The Lost World Chapter 2

The Lost World

But the men paid no attention.

He shouted, "No, this is a priceless - "

The first of the uniformed men grabbed Levine, and threw him roughly to the sand.

"What the hell are you doing?" Levine yelled, scrambling to his feet. But even as he said it, he saw it was too late, the first of the flames had reached the carcass, blackening the skin, igniting the pockets of methane with a blue whump! The smoke from the carcass began to rise thickly into the sky.

"Stop it! Stop it!" Levine turned to Guitierrez. "Make them stop it!"

But Guitierrez was not moving, he was staring at the carcass. Consumed by flames, the torso crackled and the fat sputtered, and then as the skin burned away, the black, flat ribs of the skeleton were revealed, and then the whole torso turned, and suddenly the neck of the animal swung up, surrounded by flames, moving as the skin contracted. And inside the flames Levine saw a long pointed snout, and rows of sharp predatory teeth, and hollow eye sockets, the whole thing burning like some medieval dragon rising in flames up into the sky.

San Jose

Levine sat in the bar of the San Jose airport, nursing a beer, waiting for his plane back to the States. Guitierrez sat beside him at a small table, not saying much. An awkward silence had fallen for the last few minutes. Guitierrez stared at Levine's backpack, on the floor by his feet. It was specially constructed of dark-green Gore-Tex, with extra pockets on the outside for all the electronic gear.

"Pretty nice pack," Guitierrez said. "Where'd you get that, anyway? Looks like a Thorne pack."

Levine sipped his beer. "It is."

"Nice," Guitierrez said, looking at it. "What've you got there in the top flap, a satellite phone? And a GPS? Boy, what won't they think of next. Pretty slick. Must have cost you a - "

"Marty," Levine said, in an exasperated tone. "Cut the crap. Are you going to tell me, or not?"

"Tell you what?"

"I want to know what the hell's going on here."

"Richard, look, I'm sorry if you - "

"No," Levine said, cutting him off. "That was a very important specimen on that beach, Marty, and it was destroyed. I don't understand why you let it happen."

Guitierrez sighed. He looked around at the tourists at the other tables and said, "This has to be in confidence, okay?"

"All right."

"It's a big problem here."

"What is."

"There have been, uh...aberrant forms...turning up on the coast ever so often. It's been going on for several years now."

"'Aberrant forms?"' Levine repeated, shaking his head in disbelief

"That's the official term for these specimens," Guitierrez said. "No one in the government is willing to be more precise. It started about five years ago. A number of animals were discovered up in the mountains, near a remote agricultural station that was growing test varieties of soy beans."

"Soy beans," Levine repeated.

Guitierrez nodded. "Apparently these animals are attracted to beans, and certain grasses. The assumption is that they have a great need for the amino acid lysine in their diets. But nobody is really sure. Perhaps they just have a taste for certain crops - "

"Marty," Levine said. "I don't care if they have a taste for beer and pretzels. The only important question is: where did the animals come from?"

"Nobody knows," Guitierrez said.

Levine let that pass, for the moment. "What happened to those other animals?"

"They were all destroyed. And to my knowledge, no others were found for years afterward. But now it seems to be starting again. In the last year, we have found the remains of four more animals, including the one you saw today."

"And what was done?"

"The, ah, aberrant forms are always destroyed. Just as you saw. From the beginning, the government's taken every possible step to make sure nobody finds out about it. A few years back, some North American journalists began reporting there was something wrong on one island, Isla Nublar. Menendez invited a bunch of journalists down for a special tour of the island - and proceeded to fly them to the wrong island. They never knew the difference. Stuff like that. I mean, the government's very serious about this."

"Why?"

"They're worried."

"Worried? Why should they be worried about - "

Guitierrez held up his hand, shifted in his chair, moved closer. "Disease, Richard."

"Disease?"

"Yeah. Costa Rica has one of the best health-care systems in the world," Guitierrez said. "The epidemiologists have been tracking some weird type of encephalitis that seems to be on the increase, particularly along the coast."

"Encephalitis'? Of what origin? Viral?"

Guitierrez shook his head. "No causative agent has been found."

"Marty..."

"I'm telling you, Richard. Nobody knows. It's not a virus, because antibody titres don't go up, and white-cell differentials don't change. It's not bacterial, because nothing has ever been cultered. It's a complete mystery. All the epidemiologists know is that it seems to affect primarily rural farmers: people who are around animals and livestock. And it's a true encephalitis-splitting headaches, mental confusion, fever, delirium."

"Mortality?"

"So far it seems to be self-limited, lasts about three weeks. But even so it's got the government worried. This country is dependent on tourism, Richard. Nobody wants talk of unknown diseases."

"So they think the encephalitis is related to these, ah, aberrant forms?"

He shrugged. "Lizards carry lots of viral diseases," Guitierrez said. "They're a known vector. So it's not unreasonable, there might be a connection."

"But you said this isn't a viral disease."

"Whatever it is. They think it's related."

Levine said, "All the more reason to find out where these lizards are coming from. Surely they must have searched..."

"Searched?" Guiiticrrez said, with a laugh. "Of course they've searched. They've gone over every square inch of this country, again and again. They've sent out dozens of search parties - I've led several myself. They've done aerial surveys. They've had overflights of the jungle. They've had overflights of the offshore islands. That in itself is a big job. There are quite a few islands, you know, particularly along the west coast. Hell, they've even searched the ones that are privately owned."

