“Grrrrrrr.” Evan pointed to the outline.
“You know what that is, buddy?” Troy asked while lifting the coloring book so Maria could wipe the table clean. The lazy aroma of barbecued
tri-tip hung in the air, and the reddish glow of sunset filled the dining room.
Evan worked out the syllables of his favorite dinosaur carefully. “Steg-o-saur-us.”
“That’s right,” Troy said over the clanking noises of the dishwasher being loaded. “I’m proud of you. Now tell me, when did Stegosaurus
live? Was it yesterday? Last week? A long time ago?” Evan turned around in his chair to face the kitchen window, and pointed his finger towards it.
“Did you see a dinosaur in the window?”
“Now Evan, that’s impossible. They all died a long, long time ago, remember?”
“Honey, he’s only three,” remarked Maria.
“You know, there’s a place in Burbank where we can go see real dinosaur bones whenever we want to,” said Troy, undeterred. “If we move there,
that is. Would you like…” He paused, because the noises from the kitchen had stopped. All except for the faucet, which continued to run. Maria
turned and looked at him, her mouth closed, her eyes focused. She knew.
“Why don’t you go outside and play in the backyard for awhile, okay buddy? Mommy and I need to talk.”
Once Evan had slipped beyond the screen door, Maria balled up the dishrag and threw it into the sink, causing suds of dishwasher soap to fly about the
room. “Don’t tell me you lost your job again!” She placed one hand against the cupboard, the other hand covering her mouth, stifling a cry.
Angry words rose to the top Troy’s throat, but he kept them there, holding up his palms instead. “It’ll be a new start.” He said.
“It always is.” Maria replied. “A new house. A new yard. A new babysitter. You know what never changes?” She held up a beer bottle for him
to see, before pitching it into the wastebasket. Troy rose from the table, started to say something, but turned around and went down the hallway
instead. He wasn’t in the mood for this, not tonight, and so he stepped into his study, locking the door behind him.
Notebooks, research papers, and textbooks lined the shelves, some lying in stacks on the floor. On the wall behind his oak desk and PC hung a set of
diplomas and awards, mementos of a life spent puzzling over rocks and fossils, soil layers and skeletal models. Opposite that, on the other wall above
a small sofa, hung a cedar display case. A beautiful collection of Cambrian period fossils lay within. Troy swung open the door of the case and chose
a small flat stone which held the ghostly imprint of a trilobite. He held the fossil between his fingers, remembering the fascination he’d felt the
first time he’d seen such a thing.
How old had he been? Five? Maybe only three? Troy wasn’t sure. What he was sure about was Evan; that despite Maria’s misgivings, his son
deserved the kind of head-start that only a top-notch gifted curriculum could provide. And how could he afford such a thing on his lousy salary,
anyway? After so many dead-end teaching jobs, maybe the curator position in Burbank was just the kind of change his career needed. Troy dropped the
fossil into the pocket of his trousers, retrieved the bottle of tequila from the bottom drawer of the desk, and fell onto the sofa. He’d figure
things out tomorrow.
He slept restlessly until around four-thirty a.m., and then got up to make some coffee, his head still woozy from the tequila. Determined not to wake
Maria, Troy quietly made his way through the hallway to the garage. Inside lay all the items he would need: sleeping bag, camp stove, a two-man tent,
as well as all the fishing and hunting gear he’d managed to accumulate during the past four years of his turbulent marriage. One by one, he loaded
them into the back of his blue jeep, and then opened the garage door. When he was done, he leaned against the side of the vehicle, thinking silently
He went back to Evan’s bedroom, opened the door, and peered inside. The boy slept peacefully, tucked under his red and gold San Francisco 49’ers
blanket. After shutting the door, Troy made his way to the kitchen again and, finding the coloring book open on the table, tore out a page and tucked
it into his back pocket.
By the time the daybreak arrived, Troy had left the strip-malls, convenience stores, and tract houses of the suburbs behind, and now took in rugged
beauty of the rolling, oak-covered foothills that he loved. The mountain road wound steadily upward, past grass-covered meadows, faded red barns, and
huge, million-year-old granite boulders. He’d passed up a chance to stop for breakfast; the trout fishing at Feather Lake was best around
seven-a.m., and he’d get there just in time to rent a boat from the bait shack as long as he avoided any unnecessary stops.
A crow glided through the sky overhead, and Troy turned off the radio. An early-morning political talk show had been playing, the kind where people
argue about everything and nothing, but Troy only listened for a few minutes. He was tired of arguing, tired of fighting. Tired of the relentless
tug-of-war over work, money, his drinking, and what was best for Evan. Mostly over what was best for Evan, who was so much like his dad, and that was
what Maria resented the most.
As the jeep rounded a bend in the mountain road, the Feather Lake turn-off sign came into view, and Troy considered the fact that he didn’t have to
argue anymore – not if he didn’t want to. An image of Maria’s silver Chevrolet sedan formed in his mind. The brakes were new, and they’d kept
up on the recommended maintenance. She’d be fine. They’d be fine. Maybe after spending the weekend at Feather Lake, he’d just keep on
That might be the best thing, for all of them.
