From the mist eddied trees some 100 yards ahead it emerged, like some terribly evil God.
The Tyrant Lizard
"Oh my," Hans stammered. "Oh my, oh my, oh my...this wasn't supposed to happen!"
The T. Rex lumbered forward on piston like legs, sniffing the air fitfully with its stone sculptured head. It stood some twenty feet tall, an avalanche of scaly armored flesh that gleamed like emerald pebbles and from its massive ribcage two delicate arms dangled sluggishly, arms whose vice-like claws could examine a full grown man like a toy.
"It hasn't seen us yet." Eckels breathed. "Jesus that thing is huge!"
No one moved an inch over fear of antagonizing the mighty beast. In an instant, all of Regina's anatomical knowledge concerning the T. Rex flooded her mind.
-its eyes being on the front of its skull gives it excellent binocular vision, it definitely sees us
-but its rotational inertia makes it especially cumbersome at turning, taking the creature up to two seconds to turn 45 degrees, if we move fast enough it couldn't possibly track us
-also, it most likely can't run after us, no air borne phase in mid stride to stabilize its weight
-though its hollowed bones would theoretically make the dinosaur more nimble on its feet during stride...
Through her swarm of half truths and fallacies Regina could hear her husbands voice, unwaveringly calm and poised. "Take the FATBOY and listen carefully, you're gonna twist the top off clockwise and lift, that'll activate the detonator. Once that thing starts blinking you're gonna have ten seconds max to clear the way, take it!"
He shoved the explosive into Regina's shaking hands. "Why you telling me this?" She asked.
Les gazed into her electric green eyes. "Because I love you. And I got a bad feeling about this."
The T. Rex lunged forward with a horrific roar. It ran after them, covering the 100 yards in seconds as it crushed aside trees and bushes, its taloned feet kicking up great clumps of earth.
"Regina! NOW!" Les shouted, hoisting his rifle.
What followed next was the longest ten seconds of Regina Kirks life.
Lesperance dashed away from the group, firing at the charging T. Rex with reckless abandon.
"Les no!" She fumbled with the FATBOY even as the T. Rex descended upon her husband with all nine tons of crushing power and serrated teeth that resembled daggers. Les was enveloped by that stone idol like head and hoisted into the air, his lower half jutting from in-between its massive jaws and Regina could only watch in a numbed shock as the Tyrannosaurus bit down with a soul shattering crunch and all the force of 50,000 Newtons, showering their expedition in a torrent of gore.
Even before Les' flailing legs could hit the jungle floor the T. Rex was already on the move, stampeding through the hail of bullets that barely grazed its chain mail like flesh until it towered over Eckels and Krillings, a colossal death machine, taloned foot ready to drop down. Krillings managed to roll out of the way of impending danger.
Eckels wasn't so lucky.
He was obliterated underneath the massive foot as if he were nothing more that an ant. Krillings attempt to scramble away proved futile as he was scooped up by the T. Rex's delicate watch makers hands like a child picking up a doll. Regina averted her eyes to the FATBOY, which pulsed in her hands.
Krillings screamed, a pathetic strangled cry that was cut off by another morbid crunch. It was now done with that toy. Forever.
The T. Rex roared, dark rivulets of blood flowing from between its teeth, the stench of raw flesh wafting against the wilderness and through her haze, through her shock of insurmountable loss Regina knew she was out of time. She hurled the FATBOY towards its open maw, watched as the pulsing grenade sailed past its wicked teeth -
with a muffled POP the T. Rex's head exploded in a confusion of brain, blood, and red mist that stained the air crimson.
Like a toppled statue, like an avalanche of flesh, Tyrannosaurus fell. Deafening, it crushed trees and its own jeweler-like hands under its immense weight. A fountain of blood gushed from the grotesque stump where its head used to be and spread languidly across the ground, red and glistening.
Even though the T. Rex's thunder had now quelled, the jungle remained silent, so quiet that Regina could hear the minute sighs and murmurs within the beast as the furthest chambers of it died, its organs shutting down, bones cracking and settling it lay, a hill of solid, cooling flesh.
