by Bill Hafoc Rogers
©2009 Bill Hafoc Rogers
Moonchasers was the second of the nests four Velociraptor elegans eggs to hatch. The two things she saw first were her mothers mouth, offering her meat, and the little nose of her older brother, sniffing her. She jumped to grab the food before he could, but to her surprise he didnt even try to take it from her.
Life was good in the nest under the lone tree. The sun was warm in the day. At night the feathered warmth of her parents protected her and the nest. With four adult raptors bringing food to the nest, with the land still green from the recent rains, there was plenty to eat. She and her brother played, snarling fiercely and batting and nipping at each other. And there were two other eggs in the nest, two more playmates to come! It was all so wonderful.
It was fun watching the adults, too. Father and Mother hunted, rubbed jaws, and lay in the nest with Moonchaser and her brother and the eggs, warm and cozy all night. The other two raptors were younger, clearly a mated pair, but had no eggs of their own yet. They were probably too late for that this year. Still, they spent a lot of time chasing each other around and playing.
She was watching this young pair start another chase when a noise drew her attention back to the nest. The third egg was rocking. A tiny chip had broken from its shell! She squeaked her excitement. Her parents and her brother gathered to watch, to feed the newcomer when heby the scent she knew the new hatchling was malebroke free.
The egg rocked and trembled, finally splitting open. The wet, weak little hatchling flopped into the nest on his side. Moonchasers older brother sniffed him. Father bent low to offer food.
Moonchaser was the only one to see it coming. The younger pair of mates were now in one of their chases, and they were coming this way, blind to everything except their own instincts. Moonchaser yapped in alarm! Her older brother looked up and started to move, but it was too late. The male cleared the nest and kept going, but the female stumbled. Her foot just missed the new hatchling. But Moonchasers older brother, her playmate, went down under the talons.
Mother screamed and attacked the younger pair. She drove them away. Father gently kicked the youngest hatchling aside and sniffed and prodded his older son, making sounds of panic. Moonchaser saw the froth of blood on her brothers nose and mouth and knew he was dying. She wailed a tiny cry of mourning even before her older brother lost his fight to breathe.
With the increasing heat and drought, there was less and less food. Moonchaser had always loved to investigate new things. Now she put her learning to use by catching small mammals and bugs in the dry plains around the nest. It helped keep her alive to face each new, frightening day.
She became an expert at finding food in unexpected places. She fed herself well, but it nearly cost her life.
One day, as she hunted, she darted her head down toward a burrow. She bit the furball she had scooped out with her fingers before it could escape. At that instant a huge shadow engulfed her and something scraped across her back, cutting her, tearing out two of her new feathers. Startled, she shrieked and ran in panic. Something that flew was trying to catch her!
The shadow came back. Waiting until the last instant Moonchaser dodged aside. With a squawk the huge fingerwing rose, spun, and came back for her again. She dodged, and darted, dancing for her life across the plains under a pitiless sun.
A rock! She threw herself into its shadow. Here, she thought, the flying killer couldnt get her. She stayed there for the rest of the day, and all the next night, but the flying thing never came back.
In the morning, she was all alone, hungry and lost on the plains. Hopelessly, she wandered off. She didnt know where the nest was!
But a bug saved her life. To her side, almost out of her field of vision, something moved. She turned her head and saw a freshly-emerged butterfly, just a butterfly, clinging to a weed and slowly beating its new wings. But looking in that direction she saw something else, too: There, far away, was a bit of familiar color and a dark line, like a lone tree against the sky. She turned and trotted that way. Soon she could smell her parents, her nest, and her home. Weakly but happily, she trotted up the hill to the nest.
Her parents went wild with delight when she returned. They nuzzled and sniffed and licked her until she was afraid they would hurt her. She was half pushed, half carried back to the nest. Her younger brother was there, but she couldnt see her sister. She never saw her sister again.
Her brother did nothing, but she was sure he was furious and disappointed she had returned. There was no peace between them. After a bitter fight that left them both bleeding, he left the nest one afternoon and never returned. Her parents seemed almost relieved, for they had feared their strange and angry hatchling. And yet, they mourned him deeply.
