Home > Jurassic Park (Jurassic Park #1)(12)

Jurassic Park (Jurassic Park #1)(12)
Author: Michael Crichton

"Miles of them," Grant said. "Electrified fences and moats, together. And usually with a road alongside them as well."

"Just like a zoo," Ellie said.

They went back to the topographical map and looked closely at the contour lines. The roads had been placed oddly. The main road ran north-soutb, right through the central hills of the island, including one section of road that seemed to be literally cut into the side of a cliff, above a river. It began to look as if there had been a deliberate effort to leave these open areas as big enclosures, separated from the roads by moats and electric fences. And the roads were raised up above ground level, so you could see over the fences. . . .

"You know," Ellie said, "some of these dimensions are enormous. Look at this. This concrete moat is thirty feet wide. That's like a military fortification."

"So are these buildings," Grant said. He had noticed that each open division had a few buildings, usually located in out-of-the-way corners. But the buildings were all concrete, with thick walls. In side-view elevations they looked like concrete bunkers with small windows. Like the Nazi pillboxes from old war movies.

At that moment, they heard a muffled explosion, and Grant put the papers aside. "Back to work," he said.


There was a slight vibration, and then yellow contour lines traced across the computer screen. This time the resolution was perfect, and Alan Grant had a glimpse of the skeleton, beautifully defined, the long neck arched back. It was unquestionably an infant velociraptor, and it looked in perfect-

The screen went blank.

"I hate computers," Grant said, squinting in the sun. "What happened now?"

"Lost the integrator input," one of the kids said. "Just a minute." The kid bent to look at the tangle of wires going into the back of the battery-powered portable computer. They had set the computer up on a beer carton on top of Hill Four, not far from the device they called Thumper.

Grant sat down on the side of the hill and looked at his watch. He said to Ellie, "We're going to have to do this the old-fashioned way."

One of the kids overheard. "Aw, Alan."

"Look," Grant said, "I've got a plane to catch. And I want the fossil protected before I go."

Once you began to expose a fossil, you had to continue, or risk losing it. Visitors imagined the landscape of the badlands to be unchanging, but in fact it was continuously eroding, literally right before your eyes; all day long you could hear the clatter of pebbles rolling down the crumbling hillside. And there was always the risk of a rainstorm; even a brief shower would wash away a delicate fossil. Thus Grant's partially exposed skeleton was at risk, and it had to be protected until he returned.

Fossil protection ordinarily consisted of a tarp over the site, and a trench around the perimeter to control water runoff. The question was how large a trench the velociraptor fossil required. To decide that, they were using computer-assisted sonic tomography, or CAST. This was a new procedure, in which Thumper fired a soft lead slug into the ground, setting up shock waves that were read by the computer and assembled into a kind of X-ray image of the hillside. They had been using it all summer with varying results.

Thumper was twenty feet away now, a big silver box on wheels, with an umbrella on top. It looked like an ice-cream vendor's pushcart, parked incongruously on the badlands. Thumper had two youthful attendants loading the next soft lead pellet.

So far, the CAST program merely located the extent of finds, helping Grant's team to dig more efficiently. But the kids claimed that within a few years it would be possible to generate an image so detailed that excavation would he redundant. You could get a perfect image of the bones, in three dimensions, and it promised a whole new era of archaeology without excavation.

But none of that had happened yet. And the equipment that worked flawlessly in the university laboratory proved pitifully delicate and fickle in the field.

"How much longer?" Grant said.

"We got it now, Alan. It's not bad."

Grant went to look at the computer screen. He saw the complete skeleton, traced in bright yellow. It was indeed a young specimen. The outstanding characteristic of Velociraptor-the single-toed claw, which in a full-grown animal was a curved, six-inch-long weapon capable of ripping open its prey-was in this infant no larger than the thorn on a rosebush. It was hardly visible at all on the screen. And Velociraptor was a lightly built dinosaur in any case, an animal as fine-boned as a bird, and presumably as intelligent.