Still Regina would not – could not – move, every cell in her body petrified, her blood ice cold. She stood gore soaked amongst the settling destruction, a knot of despair gripping her heart so tightly that it threatened to break her completely.
Oh Les, you brave, brave fool. Why, just why did you have to do that?
Because he loved you...
Regina slid off her rebreather to wipe away the tears that now flowed freely. The smell of the carnage hit her in thick, nauseous waves and she stumbled back, gagging on the putrid air, eyes burning, heart shredded.
Somewhere in the jungle, a scream.
On legs that felt far too distant she stumbled away from the bloody scene and headed in the direction of the disturbance. Several yards from the carnage she could hear a steady thrashing, the screams getting louder until she found Dr. Deutscher entangled in a thicket of bushes with a velociraptor that wore a distinct yellow blotch on its hide. The beast snapped and hissed at him, its claw precariously close to the doctors throat.
Without so much as thinking Regina seized the creature from behind by the tuft of feathers between its shoulder blades and twisted so fiercely the beast shrieked in pain and released its grip on Hans. The velociraptor was only thirty pounds but it was all bone and muscle and seething hatred. She repositioned her hands around its neck and squeezed as hard as she could. The raptor wrenched, wiggled, lashed and flailed but Regina clenched tighter, her grip like iron, and at last she felt its neck snap, just a limp, dead thing now.
She dropped the raptor to the floor and knelt at the doctors side.
"Hans! Hans, are you ok?" The right side of Deutscher's rebreather was shredded, a deep gash running from his temple to behind his ear and his HUD was streaked with fissures, his ghostly visage wide eyed and terror stricken.
"Everything is ruined!" He groaned as Regina groped at his rebreather. "God only knows what we've changed! We should've never come here -"
"-Dr. Deutscher! They're all dead! It killed them all, it killed..." The words caught in her throat, an insufferable torrent threatening to betray her once more. Hans met her eyes only briefly, but even she could see the look of guilt on his pale, haunted face.
"Come now." He said, rising unsteadily to his feet. "It's time we've left this place."
They were silent en route to the Homebase. What was left to be said anyway? The expedition was FUBAR, the federal government would now more than likely put a freeze on all future time jaunts, and her husband...
They arrived at the HomeBase, away from that primeval killing field, but Regina highly doubted she would ever escape that nightmare.
Like sleepwalkers, the two survivors shuffled back through the Chronotron. They were going home.
They arrived back in the laboratories of Veritasium Inc., but it was not the same as they had left it. No scientist or engineers busied themselves in the facility, no decontamination unit greeted them for mandatory "cleansing" upon their return, and once the huuuuum of the Chronotron finally dissipated a sepulcher like silence permeated the once bustling lab like a vacuum.
The two scientist exchanged looks.
Something was wrong. Very wrong.
"Perhaps we should head for the surface?" Hans said, his voice preternaturally loud in the empty chamber.
They made their way through the Veritasium lab that was not quite the Veritasium lab, Regina taking in the strangeness through her pores. In the elevator the once polished plaque was pierced with several bullet holes, its inscription warped and unreadable.
Somewhere, someone must have been screaming a whistle that only the dogs could hear for Regina could only detect a subliminal feel of the uncanny, but it was there. Hidden. Perverse.
On the upper level they were greeted by more silence. They stalked through empty corridors and soulless workstations of monochromatic hues, not a single person to be found.
"This is all wrong, so wrong." Hans breathed. "I want to take another look at the simulation data. You look absolutely exhausted my dear, a hot shower and nice long nap will do you good. It's been a terribly frightening day for all of us."
Regina said nothing as Hans headed towards his lab, his footfalls echoing through the deserted halls. She entered the shower room, peeling off her blood caked uniform and under garments. Thunder rumbled beyond the room, beyond the complex in a world that was perhaps not the same as they had left it.
