in me, as it had when I was a child and first observed it in comic books and magazines, where it was depicted as a sort of beaked iguana with red leather draped over its skeletal frame. How would Andrew react, were he to see its menacing shadow pass over us?

The soil bore grunted and chugged as it thrust its drill into the earth like a starving carrion scavenger gorging on a carcass. According to the ELOI, in only a million years or less, just an insignificant blip on the grand timeline of the planet, the Earth would be nothing more, and it would be a long time for life to climb out of the waters to try again. The reign of the dinosaurs would be over then, leaving mammals to try their hand.

Not for the first time I wondered where we would be in a million years c.e. I was alive during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I’ve read all the apocalyptic stories and seen the movies. I know that realistically the Earth is just a button-push away from total annihilation. In sixty-four million years, would another species go back in time to find out what killed the human race?

“Any more word from the ELOI?” I asked.

“Not that I’ve heard,” said Jim. “Some conjecture that high levels of radiation like that could have come from a change in the Earth’s axis of orbit -- which itself could have been caused by a comet. Or solar flares; that could do it, too.”

“Maybe the ELOI happened upon a really bad century. A solar flare wouldn’t cake the Earth forever in radiation.”

“It would be enough to wipe out the birds.”

Due to the close relationship between dinosaurs and avians, at Doyle-Six we usually just refer to them as “birds.” It helps reinforce the concept that dinosaurs aren’t lizards, even if the saurus suffix is Greek for “lizard.” I think the easy voicing of the word has something to do with it, too; we reduce our extensively polysyllabic scientific nomenclature to simple acronyms and abbreviations whenever we can, lest our conversations run on endlessly and our tongues get sore.

“Right, but the radiation wouldn’t linger forever, if it was solar radiation that killed the birds.”

“That would be one hell of a shot, to land the ELOI within a hundred years of extinction.”


The bore chugged and burped. The radio chattered briefly regarding an approaching carnosaur, but the supersonic sound emitters surrounding the Doyle-Six perimeter deterred it from coming closer.

“Maybe the birds had a war,” suggested Jim.

“A nuclear war?”

“Sure, why not?”

I laughed. “The birds never even developed propaganda. They have a long way to go to nuclear war.”

“You’re judging all the birds based on fossil evidence, Greg.”

This is a very common argument in the Mesozoic: in in the twenty-first century, the only evidence we had regarding living organisms in this era come from fossils, of which there are very few. To become a fossil, something must become entombed in ice, tar (like the famous La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles), or amber, in which many insects have been found preserved. Sometimes fossils are created by a sudden event, like a volcanic eruption that traps living things or, in the famous case in Laetoli, Ethiopia, footprints of human ancestors. There are around 250,000 fossil species on record, but that is encompassing all of the Earth and for all time. The fossil record is a drop of water in the ocean of all that has ever lived. Thus, until we journeyed through the Wells-well, we could only infer the existence of organisms we could not see and the behavior of animals we couldn’t observe.

“You know what it takes to become a fossil,” continued Jim. “You have to fall into a tar pit or get run over by a lava flow or something. But if you’re smart, you know how to avoid all that. So what kind of birds fall into tar pits?”

“The dumb ones.”

“Right. You’ve already seen how many birds here never became fossils, the dinosauria we never knew existed. And they aren’t really any smarter than the ones that did.

“But think about this, Greg. The Pleistocene epoch only began three million years ago. Homo sapien only came out of their caves maybe 35,000 years ago. The birds had almost two hundred million years to evolve and develop.

“If man can go from grunting and crude cave paintings to nuclear capabilities in such a short time, why couldn’t the birds?”

It was an interesting idea to philosophize about, but I didn't think it was something to take seriously. “If reptiles had developed anything approaching nuclear capabilities,” I said, “we would of course found some evidence beyond the dumb birds that fell into a tar pit.”

He shrugged, a gesture barely visible beneath his sterile suit.

“Maybe the smart ones will have had found the Wells-well and will have had fled to the future. Wait. How do you conjugate a verb for something that may happen in the future from where you are but the past from where you have been?”

“I know the syntax gets a little strange when we're living in two periods of time, but maybe we could agree on a single tense for ease of conversation..”

He shrugged again.

“Anyway,” I said. “Where do you get these ideas, birds with their nuclear wars and time machines?”

“Or aliens. Maybe they built a spaceship and left the planet.”

I could see the glimmer of a smile behind his helmet's screen. Though we spoke in a light-hearted exchange, the mystery of the dinosaurs' extinction continued to beguile us, like a stranger in the darkness, present and taunting, felt but always just beyond our touch.

After a beat, he said, “Do you think they can be saved?”

“No,” I said. “Causality. You know.”

The laws of causality say that the past can't be changed because it's already happened. Alteration of the past is a paradox, which is not something that can happen. Even our studies here in the Cretaceous has already happened far upstream in the river of time, and that on that long river there are all the events great and small leading up to our present. The dinosaurs died out; that is something that can't be changed. They will die, they cannot be saved, this has been discussed extensively among us for years.

