Well, well, a new episode here. Have fun with it :D
Before I begin, a slight warning: when you are attempting to determine the gender of a dinosaur with no other individuals to compare it to, you kind of have to "pull up their skirts," as certain mathematicians put it. I've tried to make it both as PG and PC as possible. Just be aware that some parts of this chapter may be considered rated T for some viewers.
Also: I just found out that an actor also bears the name of Michael Emerson, but the two have no relation to each other whatsoever and I did not have this guy in mind while making the name. Just thought I should throw this out there.
We live in a very strange world. Over ninety-nine percent of the species that ever lived on our planet are now extinct. But what if we could save them? What if we could bring them back to our own world?
Join biologist Michael Emerson as he travels back in time to meet animals that have never existed for millions of years. He will save them from extinction and take them into the present day to give them a second chance.
This time, Michael travels back to the Eocene, where he meets the cousins of all humanity and a very large and definitely very angry bird.
Welcome to the ultimate wildlife sanctuary. Welcome…to Prehistoric Park!
After grabbing a shovel, Norman pulled a jumbo-sized wheelbarrow out of the back of a pickup truck and set it on the ground. He was stood outside the Hadrosaurus paddock. "For those of you not in the know," he began, "Michael brought back his first creatures a couple days ago. And I can imagine he has fun doing that. But I have the real jobs: helping feed the animals, making friends with the animals – some of them, anyway – and, of course…"
Norman picked up his shovel. "Cleaning the paddocks. Probably the least glamorous job of them all."
"Oh, look at it this way Norman, you could be cleaning up after a Brachiosaurus instead," Terry said, who was seated on the hood of a nearby Jeep.
Norman sighed. "Don't give him ideas, Terry," he said. "I suppose, you know, since you're sitting there, you could be helping…"
"Oh, I will," Terry assured, "don't worry. I wanted to take a nice long look at the droppings once they've been shoveled. It's not every day you get to see hadrosaur droppings five minutes after they've been created."
"May heaven help me," Norman muttered, as he grabbed the wheelbarrow and started to walk over to the paddock door. Thankfully, however, Michael arrived just then, providing a bit of salvation.
"Hello, Michael," Norman said, quickly abandoning the wheelbarrow. "Where are you off to?"
"Well, I've planned my next adventure," Michael said. "I'm heading to the Eocene, about 47 million years ago, to prehistoric Germany."
"Germany?" Norman asked, as Terry raised an eyebrow towards Michael. "What can you be bringing back from there?"
"You mean you're…" Terry began, and Michael said, "Yes I am, Terry. There's a quarry near Frankfurt dating to that time period, and it preserves remarkable fossil remains."
"It's renowned throughout paleontological circles," Terry explained to Norman, "because of the wide variety of fossil animals that have been found. A couple years ago, something really exciting showed up…well, you explain, Michael."
"In 2009, scientists unveiled a fossil primate that had been found at the quarry over 25 years previously. It was named Darwinius, in honor of Charles Darwin himself. It was very well preserved, and even its stomach contents were fossilized. We believe that it rests, evolutionary speaking, somewhere on the lineage from early primate to man!"
"Really, then?" Norman asked. "So it's sort of like the grandfather of all humanity, then?"
"I'd say more like the aunt," Michael said. "Either way, it will be a very exciting acquisition for Prehistoric Park!"
"Are you bringing back anything else?" Terry asked.
"Well, the Messel pit does have some other unique species preserved as fossils. Be prepared," Michael winked. "Do you want to come this time, Terry?"
"No thanks," Terry said. "I figure I'd better stay here and help the staff with the dinosaurs," gesturing towards Norman.
"Alright. I'll see you both later," Michael said, picking up his backpack. He started to walk away. "Have fun with the hadrosaurs, Norman," he shouted over his shoulder. And then he was gone.
Norman gave Terry a long, hard look.
"What?" Terry asked innocently.
"'Are you bringing back anything else', you say," Norman muttered. "You had to ask, didn't you."
"Oh. Well. Sorry." Terry smirked. "The wheelbarrow's still over there."
Norman sighed, and walked back to the paddock door.
Leaving Norman to do the shoveling, Michael's team is ready to set off into the Eocene.
