Home > Jurassic Park (Jurassic Park #1)(7)

Jurassic Park (Jurassic Park #1)(7)
Author: Michael Crichton

"Hey, Alan!"

Alan Grant looked up, blinking in the sunlight. He pulled down his sunglasses, and wiped his forehead with the back of his arm.

He was crouched on an eroded hillside in the badlands outside Snakewater, Montana. Beneath the great blue bowl of sky, blunted hills, exposed outcroppings of crumbling limestone, stretched for miles in every direction. There was not a tree, or a bush. Nothing but barren rock, hot sun, and whining wind.

Visitors found the badlands depressingly bleak, but when Grant looked at this landscape, he saw something else entirely. This barren land was what remained of another, very different world, which had vanished eighty million years ago. In his mind's eye, Grant saw himself back in the warm, swampy bayou that formed the shoreline of a great inland sea. This inland sea was a thousand miles wide, extending all the way from the newly upthrust Rocky Mountains to the sharp, craggy peaks of the Appalachians. All of the American West was underwater.

At that time, there were thin clouds in the sky overhead, darkened by the smoke of nearby volcanoes. The atmosphere was denser, richer in carbon dioxide. Plants grew rapidly along the shoreline. There were no fish in these waters, but there were clams and snails. Pterosaurs swooped down to scoop algae from the surface. A few carnivorous dinosaurs prowled the swampy shores of the lake, moving among the palm trees. And offshore was a small island, about two acres in size. Ringed with dense vegetation, this island formed a protected sanctuary where herds of herbivorous duckbilled dinosaurs laid their eggs in communal nests, and raised their squeaking young.

Over the millions of years that followed, the pale green alkaline lake grew shallower, and finally vanished. The exposed land buckled and cracked under the heat. And the offshore island with its dinosaur eggs became the eroded hillside in northern Montana which Alan Grant was now excavating.

"Hey, Alan!"

He stood, a barrel-chested, bearded man of forty. He heard the chugging of the portable generator, and the distant clatter of the jackhammer cutting into the dense rock on the next hill. He saw the kids working around the jackhammer, moving away the big pieces of rock after checking them for fossils. At the foot of the hill, he saw the six tipis of his camp, the flapping mess tent, and the trailer that served as their field laboratory. And he saw Ellie waving to him, from the shadow of the field laboratory.

"Visitor!" she called, and pointed to the east.

Grant saw the cloud of dust, and the blue Ford sedan bouncing over the rutted road toward them. He glanced at his watch: right on time. On the other hill, the kids looked up with interest. They didn't get many visitors in Snakewater, and there had been a lot of speculation about what a lawyer from the Environmental Protection Agency would want to see Alan Grant about.

But Grant knew that paleontology, the study of extinct life, had in recent years taken on an unexpected relevance to the modern world. The modem world was changing fast, and urgent questions about the weather, deforestation, global warming, or the ozone layer often seemed answerable, at least in part, with information from the past. Information that paleontologists could provide. He had been called as an expert witness twice in the past few years.

Grant started down the hill to meet the car.

The visitor coughed in the white dust as he slammed the car door. "Bob Morris, EPA," he said, extending his hand. "I'm with the San Francisco office. "

Grant introduced himself and said, "You look hot. Want a beer?"

"Jesus, yeah." Morris was in his late twenties, wearing a tie, and pants from a business suit. He carried a briefcase. His wing-tip shoes crunched on the rocks as they walked toward the trailer.

"When I first came over the hill, I thought this was an Indian reservation," Morris said, pointing to the tipis.

"No," Grant said. "Just the best way to live out here." Grant explained that in 1978, the first year of the excavations, they had come out in North Slope octahedral tents, the most advanced available. But the tents always blew over in the wind. They tried other kinds of tents, with the same result. Finally they started putting up tipis, which were larger inside, more comfortable, and more stable in wind. "These're Blackfoot tipis, built around four poles," Grant said. "Sioux tipis are built around three. But this used to be Blackfoot territory, so we thought . . ."

"Uh-huh," Morris said. "Very fitting." He squinted at the desolate landscape and shook his head. "How long you been out here?"

"About sixty cases," Grant said. When Morris looked surprised, he explained, "We measure time in beer. We start in June with a hundred cases. We've gone through about sixty so far."

