Chapter 6: Terrible Lizards
Aboard the Collins, Angela pulled her floating body to the flight deck. Maazin
hovered behind. His anxiety was palpable. His skin was pale and damp and his
eyes darted. He didn’t speak, but Angela could hear his rapid breathing. She
thought about reminding him of the dwindling life support, but then decided
that adding to his nervous stress probably wasn’t going to help matters. Besides,
the flight engineer knew their situation at least as well as she did.
Angela strapped herself into the pilot’s seat and checked the comm system. Everything showed green. It should be working. As well as could be expected, anyway, given that the main antenna had been shorn away in the wormhole.
She thumbed her mike. “Collins to landing party. Do you read?” Then, after a moment, “Collins to landing party. Come in, please.”
Maazin looked over her shoulder. “Anything?”
Angela shook her head. She didn’t look back; she didn’t want Maazin to see the worry in her eyes. No sense avoiding the obvious truth, though. “We should have a signal by now.”
Maazin floated back to the science station and tapped a few controls. “We’re going to be out of range soon.”
Angela didn’t bother to answer. She adjusted her controls again, waiting. “Collins to landing party. Please respond.”
Finally, she heard a burst of digital noise, followed by Dominic’s voice, faint but unmistakable: “Come in, Collins, do you read?”
Angela looked back at Maazin, smiled, and winked. She tapped the control that activated her mic. “I read you. You guys okay?”
“We’ve been inside a pyramid. We, uh, found some stuff.” The voice was Jack’s.
“Human remains,” said Kim. Her voice was fainter than the others. Angela scowled. Were they losing the signal already? “DNA is consistent with late period Egyptian. And plant life—”
Angela and Maazin exchanged a glance. Angela shook her head. “Wait. Did you just say Egyptian?”
“Affirmative,” said Kim. “I’m transmitting data.”
Angela checked her monitor. “Confirmed. I’m receiving.” The light blinked from green to yellow, and briefly back to green before settling on red. “Wait, please resend. I don’t think we got the full upload.”
Kim answered, but her reply was lost in a burst of digital static. Angela looked back at Maazin.
Maazin worked the controls at Dominic’s science cluster. “I’m trying to boost.” He didn’t sound hopeful.
Angela hit her mics button. “Kim, explain.” No reply. “Specialist Chang, please respond.”
Angela looked back at Maazin. “I’m trying to boost. Ah. Yes, here. I think I can give you another few seconds. Wait. Maybe.”
Angela sighed. “Hurry.”
# # #
Jack, Kim, and Dominic moved away from the Pyramid entrance, blinking in the late afternoon sun. Kim spoke into her wristband. “Collins, come in please.” Nothing. “Collins, this is Mission Specialist Chang. Come in please.”
“It’s no good,” said Jack. “They’re probably already out of range.” He frowned. “I thought we’d have a few more seconds, though.”
“We’re not exactly on course,” said Dominic.
Kim nodded. She hesitated and knelt, fingering a plant. “Look. Cunninghamites,” she said. “Late Cretaceous flora. I’m sure of it.”
“Does any of that mean extinct earth plant?” asked Jack.
Kim and Dominic ignored him. Kim looked at Dominic. “I’d say it should be impossible….”
“But we’ve covered that already, haven’t we?” said Dominic. “Parallel evolution?”
Kim raised her eyebrows. “You know what the odds of that are.”
“Long?” Jack guessed.
“Way long,” Kim agreed. “Like, pretty much impossible long.”
“Alright then,” said Dominic. “What’s your theory?”
They heard a crackle over their wrist speakers. “Sounds like they’re still trying,” said Jack. “C’mon. Maybe we’ll do better away from the stones.”
Kim took a deep breath as she stood. They started walking again. “Maybe Jack is right.”
“That is certainly not the case,” said Dominic.
“Thanks,” Jack muttered.
“That said, to what are you referring?” said Dominic.
They heard another crackle, then Angela’s voice again, fainter than before. “This is the Collins. We’re still reading you. Barely. Maazin says—” The rest was lost in a burst of digital noise.
Kim felt suddenly awkward. She wasn’t sure where to look, or what to do with her hands. “About the … you know. Ancient astronauts and all. Well, not that, not exactly. But … maybe … maybe life did begin here.” She looked up, first at Jack, and then at Dominic. “Maybe … maybe those beings that visited earth … the ones that left the Saturn artifact and the wormhole gate … maybe they seeded the Earth with … with life.” Without thinking, Kim started fingering her necklace. “Maybe this … maybe this planet is where we come from. All of us.”
Angela spoke again, her voice from the comm speaker was clear again. “Specialist Chang, what are you saying?”
Kim lifted her comm. “Life at home, it began out here. Maybe this planet … this is Eden.”