Moonchaser was alone and lonely. Her parents took care of her fervently. She prospered. She grew strong and beautiful.
After her escape from death, Moonchaser stayed closer to the nest. But still, always, she searched for new things to learn. She studied the bugs and the little creatures who crawled and scurried on the earth. She sniffed the plants. She learned to pay attention to things she saw far away, and discovered to her surprise that her parents didnt. She couldnt understand why they only trusted their noses, not their eyes.
Scent was most important, of course, but sight was wonderful. Moonchaser watched the plains and mountains. She watched the clouds. She became aware of the sky.
She loved the clouds. She stared at them, dreaming, dozing in the warm sun of the afternoon. She loved the suns light and warmth, but she never really watched it. Perhaps it escaped so much of her notice because it was too bright to look upon.
But at night, she watched the sky in wonder. She saw the stars, tiny specks of light, and wondered what they were. The moon fascinated her. She woke up at night and stared at the cold sphere as it moved serenely overhead. Her parents saw this with loving tolerance. Soon her name, in the V. elegans language of about two hundred hand signs, was Tracks Thing-that-Lights-Night.
She watched the moon move across the sky and set full in the west. The moon went over there, beyond the edge of the world.
When spring came Moonchaser was in perfect condition. With the return of the second mated pair of raptors to the pack, hunting was easy and good. She saw her parents and the other two caressing and grooming each other, preparing for their spring run and their mating. She longed for a mate of her own. But her heart held another strange yearning as well.
Many times she stood in the shadow of the lone tree, staring across the plains to the west. She yearned to find out where the moon went. Perhaps she could even reach the moon itself. What was there, beyond the edge of the world? What would it be like there?
When a beautiful young male wandered in from the plains, her heart was torn. But in the end she did not court him or chase him. She saw his disappointment. She could smell that he wanted her. He knew she wanted him. She was sorry, but she would not take him. She sniffed and played and groomed with him, but in the way of a pack member, not in the way of a mate. After a while he accepted the sad fact. Here was a beautiful female who might have been his mate, but would not.
One day she walked back to the nest hill one last time. Her parents had two eggs this year. The other two raptors had a nest nearby with two more. Moonchaser walked between the nests and danced the dance of farewell.
Her pack was sad to see her leave. But it was their way to let the young go in peace when they felt they must, even when the young one was a female. There was much nuzzling and grooming. She sniffed her parents scents deep and long, to remember them forever. Then her father returned the dance as her mother watched from the nest. Moonchaser turned and trotted down the hill, off across the plains toward the west.
On a far rise, she stopped to look back one last time. From here the little hill was lost in the green and brown of the plains. But a thin jagged black line, the tree, marked the place where she had first seen the sun. It seemed tiny, insignificant, lost in a sea of waving prairie plants.
Moonchaser raised her nose and cried out, an eerie, mournful whistle. Faint, distant on the breeze, an answer came back. She saw a flicker of movement as two raptors trotted from the hill toward the river valley and the trees. From their movements she knew they were her father and brother-in-law, heading out on a hunt.
She turned tail and trotted west, heading for the land where the moon went. For a few days the young male accompanied her at a distance. But in the end he turned aside. He sought and found a mate and hatchlings elsewhere. He left to live his own life. He left Moonchaser to complete her strange journey alone.
Moonchaser knew, in her deepest heart, that she needed a pack. She knew that being alone was death. Yet somehow she fed herself well, and remained sleek and strong.
In part, she prospered because of her practice in catching small, unusual prey. But she had better luck with large prey than she should have had. She might not have the numbers and the lightning teamwork of a pack to back her up, but she had other weapons: Stealth. Surprise. Cunning.
Somehow, Moonchaser was just a bit more efficient than she should have been. For some reason her hiding places were just a little better than average, her attacks successful just a bit more often than normal. She could always have used more food than she had, but she was never hungry enough to suffer.
She stopped with a local raptor pack from time to time, for a day or a week. She enjoyed the companionship. She loved sleeping while someone else watched for danger. She savored the joy of running with the pack once again. But always she continued her journey.