"Are there privately owned islands?" Levine asked.

"A few. Three or four. Like Isla Nublar - it was leased to an American company, InGen, for years."

"But you said that island was searched..."

"Thoroughly searched. Nothing there."

"And the others?"

"Well, let's see," Guitierrez said, ticking them off on his fingers. "There's Isla Talamanca, on the east coast; they've got a Club Med there. There's Sorna, on the west coast; it's leased to a German mining company. And there's Morazan, up north; it's actually owned by a wealthy Costa Rican family. And there may be another island I've forgotten about."

"And the searches found what?"

"Nothing," Guitierrez said. "They've found nothing at all. So the assumption is that the animals are coming from some location deep in the jungle. And that's why we haven't been able to find it so far."

Levine grunted. "In that case, lots of luck,"

"I know," Guitierrez said. "Rain forest is an incredibly good environment for concealment. A search party could pass within ten yards of a large animal and never see it. And even the most advanced remote sensing technology doesn't help much, because there are multiple layers to penetrate-clouds, tree canopy, lower-level flora. There's just no way around it: almost anything could be hiding in the rain forest. Anyway," he said, "the government's frustrated. And, of course, the government is not the only interested party."

Levine looked up sharply. "Oh?"

"Yes. For some reason, there's been a lot of interest in these animals."

"What sort of interest?" Levine said, as casually as he could.

"Last fall, the government issued a permit to a team of botanists from Berkeley to do an aerial survey of the jungle canopy in the central highlands. The survey had been going on for a month when a dispute arose a bill for aviation fuel, or something like that. Anyway, a bureaucrat in San Jose called Berkeley to complain. And Berkeley said they'd never heard of this survey team. Meantime, the team fled the country."

"So nobody knows who they really were?"

"No'. Then last winter, a couple of Swiss geologists showed up to collect gas samples from offshore islands, as part of a study, they said, of volcanic activity in Central America. The offshore islands are all volcanic, and most of them are still active to some degree, so it seemed like a reasonable request. But it turned out the 'geologists' really worked for an American genetics company called Biosyn, and they were looking for, uh, large animals on the islands."

"Why would a biotech company be interested?" Levine said. "it makes no sense."

"Maybe not to you and me," Guitierrez said, "but Biosyn's got a particularly unsavory reputation. Their head of research is a guy named Lewis Dodgson."

"Oh yeah," Levine said. "I know. He's the guy who ran that rabies vaccine test in Chile a few years back. The one where they exposed farmers to rabies but didn't tell them they were doing it."

"That's him. He also started test-marketing a genetically engineered potato in supermarkets without telling anybody they were altered. Gave kids low-grade diarrhea; couple of them ended up in the hospital. After that, the company had to hire George Baselton to fix their image."

"Seems like everybody hires Baselton," Levine said,

Guitierrez shrugged. "The big-name university professors consult, these days. It's part of the deal. And Baselton is Regis Professor of Biology. The company needed him to clean up their mess, because Dodgson has a habit of breaking the law. Dodgson has people on his payroll all around the world. Steals other companies' research, the whole bit. They say Biosyn's the only genetics company with more lawyers than scientists."

"And why were they interested in Costa Rica?" Levine asked.

Guitierrez shrugged. "I don't know, but the whole attitude toward research has changed, Richard. It's very noticeable here. Costa Rica has one of the richest ecologies in the world. Half a million species in twelve distinct environmental habitats. Five percent of all the species on the planet are represented here. This country has been a biological research center for years, and I can tell you, things have changed. In the old days, the people who came here were dedicated scientists with a passion to learn about something for its own sake-howler monkeys, or polistine wasps, or the sombrilla plant. These people had chosen their field because they cared about it. They certainly weren't going to get rich. But now, everything in the biosphere is potentially valuable. Nobody knows where the next drug is coming from, so drug companies fund all sorts of research. Maybe a bird egg has a protein that makes it waterproof. Maybe a spider produces a peptide that inhibits blood clotting. Maybe the waxy surface of a fern contains a painkiller. It happens often enough that attitudes toward research have changed. People aren't studying the natural world any more, they're mining it. It's a looter mentality. Anything new or unknown is automatically of interest, because it might have value. It might be worth a fortune."

Guitierrez drained his beer. "The world," he said, is turned upside down. And the fact is that a lot of people want to know what these aberrant animals represent - and where they come from."

The loudspeaker called Levine's flight. Both men stood up from the table. Guiitierrez said, "You'll keep all this to yourself? I mean, what you saw today."

"To be quite honest," Levine said, "I don't know what I saw today. It could have been anything."

Guitierrez grinned. "Safe flight, Richard."

"Take care, Marty."

Departure

His backpack slung over his shoulder, Levine walked toward the departure lounge. He turned to wave goodbye to Guitierrez, but his friend was already heading out the door, raising his arm to wave for a taxi. Levine shrugged, turned back.

Directly ahead was the Customs desk, travelers lined up to have their passports stamped. He was booked on a night flight to San Francisco, with a long stopover in Mexico City; not many people were queuing up. He probably had time to call his office, and leave word for his secretary, Linda, that he would be on the flight; and perhaps, he thought, he should also call Malcolm. Looking around, he saw a row of phones marked ICT TELEFONOS INTFRNATIONAL along the wall to his right, but there were only a few, and all were in use. He had better use the satellite phone in his backpack, he thought, as he swung the pack off his shoulder, and perhaps it would be-

He paused, frowning.