"Sixty-three, to be exact," Ellie Sattler said, as they reached the trailer. Grant was amused to see Morris gaping at her. Ellie was wearing cut-off jeans and a workshirt tied at her midriff. She was twenty-four and darkly tanned. Her blond hair was pulled back.

"Ellie keeps us going," Grant said, introducing her. "She's very good at what she does."

"What does she do?" Morris asked.

"Paleobotany," Ellie said. "And I also do the standard field preps." She opened the door and they went inside.

The air conditioning in the trailer only brought the temperature down to eighty-five degrees, but it seemed cool after the midday beat. The trailer had a series of long wooden tables, with tiny bone specimens neatly laid out, tagged and labeled. Farther along were ceramic dishes and crocks. There was a strong odor of vinegar.

Morris glanced at the bones. "I thought dinosaurs were big," he said.

"They were," Ellie said. "But everything you see here comes from babies. Snakewater is important primarily because of the number of dinosaur nesting sites here. Until we started this work, there were hardly any infant dinosaurs known. Only one nest had ever been found, in the Gobi Desert. We've discovered a dozen different hadrosaur nests, complete with eggs and bones of infants."

While Grant went to the refrigerator, she showed Morris the acetic acid baths, which were used to dissolve away the limestone from the delicate bones.

"They look like chicken bones," Morris said, peering into the ceramic dishes.

"Yes," she said. "They're very bird-like."

"And what about those?" Morris said, pointing through the trailer window to piles of large bones outside, wrapped in heavy plastic.

"Rejects," Ellie said. "Bones too fragmentary when we took them out of the ground, In the old days we'd just discard them, but nowadays we send them for genetic testing."

"Genetic testing?" Morris said.

"Here you go," Grant said, thrusting a beer into his band. He gave another to Ellie. She chugged hers, throwing her long neck back. Morris stared.

"We're pretty informal here," Grant said. "Want to step into my office?"

"Sure," Morris said. Grant led him to the end of the trailer, where there was a torn couch, a sagging chair, and a battered endtable. Grant dropped onto the couch, which creaked and exhaled a cloud of chalky dust. He leaned back, thumped his boots up on the endtable, and gestured for Morris to sit in the chair. "Make yourself comfortable."

Grant was a professor of paleontology at the University of Denver, and one of the foremost researchers in his field, but he had never been comfortable with social niceties. He saw himself as an outdoor man, and he knew that all the important work in paleontology was done outdoors, with your bands. Grant had little patience for the academics, for the museum curators, for what he called Teacup Dinosaur Hunters. And he took some pains to distance himself in dress and behavior from the Teacup Dinosaur Hunters, even delivering his lectures in jeans and sneakers.

Grant watched as Morris primly brushed off the seat of the chair before he sat down. Morris opened his briefcase, rummaged through his papers, and glanced back at Ellie, who was lifting bones with tweezers from the acid bath at the other end of the trailer, paying no attention to them. "You're probably wondering why I'm here."

Grant nodded. "It's a long way to come, Mr. Morris."

"Well," Morris said, "to get right to the point, the EPA is concerned about the activities of the Hammond Foundation. You receive some funding from them."

"Thirty thousand dollars a year," Grant said, nodding. "For the last five years."

"What do you know about the foundation?" Morris said.

Grant shrugged. "The Hammond Foundation is a respected source of academic grants. They fund research all over the world, including several dinosaur researchers. I know they support Bob Kerry out of the Tyrrell in Alberta, and John Weller in Alaska. Probably more."

"Do you know why the Hammond Foundation supports so much dinosaur research?" Morris asked.

"Of course. It's because old John Hammond is a dinosaur nut."

"You've met Hammond?"

Grant shrugged. "Once or twice. He comes here for brief visits. He's quite elderly, you know. And eccentric, the way rich people sometimes are. But always very enthusiastic. Why?"

"Well," Morris said, "the Hammond Foundation is actually a rather mysterious organization." He pulled out a Xeroxed world map, marked with red dots, and passed it to Grant. "These are the digs the foundation financed last year. Notice anything odd about them? Montana, Alaska, Canada, Sweden . . . They're all sites in the north. There's nothing below the forty-fifth parallel." Morris pulled out more maps. "It's the same, year after year. Dinosaur projects to the south, in Utah or Colorado or Mexico, never get funded. The Hammond Foundation only supports cold-weather digs. We'd like to know why."

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