Pangaea, Chapter Eight

Chapter Eight

“Pick a direction,” Emma says.

Anna squints in the sunlight. The three of them are standing in front of the fork in the path again. The ground is damp, and there are drops of moisture on the leaves of the plants; it probably rained while they were inside. “I’d be very interested,” Ian says, “in seeing the Cretaceous section.” Anna makes a noise of agreement.

“All right.” Emma strides down the path marked CRETACEOUS THIS WAY, and Ian and Anna follow her. The path doesn’t last very long; after a minute or two, they come to an escalator, which is already heading downwards. Another one, going up, starts a few feet away and unloads onto the main path.

“I thought it looked like a drop-off,” Anna says, nodding. Ian takes her hand, and the three of them climb onto the next available step. The hill they’re going down is very steep, and all three instinctively clutch the handrails. Ian looks around as they descend. Rising above them is a wooden boardwalk, held up by metal poles.

“That’s the bridge to the hotels,” Emma says, following his gaze.

“Real quick,” Anna says, and points behind them, to the ground that’s slowly rising above their heads. “What’s that building for?” Ian looks at where she’s pointing and doesn’t see anything at first; he had been looking ahead, trying to see the hotels. After a moment, he sees that that isn’t just a thick jungle above them—it’s some kind of mural painted on the side of a huge building, partially hidden by trees, which are obviously intended to camouflage it.

“That’s left over from before,” Emma says promptly. “We needed a building to breed the first batch of animals in. That building is just labs and hatcheries and such. It’s empty now. It was cheaper to leave it standing.”

“Why did you need to camouflage it?”

“The animals had to be eased into their habitats,” Emma tells her, “and their surroundings needed to look as natural as possible.”

“The animals would just have seen it as a big white brick,” Malcolm says, “if they could see it at all.”

As they reach the bottom of the escalator, Emma straightens up. “I wasn’t there when that particular decision was made. And neither were you.”

They get off of the escalator, and in spite of himself, in spite of everything he knows and everything he’s seen, in spite of his doubts and expectations, Ian stands stock-still and stares at the structure before them. He didn’t see it from above, and now the enormous glass building is towering above them, the beginning of a sunset streaming through and making its walls and crossed silver struts reflect orange rays in every direction. It’s quite tall, a curved, rounded rectangle-shaped dome that’s incredibly sleek and futuristic. But that’s not what makes Ian and, a second later, Anna look at it with wonder—it’s what seems to be inside, at least, what they can see through the silver bars on its sides. It looks like a whole new world inside. There appear to be trees, tall grass, small birds—

“Is that an ankylosaur?” Anna asks quietly.

“That’s a styracosaur,” Ian whispers. “Those are…”

“This way,” Emma calls out, and Ian follows her over to a set of doors on the side of the building, with Anna in tow. There are four sets of doors; they go through the first on the right. The first thought in Ian’s mind when they get inside is that it looks like a bank. There are two very long queue areas, demarcated by low metal rails, in front of two hallways. A wall on the far side of the room has rows of words painted on it. Ian quickly reads:

AUTOMATIC TOUR THIS WAY—TRAIN ACCOMMODATES SIXTY PASSENGERS MAXIMUM

And on the other side,

SELF-GUIDED TOUR THIS WAY—PLEASE, WAIT YOUR TURN

In the center,

DO NOT TOUCH THE GLASS

BE CONSIDERATE OF OTHER VISITORS

REMAIN IN YOUR SEAT WHILE ON AUTOMATIC TOUR,

followed by the motion-sickness symbol and the words MOTION SICKNESS MAY OCCUR.

“What’s the automatic?” Ian asks.

“A train,” Emma answers. “Much like a monorail. It goes to a different part of the environment than the walkway does.”

“Self-guided?” Anna asks. Emma nods, and Emma and Ian make their way left, through the winding line area, to get to the Self-Guided entrance; Anna climbs over the metal rails and meets them in front of a tall escalator with no visible end from the ground. Emma lifts one of the poles attached to a velvet rope and puts it aside.

“No oxygen difference,” Ian says, noticing the lack of heaviness in his lungs.

Emma shakes her head. “Visitors and dinosaurs don’t share space here.”

They board the escalator and ride upwards for a few minutes, Anna talking excitedly about reptilian characteristics. Finally, the escalator deposits them at the top, onto a wide hallway. Emma leads the way into the hall, stops twenty feet or so in and spreads her arms out. “Isn’t it magnificent?” The building feels huge from the inside, and it’s almost like being outdoors, with sunlight streaming in from all angles and the outside clearly visible through the glass walls; the metal bars are on the outside of the building everywhere except the wall between the habitat and the lobby, where they’re on the inside. The walkway they’re standing on is wide enough to accommodate at least seven people standing shoulder-to-shoulder, but the enclosed space in the center of the building is much, much bigger. Glass walls enclose the forested area that dominates the building, and Ian notices that the floor of the walkway they’re standing on is made of glass, too, so it’s almost as if they’re inside the jungle, floating above the ground; the effect is disorienting. Ian and Anna immediately stand in front of the glass wall to their right; Ian puts his hands on the glass and leans forward, his now-ragged breath fogging the glass. “Don’t touch,” Emma reminds him, but he doesn’t hear her.