Yet some people hold on to the idea that the past can be changed. This is something akin to religious faith, an idea that is scientifically unsupported and, so far, unprovable. Conversations surrounding the philosophical arguments for or against time paradoxes usually devolve into the same loud opinionated diatribes that come with religion or politics and are best left alone.

“Sometimes it makes me so angry. Not that they're dying – that angers me, too, but that for all we've done here, all that we've intruded in their world, we can't do anything. All we can do is the same kind of thing we've done for our entire history: invade, destroy, and leave.”

“We're hardly so destructive as we've been in the past,” I argued. “We take special care to leave it as pristine as it was when we arrived.”

“But it's still an invasion. I'm sorry, Greg, I'm getting upset, I just feel like there is a time for everything, each creature and purpose in exactly its right place, in exactly its right time, and our time and place is in the twenty-first century.”

There was silence then, but for the chugging of man-made engineering. We watched the drill impale the earth.


“Did you get to see any dinosaurs, dad?”

He was in bed. It was nine o’clock, and a school night. A little flame-shaped night-light on the other side of the room partially illuminated an array of dinosaur posters on his wall, and a little fuzzy thing he had made in an art class depicting a T-Rex chasing a stegosaurus. The two dinosaurs were from different periods, separated by about 80 million years, but I didn’t have the heart to break it to Andrew.

I forced a smile and stroked Andrew’s hair. “I did. I got to see your friend.”

“A T-Rex?”


“What did he do?”

“It was a she. Actually, I saw three of them. They were fighting.”

“What were they fighting about?”

Like most creatures, dinosaurs are single-mindedly driven to produce offspring, and with creatures like these, the competition to ensure their own genes are passed on is intense and violent. Jim, myself, and two fellows both named Dave (designated Dave-One and Dave-Two, respectively) found ourselves in such a conflict between a female T-Rex and two males.

The tyrannosaurs do not take a mate for life as, say, a penguin or an eagle does, but the male T-Rex is still driven to protect the female -- mostly from other mates who may attempt to usurp his genetic claim.

One practice is that a male T-Rex, not part of the union between a mating pair will stand off, waiting in the shadows while two others conjoin. Then, when they are finished, and the male wanders off, the hidden one will rush in and copulate with the female. We call him the insurgent. Thus, it is possible for a tyrannosaur clutch to contain eggs fertilized by multiple males. The first male sometimes will destroy all the eggs in the clutch, but only if he suspects what has happened. It may seem a counter-productive way of ensuring one’s genes are passed on, but it does have the benefit of ensuring the competition’s do not.

There are seven hundred people staffed at Doyle-Six, a number of them specifically employed to go extramural and observe and record this sort of activity. Dave-One and -Two are two such specifically trained men, but Jim and I had gone along that day because we do have some training in defending ourselves against dinosaurs (the manual’s section on this is amusingly called “Conflict Resolution When Escape Is not an Option”) and the Daves needed two more bodies to form a quad, which was a statistically optimum group that had, according to the manual, netted the best ratio of survivors to dinosaur dinners.

For this reason I was issued a bandolier of grenades and a high-powered rifle armed with potent tranquilizer cartridges. Doyle One had armed their men with conventional bullet-ammunition, and that was disastrous. Light caliber rifles and shotguns often had no effect on many dinosaurs, but a higher caliber rifle like .357 or a .408 aimed right could take one down in one or two shots, but it had to be a chest shot because many dinosaurs had pretty thick skulls. Dinosaurs move fast. There were casualties. Using tranquilizers is more beneficial for everyone, as it keeps the birds alive and you can hit them pretty much anywhere and at least slow them down, something handy for scientists like me not having been trained in specialized weapons handling and dinosaur hunting.

Many large dinosaurs are comparable to something like an African elephant. We can often get a sense of how much tranquilizer it takes to bring down an animal as a function of both the animal's size and its aggressiveness. For example, a large, relatively passive female African elephant may take less tranquilizer to be put to sleep than a hyper-aggressive animal such as a tiger or a male hippopotamus (both of which are quite famous for their irritability). A Tyrannosaur weighs approximately the same as a full grown male elephant, but we're dealing with an animal that's an apex predator, using its ferocity to drive off other predators from their kills. The tranquilizer cartridges we are given are uniform, designed to put to sleep a small to medium sized dinosaur in one shot, and something bigger with more shots. The design sounds clumsy at first, but when you’re being chased through the jungle by the greatest predator before man, you don’t have time to fiddle with dosage levels.

We were observing the mating ritual from a safe distance, camouflaged by sight and smell through wardrobe and perfume. The Tyrannosaurs did their business in their feral, primeval way which looked as though neither party especially enjoyed it, and once it was over the male went stomping away.

