The silver plaque rippled with diffuse light from the elevator shaft as Regina Kirk and her team made their slow descent. She could see her reflection in the polished quick-silver, all pixie hair-do tinged to a fiery red and emerald green eyes that harbored a look of concern she did not dare let the others discern. She must have read the words engraved onto the plaque at least twenty times to focus her scattering thoughts.
A non-profit Policy Institution dedicated to the veritable, cutting edge studies of paleontology, archeology, anthropology, biology, chemistry, botany, geology, and geography using our state of the art Chronotron. Here in our one of a kind facility, time is just not of the essence, time is the essence.
There were three others in the elevator with her. Her husband Lesperance, burly chested head of security for Veritasium whose boyish wit matched his smile and his colleagues, a youthful security recruit named Travis Eckels who hid his nervousness worse than Regina and another officer named Krillings. A motley crew for a jaunt back in time indeed, but when you're married to a prolific paleontologist, Regina couldn't blame her husband for taking advantage of certain travel perks.
"Goddamn I can't wait!" Les said. "It's gonna be like a real life Jurassic Park, no scratch that, a Jurassic Safari!"
"Well thank God the dinos in that film aren't the most factual. I don't think the audiences would've bought medium sized flightless birds as intimidating," Regina quipped. "Think less Jurassic Park and more Thanksgiving turkey to get an idea of what a real velicoraptor looks like."
"Mmmm, and to think I didn't eat breakfast this morning..." Les licked his lips greedily.
"Les!" Regina punched him in his beefy arm, her tension waning already. They finally arrived at the lower Veritasium labs and stepped out into a cacophony of sights and sound. Engineers and scientist whisked back and fourth across the split level infrastructure and scientific instruments like busied worker bees, monitors radiated all manner of data, nodes bleeped and clipped, and in the midst of it all the Chronotron emitted an incessant huuuuum that seemed to seethe the air itself, the sound of time being manipulated.
One of the scientist, a lean, stick of a man wearing a pair of taped spectacles greeted them at the gate of the Chronotron.
"Regina, I'd like to introduce Dr. Hans Deutscher, worlds first chrononaut and chief expert on the field. Dr. Douche, this is my wife Regina Kirk, paleontologist extraordinaire who knows how to work her way around a bone!"
As they exchanged pleasantries Regina noticed Eckels and Krillings unloading several metallic cases with delicate care.
"Honey, what's in the cases?" Regina asked Les, who sheepishly smoothed the back of his brown locks the same way he always did when there was something he didn't want to tell her.
"Well, since this is a safari, no good hunter would be complete without certain...tools." Eckels opened a case and produced a high powered assault rifle, much to Regina's chagrin.
"Les! Really!? This is a science expedition, not a big game hunt!"
"You're right, this is a science expedition, only this time the bones aren't just gonna be waiting in the ground for you to find them, we're talking living breathing monsters here." he fished around in one of the cases and produced a deadly looking pistol and an egg shaped device about the size of a fist. "So what's it gonna be sweetheart, you wanna go with a military grade sidearm, easy to wield and hides easily in any purse, or maybe something with a little more bang like this M26 FATBOY grenade here, it's supposed to be 'the bomb'!"
"Get those out of my face Les!" Regina turned to Hans, exasperated. "Dr. Deutscher, surely you don't condone the use of firearms on a scientific jaunt against indigenous populations. There could be consequences in disturbing the environment perhaps?"
Deutscher hiked up his glasses. "while the safety and preservation of the past are of the utmost importance, your husband did take the liberty of organizing a sanctioned hunt, of course generously compensated for."
"You mean he paid you off?"
"All in the name of science."
Regina shook her head, "Government expenditures for jaunts are already exceeding budget. If they find out we're tromping through the jungle with guns they'll cut even more funding from the time travel program."
"Make no mistake Dr. Kirk, there's to be no indiscriminate killing unless it's absolutely unavoidable. Not knowing it, we could kill off an important link to a developing species."
