Helen Goes Hunting – Prequel for “Cretaceous Crater” Part 1

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

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More Fiction! “Arrivers” and “Queensland Crater”

Long time no see, everyone! Hope you’re all having a blessed day.

I have been spending much time toiling away on new fiction projects. I’m currently waiting to hear back on a couple of stories, and am finishing a few others to go direct to Kindle.

In addition to “Descent,” the long-awaited fifth installment of the Arrivers serial (Due out June 30th) I am starting up another Kindle sci-fi serial for your reading pleasure: Queensland Crater.

Basic premise: right around the time we figure out how to clone dinosaurs in the early 2030s (and everyone wants them alive again without much thought for the implications), a small asteroid just so happens to hit the Outback, and wipes out most of the local ecology. Since Australia is actually large enough to support these animals in a self-functioning ecosystem (unlike a tiny Costa Rican island resort), the advances in genetic engineering enable us to make some very poor decisions, and rewild the Land Down Under with plants, big bugs, Pterosaurs, mammoths, and of course more dinos than you can shake a shotgun at.

Because when the general public clamors for something, it’s always wise to give them what they want.

Queensland1

Don’t worry, we don’t lose koalas and kangaroos forever. When you can rebuild a Stegosaurus from scratch, a wombat is not going to be much of a challenge.

After the law of unintended consequences hits Australia like a ton of bricks, hunters are called in to try and keep the new wildlife populations in check. So if you ever wanted to pick up a high-powered rifle and go T. rex hunting, you finally have a chance to learn what a terrible idea it is. The story follows hunter Tom Wells and his grandfather Clyde, trying to stay alive and make some money while cleaning up someone else’s mess.

[About hunting Tyrannosaurs: no, seriously, the bone pathology on Rex skeletons shows they were extremely hard to kill. They have injuries that should have been fatal, but show signs of healing. Kind of like Wolverine, but without the metal claws or Hugh Jackman’s roguish demeanor.]

So if this sounds like your cup of tea, I look forward to sharing it with you. The first chapter, Queensland Crater, comes out July 7, and the second, Welcome to the Hunt, should be out July 14.

See you at the Crater. Happy hunting!

Screwtape Writes a Response to Rod Dreher’s “The Benedict Option”

I’m not sure if I’m supposed to enjoy writing more Screwtape Letters.

If you have heard of a book called The Benedict Option… well, you could say it “inspired” me to write a shot across its bow.

My Dear Wormwood,

Your continued involvement with your Patient’s fretting and worrying has provided me with some encouragement. I am even entertaining the notion that you are starting to learn from your previous incompetence. A few millennia behind the curve, perhaps, but this change is welcome all the same.

I shall here expound on some material we have covered before, mainly to show you why your efforts have paid off. This will serve in case you have succeeded by mere accident, and I hope it shall be a reminder for the future. You have bungled enough assignments in the past that I must take such precautions.

Your man is a professional worrywort, ever “concerned with preserving God’s kingdom,” never mind that he has mislabeled the Enemy’s kingdom by treating it as one and the same with what it has wrought upon Earth. He conflates the effect with the cause (perhaps not consciously), and treats the preservation of his preferred culture with the same priority as spreading their so-called “Gospel.”

Your Patient is plainly interested in safeguarding what he mistakes for the kingdom as if it had become a dusty relic, one that would crumble to powder at the lightest breath. Perfectly laughable, of course. Has the Enemy placed the keys to His realm in the hand of this tiny mortal? Hardly! The Enemy admittedly has erected a fortress that can spread and adapt and convert at frightening speed, if we become complacent in our work. That fortress must be fought constantly, for it neither crumbles nor retreats.

Additionally, I am gratified to hear of your Patient’s daily paralysis, even to the point of publishing a book, allowing his paralysis to become a contagion. Even if the book contains much of what the Enemy claims to be “Truth,” Our Father Below knows well that poison works best when smuggled inside something nourishing.

You did well in coaxing your patient to accept calamity and defeat before they have even come knocking! He has gone from asking, “What kind of world will my children inhabit, if the world continues to go on its present course?” to stating that the world WILL manifest his every personal nightmare. Not only a general deterioration, but the worst of everything he, in particular, envisions. In most regards, you have ably stopped up the Enemy’s little words from having noticeable effect. “Take up your sword.” “Be salt and light to the world.” “The gates of Hell will not withstand your assault.”