All the members of Michael's team wore backpacks containing their supplies, and some of them were carrying plastic cases and small dog crates. "Are we ready, everyone?" Michael asked from in front of the time portal. He received several "readys" and thumbs up from the crew. "Alright then. Let's go!"
The team walked through the portal.
As Michael stepped through, he found himself in a subtropical forest. Tall trees with gnarly roots surrounded him, and it was very hot and humid. The rest of the team came through and started setting up the campsite.
"The first thing that strikes me about the Eocene is that it's very hot," Michael said as he turned the portal off and put away the sticks. "Scientists think this is because a large amount of carbon and methane entered the atmosphere about 55 million years before the present day. That caused the temperature to increase dramatically, and we're at the peak of this rise right now. Then the temperature will start to lower again. It's hard to believe that at the end of the Eocene, the planet will be an icehouse instead of a hothouse."
"Michael, look!" a team member named James whispered. "Over here!"
Michael quietly made his way over to investigate. Over a ridge, he saw a group of small brown mammals that looked vaguely like miniature tapirs. "Those are Propalaeotherium," Michael whispered. "They might not look like it, but they're actually one of the first horses. In fact, these horses are primitive enough that they don't even have hooves yet. So I can't see them running the Preakness any time soon," he smirked.
He watched as the Propalaeotherium foraged for food on the forest floor. They ate many flowers and leaves, but seemed to be focusing on eating fallen fruit that must have dropped from the trees above. The red berries were quickly gobbled up by tiny horse mouths.
What Michael doesn't know is that something else is watching these little horses as well.
Abruptly, one of the horses raised its head, its ears pricked up. It had apparently heard something in the undergrowth.
And then a giant, squawking bird, as tall as Michael and with stubby wings ran from the trees and grabbed one of the Propalaeotherium. The rest of the group fled as the bird snapped the little horse's neck with one bite.
"It's a Gastornis!" Michael said. "And it's just downed one of the Propalaeotherium!"
Michael's team watched as the Gastornis held the now-dead horse with its foot and began to tear away strips of flesh. "It's clearly an ambush predator," Michael whispered. "I'd get a bit closer but I don't trust that bird's attitude. Even though I'm as tall as it is, and it shouldn't hunt animals as big as I am, it might still attack me." The Gastornis was covered with gray feathers, with a crest of black feathers atop its head. But its face was bare like a vulture's, allowing it to stay clean as it continued eating the Propalaeotherium.
As he watched, James shifted his weight, causing a branch under the leaf litter to snap. The Gastornis perked its head up at the noise, causing the horse carcass to snap in two. It then fled back into the forest, carrying the back half of the horse with it.
"It's gone now," Michael said. "But boy, did it strike quickly!" He got up and peered at the half of the Propalaeotherium lying on the ground. "I might have some use for this," he said. "Dennis, can you hand me one of the plastic cases please?"
He picked up the remains with two sticks on the ground and put it into the carrying case, which was totally opaque. "I'm going to take this back to camp and leave the side open," Michael said. "See if I can attract one of the local scavengers. I'm half tempted to slip this into someone's sleeping bag tonight, but catching creatures is more important than personal satisfaction." He laughed. "Alright guys, let's finish setting up."
Meanwhile, back at Prehistoric Park, Norman is concerned about one of the park's current residents.
Norman, having gotten himself out of cleanup duty, was in the nodosaur paddock, feeding his new best friend. The dinosaur wagged its tail in satisfaction as it ate.
Ned the nodosaur was the first dinosaur that Michael encountered on a trip to the Cretaceous period, 70 million years ago. His inherent shyness meant that it took a bit of work getting him to become friendly, but Norman's persistence paid off, and Ned is now very tame.
"Look at him wagging his tail," Norman said. "He's just like some big dog that way." He laughed.
"There's just one thing I'm worried about," Norman said. "When Michael first brought him in, we all assumed he was a male. We came up with the name Ned with that in mind. I kind of like that name, and it's already stuck in my head. But there is still a possibility that Ned might be a girl instead, and then we'd have to change his name. The problem is that I haven't a clue how to check. It's not exactly like we have another animal to compare it to, either."
Norman got his walkie-talkie out. "Maybe Catherine can help." He pressed a button. "Cath, are you there?"