Beyond the turnoff, asphalt gave way to hard-packed dirt, causing the jeep to bounce, jiggle, and squeak amid the stillness of the dense, evergreen
forest. He brought the vehicle to a halt upon reaching a fork in the road. To the side stood the familiar, weathered signpost that read: Feather
Lake - Two Miles. An arrow pointed to the right. To Troy’s left, next to a sturdy white, metal gate blocking the other road, stood another
familiar sign, one that read: Restricted - Authorized Entry Only. Troy stared at the gate, puzzled. Something wasn’t right.
Something was different.
How many times had he gone fishing at Feather Lake? He couldn’t remember. It was always, and only, Feather Lake; he’d never been much of a
traveler. Hell, he’d never even been out the state - odd, for a paleontologist, but for some reason he’d never thought about it much. Each time
he’d passed this fork in the road, and each time he’d gone on to the campground, because the gate blocking the other road had always been locked
with a heavy, steel chain. Now the chain hung loosely, the big silver padlock open. Troy stepped out of the jeep and walked over to it, thinking.
He opened the gate, got back into the jeep, and drove through it. He wondered if he was committing a crime; the sign didn’t explicitly mention
trespassing, nor did it say “Private Property.” The road continued on into the mountains, past magnificent evergreens that blotted out the
sunlight and lush meadows filled with butterflies, until he came to a small, fast moving stream. Troy stopped the jeep, as there was no bridge. After
sizing up the obstacle, he shifted into four-wheel drive, and carefully drove across it.
Troy marveled at the wonders of nature that loomed above him, despite the growling of his empty stomach. The forest was filled with giant, ancient
redwoods. A dark shape passed overhead, and Troy slammed on the brakes. He wondered what he’d just seen, and shuddered. The shape was enormous –
the size of a small plane, but it hadn’t made any noise. Wouldn’t a plane make noise from an engine or turbine? He sat still, listening to noises
of the forest: birds chirping, woodpeckers knocking, the wind whistling through the branches above. He briefly considered turning back, but his
instinct for exploration had always been stronger than his sense of caution.
A peculiar sense of deja vu came over him; it all felt strangely familiar. Had he been here before, driving on this road, in this forest? Troy
realized he had, but in a dream. He sat there for a minute, trying to recall exactly when it was he’d experienced such a thing, but the details
eluded him. No matter how hard he tried, his memory of it remained foggy and indistinct, a silhouette hidden behind a dingy gray curtain, just out of
reach. Shaking his head, he shifted the jeep into gear and continued onward.
Several miles later, the landscape leveled out, and Troy found himself immersed in an alien world. The forest canopy had changed again; instead of
Redwoods, gigantic, three-hundred foot tall conifers - of a species Troy didn’t recognize - rose skyward, their branches providing cool shade to the
dark, humid, steaming forest below. Unsure of how far he’d driven, Troy stopped the jeep and rummaged around inside for the map. Not finding it, he
cursed himself, realizing that he must have left it back in the garage. He grabbed his binoculars from the glove compartment and stepped outside the
jeep, taking in the view above, and around, him. Here and there below the conifers, among fallen tree limbs and giant, green ferns, stood an
assortment of small, wide trees that closely resembled palms. Troy’s eyes widened in amazement; they were cycads, but not modern ones — these were
of a kind that grew in California over sixty-five million years ago.
He leaned down and examined a tiny, brown sapling that grew alongside the road. The fern was unmistakable: it was a Glossopteris, of the
long-extinct order Glossopteridales. “Oh Lord,” Troy whispered to himself, wishing he’d brought a camera. The museum, hell, the entire
scientific community would be in an uproar over this! He touched the tiny fern with his fingers, his hand trembling with excitement. He’d need to
come back tomorrow to take photographs, collect samples, get the GPS bearings...and he’d need help. Maybe Levi, his former colleague from the
university, would be interested. Of course he’d be interested! Troy hoped he still had the number.
The corner of his eye detected movement, and he cast his eyes toward a stand of ferns growing next to the trunk of a large conifer. A pair of
reptilian eyes stared back at him. Troy felt a twinge of fear in his heart, for he recognized the upright stance, powerful hind legs, and clawed
forearms of a Velociraptor. It was a predatory Theropod species, fast and powerful.
And very deadly.
Ever so quietly, Troy crawled back into the jeep, but flinched upon feeling a sharp, painful sting on his arm. His hand flew to his bicep in an
attempt to brush away what he thought was an insect, only to pull away a small, cylindrical object lined with plastic red-and-blue fins. The tiny dart
slipped from his fingers as the tranquilizer took effect, and Troy collapsed forward, his head falling against the steering wheel.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
“Awk! Awk tikki-tik-tik awk!” The sinewy, dark-green skinned Velociraptor gazed upon the human sleeping atop the cold, metallic table, and
turned to her instructor. Trays of test tubes, burners, a microscope, and other scientific equipment sat atop the shelves that lined the walls of the
laboratory. “Kitika-ka, tika ack ack ack!”
