William Mason, as far as I know, is someone I completely made up. If there IS a paleontologist specializing in fossil preparation by that name, I am apparently psychic. In which case…awesome.
Also, everything said here about this particular fossil's distinctive injuries are absolutely true. Except, as far as I know, the bullet part.
Year; nineteen hundred ninety eight.
Location; Chicago, Illinois, USA. Field Museum of Natural History.
Department; McDonald's Bone Prep Lab.
William Mason had dedicated his life to the study of paleontology; in particular, fossil preparation. There was just something so thrilling about carefully, carefully scratching, drilling, and brushing away solid rock, a grain at a time, and watching something that no other human had ever lain eyes on before come to light, one square millimeter at a time. About watching a creature buried for millions of years come together again, an unfathomably ancient animal resurrected.
He was good at it, too. Sharp eyes, a steady, precise hand that a brain surgeon might envy, and limitless patience. William could sit hunched over one bone for hour upon hour, happily scraping away a few square millimeters of rock matrix with a soft paintbrush and a fine dental pick, and often left at the end of his shift only reluctantly.
His aptitude for his chosen field had earned him a place on the team working on one of the greatest paleontological prizes of the decade; the largest, most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton ever found, the crown jewel of the Field Museum's dinosaur collection.
He was so good, in fact, that he was currently working on perhaps the most recognizable feature of the most famous skeleton of the most famous dinosaur ever; the massive skull of Sue, the Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton affectionately named after her discoverer. William was meticulously picking sandy grains of rock out of the curious damage to the lower jaw; a series of pits in the petrified bone that many speculated to be the result of an injury or infection of some sort.
Whatever had happened to the old girl, he thought affectionately, she'd toughed it out. There was new bone growth around the damaged areas; she'd clearly survived whatever injury or sickness had caused the pitting.
You were a terror once, weren't you? He smiled as he brushed a few loosened grains of the sandy rock away. They'd guessed her age at about twenty seven or twenty eight when she'd died; old for a 'Rex. And old hunters only get old by being the meanest, baddest, and smartest. Wonder how many fights you won? How many little Rexes you raised?
His musing was cut off suddenly by a glint that shouldn't be there. He squinted more closely at his work.
He was cleaning out one of the deepest pits in Sue's lower jaw. And when the grains he'd just cleared away had fallen, they'd revealed corroded metal.
What the hell…William blinked, and started carefully picking away rock again.
What felt like minutes later but must have been hours, he picked a final few grains away, and the incongruous bit of metal rolled out of the pit in the jawbone and into the palm of his hand.
William stared at it, feeling his brain going a thousand ways at once and then shutting down completely.
Because he recognized it. And he shouldn't. Because this wasn't possible.
William had four brothers. They'd grown up in northern Minnesota, where every male (and female) over the age of nine hunted. One of William's brothers had become a sheriff. Two had gone into the Army.
And so, even corroded, even almost falling apart, William recognized the thing in his hand, and how utterly, utterly impossible it was.
He was holding a nine millimeter bullet, misshapen from impact with bone, the maker's mark forever lost to corrosion, but still unmistakably a modern nine millimeter bullet.
Pulled from the jawbone of a creature sixty-seven million years dead, unearthed from the rock that had preserved the bones through the ages.
That would be where the infection came from. A small part of his brain was informing him. Tough old bird to survive that.
The rock never lies, William. I wonder…those broken ribs, those injured vertebra in her tail, her injured leg…
He rolled the bullet around in his palm, glanced around the room. His colleagues were absorbed in their work; no one was looking his way. He looked back at the bullet.
It couldn't be here. It went in the face of everything that two centuries of paleontology had painstakingly pieced together. The little piece of metal in his hand could tear apart everything he knew and send the entire discipline that he loved so much into utter upheaval and turmoil. If anyone believed him, that was. And, in all probability, they wouldn't. And if he kept insisting…like he should, in proper stubborn scientific fashion…he could lose the job he'd worked so hard to land.
William was a scientist. But he was also human, with all the flaws that entails. Staring at the bullet in his hand, he came to a decision. He closed his hand tight around the bit of metal, and slid it into his shirt pocket. I will never speak of this. No one will know, and my job will be safe and everything will keep making sense. Maybe, if I keep myself from thinking about it, I can forget this ever happened.
When he left work a few hours later, he threw the bullet into the dumpster out back.
Sue the T-Rex went on display two years later, to wide public excitement and much scientific interest. The curious bone damage….the calcified femur, where some sort of injury or infection had caused massive thickening of the bone, the broken, healed ribs and shoulder, the injury-induced arthritis in a few of her tail vertebra, and the odd pitting on her lower jaw…were all studied and tentatively explained.
The ribs and shoulder had likely been from some sort of fight or fall; perhaps a spat over territory with another Rex, or a slip on loose stone. The leg had clearly been infected; perhaps an injury that festered, went to the bone, and was slow in healing. Where from? Well, she was a predator. There were a thousand different ways for a predator to get injured. The jawbone? Possibly an early form of Trichomonas gallinae, a parasite that was known to infest some bird species. Her tail? Again, there were a thousand different ways for a Rex to get injured. Who really knew?
The one thing that was clear was that none of those injuries had killed her. Whatever trauma she'd endured, Sue had been a tough old battleaxe of a Rex. She'd healed from her injuries and probably had kept terrorizing the local herbivores for years before dying, likely simply from old age.
The bullet was never seen again. On trash pickup day, it was moved from the dumpster to a Chicago dump, buried in newspapers, dirty diapers, and fast food wrappers. It slowly corroded away, and William never spoke a word of its existence to anyone.
And Sue stood motionless, her skeleton snarling silently at the visitors to the Field Museum, and even when a wide-eyed pair of red-haired children blinked up at the massive snarling skull with its jagged complement of six-inch teeth as a silent blond man eyed the crowd warily and a red-haired woman paid for family day passes, she didn't speak a word, and no one ever guessed her secrets.