Dinosaur Thunder

James F. David

Tor Books

1
Moon
You look at that photo on my website, and then you tell me there wasn’t an explosion on the moon. You’ve got to start listening to me, America! Wake up! The government blew up a secret alien base on the moon, and it’s time we-the-people know why.
—Cat Bellow, host of Radio Rebel
Present time Flamsteed crater The moon
“We are approaching the debris field now,” Mike Watson said, his message relayed from his PLSS suit to the lunar lander to the orbiting lunar shuttle and then on to Earth.
As mission commander, Watson led the way, the rest of his crew fanned out behind him. Mission Specialist Sarasa Chandra trailed on his left, Mission Specialist Rick Maven on his right. They used the gentle hopping motion perfected by Apollo crews. In one-sixth gravity, walking quickly became bounding, so planned bounding was more efficient.
Watson checked the radiation reading in his heads-up display. He ignored the UV radiation; his suit could handle routine lunar exposure. What concerned Watson was the particle radiation. The team’s specially insulated PLSS suits would protect them for a time, but Watson kept an eye on the rems. He and his wife wanted more children, and wanted them to have all the usual body parts.
They passed random bits of man-made debris—strips of metal, chunks of rubber, pieces of concrete, the brass knob of a door handle. They came to a larger object—a refrigerator. Dented and half buried, it stuck up out of the regolith like modern art. The door was partially ajar. Watson did not bother to look inside. According to the intelligence briefing, the last residents of the structure ahead had eaten everything. Watson snapped a picture and moved on.
“Over here, sir,” Chandra said.
Watson stopped, turning his shoulders to turn his helmet toward Chandra. She was holding up a long bone.
“It’s a human leg bone,” Chandra said. “It’s been picked clean.”
“Photograph it and leave it,” Watson said.
They kept moving toward the deep shadow of the crater wall, where the structure hid.
“Sir, this might be what we came for,” Maven said.
Again, Watson stopped, turning his shoulders and head. Maven was holding a jagged piece of black material. Watson walked to Maven, Chandra following. They formed a small circle so they could make eye contact. Maven held what looked like a thin piece of black plastic with a dull surface. About a foot long, and eight inches at the widest point, it resembled a piece of ice broken from the surface of a pond. Maven tapped it, knocking off a bit of dust. Taking the material, Watson turned it on its side, seeing that it was made up of a dozen thin layers.
“It’s light,” Watson said, passing it to Chandra.
Chandra held the material close to her faceplate, studying the layers through two sunscreens.
“This is it,” Chandra announced. “This is what they spent a billion dollars to get.”
“Well, that was easy,” Maven said. “And we have rems to spare.” Maven tapped his faceplate where the radiation readings would show on his side.
“That’s half the mission,” Watson said. “Collect more samples as we go.”
Maven put the sample in a bag, labeled it, and then followed the others. They spread out again with Watson in the lead. The regolith was soft, Watson sinking an inch with each bounce, sending up a small puff of dust. When they came to an edge of the rim shadow, Maven stopped them again.
“This just gets weirder and weirder,” Maven said.
Maven had angled away and was now twenty yards to the right. He was standing by a large object, his lunar boot resting on top. With a shove, he tipped the object over.
“It’s a snowmobile,” Maven said. “I don’t remember this in the mission briefing.”
“They told us to expect the unexpected,” Chandra said.
“They tell you that kind of stuff, but you never really believe them,” Maven said. “Until now. A snowmobile on the moon?” Maven mumbled as he resumed hopping.
Watson checked his display. The rems were increasing, but well within the safe zone.
Entering the shadow, they took a dozen bounds before one of the sun shields lifted, allowing them to see farther into the shadow. Now Watson could see the objective. What had once been the most famous building on the moon—and the only building—was now nothing more than two vertical walls marking one corner. They moved forward, Watson’s eyes on the radiation meter. Then he found a body.
“Chandra! Maven!” Watson called, coming to a stop.
His crew hopped over, closing ranks around the body. Any clothing and hair had been burned away. The genitalia was male, the body mummified through the combination of vacuum and UV radiation. Chandra photographed the body. Maven took samples of the regolith around the corpse, storing them in plastic bags. When they were finished, they continued toward the ruins.
“We should bury him,” Maven said.
“And the leg bone we found?” Chandra asked.
“If there’s time,” Watson said, understanding the feeling. Even on the moon, the cultural need to return humans to the soil was strong.
Now well into the rim shadow, another sun shield retracted and they could see even more detail. What had once been a large rectangular structure had exploded, leaving two intersecting walls standing, the tops crumbled, bent rebar protruding from broken edges. What surprised Watson was that anything still stood. According to the mission briefing, a twenty-megaton warhead had destroyed the site.
The rems continued to creep up but nowhere near the level Watson had feared.
