V: Requiem for the Lizard
Bethany Carter missed her career as a field paleontologist. No one went on extended digs anymore, not since the invasion started, though paleontology had fared better than other scientific fields. The Visitors seemed amused by their fascination with old bones and ancient ecosystems; maybe the reptilian aliens viewed dinosaurs as a kind of kin, or maybe they thought of paleontology as an undisciplined pseudo-science as some human scientists did. Whatever the reason, Bethany's branch of study had missed out on at least some of the oppression and hostility suffered by their brothers and sisters in other disciplines.
But they hadn't missed out on the general danger posed to human population. Unexplained disappearances had quickly stopped most paleontologists from venturing into the field altogether, then when the truth was revealed, most were terrified past the point of even wishing they could go. The discoveries of the few adventurous souls that did dare brave the wilderness were poor since no one strayed more than a few miles from the nearest shelter, and only in Red Dust-supporting areas would anyone venture for even those short jaunts. Most new discoveries now happened in dusty museum basements where unprocessed fossils could still be found by the ton.
But back room discoveries were becoming rare, and research cried for fresh specimens. Grubbing around for bone scraps like the rats so favored by the invaders had long ago lost its fascination. Bethany wanted the Big One, the Find of the Century, the discovery that catapulted paleontology from its nineteenth-century roots truly into the twentieth century. So, after checking local levels of the toxin—Montana was rich in both fossil-heavy badlands and the harsh winters necessary for the life cycle of the toxin-producing bacteria—she told her boss that she was ready for a new find.
No crew would accompany her; none would risk it, even out here where the Visitors rarely came, where it was deadly for most them to breath the air and so low on the military radar that they simply didn't bother. Only Bethany loaded up her jeep with shovels, picks, all the necessary equipment down to toothbrushes and dental picks for delicate work.
"I wish you wouldn't do this," murmured Mick Johnson, curator of the Museum of the Rockies and the man, aside from her father, most responsible for her career choice, his lined face a mix of disapproval and worry. "Finding a new species of dinosaur isn't worth your life. We have plenty to study right here, where it's relatively safe. Besides, even if you did find something major, you wouldn't be able to haul it out yourself."
"I can mark the spot on a map. Someday someone will be able to go back for it." Bethany's face hardened. "This isn't what I was meant to do. I need to be out there, like I was in the early days. The way our forefathers started. I want to be like Barnum Brown and Roy Chapman Andrews! I've gone soft, Mick. Terribly soft. Good grief, I've gained seventy pounds since the first mother ships arrived. Ten pounds a year." She looked unconsciously towards the ceiling though most mother ships were still gone, only a few hanging ominously over the warmer areas of the world, and Montana had never boasted its own. "Besides, what if it wasn't a comet that destroyed the dinosaurs?"
She left the rest unsaid. What if it wasn't a comet? What if the earth's former ruling reptiles were destroyed by something that could be used against them, something more effective than the Red Dust bacteria? They all knew that it was the question that kept them in business, even if no one said it aloud.
"Be careful what you say. Don't let the wrong ears hear that," Mick warned.
Bethany's lips pressed together. She was no resistance fighter, but she tried to do her part. The thought that still, still there were collaborators, even now when the truth was generally known, made her sick.
"I'm going. I'll be all right," she said. "Mick, it's been over seven years. I need out, just for a little while."
"Be careful, kid," the older man said gruffly. He wiped his hands on his pants, removing the stone chips and dust deposited by the skeleton he was preparing, a pretty little compsognathus.
Bethany took his hand and squeezed it. "I promise, Mick. Don't worry, it's not like I have anything to inform on even if I'm captured," she said. "We're all just a bunch of lizard-lovers."
"Depends on the lizards," Mick said. "The dead ones can't eat you."
"Ha. See you in a month or so. Maybe I'll bring back a map to the first Tyrannosaur family group with nest and hatchlings."
"You said you'd be gone two weeks."
Bethany grinned. "Two weeks digging in the dirt, two weeks vacation. I need one."
"So do we all," Mick said softly. "So do we all."