The radio crackled. "Yeah, over."
"I'm a bit curious over here. Is there any chance I can bring Ned over to the clinic for you to have a look at? More specifically, I was wondering if you can try determining his sex, if at all possible."
There was a pause. "I'll see what I can do, Norman. Bring him over at any time. Over and out."
"Well," Norman said, looking at the nodosaur, "now we just have to get him to the clinic."
Back in the Eocene, Michael has discovered something rather startling.
Michael walked up to the edge of a large pond. "I've read about these," he said. "There's a lot of volcanic activity around these parts, and scientists believe that most of the animals at the Messel pit due to carbon dioxide poisoning, which was outgassed from the lakes and ponds. Normally the carbon dioxide rests at the bottom of the water, out of the way of any aquatic animals. But tremors in the ground may have released the gas, causing widespread death of animal life. Something similar happened at Lake Nyos of Cameroon in 1986. The outgassing of carbon dioxide from a tremor killed over a thousand people."
He took a look at the surface of the lake. "Everything seems quiet now – I don't feel any tectonic activity at the moment, and there are turtles swimming about over there. So I'm going to say that everything is safe…for the time being, at least."
At the far side of the pond, a lone Propalaeotherium was drinking. But something else caught Michael's attention. Through a grove of ferns, he saw something rustling in the leaves. From them hopped another small mammal, roughly two feet long. It was colored dark brown, but its fur had a sort of iridescence to it, and it had long legs.
"Look at this," Michael said. "This can only be one thing: a Leptictidium. They have an appearance resembling that of a large elephant shrew. People have studied their fossils, and come to the conclusion that they are one of the only bipedal mammals, along with the kangaroo family and of course humans."
He watched the Leptictidium as it groomed itself and looked around. "I would love to have one of these animals back at Prehistoric Park," Michael smiled. "I have a little dog crate with me to put it in for now, so now the only challenge is catching it. Let's see who's faster!"
Michael lunged for the Leptictidium, which started hopping away. But Michael was faster. He grabbed the mammal with two hands, as gently as possible to avoid hurting it. Once the Leptictidium was in his grip, it started squirming, but Michael attempted to calm it down. "Shh, it's OK, I've got you," he said, but it didn't seem to help.
He released it into the dog crate and set the latch. "Well, that takes care of that," Michael said.
Suddenly, he heard a large splash coming from the pond directly behind him. Michael turned his head and dived to the ground instinctively. He heard another splash but when he was finally able to get a good look, the creature had already vanished back into the water.
"What the blazes was that?" Michael asked. "I couldn't get a decent look at it, but apparently it had a very good look at me."
Michael got up and brushed himself off. "I'll come back later to look for it," he said. "Right now I have a Leptictidium to take back to camp."
Michael has just escaped the grasp of an unknown aquatic predator, and to make matters worse, he hasn't found any sign of the elusive Darwinius at all yet.
Michael departed the pond, walking back towards the campsite.
At the park, vet Catherine is ready to try something nobody has ever done before: determining the gender of a dinosaur.
Catherine slipped on her latex gloves as she heard the door to the clinic open. "That should be Norman and Ned," she said, and walked out to meet them.
Norman and a few other staff members were wheeling in the nodosaur on a metal rolling cart. "Here he is, Catherine," Norman said. "Keep us updated, hmm? I'm anxious." He chuckled.
Catherine smiled. "Have you tranquilized him?"
"What? No. We didn't want to risk it. It would be difficult to dart him with all his armor, anyways."
"He's awake? Then why isn't he strapped down?" Catherine asked.
Norman looked sheepish. "Ah. Yes. That. Well," he began, "as soon as we coaxed him onto the rolling cart, he hunkered down into his little defense position we've been seeing. He hasn't budged since." Norman tapped Ned with a small stick, and nothing happened. "See?"
"Alright," Catherine said. "I'll put him under some sevoflurane once we get him in. But if decides to get up and run around, you know exactly who gets the blame," she laughed.
"Yeah, yeah," Norman said. "Good luck, boy - hopefully boy, anyway," he said to Ned, and patted him on the back. At this the nodosaur lashed out its tail, knocking into a steel shelf and rattling medical equipment. "Whoops," Norman muttered.