She knew now the moon must be very far away, for however far she went it never seemed any closer. Perhaps she could never reach it. But the new places shed scented fascinated her. She marveled at the strange plants here, where the land was even drier than the plains of home. The little differences in hunting technique between one pack and the next fascinated her. The journey had become its own reason.
With summer, the land became too dry for travel. She found a water hole where a few bony raptors made their home. She had to fight for her right to stay. They did not want to accept her, for food was scarce.
It proved lucky for them that she won. Moonchaser more than held her own in the hunts. With her help, there was plenty of food. They depended on her. They deferred to her. They followed her lead. Her instincts told her to take them as her own pack, lead them, and take care of them. One of the young males began to pay much attention to her.
But one night, as winter came on, a cold rain fell. Toward dawn it stopped, and the moon appeared in a ragged tear in the clouds. She stared at it a long time before she finally decided which path to follow. When morning came she was gone. They never knew what had happened to her.
She almost died in the desert. Half-blinded by the glare, staggering onward with her last strength, she stumbled across a salty, dead swamp where a tiny trickle of bitter water came in from the west. She followed it. Unlike most rivers, it became larger as she went upstream. After a while the water became less bitter, so she could drink it without vomiting.
She followed the creek up a valley in a mountain ridge until it ended at a spring. She climbed further and crossed a pass. On the other side, a few miles away, she found the empty but damp bed of another creek. This creek headed toward the place the moon lived, just as her heart did. She followed its trace westward. As she went, the creekbed widened. In a few miles there was water flowing in the creekbed, and she never had to go thirsty again.
She threaded her way along the streams banks between dark and jagged mountains with peaks of icy white. In the raw cold of the wet spring she made her way slowly through the rocky country. By the beginning of summer she was among smaller rocky hills clothed in dark woodlands. It was a tangled country, dark and confusing. The little creek she had followed had become a great and powerful river now. In her heart, she marveled that something so mighty could arise from such a tiny beginning.
One day she felt and heard a low growling thunder she had never known before. She trotted through the last of the trees and onto a broad beach at low tide. She stopped, faced by a sheet of water, an entire world of water, a pool of water so huge it ran to the end of the world.
The beach was all new, wonderful, and delightful. There were so many new things to see and learn! She ran up and down the shore, looking and sniffing at everything.
The water was salty as blood. From that day on, she thought of the sea as The Bloodwater.
There were fish and other little things trapped in tidal pools. Most of them were good to eat. There were things to avoid because they tasted bad or they stung. She ran across a muddy beach and was startled to see jets of water shooting up into the air. Digging frantically with her front talons she unearthed a clam. She thought it was some kind of living rock. It smelled like food. She couldnt figure out how to eat the living rock, but it delighted her.
But that night she watched the moon set, and she was sad. She knew she could never reach it. The moon sailed far away across the Bloodwater, where she could never go.
She searched north and south along the beach looking for a way across the Bloodwater. She never found one, but she did find a wonderful place to live.
It was a low hill, partly wooded, in the center of a valley. A creek ran around its base on the south side. Water south of her home was good, since in this climate the hotter, south-facing slopes grew only scattered trees and scrub. Nothing big enough to hurt her could hide from her on a south-facing slope. That meant she could walk down to get water without much danger.
West of the hill was a wide bay sheltered by a low offshore island. There was a broad beach of sand, mud, and scattered large rocks. Higher hills surrounded her little hill, her new home, at some distance on all the other sides, sheltering it from much of the fury of storms.
There were things to catch and scavenge on the beach. There were small creatures to catch in the woods. There were larger animals too, although without a pack to help her hunt these were no use to her. There were fine places for a nest, if she only had a mate.
She loved this place from the moment she saw it. Yet, defeated in her great purpose, she felt empty now.
She wanted to go home. But could she? Shed been lucky enough to get across the desert alive once. Could she count on that luck to take her back the other way?
She was so lonely she was almost ready to try. But one day she found the track of a young raptor. She never found him, but his track told her other velociraptors must live here, however few they might be.
