The world is dark, damp, and cramped. The chick stretches her neck, ramming her beak into the shell of her egg. And again. And again. Her beak goes through with a crack. With a screech of satisfaction, she pulls back into her shell, rotating her body and pecking hard to crack a ring around the egg. The effort is exhausting, taking her five hours. Before she finishes, she can hear her siblings squawking and scrambling around the nest, occasionally knocking her egg around. Eager to join them, she flexes her neck, pushing hard against the cap she's separated from the rest of the eggshell. It starts to come off, and with her fourth exertion she shoves the egg open and tumbles onto the dirt.
The tiny dryosaurus lies in the dirt briefly, exhausted from hatching. Another chick flops onto her, and she shrieks in irritation at being pinned, kicking to free herself, which in turn knocks over one of her brothers. The sister pinning her rolls off, and the chick rights herself with her arms, settling herself upright with her long legs tucked under her. She struggles to stand, but she's not strong enough yet. Lifting her head, she looks around the nest to see her seven gangly nestmates settling down to sleep under the watchful eye of her mother, who bends down to look at the last-hatched of her brood. She brings her head near and coos, "Welcome to the world, little one." The chick settles back down onto her belly and stretches her neck over the nearest sibling. Their mother lies down beside the nest, which is just one in a valley filled with nesting females of her kind. Huge dinosaurs move through the valley nearby, but the herd of mothers aren't concerned. They know that the long-necked titans are harmless leaf-munchers. The mother dryosaurus, Quickfoot, curls around her brood. She chose a spot near the edge of the forest – where she and her chicks can dart into the undergrowth for cover if needed. Quickfoot's mate, Longtail, fought a dozen males for this spot. She thinks of him fondly. He's on the other side of the valley getting water now. He'll be back soon.
The chicks sleep fitfully through the night – every now and then one of them gets up to change positions, which wakes up the others. When the dawn comes, Quickfoot leaves the nest under the care of Longtail before her chicks wake up. She returns with a branch full of leaves in her hand, dropping it among her brood. Longtail stands and exchanges a brief bonding ritual of chirps and head gestures with Quickfoot before leaving to graze. The chicks scramble to snip leaves from the branch with their beaks. The youngest struggles to get in on the feast and manages to grab a few mouthfuls before the branch is bare. Quickfoot looks at her daughter with a critical eye. She's the runt of the clutch. The odds of her survival are slim. But this season has been plentiful, and there is more than enough food to go around. If the chick can grow, become fast and agile, learn to avoid predators and find food, she could make it. One day, she could come back to this valley and lay eggs of her own.
Quickfoot has lost chicks before – so many. One year there was drought, and most of the clutch starved. Another year, raptors raided the nesting grounds, and the year after that there was disease. That was the most devasting loss for her - when she realized that there are some threats you can't run from. Quickfoot earned her name by outrunning a raptor as a chick, and she's successfully fled from danger ever since. She was a runt like her daughter, and her siblings nearly bullied her to starvation before she left the nest. Her mother and father did little to help her - survival doesn't favor the weak, they said. But Quickfoot proved them wrong. She left the nest and grew stronger by the day. Now she's a mother with chicks of her own. Her parents' chick-raising philosophy isn't hers. She rises to fetch more food, and this time she'll make certain that her daughter eats her fill.
This little one is a survivor. She's sure of it. The chick pauses in her fumbling attempts to stand and looks up at Quickfoot. "You're going to make it, my chick," says Quickfoot. "I promise."