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!

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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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Free Dino Art Lessons for Kids!

I have been blessed with the chance to lead free art lessons at events held by the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center. And now I can share some of the lessons I started making.

These are mainly for the little artists in your family, but feel free to try one yourself, if you want.

Here are Brontosaurus, Velociraptor, and Stegosaurus. Entirely free. No copyright. Just print and follow the directions. Make copies if you want.

Kronosaurus and Plesiosaur

I have finished another paleoart painting. This one depicts the giant marine reptile Kronosaurus, catching a Plesiosaur.

At the moment, I am continuing with my writing, and quite looking forward to presenting artwork at the Symposium for the Western Interior Paleontological Society, in March. They invited me to come set up a table in March, so I will be working on some more paleoart, as well as a few landscapes.

[I have started making prints for much of my artwork as well, so please let me know if you’d like to buy one. They make great gifts.]

Finished the Spinosaurus Painting

Here’s my latest finished painting. It is an 8 x 10 acrylic piece on masonite board. Scans of this and other paintings are forthcoming.

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A Spinosaurus aegypticus has just caught a large eel, which is still struggling to liberate itself from the predator’s bite. Unfortunately for the eel, Spinosaur teeth and jaws are designed to catch fish.

Paleo-Art in Progress: Spinosaurus, Part 1

I have been continuing to practice my skills in paleo-art and landscapes. Maybe someday I can get a piece on permanent display in a museum somewhere.

I asked a friend to pick a dinosaur he’d like to see me paint, and he suggested Spinosaurus aegypticus. It was ideal for me to challenge myself. This creature was not like other theropod dinosaurs (all known carnivorous dinosaurs are theropods), so for artists who are used to drawing Tyrannosaurus rex and Velociraptor, this is a good chance to expand their hoirizons.

In addition to being the T. rex-killer from Jurassic Park III, Spinosaurus has grabbed headlines over the last few years for being a dinosaur that likely led a semi-aquatic lifestyle and preyed on fish. In many respects, from a lengthy torso and long narrow jaws to the conical shape of its teeth and its flat feet, it bears strong similarities to modern crocodilians that are specialized to hunt fish.

To reflect this different lifestyle, I decided to portray a Spinosaurus that has just caught a giant eel, still thrashing in its jaws.

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The preliminary sketch.

When this preliminary stage was completed, I traced the design onto a sheet of tracing paper. After that, I used graphite paper to transfer the design onto an 8 x 10 inch masonite board. Then I laid in the base colors with acrylic paint.

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I decided to put in a strong contrast between the dinosaur and the eel by making them red and blue, respectively. This would also help them stand out against the dark background of a swampy forest.

At this stage I wanted to work on the background before concentrating on the animals in the foreground. So I added texture and highlights to the tree bark.

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It became increasingly clear that for this type of painting, the Spinosaur and the eel would have to be darkened considerably. So I simply added darker paint, and now have begun to add in texture on the dinosaur’s skin.

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This is what it looks like now. To be continued...

Much work still waits to be done, but so far I am very happy with how the painting is turning out. I think I’ll add a little more character to the background by painting in a couple of sparse plants and leaves. Then it will be a matter of adding texure, final shades, and highlights to the animals and water. That will be detailed in part 2.

In the meantime, I am looking forward to a weekend at the Writers on the Rock conference in Lakewood, CO, followed by a night at the world-famous “Dinosaur Hotel,” the newly remodeled Best Western Denver Southwest. I figured a writing conference was the perfect excuse to visit this hotel. Assuming things go according to plan (more or less), pictures will soon be posted here for you to enjoy.

Have a great day!

Plesiosaur Family Outing

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Done on a 5 x 7 inch canvas with acrylics. Done as a commission for a friend. Considering the fact that this took one morning to make, I’m pleased with how it turned out!