"That's not clear at all," said Les, divvying up ammo to his fellow 'hunters'.
"All right," contended Hans. "Suppose you accidentally kill one mouse in the past. That means all the future families of that one particular mouse would have never existed, right?"
"And all the families of the families of the families of just that one mouse! Exponentially you annihilated first one, then a dozen, a thousand, a million, a billion possible mice!"
"So we have a billion less mice running around, so what?"
"So what!?" Hans pushed his glasses up, "Well, what of the foxes that prey upon those mice? For every ten mice that never were, a fox dies. For every ten foxes, a cougar starves. And for that cougar, all manner of scavengers, billions of infinite lifeforms are thrown into chaos, and when the first cavemen goes hunting for food, there is none because you, my trigger happy tourist, decided to put a bullet in the head of every single last saber-toothed tiger and wild boar by stepping on a single mouse! So this caveman starves, but he isn't just some expendable caveman, no. He is an entire future country. From his seed would have sprang ten sons and from their seed a hundred sons and thus onward to a civilization. Kill this one man, and you kill an entire race of people. A billion others yet to be born strangled in their wombs. Perhaps Europe stays a darkened forest forever, nobody coming to power because there is no one to rule. Like a bullet hole through eternity, all because of one little mouse."
"How poignant of you," said Les. "But if every animal in the past is red-listed, just what the hell am I supposed to shoot?"
"You shoot the ones that are marked."
"That's right. This morning I made a jaunt to the area we'll be traveling to and studied certain animals to determine which lived the longest. If it turns out the animal met an untimely end I marked it with a paintball gun, leaving a bright yellow splotch on its hide. Our arrival in the past is calibrated within sixty minutes before they would have died anyway, so this way we kill animals with no future, the ones that never mate again. And it just so happens I managed to tag a flock of velicoraptors moments before they met their demise at the bottom of a tar pit."
Les clapped Dr. Deuterium on the back with enough force to nearly topple him. "Leaving no stone unturned way to go Dr. Douche! Say, you think the boys in taxidermy will be able to stuff a 'raptor? It'll make a pretty bitching Halloween decoration."
"Absolutely out of the question! All research and experiments are to be done on-sight and under no circumstance should anything from the past be brought back!"
"But if you already traveled back through time this morning," Regina mused, "then you must've ran into our expedition right? Was everything successful? Did you notice any – complications?"
While Regina was loathe to admit, her agitation over her husbands antics begin to ebb into unease. During her internship, Regina had been fortunate enough to work on a 3D representation of the infamous "Fighting Dinosaurs" specimen, the preserved skeletons of a velicoraptors and protoceratops engaged in combat, and while Les could walk his way around a gun just as good as she could a bone, she could not help but feel humbled and a little unnerved by their reproduction: the sinewy ferocity of their bodies forever trapped in battle, primal rage radiating from bulbous yellowed eyes. And those claws, mortally sharp and embedded in the flesh of their respective adversary.
Studying bones and reproductions were one thing, but being face to face with a real life dinosaur was a totally different animal.
"That, my esteemed colleague, would result in a paradox," said Hans, boosting up his glasses. " Time doesn't permit such occurrences I'm afraid. But if you're looking for a little precognition, the best I can offer is a simulation, a test run if you will, of today's hunt. Given the right conditions, the right circumstances, anything can be quantified, everything from the number of people participating in the hunt to their physiology, the number of ammunition each person carrying and so on and so fourth, every variable, painstakingly crunched and analyzed until I was led to the same conclusion every time: we won."
"And this simulation, it's fool proof?"
"I designed the software myself." Hans beamed proudly.
Regina cupped Les' powerful jawline in her hand and brought him eye level. "Don't make me regret this baby" she said, placing a feather soft kiss on his lips.
"Ah come on, when have I ever made you regret anything?"