He’s seen paleo art before, but nothing like this, nothing this vivid. It’s like looking in a textbook at first, at a very detailed oil painting, but it can’t be; the light shining on the animals’ skin is nuanced too perfectly, the plants are too lush, the trees are too textured, the colors of the sunset behind them are too deep. He’s only seen this type of scene in textbooks and paintings before, so it’s hard to believe he’s seeing anything else, but below him, undeniably real, is a flourishing swamp, and around it are at least four kinds of dinosaurs. The fact that there are dinosaurs there in itself isn’t what’s breathtaking; it’s the different kinds, all in groups, drinking and calling to one another and swinging their tails back and forth, all at the same time. It’s so peaceful, a scene from a different world, and Ian, who’s already seen one of the four kinds of dinosaurs lapping their tongues and grazing in the marshy land below, takes a minute or two to be able to look at it with a critical eye.

None of the different species interact with one another or even seem to notice that other kinds of animals are there. A few feet into the swamp, where the water appears to be about a foot deep, some Triceratops horridus are wading, some of them eating the ferns and aquatic plants growing out of the water, some drinking and others just looking around. Some protoceratops are on the left, exhibiting similar behavior, and two ankylosaurs, possibly a pair-bond, drink far enough away from them that the two groups don’t notice each other. One ankylosaur drinks, and the other, most likely the male, looks around, cautiously swinging its clubbed tail from side to side. Below the walkway, a group of styracosaurs, the spikes on their frills easily two or three feet tall, are arranged in a half-circle, all eating the ferns and flowering plants growing by the side of the swamp. The air is filled with honks and warbling calls, some of which come from the animals below and some of which seem to come from far in the distance.

Ian turns to Emma; his sense of wonder seems to last shorter and shorter every time he sees these things, he thinks. “Is it always like this?”

“What do you mean?”

“This feeding behavior. Do these groups come at the same time every day? In the same arrangement?”

Emma nods. “The ceratopsids seem to spend a lot of time together. They don’t interbreed, but they look out for one another.”

“So there’s interspecies cooperation, even if there isn’t symbiosis?”

“In a sense. They feed and drink, herd by herd, at around the same time, if that’s what you mean. They still roam in individual herds, of course. The beginning stages of complex social structures, you see.”

He points to the ankylosaurs. “Pair-bonds break off from the herd?”

“Now, that’s interesting,” Emma says, shifting her weight to one foot. “There’s a colonial nest somewhere in the center of the woods—very disputed territory, there was a lot of conflict with the parasaurs- and there’s an arrangement to watch the young. Pair-bonds go out to feed, one at a time, and the rest of the pack watches the babies while they’re gone. They come back, and another pair goes out. They’re even forming a schedule as to which pairs go when. For only the second time they’ve bred, they’ve self-organized remarkably fast.”

“How… how many species do you have?” Anna asks, still pressed up against the glass, her voice faint.

“Ten,” Emma says, smiling. “Would you like to stay here for a while, or go and see the hadrosaurs? They’re usually in their nesting grounds this time of day.”

“Hadrosaurs,” Anna says, as if she can barely speak at all. She stares at the animals below them for another minute, and then reluctantly pulls herself away. She makes a couple of futile gestures and tries to say something to Malcolm, but all that comes out of her mouth is an astonished laugh. Emma starts walking down the hallway again, but Ian and Anna don’t even try to catch up; the landscape below is too vivid to tear their eyes from. Not too far from the swamp, a coniferous forest begins, with branches forming a nearly impenetrable curtain and an abundance of ferns and cycads growing on the ground. Anna looks longingly at the ceratopsids for a moment as they walk away, and asks Emma, having to shout a little, “Do they abandon their young?”

“Not so loud,” Ian says, glancing back at the picturesque swamp. None of the animals raise their heads.

“It’s all right,” Emma says, waiting so that they can catch up a little. “The glass is soundproofed. We’ve tested it. And, no. None of these animals abandon their young. They’re very good parents, especially the maisauria.”

Anna nods, taking the information in. “They’re warm-blooded?”

“Very. See their frills? Those help with thermoregulation.”

“I was just wondering,” Anna says, “if they act at all like crocodiles or alligators. Especially since they live in a swamp.”