Catherine and the vets wheeled Ned into another room.
In the Eocene, Michael checks up on his meat bait, and finds that it has attracted a couple visitors.
Michael kneeled down to look inside the case. "There we are!" he said. "Come down here to get a better look. I hoped these guys would arrive."
A group of ants had been attracted to the meat. But these were no ordinary ants: they were huge, many an inch long. In addition, there were a couple ants with wings inside.
"Despite what you might think," Michael said, "I'm not crazy to be wasting my time catching ants. These are Titanomyrma giganteum, the largest ants ever! Scientists believe they were a precursor to today's army ants."
He watched a trail of ants carrying small chunks of meat away. "Those ants are taking the food back to the nest, wherever that may be. I don't want to get bitten by one of these, though. Modern army ants can bite very hard and can be really painful. Titanomyrma is twice as large."
Michael shut the door of the case. "The couple dozen or so that I've captured should be enough to form a new queen and start a new colony at Prehistoric Park. I'm going to put this with the Leptictidium, and then I'm heading back off to the pond."
While Michael is getting some exercise, Catherine is back at the clinic with Ned the nodosaur.
Ned was sleeping and strapped to a table as the vet staff got ready to work. Catherine was preparing her tools. "It's hard to determine the structure of a dinosaur's reproductive organs when there's nothing to compare them to," she said. "But we think that it was similar to that of chelonians, crocodilians, or birds, or possibly a combination of those. In any case, we're going to use an endoscopic probe to find out."
She held a silver rod with a lens at the end, attached to a plastic cord. "Are we ready?" Catherine asked the staff.
Some of the vet technicians kept an eye on the heart rate and blood pressure displayed as Catherine slipped the probe into the nodosaur's cloaca. Then she turned to a laptop screen, which showed an image from the rod itself.
"There it is. You can see something like phalline tissue here…it means it's definitely male." She smiled. "Norman will be happy."
Catherine removed the endoscopic probe and set it on a metal tray. "It's interesting, though. I've taken a look at some of the other apparatus and they show that Ned has an internal metabolism unlike any animals I've seen in the present day. It's hard to put into words, but I don't think we can tell yet if this is consistent throughout all of the Dinosauria or if it's just species-specific. Time will tell."
She turned to the vet staff. "Alright, let's clean everything up in here and start waking Ned up."
Back in the Eocene, Michael is playing a dangerous game…
Michael was at the pond, holding a large stick. "It's time to find this mysterious water monster. What I'm about to do may seem a bit dangerous, but I think I know what I'm doing. This works with the alligators and crocodiles back in the present day. By tapping the ground and splashing at the water, whatever's in the pond should feel vibrations, and probably come up for a meal. Long story short…don't try this at home."
He began splashing the water with his stick, and soon moved on to thumping the edge of the bank. Michael alternated this, over and over again. "Come on…"
Suddenly, he started backing away, and the mysterious creature launched itself out of the water and onto the bank. When the water receded, an animal that looked like a crocodile crossed with an otter with gray fur stood on the bank.
Michael breathed, "I thought I would find this. They're actually not even from around here. But this is Ambulocetus, and it was an early ancestor of the whales, believe it or not!"
Ambulocetus was part of a cetacean family that still had the ability to come onto land. Despite giving rise to the first completely aquatic whales, it still looked remarkably like a furry crocodilian. And it seems to behave like one, too.
The Ambulocetus snapped at Michael, who said, "Maybe I can get it back to Prehistoric Park. I just need to get it through the time portal…which I haven't set up yet…"
Quickly, he kicked off his shoe to provide a distraction as he scrambled to set up the time portal. The Ambulocetus looked at the shoe, curiously. "Just one more switch…and there!" he said. "Got it…oh my god!"
Back at Prehistoric Park, Norman is about to get a surprise.
Norman was standing on the walkway next to the portal site, thinking. "Ned should be finished soon," he said. "I can hardly wait for him to get back in his paddock. Hopefully Catherine has sorted things out. Terry!" he shouted.
"Yeah?" Terry said, who was outside the fence, walking by.
"Any news from the clinic yet?"
"Not yet," Terry said, and then paused. "Hey, look sharp!" he said, and started to hurry up the stairs to the walkway.