"All right everyone que up!" Hans announced. Krillings and Eckels brought up the rear as they approached the time gate. A queer smell drifted from the gate, a mixture of burning ozone and electricity like the stench of seconds, minutes, hours, and days set ablaze.
Regina slid on her rebreather, the streamlined helmet adhering smoothly to the contours of her face and filtering her vision through a HUD. The gate rippled with auras, pulses of silverish blue and fiery oranges and reds assaulted their vision, adding to the sensory overload inducing moment. A childlike glee fluttered through her, and she slipped her hand through Les'. "You ready for this?"
"Been waiting sixty five million years!"
Slowly they marched towards the roaring light.
Time itself seemed to howl. Days coalesced into weeks, months, years, decades...A.D. 2093, A.D. 2001, A.D. 1871, A.D. 1197...
They stepped out into a very ancient time indeed. It was at least twenty degrees hotter on the other side as they arrived in a vast clearing – The Homebase – a labyrinth of supercomputers, servers, scientific equipment and thick anti corrosive cables that criss crossed the grass like giant serpentine snakes all enclosed within a security perimeter consisting of a twenty foot high fence topped with barbed wire and surging with over 10,000 volts of electricity. Beyond that the jungle stretched high and broad and forever. Strange sounds, the music from another time, filled the air, the sounds of pterodactyls soaring above on cavernous wings, bats straight out of a fever dream. Regina watched their sensuous flight in awe.
"Welcome to the Jungle!" Les shouted in his best Axl Rose voice.
"Jesus himself isn't even born," said Deutscher. "Every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every mother and father, every single last saint and sinner -
"-Yeah yeah everyone's not yet unborn." Les tossed the fumbling chrononaut his camera and pulled Regina and his huntsmen into an embrace. "Snap a quick pic will ya? This is going straight to the InstaBook!"
Regina glared at the camera.
After their photo-op they were set to leave the Homebase. The security fence retracted, nothing standing between them and the primordial, expansive jungle. Hans punched at keys on his wrist mounted PDA , "Ok everyone, if we head southwest we'll bisect their trail in thirty minutes, give or take a minute or two."
Les hefted his heavy assault rifle across his broad shoulder, "Well what are we waiting for then? Let's go kick some dino ass!"
Through the ancient wilderness they trekked. Distant bird cries blew in the humid wind along with the scent of tar and an old salt sea. Above head the jungle canopy nearly blocked all of the much younger suns light as Les took a machete to low hanging flora and shrubbery, hacking and slashing through exotic foliage and flowers the color of blood.
"Guess I should be more careful," Les teased. "Wouldn't want to kill an important daffodil now would I Dr. Douche?"
"Not everything about the past is determinable, our theory could be dead wrong. Maybe time can't be changed by us. Or maybe it can only be changed in more subtle ways. A dead mouse can snowball quite differently perhaps into an insect imbalance, then a population disproportion which leads to a bad harvest , depression, starvation and then a change in social sentiments in some developing countries. Perhaps we create only a soft breeze through history, perhaps it's a roar. We don't know, which is why we're being damned careful -"
"- Hold!" Les held up a hand, bringing them to a halt. "I saw something! Seven o'clock!"
Far off in a dense thicket of trees Regina could make out several scrambling figures, feathered rod like tails betraying their position
"There! I see the paint! Safeties off people!" They inched forward, the 'hunters' trying to get a solid line of sight.
"Damn this is it," Les whispered. "I feel like Turok."
Suddenly the velicoraptors became rigid, their upturned snouts sniffing the air cautiously before dashing off into the wilderness.
"Hey,hey! What gives, they didn't see us!" Les raised his rifle after the fleeing flock, his finger in the trigger guard -
The jungle was alive, full of twitterings, rustlings, murmurs, and sighs that stopped all too quickly, as if a window had been shut. And then Regina heard it, a sound like thunder, distant, muffled, foreboding. Beneath their feet, the ground trembled ever so softly.
Krillings swallowed hard. "That don't sound like no 'raptor..."
T0 BE C0NTINUED