He looked back at the wall.

Four people were using the phones. The first was a blonde woman in shorts and a halter top, bouncing a young sunburned child in her arms as she talked. Next to her stood a bearded man in a safari jacket, who glanced repeatedly at his gold Rolex watch. Then there was a grayhaired, grandmotherly woman talking in Spanish, while her two fullgrown sons stood by, nodding emphatically.

And the last person was the helicopter pilot. He had removed his uniform jacket, and was standing in short sleeves and tie. He was turned away, facing the wall, shoulders hunched.

Levine moved closer, and heard the pilot speaking in English. Levine set his pack down and beiit over it, pretending to adjust the straps while he listened. The pilot was still turned away from him.

He heard the pilot say, "No, no, Professor. It is not that way. No. Then there was a pause. "No," the pilot said. "I am telling to you, no. I am sorry, Professor Baselton, but this is not known, It is an island, but which one...We must wait again for more. No, he leaves tonight. No, I think he does not know anything, and no pictures. No. I understand. Adi¨®s.

Levine ducked his head as the pilot walked briskly toward the LACSA desk at the other end of the airport.

What the hell? he thought.

It is an island, but which one...

How did they know it was an island? Levine himself was still not sure of that. And he had been working intensively on these finds, day and night, trying to put it together. Where they had come from. Why it was happening.

He walked around the corner, out of sight, and pulled out the little satellite phone. He dialed it quickly, calling a number in San Francisco.

The call went through, rapidly clicking as it linked with the satellite. It began to ring. There was a beep. An electronic voice said, "Please enter your access code."

Levine punched in a six-digit number.

There was another beep. The electronic voice said, "Leave your message."

"I'm calling," Levine said, "with the results of the trip. Single specimen, not in good shape. Location: BB-17 on your map. That's far south, which fits all of our hypotheses. I wasn't able to make a precise identification before they burned the specimen. But my guess is that it was an ornitholestes. As you know, this animal is not on the list -a highly sigificant finding."

He glanced around, but no one was near him, no one was paying attention. "Furthermore, the lateral femur was cut in a deep gash. This is extremely disturbing." He hesitated, not wanting to say too much. "And I am sending back a sample that requires close examination. I also think some other people are interested. Anyway, whatever is going on down here is new, Ian. There haven't been any specimens for over a year, and now they're showing up again. Something new is happening. And we don't understand it at all."

Or do we? Levine thought. He pressed the disconnect, turned the phone off, and replaced it in the other pocket of his backpack. Maybe, he thought, we know more than we realize. He looked thoughtfully toward the departure gate. It was time to catch his flight.

Palo Alto

At 2 a.m., Ed James pulled into the nearly deserted parking lot of the Marie Callender's on Carter Road. The black BMW was already there, parked near the entrance. Through the windows, he could see Dodgson sitting inside at a booth, his bland features frowning. Dodgson was never in a good mood. Right now he was talking to the heavyset man alongside him, and glancing at his watch. The heavyset man was Baselton. The professor who appeared on television. James always felt relieved whenever Baselton was there. Dodgson gave him the creeps, but it was hard to imagine Baselton involved in anything shady.

James turned off the ignition and twisted the rearview mirror so he could see as he buttoned his shirt collar and pulled up his tie. He glimpsed his face in the mirror-a disheveled, tired man with a two-day stubble of beard. What the hell, he thought. Why shouldn't he look tired? It was the middle of the fucking night.

Dodgson always scheduled his meetings in the middle of the night, and always at this same damn Marie Callender restaurant. James never understood why; the coffee was awful. But then, there was a lot he didn't understand.

He picked up the manila envelope, and got out of the car, slamming the door. He headed for the entrance, shaking his head. Dodgson had been paying him five hundred dollars a day for weeks now, to follow a bunch of scientists around. At first, James had assumed it was some sort of industrial espionage. But none of the scientists worked for industry; they held university appointments, in pretty dull fields. Like that paleobotanist Sattler whose specialty was prehistoric pollen grains. James had sat through one of her lectures at Berkeley, and had barely been able to stay awake. Slide after slide of little pale spheres that looked like cotton balls, while she nattered on about polysaccharide bonding angles and the Campanian-Maastrichtlan boundary. Jesus, it was boring.

Certainly not worth five hundred dollars a day, he thought. He went inside, blinking in the light, and walked over to the booth. He sat down, nodded to Dodgson and Baselton, and raised his hand to order coffee from the waitress.

Dodgson glared at him. "I haven't got all night," he said. "Let's get started."

"Right," James said, lowering his hand. "Fine, sure." He opened the envelope, began pulling out sheets and photos, handing them across the table to Dodgson as he talked.

"Alan Grant: paleontologist at Montana State. At the moment he's on leave of absence and is now in Paris, lecturing on the latest dinosaur finds. Apparently he has some new ideas about tyrannosaurs being scavengers, and - "

"Never mind," Dodgson said. "Go on."

