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THE FORGE OF A SPECIES

CHAPTER 5: RETHINK

North rim of Cretaceous Station
Day 4, November 1, 2056/ 65.4 Mya

The glory of the Milky Way flowed like a churning river across a black-velvet midnight sky broken only by the thin crescent of a new moon lifting above the ocean’s far horizon. Beneath the brilliance of a million ethereal diamonds lay a dark sea, slowly rising and falling in the ebb and flow of tranquility like the breast of some great sleeping beast.

Across the water’s surface and out to the distant horizon stretched strings of glowing, blue-colored pools of bioluminescent life-sign, each marking compact colonies of thousands of tiny sea creatures as they briefly surfaced in the black waters before slowly fading. Occasional long trails of telltale glowing lines streaked just below the surface revealing the panicked flight of phytoplankton disturbed by the deeper passage of larger predators passing otherwise unseen beneath the glassy façade of the wine-dark ocean.

During these late hours, pods of reptilian Plesiosaurs with Loch Ness monster-like bodies braved the late-night shallows of the shoreline. Yellow, tooth-filled heads stretched high atop long snaking necks, hunting the face of the cliffs under cover of darkness in hope of grasping an unwary pterosaur or bird nesting among the rocks. On this evening, one of these deadly predators stretched out to examine the high top of the stone edifice. There its eyes met in surprise with those of an unexpected and very alien watcher.

The eyes of the alien were different; they didn’t return the expected cold gaze of prey. Even in the moment of surprise, they returned an unflinching aggressive examination that somehow cut deeply into the hunter’s consciousness. The strange being was small but the unexpected meeting filled the plesiosaur with fear. It released a barked cry before launching itself back to the deep, dark safety of the ocean’s waters.

The alien, but very human watcher on the cliff top also jumped back in quick reaction for she was just as startled. Her attention had been focused on the beauty of the skies, the magnificence of a galaxy of stars that were a little younger and so much brighter than those of her world. Heart still pounding in her chest, the watcher’s gaze followed the ghostly glow of its seaward trail marking its frantic flight.

The incident shook Communication’s Specialist Molly Pasteur to her core. Chest heaving, her blood burned with adrenalin as she stared in near disbelief out beyond the south edge of the plateau’s cliff.

Molly carried the natural grace of youth yet possessed experience and wisdom beyond her years. She joined Blackwave as a communications specialist out of the navy just four of her years ago. The company recruiter told her that the work on Jupiter’s moon would be an adventure. Never in her wildest dreams did she envision it would lead to her spending an evening gazing across an ocean of stars while surrounded by warm tropical breezes.

A tall attractive blond with a smiling disposition, Molly had thought nothing could surpass the experience of spaceflight and the magnificence of Jupiter. Tonight, deeply awed by the starry display, the young girl’s heart nearly stopped in surprise when the pair of glowing ancient eyes emerged from the surrounding dark to gaze deep into her soul.

“Molly! Are you okay?” Sergeant Alex Grissom called from the other side of the palmetto bush.

“Yeah, but I just had the crap scared out of me. I was looking out over the ocean when a monstrous head popped out of nowhere right beside me. That scream you heard wasn’t me, it whooped when it saw me and swam off. I swear it was no more than an arm’s length away.

“Hey, before you spout off, no wisecracks or you’re gonna regret ‘em.”

“Wisecrack? Nope, not from me.

“Hey, let me know if you wanna come over” Alex called but Molly simply gave out a silent huff, she didn’t need sleep or help.

Molly and Alex continued their vigil through the night, guarding the trails that led to the shoreline below. She didn’t expect any problems, the Troodons so far had restricted their entry attempts to the plateau-entrance near the mainland and even this late into the evening, she could hear occasional firing from Sergeant Tom Bracken’s team driving them back or perhaps killing those who persisted in their nightlong attack.

Life on the mainland filled the second night for the small group of humans on this isolated plateau with bird-song, melody and the weird far-off bellow of tuned horns that floated in the air as though they were camped in an aviary. It was an evening filled with strangely beautiful song, all of which would be lost to future generations of humanity except for the pitiful, lonely call of the nightingale or solemn hoot owl.

The river valley to their south echoed in voices similar to whale song although the strain was deeper, more musical. Sara, their paleontologist, had said that the valley should be home to herds of duck-billed hadrosaurs although the travelers had yet to see one. Sara told her that she thought the origin of the evening’s trumpeting came from the hollow, chambered crest on the hadrosaur’s head.

