Long time no see, everyone! I’m bringing this blog back to life and getting ready to begin a new Kindle serial, while also putting out more episodes of Arrivers.
After pondering the title of this new serial and finding it a little vague, I decided to change it from Queensland Crater to a friend’s suggestion of Cretaceous Crater.
The original title will stay as the name of the major landmark in the series.
Hunters going after cloned dinosaurs in a future Australia even more dangerous than the present Outback. That’s the premise. And here’s the first part of a FREE prequel for your reading pleasure!
October 10, 2059
SE Queensland, Australia
Helen Larkwood lay stomach-down on the roof of the armored personnel carrier, dragging on her fourteenth “final cigarette” in a week. The scent carried through cold air to bait their trap. Her joints ached. Every day of her sixty-four years had left its mark.
The Outback had no right to be this cold. Or this green. Immature pines crowded the carrier like it had been parked in a Christmas tree lot. Nighttime mist dabbed her skin, beaded on the barrel and stock of her .50 caliber rifle. Downhill and to her left, a small pond rippled like a living mirror in the moonlight. The trees held birds and Archaeopteryx and bugs, each adding their music to the scene.
“Larkwood, you want me to smoke a few for you?” The annoyingly pleasant voice came from the radio by her gun. Clyde Marshall. A Yank. So of course he never knew when to shut up.
Scowling, she took a hand off the gun’s barrel and jammed the radio’s talk button. “Does silence mean the same thing in your country? Ceratos have good hearing.”
That, she thought, and it’d be rude for me to kill Nicotine right here and now. Better if she departed with it on good terms.
Ceratosaurus seemed drawn to tobacco smoke like catnip. And the team had been tracking a rogue male who seemed too smart to take the bait.
No reply came on the radio. Good. Maybe Clyde was picking up a little sense. Helen got back into position, feeling a slight flare-up of pain in her fingers.
Too old. Too tired. Leave this to someone else.
Clyde and the other members of her team waited a few meters beneath her, inside the carrier. Except for Jack. The slinky little creep was fifty meters to her right, not visible for now. He had wormed himself into the narrow space between two pine trees. A useful talent to have, given the resurrected carnivores stalking the Outback.
Peering through the scope, Helen could make out the shadowy rim of the Crater near the horizon, edged with rough rock that caught the light like shards of broken china. Almost thirty years since the Queensland Rock hit, and killed the country she had called home. Killed it, and left it blank for geneticists to fill the vacuum with primeval monsters.
Helen took one last drag on the cancer stick and spat it out over the carrier’s side. Another dead-end night.
Just then, the moisture-muffled air gained a new sound, a growl that sounded too deep for its owner’s chest cavity. But she knew it all the same.
To her right, Helen saw a pinpoint of white light blink three times, out amid the trees’ thickest crowds. Jack’s signal to her that he heard a Ceratosaurus call.
About bloody time, she thought.
She disengaged the safety on her Saurian-model K75 .50. The rifle was her brainchild, printed in her lab a year before Parliament had closed it down.
The job could have been left to someone else. Should have been. To his credit, Clyde was a talented shot under pressure – a necessity for him to take down four T. rexes during his career – and Jack was none too bad with high explosives.
But taking down a male Cerato meant stealth and speed. It needed someone who was motivated enough to fight for her next meal. And with Parliament’s bounty on these science experiments run amok, most of the money went to the one who delivered the killing blow. That’s what this hunt meant to Helen.
For a handful of ranchers on the outskirts of New Winton, it meant the safety of their livestock. For her, it meant regaining the life she had already lost, and enjoying it for a few more years. That was all she wanted now.
About two hundred yards off, her worn eyes picked up movement, and a distant silhouette climbed a gentle incline by a stream. Helen zoomed in with the rifle’s scope.
Time to get paid, she thought.
Fangs like knives lined the jaws of a horned demon, glinting in moonlight as the Cerato yawned. One could be forgiven if they mistook it for a small Tyrannosaur. Both dinosaurs had about the same body shape, the same shortened forearms. Key differences were clear through the scope, like the Cerato’s four fingers per hand instead of two, or the trio of short horns rising like the blades of push daggers above its sleek head.
A wash of relief and exhilaration charged Helen’s blood. She lined up her sights, tapping the APC’s roof thrice with the toe of her boot, to signal she was about to take a shot.
Oxygen flowed into her smoked lungs. Helen held the breath, let it out slowly. Her index finger curled around the trigger. She squeezed it.
A new sound blared into the tense night. The roar of a heavy engine.
In the same instant, the gun sent an armor-piercing round with a thunderclap. Her earplugs took the brunt of the blast, and the K75’s stock lunged into her shoulder. It hurt worse than she remembered.
Simultaneously, the Cerato had swiveled its head around to look behind it. Her round missed, and reduced a sapling behind the dinosaur to splinters.
She ground her teeth and chambered another round. The edges of her vision turned red. The timing couldn’t have been worse.
Who else is in a vehicle out here?
Helen pondered taking out their engine with a well-placed shot between the headlights. What were they going to do, send a little old lady to federal prison?
The dinosaur gave a quick cry and loped up the hillside. Twin headlights jumped into view. A huge APC like the one she sat on, longer than the Cerato. And it was catching up.
Helen grabbed the radio. “Who the hell is that?”
Clyde’s voice came back. “No one else is on the itinerary. That means we’re dealing with a cartel crew.”
“Damn!” Jack hissed. “And they won’t be the only ones out here.”
Helen swore. If the cartel didn’t already know they were here, her shot certainly gave their position away.
The black market collectors worked for various criminal organizations. Yakuza, the Russian Mafia, the Jade Knives of Beijing, even a few Central American cartels, all in the business of poaching Australia’s prehistoric animals, harvesting teeth and blood, sex organs and brains. Folk medicine still held sway in Asia, and stayed as lucrative as ever.
“Jack,” she said, “get back here. We’re going hunting.”
“What?” Clyde demanded. “You’re not suggesting-”
“I am. We are not losing our bounty.”
“We’re reporting this,” Jack insisted. “Leave it to the drone force to pick them off, Granny.”
She answered slow, level-voiced. Dangerous. “Now don’t make Granny put a boot in your arse. Back here. Now.”
To be continued