For a while there was nothing but the din of foot-long insects buzzing around and various amphibians who were here long before the dinosaurs and would live on long after. Weatherwise it was a calm day, with a light breeze swishing the palms and ferns against each other. The morning’s monsoon had already passed and the still young Earth thirstily drank it up, leaving the colorful but grassless ground soft and giving, like a dirty rubber mat. We did not hear the other Tyrannosaur coming until he was right behind us.

The male who had mated and stomped away had apparently not gone far and identified the insurgent with a loud honk. The honking was not quite as terrifying as the Godzilla-like roar we are accustomed to in movies, but when you’re close enough to feel the earth move under your feet by its approach, it doesn’t really matter what kind of noise it’s making. It was enough to turn my legs to jelly.

The honking male wasn’t interested in us; he was after the insurgent behind us, who was now honking himself, having realized he had fumbled his secret attempt to mate with the female and was now facing a dangerous threat. Before we had time to turn our useless jelly legs into solid tools of escape, the two foes charged for each other. The flora they rushed through did not so much part before them as much as explode in any direction, and such was going to be the fate of our technologically superior but physically unimpressive jeep that was located directly in the expected point of impact of these two titans.

Dave-One, who was piloting our vehicular rodent in this land of enormous prehistoric bipedal proto owls backed away from one Rex toward the other, a maneuver for which I allowed a suspension of doubt; such a direction seemed suicidal to me but I had faith in Dave-One’s superior capacity as driver. I fumbled with my rifle as he darted the jeep forward, then veered sharply into a shallow bush I hadn’t seen, and thus we were able to see from no more than ten or fifteen yards the clash of the philosophical Unstoppable Force and the, well, the Other Unstoppable Force.

Their teeth were swords, and they wielded them clumsily but deadly and thrust these weapons at each other’s throats while their silly, rudimentary arms scratched wildly and ineffectually.

Dave-Two fired his rifle. It hit the neck of one of the Rexes. This was the perfect spot to fire a tranquilizer, but the poison doesn’t immediately take effect. It helped that the dinosaur was excited, but the little juice in the dart had a lot of area to cover.

I fired and hit the same dinosaur, which was helpful, but I was aiming for the other.

The only way out of the spot we were buried in was forward, back into the fray. A gap opened up, and Dave-One went for it. Perhaps it was just the ferocity of combat, but more likely it was the two tranquilizers in the bird that caused him to stumble backwards. The theropod’s giant claw came crashing down right onto the driver’s side of the jeep, crushing the frame and our driver.

The jeep, still trying to go forward, lunging sideways on to two wheels. The driver’s side door was wrenched apart and crushed like a discarded soda can, mangled like a sheet of tin foil. Dave-One had been killed instantly, his neck smashed against the door frame and his windpipe crushed.

The jeep returned to four wheels and continued on its momentum forward. In the chaos, we could not get it stopped before it slammed into a palm opposite the bushes where we had taken refuge. Jim and I were thrown into the front of the vehicle and Dave-Two had been launched out into the dirt. The jeep’s engine had by now quit and was clicking, some steam or maybe smoke oozing out of its front.

Beneath the dance of the dinosaurs, Dave-One’s body lay sprawled upon the ruined door. His head was bent at an angle that, had I not already bared witness to the gruesome episode, would have been very indicative of his death.

Dave-Two fired a tranq into the other T-Rex, who, despite fighting a sedated opponent, seemed to be losing the bout. Blood ran down his leathery hide like thinned paint.

Jim made an effort to go after Dave-One, but I held him back -- and just in time; the feuding dinosaurs were wrestling back our way and were now their legs were crashing around our fallen friend’s body.

Dave-Two grabbed my collar and yelled over the crashing and honking, “We need to go until they kill each other or the tranqs take effect!”

The range in which two Rexes may battle is huge. A single span of their step can be as long as ten or more feet, and the birds can jump, too! We abandoned our jeep and ran away through the scattered figs and ferns and giant flowers until the raging dinosaurs were well away from us. We halted as we came into a kind of a long field of dirt spattered with sparse flora.

I don’t know how we were processing the loss of Dave-One at the time. Probably we were still in some sort of shock. We were all breathing very heavily. The lace on one of my boots had been torn off and my foot had come halfway out. We were very dirty. A cut on Dave-Two’s neck was angry with red but he appeared otherwise okay, although later we would discover his back had been so torn up that it looked like a road atlas.

We listened to the honking and clatter and watched the trees bend and break like a scene from a monster movie. Finally the fight was coming to an end. We didn’t want to leave Dave-One behind, but what could be left of him after all the chaos happening right on top of his body?

As if to punish us for our brief feeling of respite from danger, the female appeared then from the other side of the field. Whether she thought of us as a threat or as dinner was unclear, but there was no mystery as to what she was charging for. From her long tail to her head was a level line fifty feet long and she came upon us like a javelin.

We were a little over a mile from Doyle Six, battered and exhausted, down one man and without a vehicle. We were strangers in this awesome, terrible predator’s natural habitat. We had tranquilizers, though, and grenades. I pulled one of the explosives from my bandolier for the first and only time in an actual when-escape-is-not-an-option scenario, pulled the safety pin and let it fly.