The magic of the night lifted Molly’s imagination to new heights of wonder and no little fear. A few times during her watch a distant cry like that of a giant eagle but deeper and rattling like marbles on a hollow steel drum, echoed through the valley. It pierced the darkness across the far landscape and Molly could think of none but the one they all feared yet wanted to see, the Tyrannosaurus Rex. Tonight however, the cliffs remained peaceful and neither sound nor the night-vision of their helmets could detect any threat to spoil its quiet beauty.

Later that evening, a rustle of ferns behind them accompanied the soft pad fall of a carefully placed foot. Molly signaled over to Alex and they waited, only half daring to breathe. Every fiber in their bodies was alert to the casual, easy progress of the footsteps that approached without the courtesy of a familiar hail. As they watched, the star-lit visage of two soft, rounded noses and large, expression filled eyes emerged from the coarse grass.

“Hold it Molly!” Alex called softly over the communicator. “It’s just a pair of Hypes feeding in the brush.”

The Hypes lifted their heads when Alex spoke. They immediately spotted Molly and let out a cheerful warble that was beginning to sound like ‘Hello’ as they came running over for the expected handout. Unlike the older Hypes, these were youngsters and they playfully approached looking for a loving hand stroke from the humans as much as a tidbit. Alex began rubbing the back of the head of one of the Hypes while Molly pulled away.

Alex noticed his companion’s reluctance, “What’s up? Don’t tell me you don’t like pets?”

“I guess it’s silly. The first Hype we saw today … well, Sara went and named it Molly and I’ve been teased about it ever since, four of the guys even offered me cookies,” Molly complained as her hand reluctantly gave in to the intentions demanded by the Hype in front of her.

The Hypes stood erect turning their heads abruptly when the sound of a few shots came from over at the plateau entrance. “Wow, that got their attention”, Molly commented. “They know it isn’t a natural sound.”

Eventually humans and dinosaurs settled back into their routine. Alex’s Hype stayed nearby chewing on green ferns or lightly digging roots. To Molly’s chagrin, her Hype was more interested in companionship.

It insisted on Molly’s hand scratching its neck or lower jaw. Unconsciously, Molly began running her fingers through the soft down as she used to do with her retriever so many years ago.

She signaled over to Alex, “You know something? They don’t feel like birds. Their feathers are thick and their necks muscular. It’s more like soft hair. Kinda like having a big dog.” Molly couldn’t help but giggle, “Oh wow, a ‘big-bird’ dog.”

Alex softly replied, “Sara says these guys aren’t birds. Their line dies out with the extinction event that is coming in about a thousand years. Birds are in the Theropod family, like those Troodons attacking over there. It’s those guys who will continue to evolve into birds after the event wipes everything else out.”

They’re not dogs; they’re not birds or even mammals. Just how much could they act like dogs? Molly wondered. Would they recognize the humans as individuals? Would they provide companionship and loyalty?

It’s nice sitting with them in spite of their long annoying tails, she quietly thought. This one sings a quiet little tune to itself as I pet it, guess that means it likes it. Sorta like a cat purring. What a beautiful evening.

Two hours before sunrise is the darkest, coolest part of the night. By this time, the dew begins to form upon the grass and humans begin thinking about the morning, a bed and sleep. Boot camp taught Molly that this was the most dangerous time for sentry duty, the most likely time for a sentry to fall asleep. It was a time when humans are the least aware of their surroundings.

Tonight, the presence of the Hype was a comfort to Molly. She could feel its warmth and companionship. The abrupt movements of its head to any outside noise or simply to nip on a leaf helped her to stay awake.

Molly’s Hype suddenly rose and hopped to the cliff’s edge. Molly was shifting her body to stretch when the Hype came back and began tugging on Molly’s jacket using the unique four-fingered hand and thumb of its species. She was becoming annoyed but then Molly noticed it was pulling her away from the cliff, “What’s the matter with you? Is there something over there?” Molly cautiously peered over the edge.

Far below, several dark shapes silently glided up the cliff trail. They moved with stealth and at a deliberate pace as though they were stalking an animal.

“Alex, heads up! We have company coming up the trail and they don’t look friendly,” Molly whispered over the communicator. The Hype’s urgency grew as it unsuccessfully tried to pull Molly away from the cliff face and the intruders that would soon appear on the winding trail.

“No need for us to be quiet,” Alex returned. “Let them know we’re here. Try a few rocks at them. I’ll run a check down my side while you’re doing that.”

Molly slung her rifle over her shoulder and picked up a large rock. Shit, that’s a surprise, she thought. I keep forgetting the lower gravity here. This makes rock throwing easy.