Here the skeleton appeared in perfect order, except that the head and neck were bent back, toward the posterior. Such neck flexion was so common in fossils that some scientists had formulated a theory to explain it, suggesting that the dinosaurs had become extinct because they had been poisoned by the evolving alkaloids in plants. The twisted neck was thought to signify the death agony of the dinosaurs. Grant had finally put that one to rest, by demonstrating that many species of birds and reptiles underwent a postmortem contraction of posterior neck ligaments, which bent the head backward in a characteristic way. It had nothing to do with the cause of death; it had to do with the way a carcass dried in the sun.

Grant saw that this particular skeleton had also been twisted laterally, so that the right leg and foot were raised up above the backbone.

"It looks kind of distorted," one of the kids said. "But I don't think it's the computer."

"No," Grant said. "It's just time. Lots and lots of time."

Grant knew that people could not imagine geological time. Human life was lived on another scale of time entirely. An apple turned brown in a few minutes. Silverware turned black in a few days. A compost heap decayed in a season. A child grew up in a decade. None of these everyday human experiences prepared people to be able to imagine the meaning of eighty million years - the length of time that had passed since this little animal had died.

In the classroom, Grant had tried different comparisons. If you imagined the human lifespan of sixty years was compressed to an hour, then eighty million years would still be 3,652 years-older than the pyramids. The velociraptor had been dead a long time.

"Doesn't look very fearsome," one of the kids said.

"He wasn't," Grant said. "At least, not until he grew up." Probably this baby had scavenged, feeding off carcasses slain by the adults, after the big animals had gorged themselves, and lay basking in the sun. Carnivores could eat as much as 25 percent of their body weight in a single meal, and it made them sleepy afterward. The babies would chitter and scramble over the indulgent, somnolent bodies of the adults, and nip little bites from the dead animal. The babies were probably cute little animals.
But an adult velociraptor was another matter entirely. Pound for pound, a velociraptor was the most rapacious dinosaur that ever lived. Although relatively small-about two hundred pounds, the size of a leopard-velociraptors were quick, intelligent, and vicious, able to attack with sharp jaws, powerful clawed forearms, and the devastating single claw on the foot.

Velociraptors hunted in packs, and Grant thought it must have been a sight to see a dozen of these animals racing at full speed, leaping onto the back of a much larger dinosaur, tearing at the neck and slashing at the ribs and belly. . . .

"We're running out of time," Ellie said, bringing him back.

Grant gave instructions for the trench. From the computer image, they knew the skeleton lay in a relatively confined area; a ditch around a two-meter square would be sufficient. Meanwhile, Ellie lashed down the tarp that covered the side of the hill. Grant helped her pound in the final stakes.

"How did the baby die?" one of the kids asked.

"I doubt we'll know," Grant replied. "Infant mortality in the wild is high. In African parks, it runs seventy percent among some carnivores. It could have been anything - disease, separation from the group, anything. Or even attack by an adult. We know these animals hunted in packs, but we don't know anything about their social behavior in a group."

The students nodded. They had all studied animal behavior, and they knew, for example, that when a new male took over a lion pride, the first thing he did was kill all the cubs. The reason was apparently genetic: the male had evolved to disseminate his genes as widely as possible, and by killing the cubs he brought all the females into heat, so that he could impregnate them. It also prevented the females from wasting their time nurturing the offspring of another male.

Perhaps the velociraptor hunting pack was also ruled by a dominant male. They knew so little about dinosaurs, Grant thought. After 150 years of research and excavation all around the world, they still knew almost nothing about what the dinosaurs had really been like.

"We've got to go," Ellie said, "if we're going to get to Choteau by five."


Gennaro's secretary bustled in with a new suitcase. It still had the sales tags on it. "You know, Mr. Gennaro," she said severely, "when you forget to pack it makes me think you don't really want to go on this trip."

"Maybe you're right," Gennaro said. "I'm missing my kid's birthday." Saturday was Amanda's birthday, and Elizabeth had invited twenty screaming four-year-olds to share it, as well as Cappy the Clown and a magician. His wife hadn't been happy to hear that Gennaro was going out of town. Neither was Amanda.

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