The grenade went high and wide. They can be set for one of three options: timed, proximity, or remote. Since I wasn’t especially confident in my abilities, I had set it for remote, and a good thing I did as it would have otherwise rolled off into the brush somewhere to annihilate one of my early ancestors rather than do any damage to the carnosaur coming our way. When the grenade was about as close as it was going to get, I detonated it by way of a transmitter in the dock where the grenade had previously sat.

The grenades are designed to cause a great deal of damage, but its blast radius is very small and it sends no shrapnel. We were safe, but the lady Rex received something akin to a very sudden, blunt kick in the side of her head. While this happened, Dave-Two and Jim pegged her with darts. The combination of these factors certainly saved our lives: she charged right at us and then when we dove into the bushes she continued onward in that direction, either out of confusion or just to get away. She vanished into the jungle, and we could hear her crashing and honking away for some time.

We huffed it on foot back to Doyle-Six as quickly as we could, encountering no further dangers. Dave-Two radioed our location and requested an evacuation. A helicopter would have gotten us out quicker, but would have required some coordinating and exposing us in the open, so we settled on a vehicular evacuation which met us halfway and got us back safe and sound.

A secondary team returned to the location of the destroyed jeep where they retrieved the body of Dave-One. I was not a part of it, but I did help them move his body from the truck to the morgue. He had indeed been stepped on by the fighting birds, but it only pressed him firmly into the dirt and did not otherwise harm his body any further. He wouldn’t have an open-casket funeral, though; his face was like a smashed pumpkin.

Now, as I looked down at Andrew’s excited face I imagined what it might have been like if the roles were switched -- what if it were he looking down at his dino-zoo dad, his face a Halloween mess? It very nearly was.

“They were fighting about a lady dinosaur,” I said.

“Oohh,” he said, slightly understanding but slightly not, the way he knows he will one day think girls can drive men to clash but for now does not. “Who won the fight?”

Not Dave-One, I thought.

“No one won,” I said. “They all decided to sleep on it.”


He lowered his eyes a moment, his brow furrowed in thought. His innocent brain was young and still growing, yet twelve times larger than the beasts he admired so.

I ruffled his sleepy head. “What is it?”

“Sometimes you and mom fight at night and then you go to sleep.”

He didn’t say anymore. Was this a question? I didn’t know what he expected by way of response, so I waited, and he waited, not looking at me, and then finally, unexpectedly, he drifted off into sleep, deep and guiltless, much like the two snoring T-Rexes that were found on either side of my one-time co-worker.

I sneaked away as quiet as a deinonychus and left him to his dreams of a prehistoric world much more magical and innocuous than the one I worked in.

When I returned to the bedroom, Kay was waiting for me.

We argued in a way that is not always conducive to reaching a compromise. I had very nearly left her a widow that day. She would have been alone to care for Andrew and explain that the lizards (“They’re more akin to birds-” “I don’t care!”) he admires so much killed his dad. Our emotions were hot, and I was defensive because I agreed with what she was saying, though I kept that to myself. We didn’t say anything hurtful, as couples sometimes do in arguments but that night something had been torn as if from the razor-talon of a Utah Raptor, and as I lay awake in the bed in the dark, facing away from Kay, I wondered what it was. Was it the forbidden intrusion of man into the lost world of reptiles? Did I feel this was not a place man was meant to go? Was my love of these giant creatures diminished, having seen just what they are capable of?

As I lay there, the minutes ticked by, and I could not put my mind into a sense that it had resolved anything, so just as my son had, I fell into a sleep. Just as he observed, just as prehistoric birds, sometimes mom and dad do fight and go to sleep.


With a tacit understanding of this-is-not-over, my wife kissed me and wished me good luck, be safe, I love you, and be safe. Every morning we practiced this ritual before I ventured on an odyssey that took me beyond the rising sun into the buried past.

Dave-One was not the first casualty of the Lost World Project. One can appreciate that many obstacles were faced in the original Doyle One camp, with many unsure scientists and many trigger-happy armed officers visiting the land that time forgot. Even after it was decided to unify soldier and scientist into multi-trained dinosaur experts, there were unforeseen consequences, mostly pertaining to weather and other natural cataclysms. Doyle Four was destroyed by a volcano. There were no casualties in that event, but it was a close call. I joined Doyle Five, which only lasted three and a half years instead of the five that was planned for each Lost World excursion. This was, partly, because the team I was in (and now head) uncovered evidence of an underground river that was eating away at the soft earth beneath the camp and a relocation would be necessary. So we did relocate -- a million years in the future.

It had been suggested that a proper funeral for Dave-One would be to fossilize him. It would immortalize him until the end of time. But fossilization is highly against protocol. The reason behind this is complex and sometimes takes into consideration risks that are very far fetched. One argument has to do with aliens: there is a huge gap between the Mesozoic and modern era. Who knows if during that time little green men visited the planet? We’d hate for them to dig up poor Dave-One and get a terribly inaccurate impression of the proper natural history of our planet. There are many other reasons, but this one is my favorite.