Norman turned around as the portal flared into life. "Michael's back!" he said happily. "Let's see what he's brought home."
Without warning, Michael's shoe flew through the portal and landed on the grounding, bouncing a bit before coming to a stop.
And the Ambulocetus ran through as best it could, snarling in general annoyance at the world around it.
"What on Earth? But…what…where's Michael? Is…"
"Don't worry Norman, if he had been eaten I think there would have been a bit more attached to the shoe!" Terry yelled as he reached Norman. "Wow," he gasped. "He's brought home a beauty."
"He just brought home a giant furry crocodile! Without telling us!"
"It's alright, I think I know where to put this," Terry reassured, as Michael's head stuck through the portal. "Do look after him, if you would," Michael said, and then, after retrieving his shoe, disappeared without saying anything further.
Norman sighed. "Leave it to Michael to bring back some souvenirs."
After taking care of the Ambulocetus, Michael returns to search for his most important target.
"That was great," Michael said as he walked back to camp. "Even though the Ambulocetus isn't native to this area, it's still quite a creature to bag. Its fossils are actually found in what today would be portions of Pakistan, but I suspect it migrated up this way, perhaps in a seasonal search of warmer climes."
He continued trudging back to his tent. "But we still haven't found our Darwinius yet. I've found no sign of one at all, and I'm beginning to suspect they're nocturnal, like some small primates found today. The sun is starting to set now, and I'm probably going to head off tonight for a flashlight and look for them then. Maybe I'll have better luck."
Pretty soon, night fell, and Michael was grabbing a flashlight. "I'll be back in a few hours, if not sooner," he told the crew, and walked off into the jungle.
Over the sounds of insects, Michael said, "This is great! I've been night hiking in other jungles, like Costa Rica and Indonesia, and I haven't lost the excitement. There are all sorts of animals to be found here." He pointed his flashlight upwards. "Look up!"
In the beam of a flashlight, an odd-looking creature with a long tail used clawed arms to clamber through the tree branches. "That's some sort of primitive anteater, something tamandua-like," Michael said, "and you can see bats everywhere! Despite having just evolved, they look nearly identical to the bats of the present day."
Michael stopped talking and instead focused his flashlight on the lower tree branches. The trunks were twisted, like the bottom of a mangrove tree.
And then, he shined his flashlight on a thick branch, and saw two small monkey-like animals, perching on the tree.
Slowly, Michael moved forward, trying not to scare them. "I think this may be it," he whispered. "The one and the only Darwinius."
He made his way right up to the tree branch where the Darwinius watched him, curiously. "They obviously haven't seen anything like me before," Michael continued. "I don't smell like a predator, so they want to see who's come to visit them. Hello!"
In his fascination, Michael hadn't noticed that the noise of insects had ceased.
Instead, he looked at the velvety brown and white mottled fur they sported, and their quick movements. "They look just like any other small primate you might see," he said, "but it's so profound knowing that you're standing next to an animal that means so much for your own species. Now, how am I going to catch them?"
Before he could answer his own question, a squawking, warbling call echoed in the jungle, and the two Darwinius scurried up the tree. Michael whipped around with his flashlight, recognizing the noise. "Up a tree, quick!" he said, turning off his flashlight, and scrambled into the closest tree, climbing as high as he could. "Shhh!"
From underneath him, lit faintly by the light of the moon, the Gastornis stepped softly and carefully. It was turning its head, smelling the air with its open beak. Michael didn't make a sound.
The enormous bird continued to hover around under the tree, unsettlingly long, before moving off to another part of the jungle. It was a full fifteen minutes before Michael started to stir.
"So much for the Darwinius," he said, clearly dejected. "Come on, let's head back to the campsite. I need some sleep."
Michael started walking back, hanging his head in a disappointed way.
In Prehistoric Park, Norman is having problems of his own.
Bathed in the morning light, Norman stood at the door of a metal trailer. "Keep at it, boys!" he said, and wiped his brow. "Well, Ned's quite alright. Catherine went and confirmed that he was a male, so I'm happy for that. Now all we have to do is get him back to his paddock. That's easier said than done, mind you. He's decided to do his old stop-and-drop trick right in the trailer. I'll be back," he said, and disappeared into the trailer.