Given our subterfuge, even the Enemy’s whispers need not take effect, if worry is there to shield the Patient’s mind. But the application extends beyond mere dulling of your Patient’s senses. Worry is one of the great forces of rot. Its main effect lies in the spirit world of course, but it also carries over to the mental domain, and finally begins to deteriorate the body as well. We must not forget the lesser effects, for if worry is sufficiently fed, it can cascade into a cycle of atrophy. The mind and body begin to suffer its effects, and soon every trend of persecution and slander will make his little world seem like it is unraveling as surely as his body.

That being said, here stands the great danger to you. At every cost, we must ensure the Patient continues to deflect the Enemy’s encouragement. If the Enemy steals past our barriers, and the antidote to inner defeat sinks in, where there once crouched a gaunt man, timid and trembling, you will see there now strides a mighty warrior. And the likes of such warriors are among the greatest threats to our cause at this point in human history.

But continue your work. Your patient has even come to view retreat and huddling in dark corners as some noble, preservative strategy. That was, I confess, masterful on your part. For if you can convince even the most imposing of soldiers that his side is already on the retreat, often he will drop his sword without need of you to pry it off his corpse.

Your affectionate Uncle,

Screwtape

Fisking a Critique of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”

You occasionally come across someone’s effort to correct an error, but the correction itself is more wrongheaded than Ronald McDonald with the face of Pennywise the Dancing Clown.

Science Insider/Tech Insider decided to try and make some noise about the fifth installment in the Jurassic Park series, under the guise of promoting scientific literacy.

For the most part, they fail spectacularly. Here’s the video:

https://youtu.be/JE6a_ebBaos

I don’t know, Blue doesn’t look amused. Copyright Universal.

How does this video’s content manage to bungle the already-questionable science of Jurassic World? Well, we’re about to find out.

After twice seeing “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” and loving it, I think it’s time for a thorough, old-fashioned fisking.

Fair warning, this goes on for a while. The video’s words will be in bold. For the sake of logic and scientific literacy, here goes:

The newest Jurassic World installment is upon us like a hungry T. rex, who doesn’t have any feathers for some reason.
[Cue obnoxious question marks]

Apart from the ongoing debate about feathers in the lineage of Tyrannosaurs that included T. rex, there’s a very simple reason for this: it’s the same car-stomping, Raptor-tossing, lawyer-eating Tyrannosaurus rex from the original Jurassic Park.

Were you expecting her to sprout plumage in her old age? A fashionable feather boa for a night on the town, perhaps? No. She’s bare and proud.

Some paleontologists have given lip service to the need of maintaining continuity, then complain anyway. But if you’re a storyteller, continuity is going to be one of the biggest concerns. If you’re depicting the same animal, you cannot ignore continuity without shattering that whole “suspension of disbelief” thing.

The case for feathers on T. rex isn’t a very solid one, by the way. At the moment, most of what we’re getting is excuses about why we haven’t found Rex feathers yet. “The soil wasn’t right to preserve them,” “the scale impressions we’ve found were not on parts of the body where you’d expect feathers,” etc. But if we find a Rex (or close cousin) with feathers, then I’ll eat crow with some humble pie a la mode.

1. Many dinosaurs had feathers.

Yes, this has been established, and pointed out ad nauseum. Thank you.

In fact, the point has been so belabored, that the previous movie had Dr. Wu point out what was obvious since Crichton published Jurassic Park in 1990:

Nothing in Jurassic World is natural! We have always filled gaps in the genome with the DNA of other animals, and if their genetic code was pure, many of them would look quite different. But you didn’t ask for reality. You asked for more teeth!”

That right there should have ended paleontologists taking offense at inaccurate dinosaurs in the Jurassic Park universe. Not only is their DNA fragmented and necessarily patched up with other species, but InGen built a theme park with designer animals, crafted to match market expectations of what a dinosaur “ought to” look like.

It doesn’t match reality, but more people still find a scaly raptor more appealing. You’ll draw a bigger crowd with a Mosasaurus the size of a blue whale, rather than the genuine article, which was “only” the length of a tractor trailer.

2. Genetics doesn’t work that way.

This is Jurassic Park 5, and you’re just now figuring that out?

Actually, the video entirely misses the real issue with genetics. They can’t even correct the right inaccuracy:

Sure, some species can breed. That’s how you get a Liger. But the Indoraptor isn’t like a liger. It’s a mix of a type of Tyrannosaur and Raptor, two very different kinds of animals!

Well, that’s kind of right. It’s a hybrid between a Raptor and the Indominus (HENCE THE NAME INDORAPTOR), but the Indominus’ base genome was a T. rex. Close enough.

It would be more like if you tried to breed a lion with a wolf instead. It’s just not going to happen. The DNA isn’t compatible.