“Sir, there are bones here,” Chandra said.
“Photograph them,” Watson said, not bothering to turn and look this time. “We’ll bury them if we have time.”
“They’re not human,” Chandra said.
Now Watson stopped, turning. Chandra held a long thin bone.
“Dinosaur,” Chandra said.
“Snowmobiles and dinosaurs on the moon,” Maven said. “They said expect the unexpected, not expect the weird.”
Moving on, the texture of the regolith changed. Kneeling in PLSS suits was impossible, so Watson used a long-handled scoop to sample a piece of the surface. The material looked like gray straw. It crumpled when touched.
“I think it’s organic,” Chandra said. “It may be grass.”
“Take a look at this,” Maven said.
Hopping over, they found Maven looking at another chunk of the black material they had collected earlier.
“I’m having trouble focusing on this piece,” Maven said.
An eight-inch chunk of the black material lay on the surface, coming in and out of focus.
“Its refractive properties keep changing,” Chandra said.
“Mike, this is Mission Control,” a voice cut in. “Do not touch that material. Use tongs and store the material in a lined bag.”
“Tongs?” Maven said. “Now they tell us.”
The team carried special sample bags, now understanding what they were for. Using long-handled tongs, Maven picked up the chunk and dropped it in a bag held open by Chandra. Chandra sealed the bag. She put the sample in a pouch on the side of her suit, and they moved on, now picking their way through chunks of concrete, careful to skirt exposed rebar and other jagged material. The debris here was larger, heavier, the smaller pieces having been blown well across the moon’s surface. Finally, they reached the foundation for the original building. Up close, Watson could see that more of the building stood than appeared from a distance. Concrete several feet high still formed a perimeter. There was a gap near the astronauts, and they carefully worked through concrete chunks toward the opening.
“Sir, look at that,” Chandra said, pointing over the jagged wall.
They stopped to see where Chandra pointed but saw nothing. Then over the broken wall they saw puffs of dust.
“Something’s kicking up dust,” Maven said.
Few things kicked up dust on the moon, Watson knew. Seismic activity could, but they felt none. Meteor impacts also, but the dust they were seeing came regularly, inconsistent with a random micrometeor strike. Rapid heating of the frozen regolith could cause surface fracturing, but the rim shadow prevented rapid solar heating.
The dust continued to puff.
“Let’s take bets on what’s causing it,” Maven said. “I’ll take a Russian women’s hockey team.”
“Residual volcanic activity,” Chandra said. “Left over from the nuclear detonation.”
“Not weird enough,” Maven said. “Take my word for it, whatever is causing that dust cloud is going to be closer to a Russian women’s hockey team than volcanic activity.”
Watson stayed out of the betting, but leaned toward Maven’s point of view. The path through to the opening was narrow, so they walked single file now with Watson in the lead. Coming to the opening, Watson stopped, the others coming to stand shoulder to shoulder. What they saw left them speechless.
“Impossible,” Chandra said.
“Yeah,” Maven said.
One end of what had been a building was rubble, but in one corner of the remaining wall was a dinosaur, standing on a flat black surface. Not a dead, mummified dinosaur, but a living, thrashing animal, trying to break free from some invisible restraint.
“That’s a tyrannosaur,” Chandra said.
“No, too small,” Watson said. “That’s Deinonychus.
“Those are the ones they call ‘dine on us,’” Maven said.
“The jaws are too big and the arms too short for Deinonychus. It must be a juvenile tyrannosaur,” Chandra insisted, “or something in the tyrannosaur family.”
“It has to be an illusion,” Maven said. “A projection.”
“Looks real to me,” Watson said.
“What’s holding it?” Chandra asked. “It’s like its feet are glued down.”
Like an animal trapped in quicksand, the tyrannosaur struggled, its tail swinging wide, sending up the occasional cloud of dust.
“Mission Control, are you seeing this?” Watson said.
“Affirmative, Mike,” came the reply. “Do not approach until we advise.”
“No problem,” Watson said.
“How can it breathe?” Chandra asked. “It can’t,” she said, answering her own question. “It shouldn’t even be alive. Nothing can live in a vacuum.”
“It’s alive, all right,” Maven said. “Let’s just hope it doesn’t get loose, or we’ll wish there were a Russian women’s hockey team here to protect us.”
“Look at how hard it’s struggling,” Chandra said. “It should be exhausted.”
“Commander Watson?” a new voice cut it. “This is Nick Paulson. I am director of the Office of Security Science.”
“I know who you are,” Watson said. “What can we do for you?”
Watson knew Paulson through reputation and rumor. By reputation, Paulson was world-renowned for his work on the time quilting that had swept the planet, bringing dinosaurs to the modern world, and was a confidant of presidents. By rumor, Paulson was said to be one of the few people on the planet who knew what was really behind the time distortions.