We had a heartfelt and solemn funeral for Dave-One. We gave him our thanks, and buried him. We left him to sleep his eternal rest in the Cretaceous, where he would be absorbed by the natural cycle of life and leave no evidence behind but for our memories of him.

Five hundred thousand years from the moment we interred Dave-One into the ground, the ELOI will-have-had recorded another alarming reading: the planet will be just as radioactive then as it was discovered to be five hundred thousand years after that.

“Five hundred thousand years,” I said. It was late in the day and I was exhausted. I let my chin be cradled by my hand, my beard running through my fingers like fur. “I don’t know that that gives the birds enough time to start a nuclear weapons program.”

“Homo sapien did it in less than half that time,” countered Jim.

“Homo sapien had brains larger than walnuts.”

We were situated in one of the open-air ecology enclosures, a sort of garden terrarium. Though I was a soil expert, I was not a gardener or botanist, but I enjoyed the work the paleobotany team did. The enclosure was about a square mile and contained a bit of everything that existed beyond the walls of Doyle Six minus the chaos and confusion and danger. In here there were dinosaurs, but all were the herbivores, slowly masticating enormous plants that had only in the last hundred million years began to develop a direct relationship with insects as a means of procreating. Before that, they just fired their spores into the air like confetti. The Jurassic would have hell for allergies.

The enclosure was headed by Maxwell Knight, who had just scaled the small mound Jim and I were standing on. Max had a conspiratorial look about him.

“Frank says some suits are coming,” he said.

“Dry cleaning?” asked Jim.

“Lawsuits?” I asked.

Max glared at us. “You know what I mean,” he said. “Big people.”

“With big suits, presumably,” quipped Jim.

Important people. Something big is coming. You know this project is independent from politics. It has to be. It’s the only way it can exist.”

“And yet.”

“Frank says Dorei is meeting with Homeland Security, the Marines, NASA, NATO, the U.N.”

“Oh,” said Jim. “Suits.”

“And fatigues,” I added.

“Space suits.”

“Done?” asked Max.

“When is this meeting?” I asked.

Max informed us in a dreadful tone that these unwelcome visitors would be arriving in sixty-four million, seven hundred thousand, four hundred and sixteen years, plus or minus a million years and again as many days. Or, speaking relative to the magnetic calendar posted on our refrigerator back home, they were already on their way.


The meeting came and went with as much secrecy as could be expected from a secret establishment. There were rumors and dubious reports of what was discussed, but the details of this mysterious meeting of higher primates I would not learn until much later. Meanwhile I retained an objective stance on it, though even my closest colleagues could not refrain from conjecture ranging from suspicion to paranoia.

One leading theory, given the supposed involvement of military entities was that the U.S. was conspiring to procure power of the Lost World Project to use for its own nefarious deeds.

“Can’t be done,” explained Jim. “Article VI of the U.N. Temporal Exploration Treaty.”

“There’s a loophole,” said Max.

“No there isn’t. It says that any member of the U.N. cannot pursue any involvement in the past without authorization and supervision by the appropriate state party to the treaty. No authorization has been given.”

“But a privately funded corporation is not a member of the U.N. The Lost World Project is funded entirely by private investors. It isn’t a government entity and the CEOs could provide services for any agency, government or not. In actuality, the Lost World Corporation, with sole ownership of a time machine, is the de facto owner of the past.”

“Wrong,” said Jim, and stood up.

After work four of us had played a little basketball. We had showered and were now hanging around in the recreation center's lounge. I was meaning to leave soon, but had been lured into this conversation about four theories ago and couldn’t seem to depart.

“Where are you going?” asked Max.

Jim found a small book shelf in the corner of the room. He thumbed through some tomes that seemed awful thick for a place designed for relaxation. He returned with what looked like an encyclopedia, but I recognized it. It was a volume in a set of legal books.

“Here,” he said, finally, and then read from the book: “‘Explorations in time, including the past, future, and other temporal pursuits is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.’”

“Okay, but --”

“There’s more. ‘The Treaty establishes the exploration and use of spacetime displacement as the "province of all mankind." No part of the past, nor the future, through use of spacetime displacement or natural means, nor any as yet undiscovered technology or invention, shall become property of any state, international intergovernmental or non-governmental organization, national organization or non-governmental entity or of any natural person.’

“Therefore,” Jim said, slapping the book shut, “nobody owns the past. And no government, no corporation, no privately owned anything is going to come here and use it for their own agenda.”

Max was defeated, but declared there would be a rematch once he found some source to back up his ideas, and thus this debate would continue on and on. For now, I was sated on rhetorical combat and ready to go back home to Kay and Andrew where debates were limited to vegetable consumption and bed times.

Days later the three of us were watching the giant quetzalcoatlus float ghostly atop the thermal winds, its inverted manta ray-like body rippling like a little lake suspended in the air. It would remain there for hours, barely moving at all, waiting for the chance for some sated carnosaur to abandon its meal and leave it for the taking.