"Come on, Ned, up! I've got some nice tasty flowers for you if you head back in…come on now, up!" There were two loud bangs, and the trailer rocked back and forth. "Oi! Stop that! Come on now, let's go!"
Ned ran out of the trailer and back into his paddock. "There you are! Good boy!" Norman said, and walked out. "Alright guys, let's get this out of here!" he said. Suddenly his walkie-talkie buzzed. "Norman? Got a bit of a dilemma up here by the hadros, can you come down?"
"What is it, Charles?"
"Well, to be honest, there's a coelosaur up a tree."
Norman paused bemusedly before replying "Alright, I'll be right down. Over and out." He put the walkie-talkie back. "Oh boy," he sighed, and got into his Jeep.
Within minutes, he was next to the Hadrosaurus enclosure and in the door. "It's over back there," Charles pointed him, and Norman walked along the paddock fence to the tree.
The tree itself was leaning over to one side, and that had apparently allowed the Coelosaurus to clamber up. Except now, it was stuck up there.
"Alright…what am I going to do with you…" Norman said. "How on earth did he get himself up there?" he muttered to himself.
It was then that he noticed the tree was leaning dangerously close to the top of the fence. Immediately, he started climbing up the tree himself after the ornithomimid. "Okay, come on down, you're perfectly alright…" Norman was quite precariously positioned and imbalanced on the tree branch.
Seeing Norman coming towards it and the paddock fence nearby, the dinosaur decided to take the option of jumping the fence.
It leapt over the fence top and landed on the other side flawlessly, but the recoil of the tree branch threw Norman off and onto the ground. With a yelp, he landed. Norman had braced himself and he was perfectly alright excepting a few smudges of dirt, but now he had an escaped dinosaur to worry about…
He ran back to his Jeep and shouted at all of the staff who were nearby. "Get in the Jeeps! Herd it back into the paddock! Come on!"
Park keepers ran into their cars and started the engines, driving off to find the Coelosaurus. Norman led the convoy.
"There he is! Get in front of it! Drive him back towards the paddock!" Norman shouted.
The Coelosaurus screeched and started to run, but a Jeep drove in front of it, blocking its path. Instead, it veered to the side.
"Come on! Get it herded! This way!"
Eventually, the dinosaur was barricaded from three sides, and the only way it could run was back through the open door of the paddock. A keeper waiting nearby jumped to close and latch the door. For now, things were under control again.
Inside his Jeep, Norman was panting. "Well…" he gasped, "…that was a bit exciting, I suppose. Whew. There's never a minute's rest in this place. Alright guys, let's clear out. We're done over here for now."
While Norman cleans up, Terry is over at the Dryptosaurus paddock.
Terry put away his walkie-talkie. "Well, one of the Coelosaurus apparently decided to take a stroll," he said. "At least it keeps Norman busy."
He was watching the Dryptosaurus from a small walkway. The pack was devouring a cow, and seemed to be enjoying it.
The pack of Dryptosaurus was rescued after Michael and Terry caught a whole herd of hadrosaurs. Seeing that their preferred prey was gone, they instead went for the humans. Thankfully, Michael escaped their grasp as he went through the time portal, and the now the pack is living in its new home.
"These guys, though, are keeping me busy," Terry said. "A lot comes to mind. Take their food, for instance. So far we've been giving them recently killed cows, and they like them. But I remember that when we first found them, I saw them stalking and hunting their prey. They weren't being offered their food on a silver platter. So we might have to change what we feed the dryptosaurs at some point. Granted, if you offered me a free pizza, I'd eat it too. But it's hardly the same as hunting your prey."
The Dryptosaurus continued to gulp down strips of meat. One of them pulled at the cow's leg, attempting to tear it apart from the rest of the body.
"I guess my point is we still have a lot to learn about these creatures," Terry admitted. "They're not exactly like reptiles, and they're not exactly like birds either. Trial and error might determine what works best and what doesn't. But I'm sure the staff can handle that, no problem."
He leaned on the walkway's railing. "Getting the animals to breed is another of our top priorities. From the start, it was always Michael's goal to raise a thriving population of extinct animals. The trick is getting them to feel safe and comfortable, just like they are in the wild. And I think Prehistoric Park is ready to accept that challenge."