Do I really have to say it?

I have to say it, don’t I? [Sigh] Fine!

Tech Insider is playing the part of the investor of questionable intelligence from the first Jurassic World, asking how they got two different kinds of dinosaurs to mate and produce the Indominus.

Just one problem: InGen was not engaging in selective breeding! I thought that had been thoroughly established once we saw DNA being extracted from amber-entombed mosquitos, but someone didn’t get the memo.

To quote Dr. Wu again:

Oh, the Indominus wasn’t bred. She was designed.

InGen adopted the other way to create a hybrid: combine DNA from different types of animals and integrate them into a new whole: the Indoraptor. That’s how they patched up dino-DNA enough to get any animals in the first place.

Ironically, that is much more difficult than selective breeding, since DNA is such a complicated and finicky molecule. And genetic barriers between different types of animals are going to place a huge limit on artificial hybridization for many years to come.

But part of the movies’ whole premise is that InGen somehow figured out how to get around those barriers. Dinosaurs get frog DNA, and now they can change sex and reproduce. The Indominus uses its cuttlefish DNA to camouflage and tree frog DNA to hide from thermal cameras.

Pretty laughable if you’re a geneticist, but when it comes to suspension of disbelief, you’re either on board with that or not. If you go to a Star Wars movie, you know there will be sound in space. You either accept that or you do not.

3. Dinosaurs didn’t roar….their voice box was probably similar to a bird’s.

Where to even start? This all stems from one voice box that resembled a duck’s, recovered from a small dinosaur that actually was kind of birdlike.

But fossils do not preserve everything that goes into animal vocalizations. All those soft, squishy parts are way more likely to rot than fossilize. Go figure.

We can find some clues, but little to nothing that is conclusive. Did T. rex roar? Maybe.

Plus, to state the obvious, dinosaurs were an incredibly diverse group of animals. This is just as irrational as saying all mammals sound alike.

4. Raptors had wings.

Yes, it seems that was the case. Dakotaraptor and Velociraptor do seem to have bumps on their arm bones that would serve as anchoring points for large quill-like feathers. But see Dr. Wu’s point above. These are InGen’s designer raptors, patched together and reassembled into a different organism.

5. Dinosaurs were colorful. Yeah, Jurassic World’s dinosaurs are way too dull.

Ah, I see someone got their hands on a DeLorean and went on a little Jurassic Safari. Now they can confidently state that the species in the film are not even colored right. Glad we got that cleared up.

Sure, earth tones like green and brown are common in today’s reptiles, but paleontologists have found that dinosaurs came in a kaleidoscope of bright colors, just like today’s birds.

Now they’re generalizing two groups of diverse animals, not just one. Plenty of birds have dull or earthen tones, like sparrows and partridges. Not everything is going to be a peacock or macaw. And plenty of reptiles have spectacular colors, like rainbow boas and agamas and chameleons. It’s not just alligators and Komodo dragons.

In living animals, even the same species can exhibit stark differences in coloration, depending on sex, stage of life, environment, etc.

We have to also keep in mind the fact that in larger animals, there is a higher prevalence of dull or uniform colors. Elephants, rhinos, tapirs, hippos, gorillas, etc. But there are exceptions as well, like giraffes. And in Jurassic World, most of the dinosaurs are huge. I tend toward thinking the same prevalence of dull colors occurred in the big ones, but I’ve never seen one alive.

Point being, the animal world is complicated.

—–

If you have gotten all the way through this, thank you. It is much appreciated.

For a long rant, there’s a very simple lesson here: Don’t get your science education from Hollywood blockbusters! Enjoy the ride, but remember to pick up a book or go to a science website if you have a question.

Second lesson: if you’re going to nitpick a movie like it’s supposed to be a museum exhibit in some quest to make yourself hip and relevant, have at it. But be careful to not make mistakes of your own, and make your audience doubly misinformed!

Merry Rexmas

After a long absence, I am returning. Santa Claws, equipped with a giant grabbing claw, would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year. Unless he decides you look like food.

He sees you when you’re sleeping

He knows when you’re awake

You taste the same if you’re bad or good

So just run for goodness sake


Colorado Wildlife, 2017 Edition

Some of the beautiful creatures in our awe-inspiring state, captured as best I can manage on a smartphone that keeps running out of memory. Hope you enjoy them!

Two young bucks, just getting their antlers in.

A turtle and a monster of a koi carp.


Beautiful mallard duck. He must have been used to humans, because I was able to stand just six feet away.


Turtle swimming with fish.