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Hailey Sharpe and the NullBot Swarm

CHAPTER 3: Cretaceous Station

Shoreline of the Inland Sea
New Mexico, North America
64.5 Million Years Ago (MYA)

A young boy with blue eyes, his body slender and dark from active days under a tropical sun, stared seaward to a point nearly halfway to the horizon where the ocean’s surface churned below a cloud of thousands of flying reptiles and birds. Gabriel Zavtek recognized what was happening so today he didn’t waste time watching the pterodon gather for the coming feast but turned, raced across the peninsula and into the cafeteria.

“Johnny, come on. Forget lunch, it’s starting. Hurry up or we’ll miss it.”

This kid’s a pain in the …., John Wenford managed to groan before the boy yanked him from his seat, “Aw, cut it out Gabe. I’ve things to do.”

“You always have things to do. You wanted to see them hunt. Come on, they’re feeding closer to the beach than ever,” Gabe didn’t pause to see if he followed.

John lunged out, used one hand to grab a half-eaten hamburger and careened outside into the day’s heat and humidity. They sped down a side path that led off the SilFused walkway onto a primitive trail. Coarse sand crunching beneath their feet, they passed through palmetto and brush at breakneck speed following a game trail that took them out and along the edge of the cliffs. John had to struggle to stay up with the smaller boy. He still couldn’t see anything unusual but the deep blue of the surrounding ocean did hold his eyes, Another gorgeous day, every day’s the same. Sunshine and …

Eye’s wide and mouth open, he skidded to a stop at the cliff’s edge as Gabe sailed out over the edge shouting, “Hurry!”

“Are you crazy? You heard Grissom. No one goes out from the Station without an adult.”

“Oh, don’t be a sissy. Come on, I’ve been down here hundreds of times. The cliffs will protect us and the beaches are kinda safe, you can see anything coming from way off.

“I’m not waiting. Do ya wanna see ‘em or not? They’re closer to shore than ever and coming in even nearer. You won’t get another chance …”

John’s decision was quick. He had yet to observe a school of plesiosaurs up close and the tales of their feeding were something the Hunter Recon pilot, Aaron Sassaman, spoke of many times. His mind drifted back to the project waiting at home and guilt made him self-justify this unplanned excursion, It’s worth a few minutes, besides, the animals in the pod will be acting in unison. If I can see how they interact then maybe I can learn some tricks for my HiveBots. There’s real power in swarm interactions.

John careened down the winding trail to the beach at a speed only a teenager could maintain but Gabe was already on the sand far ahead, hopping up and down in excitement, “Come on. They formed the feeding ring. Hurry, the real action’s gonna start …”

He stopped, interrupted by the calls let out by long snake-like necks majestically lifting in unison above the ocean as they swam in a wide circle less than half a football field from shore. The water inside the circle boiled and frothed from thousands of jumping, thrashing fish trapped within. John stared in amazement, trying to picture what might be happening below the surface.

Heads at the end of long necks started bobbing in a graceful dance as they took turns striking down into the ring and returning with mouthfuls of small fish. Of course, John knew that the term ‘small’ had changed meaning in his vocabulary since they arrived here at the Station. Many of the ‘small’ fish were easily as long as his arm.

Upwards, the plesiosaur’s long-necks swung, mouth’s full, lifting high into the air before swallowing. Gabe pointed, barely able to stand in a single spot in his excitement, “Look at that, see the fish sliding down its gullet?”

They laughed watching one of the larger catches bulging out the sides of the long throat of a plesiosaur, smoothly gliding on its last journey to the reptile’s stomach.

The excitement of their deadly feeding carried in a rolling call, echoing in unison to the sound of waves rolling up sand and joining the excited song of the birds and pterosaurs diving from the heavens into cobalt blue water to join in the feeding.

Suddenly, the sea erupted. An enormous head filled with long teeth lifted into the air with a struggling, squealing plesiosaur squirming in its jaws. John stood transfixed as the huge bodies slammed down into the sea and the panicked screams of the survivors spread over the churning waves as they scattered. Here for more than five years, he’d never seen such awesome violence in the ocean. It brought back memories, dark memories of the tyrannosaur attack they barely managed to survive in the first days of the colony. Deep within he knew it would be another sleepless night filled with nightmares of the early disaster that had nearly wiped out Cretaceous Station.

His attention shifted, grabbed by a wake of water streaking across the surface, something was happening just beneath the waves, “Gabe, something’s heading this way.”

Huge, sleek animals that were little more than tooth-lined, flipper-propelled jaws broke the surface led by a miniature, screeching plesiosaur. The plesiosaur managed to waddle up to the shallows then abruptly collapsed. The small head whipped back and, in a storm of splashing water, it rolled and emerged frantically climbing onto shore with the monster, all head and teeth, erupted from an oncoming wave behind it. Gabe pulled on John’s shirt and screamed, “That’s Nessie. Just two nights ago, she was on shore throwing ball with me. Come on.”

Dumfounded, John looked at the youngster who was nearly five years his junior, the boy's words pounding through his brain, “What do you mean? You come out here by yourself after dark? You play ….”

“Not now, we’ve got to help her.”

“We don’t need to do anything, it made it. That mosasaur can’t follow on land.”

“No, she’s hurt and gonna die if we leave her stranded on the beach. The sunlight will dry her skin. Come on, grab some seaweed.”

Long strands of wet kelp and seaweed filled with shells, small crabs, and ammonites lined the high water reach of the ocean but the boys spent no time examining it. Scooping up armfuls, they raced over the beach towards the trembling plesiosaur. Gabe was calling to the injured animal using a soft cooing voice as he approached, “It’s okay Nessie. Remember me? We had fun. I’m not going to hurt you.”

The animal lifted its head as they approached sending chills through the older boy for the long neck and head moved very much like that of a snake. Gabe spoke softly as he approached, soothing the animal as they spread the kelp over the injured plesiosaur and then returned for more.

John grabbed the boy by the arm, “Gabe, remember that little cave and grotto at the foot of the cliff? We left buckets there. I’ll go and get one.”

John returned, two shovels and a bucket in his hand, “Maybe we can redirect some of the water by digging a channel.”

Gabriel looked at the older boy while reaching for the shovel, “You obviously haven’t played much in the sand. That’s not gonna work. Besides, she isn’t badly hurt, she just needs time to rest until the mosasaurs get tired and leave.”

The young animal calmed in their presence, resting even when they rose to fill another bucket and douse it. The world around them teamed with life and they spent time catching crabs, lobsters, sea slugs and other things that the plesiosaur gobbled up with obvious relish. They remained there until the sun touched the mountains far to the west and with its setting came the call. Like the scream of an Eagle, it echoed from the tops of the mainland cliffs.

Gabe looked back. Though young, years of practice trained him to identify the sound and spot the nearly invisible bodies, “John, we have to go. That wasn’t a troodon. They’re up on top the cliff behind us and probably know the path down.”

John scanned the cliff, he couldn’t see anything but he knew it was serious if Gabe was worried, “Come on, we have to get it back into the water.”

“No need, Nessie spotted them too.”

As if on command, the animal rose up on its flukes. The head towered above them, rising to nearly twice Gabe’s height before swinging to look out to sea and then back at the boys. It let out a piercing hollow squeal then ambled out into the waves as the first stars of the evening sparkled into existence.

“Come on John. We’re in trouble if we don’t move quickly.”

The boys ran up the steep trail to safety and a home they had known for five years. A place they called Cretaceous Station.

*~~*~~*~~*

 

End Excerpt

© Copyright 2018, Terrence Zavecz, All rights reserved.

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