“Human speak today, Leeka,” said the other Velociraptor, shaking her head. “If you want to be full-fledged Keeper, you must learn to speak it
fluently. We all must. Otherwise, how could we hope to understand them, to maintain the illusion in which these creatures live?”
Leeka strode to the other side of the table, the yellow spots on her back glowing brightly under the soft radiance of the fluorescent ceiling lamps.
Her powerful tail waved over the table, carefully avoiding the human. “So I’m not in trouble, Trexxa? I can stay?”
“Leaving the gate open was careless,” Trexxa replied. Her claw touched a flat, rectangular keyboard bracketed to the wall. Above it, a diagnostic
computer screen flickered to life. “I’m willing to overlook it if you do a good job today. Do it again, though, and I’ll have to tell the
bio-diversity committee. If that happens, they’ll have you expelled.” A black, circular, metallic orb hung below the ceiling, directly above the
unconscious man. “Please remove his clothes, and read me the patient history from the notebook.”
Upon removing his trousers, a small, flat stone rattled onto the floor, and Leeka squawked in surprise. She grasped the trilobite fossil in her claw,
and held it up to the light. “Trexxa, look! I used to make these, in the fabrication department.”
“Didn’t we all, at some time? Such things are wonderful, because they give the humans a sense of the geologic past.”
Leeka tilted her head, puzzled. “It’s so strange though, the deception. It’s all backward. A lie.”
“A necessary one,” Trexxa replied. Rows of data streamed across the diagnostic screen, providing information on the health of the patient: blood
pressure, cholesterol levels, metabolism. She looked upward at the black sphere suspended from the ceiling. “The brainwave synchronizer only sweeps
away their conscious memories. We can’t entirely avoid being seen. Each time we pick one of them up for examination, a few, fleeting images remain,
flickering inside their subconscious. We manifest in their dreams, their art, and their literature. That’s the reason for the illusion: the fossils,
the textbooks, the science, it’s all important. It gives them a reference their brains can make sense of. It keeps them happy.”
“But we evolved after them,” argued Leeka. “Millions of years after.”
“And that is why the preserve is so precious,” Trexxa replied. “So few of them are left: less than a million. We must keep them happy - so we
can observe, and learn.”
Leeka gasped. “Look at this!” She held up a paper drawing, one which showed the outline of a Tyrannosaurus, filled in with purple crayon color.
Next to it was a stick-figure drawing of a man. Red letters which spelled DADDY were scrawled underneath.
“Done by the offspring, I would think,” remarked Trexxa, fascinated. She stared downward at the naked figure lying on the table. “The patient
history, please. Before the tranquilizer wears off.”
After reading the history aloud, Leeka fell silent, and Trexxa noticed this. She lifted the hand-held surgical saw from the steel cabinet next to the
wall, and looked upon her assistant with concern. “Is this a problem for you, Leeka? If something’s bothering you, you must say so. Negative
emotions can only harm your performance. Your grades will suffer.”
“It’s nothing,” said Leeka, her voice tinged with sadness. The whirring sound of the electric saw filled air. Trexxa steadied the device above
the man’s scalp, preparing to start the cranial incision.
“It’s not right!” blurted Leeka. “The vivisection. It’s my fault.”
Trexxa paused, and turned off the saw. “No, it’s not your fault. You read the patient’s history. This is the second time he’s strayed from
the preserve. To erase his memory and put him back would be redundant. We need to know more, and to do that we need a more thorough examination of the
brain. I know this is hard.”
“If I hadn’t left the gate open...”
“He would have left anyway,” said Trexxa.
“Oh, Oh, but look!” Leeka held up the paper drawing. “He cares! He’ll go back and maybe he’ll stay.” She hopped over to Trexxa’s side of
the table, her tail swishing back and forth, almost toppling a nearby microscope. “Oh please, Trexxa, can’t we send him back one more time?”
“It doesn’t matter. What’s done is done.”
Leeka sighed, allowing the drawing fall to the floor. “Why does this happen? Why do the families separate?”
“Nobody knows, though many a Keeper has pondered the same question.”
“Is it because of us?”
Trexxa nodded her head. “I think so. Something we’re not doing right. What else could it be? The vivisection will provide answers, so I need you
to hold his head for me, to keep it steady.”
“Will it hurt?”
“No,” Trexxa replied. “The tranquilizer stops all pain.”
Leeka grasped the head, her claws trembling. The electric saw came alive, whirring ever faster as Trexxa brought it downward toward the scalp. A split
second before the rotating blade cut into the skin, Leeka grasped her instructor’s arm, her eyes pleading. Trexxa sighed, and switched off the saw.
Leeka turned away, her head lowered. Trexxa placed a claw on her back. “I was student once, too. Go ahead and put his clothes back on while I
prepare the memory sweep. There will be another time for this, with another subject, when you’re ready.”
Leeka turned around. “Thank you,” she said, her voice full of gratitude. She hopped over to the crumpled pile of clothing. Trexxa flipped a switch
on the wall, and the orb slowly descended.
“Oh, and Leeka...”
“Next time, lock the gate.”
[edit on 12-8-2009 by Flatwoods]
[edit on 12-8-2009 by Flatwoods]