She told herself the strangers must be real people, not members of the other, more common velociraptor species who were too stupid to use or understand the language of hand signs. Real people were rare even in their home range, so the odds were shed never meet one here. But the track had to be from a real person! There just had to be others of her species here! She stayed on her little hill and looked for them.
Toward the end of winter she found another track. It was the size of her own, and fresh enough to have a scent. The scent told her it was a male Velociraptor elegans of about her age. Excited but careful, she tracked him. She wanted to meet him. She left her sign where she hoped he would find it.
She saw him for the first time at dawn, while she watched the full moon set beyond the Bloodwater. He walked into the open onto a small dune to her south. He settled down to watch the moon as if he loved it as much as she did.
She didnt lose her heart to him at first sight, although he was beautiful. He was large for a male of their species, as large as a normal female, as large as Moonchaser was. He was young, strong, and well fed. His right arm seemed strangely thick and heavy, but the extra muscles didnt detract from his beauty. Besides, the feathers on his arm hid most of the bulk.
Moonchaser whistled softly so she wouldnt startle him. She eased out of her sleeping place among the bushes and trotted down the beach to him. His posture showed he was glad to see her. There was nothing stiff or threatening in the way he stood. Yet, he didnt turn to look directly at her or walk toward her. Why didnt he want to meet her?
As she approached, he sighed and turned so she could see his left side. His left eye was gone. The socket was lost in disfiguring scars that ran all the way to his neck.
His left arm was even more horrifying. His fingers were gone. The feathers had all fallen out. Infection had ravaged the rest of his arm. Part of the skin, near the elbow, was still puffy and pink. His arm below the elbow was a twisted stick clothed in ugly scar tissue. One-eye looked at her sadly. He lowered his head in shame.
Moonchaser felt bitter disappointment. She couldnt have a cripple as a matehow could a cripple help feed hatchlings? And she wanted a mate so badly now! She was over three years old and hadnt raised a single hatchling. Her longing for a mate made her disappointment all the more bitter.
She almost hissed and struck at him. Head low, eye dull with a pain worse than any pain his flesh could give him, One-eye obviously expected her to do just that.
But she was so lonely. There was plenty of food to share here. Perhaps she even felt pity for him. She didnt need to chase him away, so she wouldnt.
Besides that, something about One-eye nagged her. She knew something about him was strange. Even as smart as she was, it took her the longest time to understand just what puzzled her about him.
Shed run with him for three days before she finally realized what it was: One-eye was sleek. In fact, he was almost fat. How could a cripple feed himself so well?
She made no moves of courtship, nor did he. But they became friends and companions as the weeks passed. She showed him the new kinds of food to be found at the waters edge. He was quiet, as if the world had taught him to expect nothing but suffering. But he seemed to enjoy her companionship, and he seemed to learn new things as quickly and eagerly as she did herself.
They lived on small game and the gleanings of the Bloodwater until the day Moonchaser found hadrosaur tracks. She passed the tracks by. Two raptors might pull a small hadrosaur down, if they were both healthy, but she knew she couldnt kill one alone, and she knew One-eye couldnt help her.
One-eye seemed to think he could, though. He stopped and examined the tracks with great care. He sniffed them thoroughly. He seemed happy and satisfied. He turned to Moonchaser and held his only hand out, all three fingers sharply curved. He gave the sign with the wrong hand, but she couldnt mistake the meaning. Hunt? One-eye asked.
She looked at him for a long minute. Hesitantly, she returned the sign, using the right hand as he did. Hunt.
One-eye bobbed his head, but now he started acting crazy. He ran up and down the beach, looking at all the rocks. Finally, he picked up a good-sized cobblestone. He scooped it up in his three long fingers and braced it against his forearm below the wrist. He braced his arm against his chest so he wouldnt drop his precious stone. He bobbed his head to her again and trotted down the beach on the trail of their proposed prey. Moonchaser followed, but she had no idea what he meant to do.
The four hadrosaurs backed up against a steep, cut creek bank when they smelled One-eye and Moonchaser coming. They faced outward, stomping, snorting, and threatening. One of them, the largest female, snapped her mouth at One-eye.