"Ellen Sattler Reiman," James said, pushing across a photo. "Botanist, used to be involved with Grant. Now married to a physicist at Berkeley and has a young son and daughter. She lectures half-time at the University. Spends the rest of her time at home, because - "

"Go on, go on."

"Well. Most of the rest are deceased. Donald Gennaro, lawyer...died of dysentery on a business trip. Dennis Nedry, Integrated Computer Systems...also deceased. John Hammond, who started International Genetic Technologies...died while visiting the company's research facility in Costa Rica. Hammond had his grandchildren with him at the time; the kids live with their mother back east and - "

"Anybody contact them? Anybody from InGen?"

"No, no contact. The boy's started college and the girl is in prep school. And InGen filed for Chapter 11 protection after Hammond died. It's been in the courts ever since. The hard assets are finally being sold off. During the last two weeks, as a matter of fact."

Baselton spoke for the first time. "Is Site B involved in that sale?"

James looked blank. "Site B?"

"Yes. Has anybody talked to you about Site B?"

"No, I've never heard of it before. What is it?"

"If you hear anything about Site B," Baselton said, "we want to know."

Sitting beside Baselton in the booth, Dodgson thumbed through the pictures and data sheets, then tossed them aside impatiently. He looked up at James. "What else have you got?"

"That's all, Dr. Dodgson."

"That's all?" Dodgson said. "What about Malcolm? And what about Levine? Are they still friends?"

James consulted his notes. "I'm not sure."

Baselton frowned. "Not sure?" he said. "What do you mean, you're not sure?"

"Malcolm met Levine at the Santa Fe Institute," James said. "They spent time together there, a couple of years ago. But Malcolm hasn't gone back to Santa Fe recently. He's taken a visiting lectureship at Berkeley in the biology department. He teaches mathematical models of evolution. And he seems to have lost contact with Levine."

"They have a falling out?"

"Maybe. I was told they argued about Levine's expedition."

"What expedition?" Dodgson said, leaning forward.

"Levine's been planning some kind of expedition for a year or so He's ordered special vehicles from a company called Mobile Field Systems. It's a small operation in Woodside, run by a guy named Jack Thorne. Thorne outfits Jeeps and trucks for scientists doing field research. Scientists in Africa and Sichuan and Chile all swear by them."

"Malcolm knows about this expedition?"

"He Must. He's gone to Thorne's place, occasionally. Every month or so. And of course Levine's been going there almost every day, That's how he got thrown in jail."

"Thrown in jail?" Baselton said.

"Yeah," James said, glancing at his notes. "Let's see. February tenth, Levine was arrested for driving a hundred and twenty in a fifteen zone. Right in front of Woodside Junior High. The judge impounded his Ferrari, yanked his license, and gave him community service. Basically ordered him to teach a class at the school."

Baselton smiled. "Richard Levine teaching junior high. I'd love to see that."

"He's been pretty conscientious. Of course he's spending time in Woodside, anyway, with Thorne. That is, until he left the country."

"When did he leave the country?" Dodgson said.

"Two days ago. He went to Costa Rica. Short trip, he was due back early this morning."

And where is he now?"

"I don't know. And I'm afraid, uh, it's going to be hard to find out."

"Why is that?"

James hesitated, coughed, "Because he was on the passenger manifest of the flight from Costa Rica - but he wasn't on the plane when it landed. My contact in Costa Rica says he checked out of his hotel in San Jose before the flight, and never went back. Didn't take any other flight out of the city. So, uh, for the moment, I'm afraid that Richard Levine has disappeared."

There was a long silence. Dodgson sat back in the booth, hissing between his teeth. He looked at Baselton, who shook his head. Dodgson very carefully picked up all the sheets of paper, tapped them on the table, making a neat stack. He slipped them back into the manila envelope, and handed the envelope to James.

"Now listen, you stupid son of a bitch," Dodgson said. "There's only one thing I want from you now. It's very simple. Are you listening?"

James swallowed. "I'm listening."

Dodgson leaned across the table. "Find him," he said.

Berkeley

In his cluttered Office, Malcolm looked up from his desk as his assistant, Beverly, came into the room. She was followed by a man from DHL, carrying a small box.

"I'm sorry to disturb you, Dr. Malcolm, but you have to sign these forms....It's that sample from Costa Rica."

Malcolm stood, and walked around the desk. He didn't use his cane. In recent weeks, he had been working steadily to walk without the cane. He still had occasional pain in his leg, but he was determined to make progress. Even his physical therapist, a perpetually cheery woman named Cindy, had commented on it. "Gee, after all these years, suddenly you're motivated, Dr. Malcolm," she had said. "What's going on?"

"Oh, you know," Malcolm had said to her. "Can't rely on a cane forever.

The truth was rather different. Confronted by Levine's relentless enthusiasm for the lost-world hypothesis, his excited telephone calls at all hours of the day and night, Malcolm had begun to reconsider his own views. And he had come to believe that it was quite possible - even probable -that extinct animals existed in a remote, previously unsuspected location. Malcolm had his own reasons for thinking so, which he had only hinted at to Levine.

But the possibility of another island location was what led him to walk unaided. He wanted to prepare for a future visit to this island. And so he had begun to make the effort, day after day.

He and Levine had narrowed their search down to a string of islands along the Costa Rican coast, and Levine was as always very intense in his excitement. But to Malcolm it remained hypothetical.