Terry stood and watched the dinosaurs eat.
Back in the Eocene, Michael is still planning to catch more creatures.
Michael sat at the campsite, drinking from his water bottle. "The Darwinius seem to be nocturnal, so there's no sense in looking for them now," he said. "Instead, I'm going to try and lure in some other denizens of the forest."
He picked up a piece of fruit lying on the ground, which was like a durian except much smaller. "I noticed that the Propalaeotherium, those primitive horses we saw yesterday, like to eat fallen fruit. If we bait an area of forest with lots of this fruit, they should come and take advantage of the banquet. From there we may be able to catch them, possibly driving them through the time portal."
Michael sipped at his water bottle. "To be honest, I wasn't planning to catch Propalaeotherium, but they are very gentle creatures, and it might be nice to have them at the park. Plus, it's something to do while we wait for night to fall."
Suddenly, the ground started to rumble, shaking branches in the trees, and Michael could feel small tremors. Other crew members looked around them, curiously. Michael leapt to his feet, but the sensation passed as quickly as it had come. A few leaves floated down to the forest floor.
"That was close," Michael said. "It was just a small tremor, set off by volcanic activity, and it wouldn't harm us at all. But I can't tell what it would take to release the carbon dioxide gas in those ponds," he said. "I hadn't felt any tremors previously, but the fact that they're happening now leads me to believe it might happen again. We want creatures, but personal safety is ultimately more important."
He picked up his backpack. "It's a shame to leave, but I don't want to stay here any longer than necessary with the risk of the gas around," Michael said. "We'll wait until night, make one last search for the Darwinius, and then leave."
Time seems to be running out for the team, and if they want to rescue a Darwinius, they have to do it tonight.
Michael was in the jungle with a couple other team members. The rest were back at camp, waiting for Michael's return and to set up the time portal.
"It's now or never," Michael said as bats flew in and out of his flashlight beam. "We can't get distracted by any other creature while we're out here. I don't want to return to Prehistoric Park without a Darwinius."
His flashlight focused on a tree, and something seemed to shift in the light of the beam. They had stopped near the pond, which was visible off to the side. Bats continued to dart around in the air. "What was it, Dennis?"
"I thought I saw something moving there," Dennis said.
"If it's not a Darwinius, let's not bother," Michael said. He was about to move on when he saw it for himself.
From behind the tree trunk, one, then two animals crawled into view. They had velvety fur and long tails.
Michael froze instantly. "Dennis," he whispered. "Get behind that tree. Make a wide arc so they don't see you. You'll know what to do." He clutched at the handle of the plastic case he held.
Dennis disappeared into the jungle, and Michael slowly started to approach the tree. The two Darwinius behaved exactly as they had the previous night, watching him intently and curiously.
Michael stood right next to the tree and the two primates on the tree trunk. They scurried up to a low-hanging branch, making some sort of squeaking sound. Michael could see Dennis creeping up behind the branch, and proceeded to hold up the plastic case. Slowly, he opened the door.
The two Darwinius watched him, turning their heads. This was certainly a funny creature with the beam of light, and it behaved oddly.
Michael nodded at Dennis.
And suddenly, Dennis lunged forward, spooking the Darwinius. They jumped in the opposite direction…right into Michael's plastic case.
One tail, two tails, and Michael slammed the wire door of the case shut. "Yes!" he said with glee. "Finally! A pair of Darwinius!"
Abruptly, a tremor shook the ground, and Michael was thrown off his feet. He spun around in mid-air to catch the plastic case as it fell, and then landed with a painful thump. He righted himself instantly, to check the surface of the pond.
Numerous aftershocks followed the initial tremor, making it difficult to focus on any one object. But Michael could clearly see the dead bat floating on the surface of the pond, and then more of its kind around it. It was what he had feared.
Clouds of carbon dioxide gas can prove fatal, as the Lake Nyos incident did. And the team doesn't want to be around to breathe one in.
"The ponds have outgassed!" Michael shouted to everyone in range. "Move, guys!" And they fled.
They reached the campsite in mere minutes, and Michael shouted, "Carbon dioxide gas is coming! Pack up and get the portal ready! Quickly!"