One-eye walked straight toward the big female hadrosaur. Moonchaser was terrified. One-eyes action was suicide! The hadrosaur would rear up and trample him to death! In a panic, Moonchaser screeched and jumped in, trying to distract the prey and protect her strange friend.
One-eye stalked toward the hadrosaur. He seemed insanely calm. Suddenly, he jumped forward. He landed on one foot, wildly off balance. He fell to the side. He flicked his tail, hard, to spin his body and accelerate his fall. His arm lashed out, swinging around in a roundhouse with large cobblestone slung in his talons. With all the force of his body behind it, the rock struck the hadrosaur directly on the earspot.
The hadrosaur howled and snapped her head up and back. Her eyes focused on nothing. Blood ran from her ear. She staggered and almost fell. Her trembling, splayed legs seemed barely able to hold her up. The rest of the herd scrambled away upstream in panic.
Moonchaser leaped onto the preys side. Her finger talons dug deep into flesh. She was ready to jump off and run if need be, but the prey didnt seem to know she was there. She lodged her killing claws and stabbed her prey with them. She kicked again and again.
The hadrosaurs bleeding head sagged lower. Her eyes still looked at nothing. One-eye spun again. He struck the preys head with the rock. He struck a third time. With a moan, the hadrosaur sank to her knees.
One-eye leaped straight up. Falling, he brought the cobble down with smashing force where the hadrosaurs skull met her neck. The hadrosaur jerked right off the ground, throwing Moonchaser through the air. She landed hard but rolled upright at once, ready to jump back into the fight.
The hadrosaurs gasps were hoarse and uneven. It shuddered hard and died. One-eye dropped his rock and trotted around to the hadrosaurs torn side. Calmly, he began to eat.
Moonchaser stared at him. She stared at the bloody rock, where it lay on the ground. She wandered over and sniffed it. It was a rock, all right, with real blood on it.
One-eye ate, turning his head all the way around so he could watch her. She picked up the rock. It was very heavy, and she didnt know how to lift it, but she managed after three tries. She threw the rock down. She picked it up again. She threw it down.
Something pushed her. She looked up. One-eye held a prime strip of liver out to her: Eat.
She was fascinated with rocks now. She learned how to hit things with them. In a burst of genius, she realized she could use rocks to smash clams, the living rocks that squirted. They were tasty, and they were reliable food when other prey was scarce.
One night in spring, Moonchaser lay awake all night thinking. In the morning she got up from her sleeping place and stalked toward One-eye, stiff-legged. She growled faintly. Her mind was churning with a strange, delightful conflict between what was and what should be, between instinct and fact. The world was ridiculous, yet wonderful. She didnt know what this strange emotion was, but she liked it.
One-eye just looked at her, puzzled. He rose to his feet as she approached. She stalked up to him, growling, and pushed him with her forehead.
He looked at her.
She nipped him, making him jump. She pushed him with her forehead and growled, deeply.
His face lit up. With a leap he spun and ran from her. She gave him a fair lead and then took off on his trail.
He made it hard for her, but of course she caught him in the end.
They built their first nest on her hill, overlooking the beach. She laid her first clutch of eggs, three beautiful, perfect ones.
They were her first eggs, but they were far from her last.
By the standards of their species, Moonchaser and One-eye had a long time together. They lived to see their children, grandchildren, and even their great-grandchildren.
One spring Moonchaser caught One-eye easily, although she ached and was out of breath by the time she did. But when she caught him, he couldnt mate with her. He looked at her sadly. The old light was gone from his eye.
So this was what it was to be old! But she groomed him, caressed him, and kindled the light in his eye once more. For the rest of his life that light was in his eye whenever he looked at her.
Raptors crowded their hill and the surrounding territory. The young ones were noisier and less disciplined than in the old days. All the excitement was just too much. Gradually Moonchaser and One-eye drifted off to the south, where the coast was lower and the beach was broad and empty. Here they lived by scavenging and catching small things in the tidal pools, and of course by Moonchasers trick of smashing clams between rocks.