He refused to get excited until there was hard evidence - photographs, or actual tissue samples - to demonstrate the existence of new animals. And so far, Malcolm had seen nothing at all. He was not sure whether he was disappointed or relieved.

But in any case, Levine's sample had arrived.

Malcolm took the clipboard from the delivery man and quickly signed the top form: "Delivery of Excluded Materials / Samples: Biological Research."

The delivery man said, "You have to check the boxes, sir."

Malcolm looked at the list of questions running down the page, with a check box beside each. Was the specimen alive. Was the specimen cultures of bacteria, fungi, viruses, or protozoa. Was the specimen registered tinder an established research protocol. Was the specimen contagious. Was the specimen taken from a farm or animal-husbandry site. Was the specimen plant matter, propagative seeds, or bulbs. Was the specimen insect or insect-related....

He checked off "No' to everything.

"And the next page, too, sir," the delivery man said. He was looking around the office, at the stacks of papers heaped untidily about, the maps on the walls with the colored pins stuck in them. "You do medical research here?"

Malcolm flipped the page, scrawled his signature on the next form.

"No."

"And one more, sir..."

The third form was a release of liability to the carrier. Malcolm signed it as well. The delivery man said, "Have a good day," and left.

Immediately Malcolm sagged, resting his weight on the edge of the desk. He winced.

"Still hurt?" Beverly said. She took the specimen to the side table, pushed some papers away, and began to unwrap it.

"I'm okay." He looked over at the cane, resting beside his chair behind the desk. Then he took a breath, and crossed the room, slowly.

Beverly had the wrapping off the package, revealing a small stainless-steel cylinder the size of his fist. A triple-bladed biohazard sign was taped across the screwtop lid. Attached to the cylinder was a second small canister with a metal valve; it contained the refrigerant gas.

Malcolm swung the light over the cylinder, and said, "Let's see what be was so excited about." He broke the taped seal and unscrewed the lid. There was a hiss of gas, and a faint white puff of condensation. The exterior of the cylinder frosted over.

Peering in, he saw a plastic baggie, and a sheet of paper. He up-ended the cylinder, dumping the contents onto the table. The baggie contained a ragged piece of greenish flesh about two inches square, with a small green plastic tag attached to it. He held it up to the light, examined it with a magnifying glass, then set it down again. He looked at the green skin, the pebbled texture.

Maybe, he thought.

Maybe...

"Beverly," he said, "call Elizabeth Gelman, over at the zoo. Tell her I have something I want her to look at. And tell her it's confidential."

Beverly nodded, and went out of the room to phone. Alone, Malcolm unrolled the strip of paper that had come with the sample. It was a piece of paper torn from a yellow legal pad. In block printing, it said:

I WAS RIGHT AND YOU WERE WRONG.

Malcolm frowned. That son of a bitch, he thought. "Beverly? After you call Elizabeth, get Richard Levine at his office. I need to talk to him right away."

The Lost World

Richard Levine pressed his face to the warm rock cliff, and paused to catch his breath. Five hundred feet below, the ocean surged, waves thundering brilliant white against the black rocks. The boat that had brought him was already heading east again, a small white speck on the horizon. It had to return, for there was no safe harbor anywhere on this desolate, inhospitable island.

For now, they were on their own.

Levine took a deep breath, and looked down at Diego, twenty feet below him on the cliff face. Diego was burdened with the backpack that contained all their equipment, but he was young and strong. He smiled cheerfully, and nodded his head upward. "Have courage. It is not far now, se?or.

"I hope so," Levine said. When he had examined the cliff through binoculars from the boat, this had seemed like a good place to make the ascent. But in fact, the cliff face was nearly vertical, and incredibly dangerous because the volcanic rock was crumbling and friable.

Levine raised his arms, fingers extending upward, reaching for the next handhold. He clung to the rock; small pebbles broke free and his hand slipped down. He gripped again, then pulled himself upward. He was breathing hard, from exertion and fear.

"Just twenty meters more, se?or," Diego said encouragingly. "You can do it."

"I'm sure I can," Levine muttered. "Considering the alternative." As he neared the top of the cliff, the wind blew harder, whistling in his ears, tugging at his clothes. It felt as if it was trying to stick him away from the rock. Looking up, he saw the dense foliage that grew right to the edge of the cliff face.

Almost there, he thought. Almost.

And then, with a final heave, he pushed himself over the top and collapsed, rolling in soft wet ferns. Still gasping, he looked back and saw Diego come over lightly, easily; lie squatted on the mossy grass, and smiled. Levine turned away, staring at the huge ferns overhead, releasing the accumulated tension of the climb in long shuddering breaths. His legs burned fiercely.

But no matter - he was here! Finally!

He looked at the jungle around him. It was primary forest, undisturbed by the hand of man. Exactly as the satellite images had shown. Levine had been forced to rely on satellite photographs, because there were no maps available of private islands such as this one, This island existed as a kind of lost world, isolated in the midst of the Pacific Ocean.

Levine listened to the sound of the wind, the rustle of the palm fronds that dripped water onto his face. And then he heard another sound, distant, like the cry of a bird, but deeper, more resonant. As he listened, he heard it again.

A sharp sizzle nearby made him look over. Diego had struck a match, was raising it to light a cigarette. Quickly, Levine sat up, pushed the younger man's hand away, and shook his head, no.

Diego frowned, puzzled.