The water was soothing against her bare flesh. She scrubbed away the sweat and filth and blood, but could not scrub away the memories or the uncanny wrongness in the air that seemed to meld and coalesce with the rising steam. She ran a soapy hand across her left breast and traced the sensuous curve of her puppy paw prints tattoo down her ribcage.
She had got the tattoo during her younger and more rebellious years as a tribute to the Labrador Retriever puppy her family had owned when she was ten. She was allowed to play with him in the backyard on school mornings until her bus came, teaching him to sit, fetch, roll over, and she remembered being utterly fascinated by his inquisitiveness and capacity to learn – such a smart puppy! She loved him with all her heart.
When the bus came, Regina was supposed to close the backyard gate before boarding. She always remembered to close the gate – or at least, she didn't remember ever forgetting to do it – but one day when Regina came home from school, her mother told her that their puppy was dead. He'd been in the street and a car had run him down. Her mother never reproached Regina with her words, but her eyes instead, because she had loved their puppy too.
"I closed him in like I always do," Regina had said through tears, and she believed that she did, maybe because she always had, but she lay awake for a long, long time that night and now the same fear and unshakeable terror of what she might have done gnawed at her conscious.
Above head, more thunder boomed -
-and the door to the shower room burst open. Hans stormed into the room, his spectacled face a mask of fury and finger pointed accusatorily at her. "You...you...you...you bitch! You stupid bitch it's all your fault"
Her body went cold. She tried her best to cover herself, baffled. "What the hell are you talking about!? I'm not the one who ran off like a coward -"
"-SHUT UP! Just shut the hell up! I went over the results of the simulation, the same sim where I specifically stated that every variable must be calculated and taken into consideration. Except they weren't! The data was wrong, there wasn't five people that went into the jungle, there was six! You're pregnant! That's how the T. Rex was able to find us, it smelled your damn pheromones!"
Regina felt as if she had been punched in the gut. She placed her hands protectively across her torso and although she could not detect the minute currents of another human being growing within her she was shocked by the doctors revelation nonetheless.
"Pregnant..." My baby. Les' baby. More thunder muttered overhead, this time much closer, and Regina found herself too distracted by it to trust herself to speak. Strange, that she could hear it through the heavily insulated ceiling...
...but not as strange as thinking about the weather at a time like this.
"Yes, pregnant." Hans sneered. "You're so damn smart, you mean to tell me you didn't know, 'Mrs. Paleontologist Extraordinaire?' I should've never listened to your idiot muscle headed husband!There's no telling what's been changed!" His face melted into a twisted smile, eyes hungrily roving the slick curves of Regina's body. He licked his lips. "But all that, that's in the past, right? Lesperance isn't here anymore, but don't worry, I'll comfort you..."
The doctor stalked towards her.
Before Regina could even move another salvo of thunder shook the complex to its core, the blast momentarily startling Hans. It was all the time she needed as she punted the leering doctor between his legs. He fell into a fetal heap, a queer, unintelligible whine escaping from his lungs.
Regina ran past his crippled figure, out of the showers naked and afraid, afraid of what may have become of the balance of Time, of how the small dominoes were now becoming gigantic ones, tumbling endlessly across eternity.
She finally came to the atrium, flushed and out of breath. A white sky greeted her from behind the large paneled glass even as more thunder assaulted the building.
No, not thunder...
On shivering legs she made her way to the window, to see what kind of world awaited.
"Oh my God!"
The silhouettes of cavernous wings filled the sky as far as the eyes could see, flocks upon flocks of pterodactyls blotting out the sun like monstrous crows. Throughout the city streets chaos reigned distant and seemingly forever, the fires from innumerably destroyed buildings sent pillar like plumes of smoke into the air and in the center of it all, Regina saw it. It was at least fifty feet long, thick neural spines jutting from its monolithic back vertebrae like a morbid sail. The Spinosaurus – the largest land predator ever – lifted its squashed, elongated skull and when it roared, the very earth itself shook.