Given the recent surge of conspiracy theories, I couldn’t help but wonder if these government agencies were acting like this carrion bird, waiting for the Lost World Project to near its completion and then sweeping in to consume it and alter it for their purpose.

The Lost World Project was coming closer to that conclusion with each ELOI inquiry. It had come back, halving again the distance in time to 250,000 years from now. In that time, the Earth was still very radiated, and very dead. The secret to what killed the dinosaurs was drawing closer; uncomfortably close. There would be no room for a Doyle Seven.

“There is a new theory,” said Jim.

“Sentient ginkgoes rising up against their dinosaur oppressors?” I asked.

The hot wind galed and pushed us against the guard rail. A thousand feet below was the Doyle Six barracks. It started to rain. The quetzalcoatlus continued its silent ripple, unabated by the change in weather. It has long adapted to this climate; for Jim and I, we walked under an awning to keep us dry, which helped only when the rain was coming down, and not sideways, as it had a propensity to do.

“I will bet you,” said Jim. “If you halve the time on the next ELOI, they’ll find radiation. I bet if they took it out a year from now, they will find radiation. I bet that Max’s suits showing up here is directly related to the radiation problem.”

I grimaced. I knew where this was heading. I was thinking the same thing.

I said, “We killed the dinosaurs.”

He crossed his arms and leaned against a pillar. He said, “I’ll bet you.”


Had I taken him up on that bet, I may have made some money; he was off on his estimates on what the ELOI would find by a few hundred years. There was indeed radiation a thousand years ahead, but not a hundred. This was according to unofficial channels. There were many changes being made at Doyle Six, and us whitecoats were no longer considered priority recipients of ELOI discoveries. The reasons for this were explained in unhelpful terms like “top secret” and “reasons of global security” and “you don’t need to know at this time.” Getting information about what was happening at Doyle Six was on a strict need-to-know basis, and I guess I did not need to know because I was not told.

I was to perform new duties, no longer pertaining to my field of soil and earth analysis and forecasting but instead included a lot of staying at home waiting to be called in.

In the meantime, way back in the future, Kay was happy I was no longer in danger of being eaten. I was happy, too. We were spending the day at the zoo, watching animals in their tiny reconstructed natural habitats.

Andrew was ecstatic, reading us every plaque proudly with a senator’s vocal projection, as though he were presenting the information to a tour group.

He saw the sleepy, bored creatures through the eyes of a child thirsty and eager to absorb the wonders of nature, the magic of millions of years of evolution, the results of eons of natural selection bringing these amazing beasts to life and bringing them, ultimately, to these caged enclosures.

I couldn’t see these majestic beings with such innocent eyes; I saw only the intrusion of man, pulling these fellow earthlings from their life of open freedom and cramming them into terrariums for our voyeuristic entertainment. Lions and tigers and bears, stimulated by little else than the constant harassment of human beings banging on bars, shouting at them, and the occasional thrown cigarette butt. How sad to see the proud and mighty sixty-four million year long odyssey terminate in this unnatural box behind cold steel and glass.

“Are there dinosaurs here?” asked Andrew.

“There are crocodiles,” I said. “And lobsters, and-”

“Da-ad. I mean real dinosaurs.”

“They are real dinosaurs. Crocodiles were some of the few survivors of the extinction and pretty much unchanged.”

“Honey, don’t lean over the railing,” chided Kay.

“When can we see the dinosaurs where you work?”

Previously my answer to his question, which trapped me in the lie I guiltily told my son had been, “Maybe someday.” I had in fact hoped one day to get permission to bring him along for a short tour, but after Dave-One’s death it was that much more unlikely Kay would ever allow it. Now, as we looked at the gorillas staring out at the middle distance toward us, I wondered if I would ever get to see another dinosaur. They had closed down my department until further notice and with no Doyle Seven planned, what future was there for me in the past?

“I don’t know,” I said truthfully.

“You always say that. How come there are dinosaurs at your job but they all died?”

“Because I work at a very special zoo.”

“That’s what I told Kevin,” said Andrew and found a stick and chucked it over the railing. A gorilla watched it fall, but wasn’t interested in it.

“Honey, don’t throw things in the cage.”

“He says you’re lying to me,” said Andrew.

Kay threw me a look that suggested I come up with an explanation before my son grows up thinking I’m a liar.

Technically, we’re not supposed to let anyone know of what we do and where we go, but the Lost World Project folks also understand certain things one cannot hide from your spouse, and some things may slip out. Frowned upon, and officially a no-no, but I think they knew that the idea of traveling through time to study dinosaurs was too fantastic to be considered seriously.

That got me thinking about what their bosses have told them is okay to tell us, and what has slipped through anyway, and what actually was going on. The recent changes were frightening, but what if there always had been things going on behind the scenes that none of us knew? What if all we had been up to had been a pretense for the military, and having completed our “research,” we were no longer necessary?