In the spring, two years later, the old urges haunted them again. They couldnt mate, but they spent the day happily grooming and caressing each other. It seemed they cared more for each other now than they had ever done before, since they had given up everything else. Side by side, beneath some bushes overlooking a broad and beautiful expanse of beach, the two old lovers slept away the night.
When the sun came up she nudged him and nuzzled him, but he didnt respond. His body was cold, his single eye closed, his face and form peaceful. Quietly, in the depths of the night, as he slept without fear and without pain snug against the side of the one he loved, his old heart had stopped beating.
She put her head and neck across his shoulders and whimpered. Her heart was empty now. The beach and the Bloodwater were colorless and barren. She wanted to leave them, to follow him where he had fled as she had followed him so often in their life together. She lay there through the day and all night, ready to die and stay forever by his side.
But with the next dawn, her heart cried out with one last longing. She wanted to see her children one last time. She struggled to her feet and walked away.
He lay there in the shelter of his last sleeping-place, looking peaceful, looking asleep, as she had seen him times uncounted. She mourned at the thought of leaving him here alone, lonely, and unloved. But no; he was not alone or unloved. Her heart stayed with him, and she would love him forever.
She looked at him one last time, hesitating. Finally she raised her head and wailed. The sound was as weak and broken as she felt herself. She turned her tail on his still form and headed north along the beach.
A large, loud pack occupied her little hill. A young female, guarding her first nest, saw Moonchaser and charged, hissing. Moonchaser admired the beauty of this youngster even as she prepared to die.
But the young mother stopped short. Perhaps she recognized something in Moonchasers scent. Moonchaser couldnt imagine any other reason.
She met some old raptors she recognized. The young ones tolerated her, although they seemed uneasy about it.
The youngsters must not understand who she was. But Moonchaser knew them all. They were her children, hers and One-eyes. To her dim eyes, all the females looked like copies of herself. All the beautiful young males were One-eye as he should have been, unscarred and whole.
She stayed with them for weeks as spring turned into summer. She saw eggs hatch. She saw the new hatchlings, fat and happy, play around the nests. She was seldom hungry, but whenever she could force herself to eat, there was always plenty of food to scavenge.
She saw these raptors use all her old tricks, and all of One-eyes. They searched out the rich foods of the shore, they used rocks as hammers to open clams or split bones, and they hunted in larger, better-organized packs than Moonchaser had ever seen before. Her children prospered. She knew they always would prosper, to the end of time.
On the first hot day of summer, the heat made her feel weak. She sought shelter in the abandoned burrow of some large creature. She scooped it out with her claws and backed into it, enjoying the coolness and quiet it gave her.
From here she could watch the nesting grounds, although her children, her childrens childrens children, couldnt see her anymore. She watched the young adults feed their hatchlings. She watched the hatchlings chase each other and play. She watched them until afternoon. When the heat was greatest, she gently drifted off to sleep.
She awoke to see the moon sinking into a glowing road of silver which stretched away across the Bloodwater, from the beach to forever. She watched the moon, wondering what had awakened her. She almost felt as if somebody else were here.
Yes! A pack of raptors surrounded her. She couldnt see them, but she felt them touching her on every side. She closed her eyes to see them better.
She saw the brothers and sister who had died when she was a hatchling. They had died young, yet their scents said they were grown adults. She saw her parents, most of her children, and some of her grandchildren.
She felt the warmth of a beloved touch along her right side, the touch of One-eye. He leaned against her, watching for danger from his good eye, trusting her to protect his blind side. Her heart soared at his touch.
Were these raptors real? They couldnt be. The Great Huntress, Death, must just be playing tricks, showing the kindness that was the other side of her savagery.
And yet, somehow she thought these shadows were more than mere delirium. She felt their thoughts in the back of her mind. They loved her. They were proud of her. They told her she had lived her life brilliantly, but now it was time to leave.
She knew they were right. She felt no fear. She was content. They nuzzled her and urged her to rise and join their hunt. She stood up, leaving her tired old body behind.