Levine put his finger to his lips.

He pointed in the direction of the bird sound.

Diego shrugged, his expression indifferent. He was unimpressed. He saw no reason for concern.

That was because he didn't understand what they were up against, Levine thought, as he unzipped the dark-green backpack, and began to assemble the big Lindstradt rifle. The rifle had been specially manufactured for him in Sweden, and represented the latest in animal-control technology. He screwed the barrel into the stock, locked in the Fluger clip, checked the gas charge, and handed the rifle to Diego. Diego took it with another shrug.

Meanwhile, Levine removed the black anodized Lindstradt pistol in its holster, and buckled it around his waist. He removed the pistol, checked the safety twice, and put the pistol back in the holster. Levine got to his feet, gestured for Diego to follow him. Diego zipped up the backpack, and shouldered it again.

The two men started down the sloping hillside, away from the cliff. Almost immediately, their clothes were soaked from the wet foliage. They had no views; they were surrounded on all sides by dense jungle, and could see only a few yards ahead. The fronds of the ferns were enormous, as long and broad as a man's body, the plants twenty feet tall, with rough spiky stalks. And high above the ferns, a great canopy of trees blocked most of the sunlight. They moved in darkness, silently, on damp, spongy earth.

Levine paused often, to consult his wrist compass. They were heading west, down a steep slope, toward the interior of the island. He knew that the island was the remains of an ancient volcanic crater, eroded and decomposed by centuries of weathering. The interior terrain consisted of a series of ridges that led down to the floor of the crater. But particularly here on the eastern side, the landscape was steep, rugged, and treacherous.

The sense of isolation, of having returned to a primordial world, was palpable. Levine's heart pounded as he continued down the slope, across a marshy stream, and then up again. At the top of the next ridge, there was a break in the foliage, and he felt a welcome breeze. From his vantage point, he was able to see to the far side of the island, a rim of hard black cliff, miles away. Between here and the cliffs they saw nothing but gently undulating jungle.

Standing beside him, Diego said, "Fant¨¢stico."

Levine quickly shushed him.

"But se?or," he protested, pointing to the view. "We are alone here."

Levine shook his head, annoyed. He had gone over all this with Diego, during the boat ride over. Once on the island, no speaking. No hair pomade, no cologne, no cigarettes. All food sealed tightly in plastic bags. Everything packed with great care. Nothing to produce a smell, or make a sound. He had warned Diego, again and again, of the importance of all these precautions.

But now it was obvious that Diego had paid no attention. He didn't understand. Levine poked Diego angrily, and shook his head again.

Diego smiled. "Se?or, please. There are only birds here."

At that moment, they heard a deep, rumbling sound, an unearthly cry that arose from somewhere in the forest below them. After a moment, the cry was answered, from another part of the forest.

Diego's eyes widened.

Levine mouthed: Birds?

Diego was silent. He bit his lip, and stared out at the forest.

To the South, they saw a place where the tops of the trees began to move, a whole section of forest that suddenly seemed to come alive, as if brushed by wind. But the rest of the forest was not moving. It was not the wind.

Diego crossed himself quickly.

They heard more cries, lasting nearly a minute, and then silence descended again.

Levine moved off the ridge and headed down the jungle slope, going deeper into the interior.

He was moving forward quickly, looking at the ground, watching for snakes, when he heard a low whistle behind him. He turned and saw Diego pointing to the left.

Levine doubled back, pushed through the fronds, and followed Diego as he moved south. In a few moments, they came upon two parallel tracks in the dirt, long since overgrown with grass and ferns, but clearly recognizable as an old Jeep trail, leading off into the jungle. Of course they would follow it. He knew their progress would be much faster on a road.

Levine gestured, and Diego took off the backpack. It was Levine's turn; he shouldered the weight, adjusted the straps.

In silence, they started down the road.

In places, the Jeep track was hardly recognizable, so thickly had the jungle grown back. Clearly, no one had used this road for many years, and the jungle was always ready to return.

Behind him, Diego grunted, swore softly. Levine turned and saw Diego lifting his foot gingerly; he had stepped to mid-ankle in a pile of green animal-droppings. Levine went back..

Diego scraped his boot clean on the stem of a fern. The droppings appeared to be composed of pale flecks of hay, mixed with green. The material was light and crumbly - dried, old. There was no smell.

Levine searched the ground carefully, until he found the remainder of the original spoor. The droppings were well formed, twelve centimeters in diameter. Definitely left behind by some large herbivore.

Diego was silent, but his eyes were wide.

Levine shook his head, continued on. As long as they saw signs of herbivore, he wasn't going to worry. At least, not too much. Even so, his fingers touched the butt of his pistol, as if for reassurance.

They came to a stream, muddy banks on both sides Here Levine paused. He saw clear three-toed footprints in the mud, some of them quite large. The palm of his own hand, fingers spread wide, fitted easily inside one of the prints, with room to spare.

When he looked up, Diego was crossing himself again. He held the rifle in his other hand.

They waited at the stream, listening to the gentle gurgle of the water. Something shiny glinted in the stream, catching his eye. He bent over, and plucked it out. It was a piece of glass tubing, roughly the size of a pencil. One end was broken off. There were graduated markings along the side. He realized it was a pipette, of the kind used in laboratories everywhere in the world. Levine held it up to the light, turning it in his fingers. It was odd, he thought. A pipette like this implied -

Levine turned, and caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of his eye. Something small and brown, scurrying across the mud of the riverbank. Something about the size of a rat.