That sounded too much like one of Max’s theories. He even said we were lucky they didn’t just shoot us when they were done with us.

If there were things being kept from us, was it for our protection, or theirs? What were they protecting us from? What was I protecting Andrew from?

“You tell Kevin,” I said, “the burden of proof is on him. If he thinks I’m lying, have him prove it.”

Andrew wasn’t satisfied with my advice, but he said nothing more about the matter. He walked ahead toward the next area.

“That isn’t going to work for long,” warned Kay.

But it would buy me some time.

“I know,” I said and we continued on after Andrew.


I received a call from Tom Dorei, one of the lead administrators of the project, and one of those fellows you hear a lot about, but never see. I had never officially met the man who had in my time at the Lost World Project obtained an almost mythical status, and I confessed I felt some trepidation over speaking with him. He wanted to meet with me at the coffee shop. I knew which one he was talking about because there was only one coffee shop in 64 million B.C.E. and somehow it wasn't a Starbucks.

I was happy to return to Doyle Six after my two week absence, but my journey through the Wells-well had me worried. Normally there was traffic going either way through the immense tunnel that bridges the past and present, but that day the little electric tram I rode cast a long echo through a silent corridor, a foreshadowing of the quiet the world beyond was about to become.

Doyle Six now operated on a skeleton crew. All research departments and non-vital crews had been temporarily terminated, replaced with personnel with weapons training. Every man we passed carried a weapon of some kind -- loaded not with tranquilizers, I noted.

The compound was made up of many domes with open air causeways connecting them. They have roofs, but not walls, and the rain habitually falls in varying angles. The Cretaceous was howling and pouring, and when I arrived at the cafe I was appropriately drenched. I handed my useless umbrella to the escort and and sat across from the mysterious Mr. Dorei.

He slid a manila folder across the table. It was thick with documents, but contained no writing on the outside.

“Dr. Porter?” he said. “We’ve not had the pleasure to meet, but I am familiar with your work.”

A woman who worked at the coffee shop brought me a cup of tea. I don’t drink tea, but nobody had asked me what I wanted. I thanked her as she walked away.

“Okay,” I said to Mr. Dorei.

“I wanted to meet with you in person because there are some things that can’t be discussed over the phone. You understand.”

I only vaguely understood, but I nodded.

He leaned over and opened the folder, revealing a page with much writing but no title or heading to indicate what it was. He explained it was a nondisclosure agreement, that before we continue I needed to sign it, and by doing so I was agreeing not to reveal anything said here today until such a time had elapsed that it was determined safe to do so, if such a time should ever come.

I signed it, and initialed, and signed again, and he turned the page and had me sign more spots. This was not unlike my initial introduction to the project, but it had been a long time since I had undergone such mysterious precautions.

When I had signed the necessary documents, he leaned back. He looked comfortable.

“The Lost World project was designed to study the past in an authentic immersion of that environment,” he said, “and to theorize a likely cause of the extinction of the dinosaurs or to discover it explicitly.”


“As of now, both tasks have been achieved. Your participation in the program is appreciated and as of now…” he leaned over again and turned the page. “...Concluded.”

The next series of sheets to sign were to acknowledge that I was no longer part of the Lost World Project, that the confidential information gained through this project must remain confidential, and that I may be prosecuted should I divulge anything learned during my time here to anyone. It went on like that for some time, with Dorei turning the pages as he explained more conditions of my termination.

“So that is why I was called here?” I asked. “To be fired? It seems like a pretty formal procedure.”

“No, Dr. Porter, this is just the preliminary procedures. There are almost a thousand people working at Doyle Six; it would take a long time to go through this with each individual, though I do feel each of you deserve to be thanked in person. Most people just get a packet in the mail.

“But you, and some others, we want to invite you to participate in another program.”

“Okay.” So I wasn’t out of a job.

“Before I tell you what this program is, I want to tell you what killed the dinosaurs.”

“I think we all already know.”


“We did. We killed the birds. We’re the cause of the extinction.”

“Correct. But can you say how?”

“Something about the radiation. Something bad happened -- or will happen.”

He drummed his fingers on the table. “This is how it happens,” he said. “During the Cold War the Soviets developed a bomb called the Tsar. It had the explosive force of 6,500 times the bomb detonated at Hiroshima. If it were ever used, it would have increased the world's total fission fallout by twenty-five percent.”

“But it never was used.”

“No. It was completely useless militarily. Because of the massive size and weight of the Tsar, it couldn’t be delivered by ICBM, and in fact it was so powerful that any plane delivering it would certainly be destroyed by its blast. It was the most powerful weapon ever created; so powerful that it was useless.”

“So how does this come back to us?”

“The bomb was dirty. Really dirty. The fallout from this thing is ten million years.”

“I don't see how this involves us. They need a safe place to store it?”

“There are sixty of them, and they’re leaking.”

“They were too powerful to use, and they built sixty of them?”

“I don’t understand it either, Dr. Porter, but this comes from a different era than the one I grew up in, with people in fields I cannot begin to comprehend.