“They like to whistle,” she mentioned to the Hype while she moved over to the cliff edge. Molly waited, watching until she could clearly see a figure on the trail below. When it appeared, she let out a sharp whistle through her teeth like her dad had taught her so many years ago. The shape froze in midstep. Molly stood erect, making sure they saw her and casually dropped the rock so that it passed close to the figure.

The Hype watched Molly’s throw and picked up a smaller rock, flinging it down at the intruder with surprising ease and accuracy.

The intruder let out a series of surprised chirps and began retreating back down the trail. Four others emerged from the bushes below to join the retreat down the path carrying them towards the ocean’s surf line.

They were nearly to the sand beach when a large black figure erupted from the waves, slid across the beach and a long neck struck at one of the retreating shapes.

Yellow, baleful eyes turned up into the plesiosaur’s skull as its teeth grabbed the fleeing figure by the head and shoulder. The Troodons let out ear-piercing screams until the plesiosaur snapped its head sharply three times, breaking the spine of the struggling troodon and then carried its victim out into the dark waters.

Clearly shaken, the others didn’t hesitate but ran with quiet discipline back to the top of the sandy beach presumably returning to some unseen path that had brought them down the opposite side.

The Hype next to Molly bobbed up and down on its strong legs and warbled a loud song into the night sky.

“So, I guess it’s okay if we stay here now? Right girl? Feeling mighty good aren’t you.”

Off in the distance, from Alex’s position, several shots echoed into the night.

“Alex, status?” Molly asked.

“Not a problem. Had three of them crossing the sand below heading towards me. These didn’t retreat from my stones so I had to ratchet up my response. They turned and ran like the others. How are you doing?”

“With the help of this Hype we stopped about half a dozen coming up the trail. One of those plesiosaur things beached and grabbed one as they retreated.

“You know something? This Hype sensed them first and tried to pull me away from the cliff. When I started throwing rocks, it picked up a few and threw them too. Actually did pretty well, it’s got a good arm!”

“Whoa! Your attitude has sure changed.” Then Alex noticed the bright glow rising beyond the ocean on the eastern horizon, “Look at that, here comes first light. We’ll be heading back soon. I’m beat.”

Molly’s Hype accompanied her back to the camp and then parted. Molly watched as it disappeared in the low bushes.

It’s hard not to trust them, Molly thought as she returned to the post-operation briefing tent. Mr. Pope says they are wild beasts and we need to be careful. They seem okay to me.

Later that day the second pallet of AutoSentinels arrived. They would not have to stand manned watches anymore. They also installed some fencing, outboard sensors and a gate for the plateau entrance. The plateau would be secure for the future.

*~~*~~*~~*~~*

Major Rodger Puller, MISSION LOG ENTRY;

Day four, 06:40 hours local. The Argos crew remained in camp for two days following the Troodon attack. We’ve seen at least twelve of the animals since then but only from a distance. Their distinctive yodels sing through the high plains at nightfall, the area must be part of their hunting grounds. No direct contact since our initial encounter.

There are eight Hypsilophodonts on the station plus about seventeen chicks. The people call them “Hypes” and it appears they like to mimic everything from your actions to sounds. The Hypes freely intermix with the company, the youngsters being the most aggressive but they don’t seem dangerous. Quite the contrary, the young ones are highly demanding of food and attention. Many in the company draw a parallel and treat them like big dogs rather than dinosaurs. The youngsters can be very playful and inquisitive, like having a big puppy with hands.

Another concern has risen. Many of the company have taken to having the Hypes accompany them on their rounds. Apparently, it started the first night when a Hype alerted Specialist Molly Pasteur during her watch on the north wall and foiled an incursion by the Troodons. Now they roam freely in all sections of the camp and I don’t see any problems particularly since there are so few. Still, we don’t really know much about the animals so I asked Doctor Sara Wenford to learn more about them.

The soil is nutrient rich across the plateau. Food crops should grow well. We plan construction of a solid SilFuse Wall around the growing area to protect it from the Hypes and many other small animals on the plateau.

The work on a permanent base continues without incident. We completed the SilFuser pads for landing this afternoon. Three of the new residences now have floors setup. Tomorrow we’ll put in the external storage and support areas so that ship offloading can begin. We anticipate the Endeavor’s landing on the following day.

There have been no large animal sightings near the station. Sentries spotted two dozen of the large duck billed dinosaurs on the flood plains up the river valley. A herd of forty or more Alamosauruses, per Dr. Wenford, were spotted on the high plain south of the river. They were enormous with long necks and tails. I would have called them Brontosaurs but Dr. Wenford tells me I’m wrong. END ENTRY;

 

End Excerpt

© Copyright 2016, Terrence Zavecz, All rights reserved.

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