Chuck’s “The Business End”, from Flickr
Chuck Wendig chose my words – Beast, cape, dinosaur, finger, gate, insult, justice, paradise, research, university.
They were three by the time the reached the gate. Two of Johnson’s partners had backed out of the actual trip, saying they’d be satisfied with evidence. Daniels was the only one crazy enough to volunteer to leave the lab after all the calculations and research were finished. And Peters had always been something of a lone wolf, ever since the disaster at Cape of Good Hope. It couldn’t have been easy, seeing one’s entire squad wiped out due to bad intelligence and the resulting political backlash driving him out of the service.
“I still think you two should be carrying more than just pistols,” Peters said as they stood in front of the gate.
“We’ll be fine. The target isn’t dangerous unless you get very close.” Daniels was calibrating his equipment. Peters shook his head.
“You draw down on something back there with just that 10-mil, you might as well hurl insults. Those might be more effective.”
“Gentlemen, please.” Johnson approached, sporting khaki shorts and sturdy boots as he slipped into a utility vest. Predictions were for a hot, tropical environment with uneven terrain. “It is not as if we are planning to stay there. We are as prepared as we will ever be, and further dawdling may cause us to lose our window.”
Peters shrugged. “I just don’t want to have to drag you two back through, screaming for your mothers.”
Daniels rolled his eyes, finishing the final calibrations at the gate. He checked his watch and synchronized it with the one in the lab. “We’re set. We have three hours, twenty-one minutes. After that another alignment won’t happen for seventy-four hours, sixteen minutes.”
“I don’t want to be stuck there three days. Let’s do this.” Peters cocked his rhino gun. “After you, Professor.”
“I never went to a university doctorate program, but I appreciate the sentiment!” Daniels turned to the gate, which was now filled with a cloying darkness. He took a deep breath and stepped into it.
There was a feeling of vertigo, one similar to the feeling he’d had during the zero-gravity training they’d had. He’d been prepared for the nausea, but not the sudden and complete disorientation. It passed almost immediately, replaced by oppressive humidity and a cacophony of noises made by the sorts of insects and beasts that dwelt in dense jungle areas, but it took the scientist a moment to regather his senses and keep his breakfast down.
He felt a strong hand on his shoulder. Johnson was the oldest member of the trio by at least two decades, but he’d also served in the military and had been keeping himself in shape. It was the only reason Peters had allowed him to join in. Daniels’ citations of Johnson’s monetary contributions, and those of the other moguls, meant little to Peters. His mind was entirely practical and procedural. Daniels often wondered what it was like to live with such an apparent dearth of imagination, but when Peters stepped through the distorted space in the narrow space between trees, Daniels was glad he was there.
“Exhilarating.” Johnson took a deep breath and patted his chest, his mustache crinkling with an earnest smile. “Makes one feel good to be alive, eh?”
“Yeah. Great.” Peters had the butt of his weapon to his shoulder, aiming down the sights as he turned slowly in place. “Daniels, track down the target. I’ll plant our marker.”
Daniels nodded, reaching into his satchel for the thermohemogauge he’d created for this trip. While the directional sensor was a touch crude for his tastes, he was more than a little proud of a ten-meter temperature sensor that could pick up variations in air that indicated when a warm-blooded creature was occupying nearby space. He turned in place for a few moments as Peters activated their low-frequency location beacon and shoved it into the ground near the distortion that indicated their way home.
“Found one.” Daniels looks up and pointed. “That way, about eight meters through this thicket. The ambient temperature’s a bit high for a precise read on what it is, but there’s too much localized differential for it to be anything smaller than…”
“Okay, we get it.” Peters stepped into the brush. “I’m on point. Daniels, you’re behind me. Mister Johnson, watch our tails.”
“I shall. Do be careful not to disturb the surroundings overmuch, gentlemen. We are, after all, serpents in paradise.”
“What do you mean?” Daniels was adjusting the knobs on his device, not looking up as he walked between the other men.
“This is land untouched by human hands, my boy. No pollution, no war, no diseases spread with malicious or underhanded intent.”
“Some of my colleagues would surely like to exploit what resources they can from here, but I simply wanted to see this place for myself. Such purity seems like something from a dream…”
“Quiet.” Peters held up a fist. Both Daniels and Johnson kept quiet as Peters watched the underbrush. He raised two fingers and indicated the others should back up. As they did, a large trunklike leg descended and hit the ground. The noise that followed was a splintering and tearing as the long neck of the dinosaur reached up to allow it access to tastier leaves.
Peters raised his weapon. Daniels touched the shotgun lightly.
“It’s a herbivore, Peters.” The scientist’s voice was barely above a whisper. “No threat to us as long as we don’t get underfoot.”
“We came here to shoot a dinosaur, though. Didn’t we?”
“That we did, my man.” Johnson’s words were filled with awe. “But I do noflcit know if we can do this great creature justice.”
“Only one way to find out.” Daniels swapped his temperature device for another, ensuring it was loaded. He checked his aim, readied his finger, and took a deep breath.
“Nobody make a sound.”
For a moment, it was almost as if the jungle itself was holding its breath along with the three interloping humans.
Then Daniels took the photograph.