“But the consequences of that era’s actions are coming to pass in ours. The bombs have been sitting in bunkers for many decades and are poisoning the earth. They’re falling apart. They were built in haste, a shoddy job, with poor materials, and the Russians need to get rid of them before them, and all of Europe, Asia, and elsewhere will be made unlivable for a very long time. The oceans will be poisoned, the winds will blow all the radiation all over the world, and it is likely all life on Earth will die.”

“It sounds to me like it’s more than likely, it’s historically proven. All life on Earth is going to die. You’re just going to determine the time period in which it happens.”


“Why send the Tsars back to the Cretaceous? Why not launch them into space, or into the sun, where they wouldn’t harm anyone?”

“Two reasons. One is practical, the other, speculative.

“First, it’s too risky. There exists no space agency or private firm in the world with a spotless record. It’s one thing when a satellite launch malfunctions and it ends up in the ocean -- it’s another matter entirely when something like what we have is lost.

“And second, we already have sent them back in time. Or we will have.”

We were held captive by the wheel of time. The decision had already been made, millions of years before man ever walked upright. We had created our own self-fulfilling prophecy: in our pursuit to discover what had caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, we created the means to learn it, and in doing so created the means to cause it.

“You said you had another program you wanted me to participate in,” I said.

“Yes,” he said, and smiled.

I had proven some adeptness in handling dinosaurs during the catastrophic outing in which Dave-One had lost his life, and so Dorei and some others thought that I might be a good candidate in working directly with the birds. Kay’s terrified scowl had not even yet fully materialized in my head when I declined the offer.

“I have a family to think about,” I said. “Exciting as it is, my place is behind the walls, safely protected by sonic emitters, men with tranquilizers, and sixty-four million years between us.”

“I understand, Dr. Porter, but hear me out. The job I have in mind for you will keep you protected behind walls. I would only ask that you concede the sixty-four million year condition.”

He leaned over and turned a few pages in the folder. He stopped at a diagram. I recognized what it was immediately and felt a new invigorating hope surge from the depths of my despair.


It was almost Andrew’s tenth birthday. In the months that passed since the conclusion of the Lost World he had entered the fifth grade where his interests in dinosaurs were temporarily replaced with tanks and jets and his little plastic prehistoric birds were set aside to make room for little plastic action figures. He still had that innocent, excited gleam in his curious eye that Kay was always grateful I had never lost. She was relieved that my treks into the past had been put to an end by our own warlike nature or the wheel of time or whatever device you want to attribute the recent changes in my employment to. The tension between us had relaxed greatly which contributed to the new addition to our family, the lovely miracle that is Anne, whose tiny tool-using hands were currently busy exploring Kay’s earrings.

We were going to the zoo. It was a little premature, with Andrew’s tenth birthday not quite here, but I had been granted a special favor by Tom Dorei.

The four of us passed through a security check, Anne atop Kay’s shoulders, Kay’s hand in mine, my arm around Andrew. Andrew had been relatively quiet until now. He must not have been paying attention, since we went a very different way to get to the zoo than we had in the past. Beyond a faux-boulder-constructed wall, prehistoric ginkgoes, ferns, poplars, figs and oaks swayed in the distance. Now it dawned on him that this was not the same place as before, and he looked up at me, his eyes as big as the moon.

“Is this the zoo you work at?” he asked.

“Yep,” I said, truthfully.

Beyond the nearest fence, a quick struthiomimus used its adaptable three-fingered hand to pull down a branch and stick its ostrich-like head out, scrutinizing us.

Mesmerized, Andrew approached the ancient bird.

“Honey, don’t--” Kay began, but I put my hand on her shoulder.

“It’s okay,” I said. “It’s safe.”

Her brow furrowed, she remained anxious as any good parent would. Like a bird learning to fly, or a dinosaur on its first hunt, Andrew went out to introduce himself to the displaced strange lost world, a world I helped destroy, a world I helped save, and I wondered what he will think of the Lost World Project when he’s old enough to understand it all. Will he be upset, or grateful? Will he believe that our hands were bound to the rhythms of fate, or will he insist we did not do enough?

He could not reach out to the dinosaur -- very thin porous plastic that was all but invisible prevented this -- but he stood no more than four feet from the bird. They studied each other with mutually alien perspectives.

There was a distant honk from somewhere in the flora. The dinosaur’s feathers ruffled, and it vanished. Andrew turned to us, his face beaming with joy.

“Did you see that!” he exclaimed. “Did you see!”

There is a time for everything, each creature and purpose in exactly its right place, in exactly its right time, and our time and place was now, in the twenty-first century.

But what of the dinosaurs?

There will come a time to address the moral questions I ponder, but now was not it. Now was a time for exploration and wonder, fantasy fulfillment and magic.

“Can we see the T-Rex?” Andrew asked, and I could feel Kay’s hand gripping down on mine like the jaws of a prehistoric bird.

© Copyright 2018 Calvin Redburn. All rights reserved.

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