Megalodon and the Decline of Science: From Enthusiasm to Contempt

After Animal Planet ran some specials regarding mermaids, Discovery Channel released another mockumentary which (a) I haven’t seen but my interest is piqued, and (b) has many scientists and science enthusiasts up in arms, blogging up a storm. Here’s the trailer:

Disclaimers were released with the special, but not ones that flat-out said its scenario is strictly fictional (which is problematic). The program, like the mermaid ones before, is a thought exercise. It asks “What if?” — that beloved question of writers, artists, and anyone with an imagination. What are the charges against this show? As I understand it, it’s a combination of “That’s not real,” “Discovery is abandoning science and reality,” and “People fell for it.”

Can I be honest with you? I can agree that Discovery should have done more to let people know the program was presenting a fictional scenario. However…this show isn’t a threat to science. Where are those “huge numbers” of people who still think mermaids are real after seeing the shows on Animal Planet? Are they hiding behind the conspiracy theorists who think the Moon landings were faked?

People are smarter than that, in general, and are probably tired of getting talked down to. I don’t know about any of you, but I am definitely weary of the fear and fretting, including the endless proclamations that science is somehow harmed by mockumentaries.

Sure, don’t lie to people. But if the show is presented in a “what-if” manner, then bring on the Megalodons!

This is part of a bigger issue that stretches across a much larger canvas, from the endless complaints of scientific inaccuracies in movies to the mindset that scientists have “all” the tools we need to discover truth (as a Christian, that’s something I’ll respectfully disagree with). Without asserting it firmly, I worry that the most vocal supporters of science are turning increasingly contemptuous toward anyone who sees nature in a different way than they do, or who asks different questions.

I speak as someone who loves science. I may not have a PhD, but I love nature. I love science. And I appreciate accuracy and realism, insofar as they go. I grew up with Bill Nye and Beakman’s World. David Attenborough nature specials are sources of beauty and amazement. Bob Bakker and George Blasing can talk about dinosaurs for the rest of eternity without boring me (admittedly that’s already hard to do when we’re talking about dinosaurs). Neil deGrasse Tyson is always a delight when he speaks about astronomy — I met him at the Space Symposium in 2006, and count myself blessed for that.

You know what all of these people have (or had, in some cases) in common? Enthusiasm. I caught the science bug from them because they recognized and shared the wonders and the fun it holds. Where is that today, at least on Facebook and the blogosphere? The internet seems to be where science goes to die, even when the cemetery is marked “National Geographic” or “Discover Magazine.”

Please tell me I’m not crazy. Is anyone else noticing scientists now make more headlines for shouting that creationists and global warming “deniers” are idiots than for encouraging us to finally put humans on Mars? Even Nye and Tyson are starting to get in on the rhetorical bloodshed. The contempt is getting old. Fast.

One incontrovertible fact goes all but ignored by the online community as it does its Chicken Little impressions: nature includes so much more than what we know about or can currently explain, even where it seems no surprises are left. Just because a stone is overturned doesn’t mean a door has been closed on this or that possibility. Giant prehistoric sharks living in the present aren’t “impossible.” I find it doubtful that we’ll discover Megalodons surviving in the ocean. But I’m not going to say something foolish, like “all evidence says it’s extinct.” We don’t have all the evidence.

Contempt finds its roots in hubris and paranoia, both of which are well-displayed in the blogosphere. Passion and humility are what drive curiosity forward and breed enthusiasm.

Reality holds a lot of beautiful surprises. Who could have guessed we’d find gigantic pink slugs living in a lost world? That’s reality. What of the tantalizing possibility that it’s raining diamonds on Uranus and Neptune? And those are just the little things, tiny parts of a huge, mysterious universe that we’re nowhere close to understanding in full. There’s still plenty of room in the world for things that we little humans have a hard time imagining to be real.

Why waste my time yelling at Discovery Channel, when I can go look for those surprises? You’ll find me striving alongside Johannes Kepler to “think God’s thoughts after Him.”