Around them, animals panicked. Bats darted among the trees, and several smaller mammals on the ground scurried for safety. They understood the danger, and were taking the easy route out.
The portal flared into life, and the crew members carrying animals were allowed in first. Michael handed the Darwinius to Dennis and shouted, "You guys head through first! I'll bring up the rear!" Michael could see some of the panicked animals around them dart through the portal. Normally he would have been ecstatic, but he did not care about them at the moment.
Michael made sure everyone had gone in as the last remaining person ran through the portal. He braced himself to run through when suddenly, a familiar creature ran from the trees and skidded to a stop in front of him, squawking and flapping its feathers.
Michael tried not to panic. "It's the Gastornis," he said, attempting to breathe normally. "It's just scared at the moment, not hunting. But it's blocking my way."
And then, despite the danger surrounding him, his face lit up in realization. "And maybe that's a good thing! Come on, I'm coming through!"
He ran at the Gastornis, which squawked and ran, startled, away from Michael. And in that case, "away" was straight into the time portal.
This time, Michael may have rescued more animals than he thought he would…
Norman stood atop the walkway watching the first of Michael's team members come through carrying plastic cases. Around their feet, a couple more animals ran through.
"Well, nice parade you've got there," Norman shouted to the team as he watched them head into the holding pen areas and, making the best of the situation, put the loose animals into a nearby pen.
"I'm glad Michael's decided to bring back a few sensible things." Norman looked up. "Where is he, anyway? He didn't come in-"
Norman was interrupted when he saw a giant bipedal bird storm through the time portal, squawking and shaking its feathers. It was followed by an enthusiastic Michael.
"Michael, what the devil have you done now?!" Norman shouted. "I expect you to bring home a couple of monkeys and instead you end up with a giant parrot!"
Michael laughed. "It was either this or getting suffocated by a dangerous cloud of carbon dioxide gas!"
"That doesn't give you a decent excuse!"
Deciding to end the conversation there, Michael hurried over to Dennis as a couple other keepers attempted to shoo the Gastornis into another holding pen. "Michael!" Dennis said. "We brought a couple of other animals back for you!"
"I thought I saw that as you guys hurried in, they were probably trying to escape the gas. What did you find?"
"As best I could see, a couple of Propalaeotherium and a Leptictidium, I think."
"Not bad!" Michael said. "Well, this turned out better that I thought it would!"
Soon, all the animals are moved into tropical paddocks. The Lepticitidium and Propalaeotherium will live together, while the other creatures brought back will live in their own enclosures alone. The Titanomyrma, for the time being, will be put into a glass insectarium in another park building. As for the Darwinius…
Michael was in his study, admiring the newly constructed cage against the wall. It was tall and imitated a tropical environment. From within, the two Darwinius scurried about in the branches, playing with each other. Michael watched in fascination.
"There's a reason they're called Darwinius," Michael said as he watched. "Their discovery was announced in the year that Darwin would be celebrating his 200th birthday. And they're also a grand triumph for evolution. So I'm going to name these two Charles and Emma, just to carry on a bit of tradition."
One of the primates clambered up to the glass and watched the odd creature outside. Michael grinned, and went up closer to the enclosure. Face to face, the two are the bookends of a very old family.
Michael travels back to the Permian in order to rescue some sail-backed oddities.
A herd of lizard-like animals with sails on their backs walks in a wet grassland.
And the park staff has their hands full, again.
Seen from the back seat, a Dryptosaurus pursues a speeding Jeep.
In the meantime, Michael has time to enjoy a very old aunt and uncle.
Well, that's Episode 2 in the bag :) Is anyone excited for the next chapter? I know I am. The same things that applied to reviews and questions for the previous chapter apply here too.
I know that the ol' cloud-of-carbon-dioxide-gas-trick has been done before in the original Prehistoric Park, but you can't really write about the Messel Pit without tipping the hat to such a theory. In any case, it was fun to write.
You wouldn't believe the amount of googling I had to do in order to research material for this chapter, particularly for sexing the nodosaur. Several obscure scientific papers and blog posts later, and I believe I have lost all my dignity.
Anyway, here's the big list:
Approx. 40 Titanomyrma
Additional animals encountered:
See you next time...