Diego grunted in Surprise, Then it was gone, disappearing in foliage.

Levine moved forward and crouched in the maid by the stream. He peered at the footprints left by the tiny animal. The footprints were three-toed, like the tracks of a bird. He saw more three-toed tracks, including some bigger ones, which were several inches across.

Levine had seen such prints before, in trackways such as the Purgatoire River in Colorado, where the ancient shoreline was now fossilized, the dinosaur tracks frozen in stone. But these prints were in fresh mud. And they had been made by living animals.

Sitting on his haunches, Levine heard a soft squeak coming from somewhere to his right. Looking over, he saw the ferns moving slightly.

He stayed very still, waiting.

After a moment, a small animal peeked out from among the fronds. It appeared to be the size of a mouse; it had smooth, hairless skin and large eyes mounted high on its tiny head. It was greenish-brown in color, and it made a continuous, irritable squeaking sound at Levine, as if to drive him away. Levine stayed motionless, hardly daring to breathe.

He recognized this creature, of course. It was a mussaurtis, a tiny prosauropod from the Late Triassic. Skeletal remains were found only in South America. It was one of the smallest dinosaurs known.

A dinosaur, he thought.

Even though he had expected I to see them on this island, it was still startling to be confronted by a living, breathing member of the Dinosauria. Especially one so small. He could not take his eyes off it. He was entranced. After all these years, after all the dusty skeletons - an actual living dinosaur!

The little mussaur ventured farther out from the protection of the fronds. Now Levine could see that it was longer than he had thought at first. It was actually about ten centimeters long, with a surprisingly thick tail. All told, it looked very much like a lizard. It sat upright, squatting on its hind legs on the frond. He saw the rib cage moving as the animal breathed. It waved its tiny forearms in the air at Levine, and squeaked repeatedly.

Slowly, very slowly, Levine extended his hand.

The creature squeaked again, but did not run. If anything it seemed curious, cocking its head the way very small animals do, as Levine's hand came closer.

Finally Levine's fingers touched the tip of the frond. The mussaur stood on its hind legs, balancing with its outstretched tail. Showing no sign of fear, it stepped lightly onto Levine's hand, and stood in the creases of his palm. He hardly felt the weight, it was so light. The mussaur walked around, sniffed Levine's fingers. Levine smiled, charmed.

Then, suddenly, the little creature hissed in annoyance, and jumped off his hand, disappearing into the palms. Levine blinked, unable to understand why.

Then he smelled a foul odor, and heard a heavy rustling in the bushes on the other side. There was a soft grunting sound. More rustling.

For a brief moment, Levine remembered that carnivores in the wild hunted near streambeds, attacking animals when they were vulnerable, bending over to drink. But the recognition came too late; he heard a terrifying high-pitched cry, and when he turned he saw that Diego wasscreaming as his body was hauled away, into the bushes. Diego struggled; the bushes shook fiercely; Levine caught a glimpse of a single large foot, its middle toe bearing a short curving claw. Then the foot pulled back. The bushes continued to shake.

Suddenly, the forest erupted in frightening animal roars all around him. He glimpsed a large animal charging him. Richard Levine turned and fled, feeling the adrenaline surge of pure panic, not knowing where to go, knowing only that it was hopeless. He felt a heavy weight suddenly tear at his backpack, forcing him to his knees in the mud, and he realized in that moment that despite all his planning, despite all his clever deductions, things had gone terribly wrong, and he was about to die.

School

"When we consider mass extinction from a meteor impact," Richard Levine said, "we must ask several questions. First, are there any impact craters on our planet larger than nineteen miles in diameter-which is the smallest size necessary to cause a worldwide extinction event? And second, do any craters match in time a known extinction? It turns out there are a dozen craters this large around the world, of which five coincide with known extinctions. .

Kelly Curtis yawned in the darkness of her seventh-grade classroom. Sitting at her desk, she propped her chin on her elbows, and tried to stay awake. She already knew this stuff. The TV set in front of the class showed a vast cornfield, seen in an aerial view, the curving outlines faintly visible. She recognized it as the crater in Manson. In the darkness, Dr. Levine's recorded voice said, "This is the crater in Manson, Iowa, dating from sixty-five million years ago, just when dinosaurs became extinct. But was this the meteor that killed the dinosaurs?"

No, Kelly thought, yawning. Probably the Yucat¨¢n peninsula. Manson was too small.

We now think this crater is too small," Dr. Levine said aloud. "We believe it was too small by an order of magnitude, and the current candidate is the crater near Merida, in the Yucat¨¢n. It seems difficult to imagine, but the impact emptied the entire Gulf of Mexico, causing two-thousand-foot-high tidal waves to wash over the land. It must have been incredible. But there are disputes about this crater, too, particularly concerning the meaning of the cenote ring structure, and the differential death rates of phytoplankton in ocean deposits. That may sound complicated, but don't worry about it for now. We'll go into it in more detail next time. So, that's it for today."

The lights came up. Their teacher, Mrs. Menzies, stepped to the front of the class and turned off the computer which had been running the display, and the lecture.