They stopped abruptly.
Before them, a large, heavy animal emerged slowly from the densest jungle. It was large, larger than an elephant. A bony plate surrounded its head, and twin horns extended from its skull, just above the sockets of its round, dark eyes. A third, smaller horn extended from the center of the creature’s nose, right between its two gaping nostrals. It stopped directly between them and the rover, munching contentedly on a patch of tender growth.
“Say, Dominic,” said Jack. “That life and motion you were looking for? I think I found it.”
# # #
Angela pounded on her comm control. “What was that? Come in!”
“I can’t boost any more—” said Maazin.
“Come in!” Angela knew that shouting didn’t help, but she did it anyway. She’d been sure she heard Kim gasping.
Finally, she heard Dominic voice. “Holy — Is that a dinosaur?”
Maazin launched himself forward, stopping close to Angela only when he collided with the instrument cluster. He had to grab the co-pilot’s seat to keep from shooting back aft. He met her gaze with eyes wide and mouth gaping. “Did he just say dinosaur?”
Angela shook her head and hit the mike control again. “What was that? We didn’t copy.” Nothing. “Come in. Please respond.”
Nothing again. Only static.
Maazin shook his head. “It’s no good. We’ve lost them till next orbit.”
Angela slammed her fist on the comm control. “Dammit!”
“Seriously,” said Maazin. “Did he just say dinosaur?”
# # #
The team stopped, standing utterly still. Kim swallowed. “Triceratops,” she said. She had to force the words out. “Maastrichtian stage of the Late Cretaceous Period. Uh, back on earth, anyway.”
“Or the late bloody present period on Planet bloody Impossible!” said Dominic.
“Really,” said Kim, “that’s no more impossible than the extinct flora….”
“Okay, point,” Dominic conceded. “But you must admit, as far as impossible goes, that’s pretty impressive.”
Kim raised her holo display and started recording.
“So,” said Jack, “is that thing comin’ after us?”
Kim shook her head. “It’s a plant eater.”
“So not my question,” said Jack.
“As long as we’re careful, it shouldn’t bother us,” said Dominic.
“Tell that to those horns,” said Jack.
Dominic nodded. “That said, taking the long way ’round might be the ticket. Lets approach the rover from the far side, shall we?”
They moved carefully, circling wide through the crumbling stone buildings and ruined courtyards to give the triceratops plenty of room. The triceratops ignored them.
“So you really think it’s possible?” Jack said, whispering. “Life on earth began out here?”
Dominic shook his head. “That can’t be. The fossil record on earth is quite clear.”
Jack pointed at the triceratops. “That’s a frickin’ dinosaur! In space!”
Dominic shrugged. “I see your point. Please tell me that thing didn’t built the sodding pyramids.”
“Dominic, no,” Kim began. “We—”
“I’m joking, Kim,” said Dominic.
The triceratops looked up and watched them with idle disinterest.
“It’s true,” Kim said softly. “This is Eden.”
“Either that,” said Dominic, “or God has a shockingly limited imagination.”
They were close to the rover. Kim felt herself relaxing. She was breathing easier.
“Yeah, okay,” said Jack. “It’s all speed. We’re gonna make it. Big boy there’s just gonna keep munching those bushes—”
Jack didn’t finish. A great roar shattered the still afternoon. Kim turned, saw, and screamed.
Another great beast burst through the trees. It was tall — nearly as tall as the tallest tress. It stood on massive legs rippling with power. A great and sweeping tail gave it balance. Its forearms were small, with a coat of feathers that made them look almost like tiny wings. Its lightly feathered body was brown, and its head was scarlet red, beautiful and terrible. The beast’s teeth were long and dagger-sharp. It roared again, and the ground shook.
Kim knew the creature at once. It was a tyrannosaurus rex.
“Run!” said Jack.
They sprinted. From behind them came the pounding of staccato thunder, shaking the very ground and the trees around them. Kim didn’t look back, but she didn’t have to.
The tyrannosaurus was gaining, step by giant step.
It would be on them in seconds.
Jack and Dominic came to an abrupt stop, and Kim nearly collided with them. A fallen pillar blocked the way — too tall to scramble over. The tyrannosaurus roared. Its breath was a sudden hot wind that stank of rancid meat.
Dominic pointed to a place where the pillar was broken, just a few meters to their right. “This way!”
Kim looked back as she ran. The tyrannosaurus’s jaws opened, the head flashed down, ready to snap. Kim screamed again.
Dominic slid through the break in the pillar with the others close behind. Kim leapt through, landing hard on her belly.
The tyrannosaurus struck — but it clamped its jaws on stone and it staggered back.
Jack pulled Kim to her feet and pushed her forward. They ran. She reached the rover first. Dominic scrambled in after her. Jack was the last. He dove in, rolled to his feet, and hit the control that closed the hatch, seconds ahead of the mighty jaws.