“Can you probe the surface of the interior without stepping on it?”
“Stand by,” Watson said.
Watson unsnapped the long-handled scoop, extending it full length. Carefully stepping around concrete rubble, he worked his way to the edge of the perimeter. Inside, Watson could see chunks of what once had been a concrete floor. Most of the floor was gravel-size rubble arranged in elongated piles, looking like ocean waves. Watson touched the surface with the scoop.
“It feels solid,” Watson said.
After the long pause for relay to Earth, Paulson came back. “Advance slowly, probing every six inches,” Paulson said.
Watson paused long enough to rotate his shoulders and to exchange looks with Chandra and Maven. Maven shrugged his shoulders while Chandra rotated her shoulders back and forth, indicating Hell no. Watson could switch off the Earth link and talk to his team, but decided against it. Having Paulson suddenly commandeer the mission was unorthodox and even weird, but Watson was as curious about the conditions in the interior of the structure as Paulson was. Even without the order, Watson was going in.
Inching toward the still-struggling dinosaur, Watson felt like a soldier probing a minefield. Six inches at a time, he worked toward the dinosaur, always one eye on the tyrannosaur. Suddenly, the carnivore stopped struggling. Cocking its head, it stared at Watson with one eye.
“I think it spotted me, Watson said.
“Get out, sir,” Chandra said.
“I’m coming in,” Maven said.
“Everyone stay where you are,” Paulson said, stopping Maven as he started into the perimeter. “Keep your cameras on the dinosaur.”
They stood, locked in a staring contest with the tyrannosaur. Then abruptly, it turned its head, using its other eye. Suddenly, it lunged, but the invisible restraints held, and it barely moved. Twisting and turning, it repeatedly lunged, jaws snapping silently in the vacuum.
“Try moving sideways,” Paulson said.
“Moving? I thought prey were harder to see if they didn’t move.”
“Please move sideways,” Paulson said after a long pause. “It’s safe.”
In a PLSS suit, sidesteps were impossible, so Watson turned, hopping to his left. The tyrannosaur struggled another second, and then stopped, cocking its head from side to side as if searching for Watson. Finally, it gave up, ignoring Watson, resuming its frenetic struggles.
“Commander, I won’t ask you to go any further,” Paulson said.
“That thing is cemented in place,” Watson said. “It’s safe enough to get closer.”
“If you are comfortable,” Paulson said.
“Do you have a goal in mind?” Watson asked as he resumed inching forward.
“Yes,” Paulson said. “I would like a sample of the material the dinosaur is standing on.”
Watson studied the predator, estimating the sweep of its tail and the length of its neck. Watson did not think it could reach him.
“You don’t want to get that close,” Maven said.
“I’ll be careful,” Watson said.
Inching slowly, Watson worked his way over waves of rubble, the tyrannosaur ignoring him, still wrenching back and forth violently. Reaching the edge of the black mass the trapped animal stood on, Watson used the long-handled scoop, touching the black material. It was solid. Watson tapped the material and then turned the scoop over, using the serrated edge to scratch the surface. No marks.
“It’s hard like rock,” Watson reported.
There was a long moon-to-Earth pause.
“Try probing it with the orgonic material you collected.”
“Orgonic?” Watson said.
“The pieces of black material,” Paulson said.
“Why?” Watson asked.
A long silence followed. Watson imagined an intense argument taking place on the other end of the Earth link.
“Try the collected samples because they may be made of a related material.”
That explained nothing, but Watson knew he would not get anything more. Maven came forward, detaching his sample bag, offering the first piece of the material they found. Watson snapped the scoop head off his long handle and attached the tongs. Then he used a multitool folded into pliers to extract the material from the sample bag and transfer it to the tongs. Now using the long-handled tongs, Watson touched the material to the surface.
“Same result,” Watson said. “What were you expecting?”
After a long pause, “We’re just experimenting. Try the sample Dr. Chandra is carrying,” Paulson said.
Watson returned the sample to Maven’s bag, and then Maven backed away as Chandra came forward. Using the same procedure, Watson extracted the sample from Chandra’s bag. As before, the surface of the piece was hard to focus on. The tongs gripped it, however, and Watson lowered it to the surface. When the material touched, it slowly sank.
“It’s melding with the surface,” Watson said.
“Extract it,” Paulson radioed after a pause.
“This just gets better and better,” Maven said.
“Major Watson,” Paulson said. “Please collect as much of the black material as you can. From now on, that is the only mission priority.”
“Yes, sir,” Watson said.
“What about the dinosaur?” Chandra asked.
“I say we leave it,” Maven said. “The Russian women’s hockey team will be along soon, and they can deal with it.”


 
Copyright © 2012 by James F. David