"Well," she said, "I'm glad Dr. Levine gave us this recording. He told me he might not be back in time for today's lecture, but he'll be with us again for sure when we return from spring break next week. Kelly, you and Arby are working for Dr. Levine, is that what he told you?"

Kelly glanced over at Arby, who was slouched low in his seat, frowning.

"Yes, Mrs. Menzies," Kelly said.

"Good. All right, everyone, the assignment for the holidays is all of chapter seven" - there were groans from the class - "including all of the exercises at the end of part one, as well as part two. Be sure to bring that with you, completed, when we return. Have a good spring break. We'll see you back here in a week."

The bell rang; the class got up, chairs scraping, the room suddenly noisy. Arby drifted over to Kelly. He looked up at her mournfully. Arby was a head shorter than Kelly; he was the shortest person in the class. He was also the youngest. Kelly was thirteen, like the other seventh-graders, but Arby was only eleven. He had already been skipped two grades, because he was so smart. And there were rumors he would be skipped again. Arby was a genius, particularly with computers.

Arby put his pen in the pocket of his white button-down shirt, and pushed his horn-rim glasses up on his nose. R. B. Benton was black; both his parents were doctors in San Jose, and they always made sure he was dressed very neatly, like a college kid or something. Which, Kelly reflected, he would probably be in a couple of years, the way he was going.

Standing next to Arby, Kelly always felt awkward and gawky. Kelly had to wear her sister's old clothes, which her mother had bought from Kmart about a million years ago. She even had to wear Emily's old Reeboks, which were so scuffed and dirty that they never came clean, even after Kelly ran them through the washing machine. Kelly washed and ironed all her own clothes; her mother never had time. Her mother was never even home, most of the time. Kelly looked enviously at Arby's neatly pressed khakis, his polished penny loafers, and sighed.

Still, even though she was jealous, Arby was her only real friend - the only person who thought it was okay that she was smart. Kelly worried that he'd be skipped to ninth grade, and she wouldn't see him any more.

Beside her, Arby still frowned. He looked up at her and said, "Why isn't Dr. Levine here?"

"I don't know," she said. "Maybe something happened."

"Like what?"

"I don't know. Something."

"But he promised he would be here," Arby said. "To take us on the field trip. It was all arranged. We got permission and everything."

"So? We can still go."

"But he should be here," Arby insisted stubbornly. Kelly had seen this behavior before. Arby was accustomed to adults being reliable. His parents were both very reliable. Kelly wasn't troubled by such ideas' "Never mind, Arb," she said. "Let's just go see Dr. Thorne ourselves."

"You think so?"

"Sure. Why not?"

Arby hesitated. "Maybe I should call my mom first,"

"Why?" Kelly said. "You know she'll tell you that you have to go home. Come on, Arb. Let's just go."

He hesitated, still troubled. Arby might be smart, but any change in plan always bothered him. Kelly knew from experience he would grumble and argue if she pushed for them to go alone, She had to wait, while he made up his own mind.

"Okay," he said finally. "Let's go see Thorne.

Kelly grinned. "Meet you in front," she said, "in five minutes."

As she went down the stairs from the second floor, the singsong chant began again. "Kelly is a brainer, Kelly is a brainer...."

She held her head high. It was that stupid Allison Stone and her stupid friends. Standing at the bottom of the stairs, taunting her.

"Kelly is a brainer...."

She swept past the girls, ignoring them. Nearby, she saw Miss Enders, the hall mointor, paying no attention as usual. Even though Mr. Canosa, the assistant principal, had recently made a special homeroom announcement about teasing kids.

Behind her, the girls called: "Kelly is a brainer....She's the queen...of the Screen...and it's gonna turn her green......" They collapsed in laughter.

Up ahead, she saw Arby waiting by the door, a bundle of gray cables in his hand. She hurried forward.

When she got to him, he said, "Forget it."

"They're stupid jerkoffs."

"Right."

"I don't care, anyway.

"I know. Just forget it."

Behind them, the girls were giggling. "Kel-ly and Ar-by...going to a party...take a bath, in their math...."

They went outside into the sunlight, the sounds of the girls thankfully drowned in the noise of everyone going home. Yellow school buses were in the parking lot. Kids were streaming down the steps to their parents' cars, which were lined up all around the block. There was a lot of activity.

Arby ducked a Frisbee that whooshed over his head, and glanced toward the street. "There he is again."

"Well, don't look at him," Kelly said.

"I'm not, I'm not."

"Remember what Dr. Levine said." "Jeez, Kel. I remember, okay?"

Across the street was parked the plain gray Taurus sedan that they had seen, off and on, for the past two months. Behind the wheel, pretending to read a newspaper, was that same man with the scraggly growth of beard. This bearded man had been following Dr. Levine ever since he started to teach the class at Woodside. Kelly believed that man was the reason why Dr. Levine asked her and Arby to be his assistants in the first place.

Levine had told them their job would be to help him by carrying equipment, Xeroxing class assignments, collecting homework, and routine things like that. They thought it would be a big honor to work for Dr. Levine -or anyway, interesting to work for an actual professional scientist -so they had agreed to do it.

But it turned out there never was anything to be done for the class; Dr. Levine did all that himself Instead, he sent them on lots of little errands. And he had told them to be careful to avoid this bearded man ill the car. That wasn't hard; the man never paid any attention to them, because they were kids

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