“We, ah, have a herpetologist in the building,” Ian says, and Anna smiles.

Emma shakes her head. “No, they really don’t. None of the dinosaurs do. There aren’t many similarities between crocodiles and herbivores at all.”

“What about carnivores?”

“We don’t have carnivores here.”

“Look.” Malcolm points towards the woods; they’re near the center, a few feet away from the nearest tree. Anna walks over to the glass, and Ian points between two particularly thick trees. She looks and finally sees what he’s pointing at—a bulky ankylosaur, covered from head to toe in thick brown plates, is heading into the woods, its clubbed tail swinging in wide arcs behind it. “Must be heading towards their nest.”

“Probably,” Emma says. “It must have gone out to feed at the edge of the forest. Sometimes they do that, when they don’t want to leave their babies for too long. Ready to keep going?”

“Can we stay for just a minute?” Anna asks. “In case we see another?”

Ankylosaurus is one of her favorites,” Ian explains.

“Of course,” Emma tells her indulgently. Anna keeps her eyes glued on the forest, and Ian pulls Emma a few steps back.

“First,” he begins. “I’m guessing you keep their environment supplied with, ah, necessary oxygen, and keep it at a good temperature and humidity.”

“Yes, we do,” Emma tells him, as if stating the blindingly obvious to a much less intelligent person. “It’s as authentic an environment as possible. Complete with a mechanism in the roof to create artificial rain. Which is how we water the plants, in case you wondered.”

“Second.” He points to the trees. “Do those ever grow through the roof?”

She hesitates for a second, probably having expected a different question. “They did once,” she says. “That’s why we added the girders. Sent a crew in to cut the tops shorter. We were very careful. The animals didn’t notice.”

“What about the rest of the plants? Do they ah, ever grow up the walls, onto the ceiling?”

She nods. “Regularly. Luckily, the animals take care of that. They eat everything green, and if something grows where it isn’t supposed to, it’s eaten within a few days.”

Ian nods, taking this in; it’s nothing he hadn’t expected. “What about the animals? Do they, uh, ever charge maintenance workers, try to break the glass or—or anything?”

“The original animals, the generation before this, tried to break out once or twice when they were first introduced. And we don’t have regular interferences by maintenance workers.”

“You just said that-”

“That was a one-time occurrence. The only times we interfere in any way with the conditions in the habitats are when we have no choice except to. If we hadn’t cut the tops of those trees, the top of the dome would have broken and the environment would have been more disrupted than it would have been if we’d just gone inside for a few minutes.”

“So you don’t go inside the domes at all.”

“Unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

Ian looks back at Anna, exponentially more worried; quite a few of his suspicions, and more, have been confirmed. He glances back at the grazing ceratopsids, and in a recognizable contrast to the way he felt a few minutes ago, he’s actually scared. That sensation, of a swimming head and pressure in his chest, is very familiar to him, but now that it’s not caused by a nightmare, the realization that he’s in actual danger, that everything is real, makes it all the worse. He doesn’t have the sensation of being inside a breathtaking prehistoric jungle anymore; he just feels like the glass wall in front of them is the only thing between him and a ticking time bomb.

“See anything?” Emma asks.

Anna steps back from the glass and shakes her head. “Nope. Maybe we’ll see some near the hadrosaurs.”

“Probably not,” Emma says, almost apologetically, as the two of them start to stroll down the hallway, leaving Ian behind. “They tend to stay in the woods. That’s their territory. The hadrosaurs wouldn’t let them stay in their territory for too long, believe me.”

Malcolm catches up and walks beside them; they chat, Anna asking Emma questions about the dinosaurs, but he doesn’t listen. He’s thinking hard of a way to get out of there, a way to convince Anna to leave, a way to tell Emma what’s wrong as soon as possible so that they can get out of Florida and away from the impending disaster he sees. But the more he thinks about it, the more solutions he considers, the more he realizes how hopeless it would be. Emma’s entirely fixated on getting him to endorse the park, and if he told her he wanted to leave—what would happen? She either wouldn’t let him go—and Anna would agree—or she’d agree, maybe even buy him a plane ticket back to Santa Fe, and then there would be nothing to stop her from unleashing what she’s created on the world, and he can’t let that happen. As much as he hates to admit it, it would be better for things to go wrong while only the three of them are there than for everything to go to hell when the place is filled with huge amounts of people.

As they get past the woods and reach a different, open area, he’s made up his mind—he’ll stay and do whatever he needs to do to make sure that the place doesn’t open, even if it means being there when disaster hits. But Anna can’t stay. He isn’t going to let her get hurt—or worse. He hadn’t frankly faced the possibility of something bad happening to her before. Now, though, it’s possible. Entirely possible.

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