She joined the pack of those who loved her. Together, free in the beauty of the night, they raced down the silver road to the place where the moon lived.
Dr. Hunter chipped away at the soft rock with exquisite care. It was much more fun to dig with his fingers, but the fine work of freeing fossil bones from their matrix required gentler tools; little knives, dentists picks, even a whiskbroom.
Goldsmith whistled to him politely as she approached, so she wouldnt startle him, but he pretended not to hear. He picked up the whiskbroom, sweeping away a few more loosened grains. The hot sun on his back and the jangle of tools on Goldsmiths belt as she walked up the path to the dig couldnt distract him in the least.
He grinned to himself. He knew why Goldsmith was here. Hed play his favorite little game with her. He loved adding to the legend that he lived for nothing but old bones. It wasnt quite true, but Hunter had fun playing his part as outrageously as possible.
Goldsmith stopped. Her shadow fell across Hunters on the rock. Finally, he stopped brushing and turned to face her so that they could talk. You coming down to the camp to watch TV? she signed to him.
Hunter growled and signed back. Why should I? Why watch them plant instruments and jump around in spacesuits on some lifeless rock? Its nothing! The moon landing is just a waste of the taxpayers money, if you ask me. Think how many fossil species we could find if we had a tenth of the money theyve wasted on it!
Goldsmith opened her mouth wide in a grin and danced the little dance of amusement.Bosh. Ive seen your eyes when you look at the moon, old friend. Theres no need to make your heart more of a dry old fossil than it already isif that were even possible.
Hunter looked up at her warmly. Are you sure? They shared a laugh.
He unbent a little.
Well, all right. I admit some features of the space program are likely to be useful; its smart to chart and move rogue asteroids, for one thing. Asteroids have hit Earth in the past, after all. If one did hit us, it would be bad. It might even cause a mass extinction. Perhaps its worth eliminating their threat, however small it may be.
Mining asteroids is our way to the stars, too, Goldsmith said.I know you think its silly, but I still say reaching the stars is the only way our species can escape extinction, in the long run.
Youre a dreamer. I like that about you. But speaking of extinction, have you seen the skeleton lately? Shes beautiful! A perfect Velociraptor elegans, and shes lying here with her chin on her hands as if she passed off peacefully in her sleep. The skeleton is perfectly articulated. Not one bone is missing!
Goldsmith bent low to look at the beautifully preserved specimen. She sniffed the rock even though it had no living scent.
She is beautiful, and perfect. She turned her head sideways to get a closer look at the rock. You know, this female could well be the mother of us all.
Hunter held his own hand against the million-year-old fossil. The three taloned fingers of the skeleton, peacefully curved in sleep beside the delicate jaw, were small but perfect copies of his own deadly claws.
He sat up and nodded, smoothing down the feathers at his neck the way he did when he was lost in deep thought. You could be right. Maybe this was our first mother, or one just like her was. The lab hasnt sent me the potassium-argon date on that volcanic ash yet, but from the stratigraphy I think the rocks shes in are a million years old, plus or minus a hundred thousand. Thats the right age.
I wonder if she was happier than we are, Goldsmith pondered.Think what it would be like to wander the world free, a million years before civilization. To run with a primitive hunting pack with no paperwork, no grant proposals to write
No astronauts landing on the moon, Hunter laughed.How astonished shed be to know her childrens path led them to the moon itself! Could she possibly understand what led us there?
Goldsmith shook her head and rubbed her jaw against Dr. Hunters, affectionately.
Youd better take a break. Im going to think you have a heart, if you keep going on like this. Lets get lunch. Come on. I saw some hadrosaur tracks south of camp.
Good! I could use some fresh meat. That freeze-dried stuff gah! Lets hit the camp first, though. I hate hunting wearing a belt full of tools. And, he grinned at her, while were there, lets watch the astronauts land.
They trotted off down the hill together, side-by-side, their hips almost touching in a way that hinted that some day they might be more than mere friends and colleagues.
And perhaps, somewhere, the former owner of the skeleton saw all this and smiled upon them. But they were scientists. They did not believe in such things.