Dominic and Jack raced for the controls. Kim pushed her face against the window by the hatch. The tyrannosaurus struck with its mighty hind leg. The rover reeled. Kim choked down another scream. The creature was trying to crack the rover like a giant walnut.
The tyrannosaurus rocked the rover again and Kim tumbled, landing hard enough to knock the breath out of her. It was worse than an earthquake.
She staggered back to her feet and turned.
Jack hit the throttle and the rover leapt forward. Kim fell again and slid back.
“If this is Eden,” Dominic muttered, “that’s one hell of a serpent.”
Kim pulled herself up again and looked back through the rear window. The tyrannosaurus was giving chase, its predatory instinct following anything that moved quickly. She closed her eyes and tried to pray silently, but no words came to her.
The ground was uneven. Rubble from the ruins made the terrain an obstacle course. “Advantage, T-Rex,” Dominic mumbled.
Jack steered for open ground … a paved courtyard surrounded by a number of flat, two-story buildings of gray stone. The tyrannosaurus was gaining, but now Jack could open the throttle. Unfortunately, he had nowhere to go. In the courtyard, the ruins and fallen pillars had them boxed in.
“It’s a dead end!” said Kim.
“Don’t say dead,” said Jack.
“There’s no way out….” said Dominic. “Careful, Jack. For God’s sake, don’t crash us again.”
Jack turned long enough to give Dominic a glare. “How ’bout I frickin’ save us again, huh?”
Kim found a seat at the back of the rover and strapped herself in. “I’d be good with that.”
The tyrannosaurus was closer. It roared again, and Kim could feel the noise thrilling through her body. It bent down again, ready to snap. She held on to her seat tightly.
Jack shoved the rover into reverse, shooting back between the giant beast’s legs. Then he spun the rover and gunned it, but the tyrannosaurus struck with its tail. The blow caught the rover on its side, sending it tumbling end over end.
Kim held on for dear life as her seat belt strained to hold her. Her knuckles on the armrests were white. She turned around and saw Jacks hands flying over the controls — he was using the rover’s arm to tip them back over. The rover swayed, spun, and landed on its tires. Jack opened the throttle and sped away, steering around a fallen pillar, just as the tyrannosaurus struck again.
The tyrannosaurus roared. More thunder, pounding like some colossal drum that shook Kim’s bones; the creature was after them again.
From the rear window, Kim saw an opening. She turned her seat toward Jack and Dominic and pointed back. “There!”
“I see it,” said Jack.
Jack spun the rover again, but as he steered to avoid the tyrannosaurus, the beast swiped a pillar with its tail, knocking it over. The way was blocked.
Jack turned back toward the pyramid.
“This is the wrong way!” Dominic shouted. “What the hell are you doing?”
“Getting us a little help,” said Jack.
Jack corned and corner, and Kim saw his goal. The triceratops waited just ahead, still munching the brush. It looked up and spotted the tyrannosaurus.
The tyrannosaurus stopped and roared again. When it moved again, it headed for the triceratops.
The triceratops made a noise of its own, a sort of snort, lowered its head, and charged. The two massive creatures moved faster than Kim had expected, given their size and mass, and when they met near the entrance to the pyramid, the ground trembled.
The tyrannosaurus stuck at the triceratops’s bony plate.
The triceratops stabbed at the tyrannosaurus’s belly with its horns. Kim saw dark blood oozing from the tips of those horns.
“Oh my God…!” said Kim.
The creatures fought, and for a long moment, the astronauts watched with stunned awe, wide-eyed and slack-jawed.
Finally, Dominic spoke. “You know, I don’t feel a special need to see how this ends, really.”
Jack nodded once. “Yeah, I think you’re right.” He steered the rover away, moving slowly and deliberately. “That’s right, beasties, just ignore little ol’ us….”
At the end of the courtyard, Jack used the rover’s arm to push the shattered column away. When they were clear of the pavement and the last crumbling relics of the lost city at last, Jack pushed down on the throttle. Behind them, tyrannosaurus roared again.
Kim watched as they sped away, until the jungle swallowed the creatures and the ruins behind them.
“Well,” Dominic said at last, “at least now we know what the people in that tomb meant by the Sons of Sobek.”
Kim moved forward and sat down behind Jack and Dominic. She shook her head. “I don’t think so.”
Jack looked back at her and frowned. “What’d’ya mean?”
“The hieroglyphs referred specifically to flashing weapons,” Kim pointed out. “Those dinosaurs weren’t exactly packin’ heat.” She took a deep breath. “There’s something else out there, guys.” She frowned. “Uh, did I say that right? Packin’ heat?”
“I sure as hell hope not,” Jack muttered.