Ann wandered through the engineering section. The machinery seemed to go on forever, all labeled in tiny print. A few words looked familiar. Ann recognized the word for “radioactive,” not that that helped her now.
Turning a corner, Ann found more dead aliens piled on top of each other, and a dinosaur standing over them. The dinosaur took a dainty sniff then ripped off a hunk of flesh. It chewed for a moment then spit it out.
“Not food,” it said.
“Hungry,” another dinosaur answered, stepping into view.
A third dinosaur emerged, the one called Scar.
“Food,” Scar said, staring at Ann.
The other two looked. “Food,” they said. “Food! Food!”
Ann ran back the way she’d come, hurrying from one walkway to another, searching for any escape. The heavy tread of dinosaur feet followed.
She found an exit: a door leading to another cryogenic storage room. The walls were broken to pieces, the equipment toppled over, and some of the cryotanks lay smashed on the floor.
“Intru… alert-lert-lert… securi… notified,” the computer announced.
Her heart pounding, her breath ragged, Ann ran to the only other door, but it didn’t open. She banged on the control, but nothing happened. In desperation, Ann looked for anything she could use to defend herself. Her eyes locked onto the markings on a panel–just like on the panel Bixler had opened in the other cryo-chamber.
As the dinosaurs stalked forward, Ann lunged for the panel, pulled hard, and broke it loose. She ducked out of the way as blue liquid spewed out. “Wa-wa-warning…” the computer said.
The dinosaurs coughed and sputtered and, after a moment, collapsed.
Ann replaced the panel. It clicked shut. “Cryo-cryo-cryo contain… restored,” the computer announced.
* * *
The fearsome predators lay still, their skin stained purple by the cryogenic coolant. Picking up a twisted, metal pipe, Ann approached them. She saw their chests rise, heard their shallow breathing, and smelled the stench of dry blood and animal sweat. In this subdued state, they were vulnerable. Ann could easily bash in their skulls, eliminating three threats to herself and her fellow astronauts.
What would Caesar decree? Thumbs up or thumbs down?
Ann dropped her weapon. She was not a gladiator. She was the great, great granddaughter of Major General John Murphy, a man who, when the choice presented itself, chose compassion over cruelty–and saved the world because of it.
Ann knelt beside Scar and laid a hand upon him. His skin felt warm. His heartbeat was strong.
Removing her earring, Ann touched Scar’s head. She found the tiny orifice which served as his ear and attached the translator clip.
When Scar’s eyes blinked open, Ann spoke to him.
“I am not food,” she said.
Scar’s jaw lolled open as he tried to answer.
“I am not food,” Ann insisted. “I can help you. The ‘Sky Demons’ took you from a dying world. I can help you find a new place to live. But I am not food, and the others like me are not food. Do you understand?”
Scar growled at her. Without her translator clip, Ann had no clue what he was saying.
One of the other dinosaurs hopped to its feet. With a shriek, it charged at Ann, its tongue hanging from its mouth.
Scar knocked the other dinosaur back with his tail and lumbered to his feet. He hissed at his companions. It sounded menacing.
The third dinosaur rolled over, trying to get up. When it did, it cocked its head to the side, a puzzled expression on its face.
The three Sapiosaurs stared at Ann. She backed away from them, tripping over some tangled wires, falling on her ass. Small and helpless, she wished she’d clubbed these monsters to death when she had the chance.
“I’m not food!” she shouted.
Ann’s little emerald dangling from his ear, Scar nodded.
* * *
Astronauts knew how to think ahead. They could examine a problem, work out a step-by-step solution, and implement that solution according to the proper regulations and procedures. But Ann didn’t deserve to be an astronaut. She had no idea what she was doing.
As Scar led her through the alien ship, more Sapiosaurs flocked around him. Scar snarled at them. Ann hoped he was telling them she wasn’t food. From the looks they gave her, she doubted they believed that.
In a way, Ann empathized with them. She’d skipped breakfast, overeager to get in her spacesuit and make her own giant leap for Mankind. Now she was starving.
As Ann and the dinosaurs walked down a wide, high-ceilinged corridor, Commander Roth jumped out from behind a collapsed section of wall. He advanced on the dinosaurs, his pistol raised, taking aim at Scar.
“No!” Ann yelled.
Roth fired. Ann leapt in the way, taking two bullets to the chest.
Scar screamed in rage. The other dinosaurs began chattering as well. Ann heard human voices too, someone calling her name.
Ann fell to her knees then collapsed on her side. Dying felt strange. It didn’t hurt as much as she’d expected, and it was odd the things she thought about as consciousness seeped away.
For the first time, Ann realized the Sapiosaur language was more than snarls and shrieks. She heard the subtleties within those sounds: light chirping, low rumbling, and a sweet, melodious trilling that had a beauty she couldn’t describe. Ann wondered how sophisticated their language was. They had words for food, hungry, and smell; words for magic, evil, and Sky Demons; they even had some concept of proper names–like Scar–or “the Murphy.” It should be possible, Ann thought, to catalogue these words, to learn to understand them even without a translator clip.
For some reason, Ann felt like laughing–though she didn’t have the strength to do so. This really wasn’t funny. People had died, and it was her fault. There was a lot of shooting and hissing and screaming going on, and someone was still calling her name.
“Ann! Please stay with me!”
Ann closed her eyes, and she didn’t hear anything else.
* * *
Ann opened her eyes and saw a bright, white light. She also saw the last person she expected to see in heaven: Talie Tappler.
“You’re not dead,” Talie said.
Ann tried to sit up, but when she moved the numbness in her chest became a strong, burning sensation, like her insides were doused in gasoline and set on fire. Dying may not have hurt much, but coming back to life was extremely painful.
“Stay still,” Bixler said. “I bandaged you up as best I could, but I’m no medic.”
“What happened?” Ann asked, staring at the glowing, metal ceiling of the alien ship.
“That dinosaur, the one with the scars, killed Commander Roth,” Bixler said. “Suarez was too badly injured to fight, and I was too scared. I thought we were done for, but I guess when the dinosaurs saw we weren’t a threat they left us alone.
“They’re behaving very… weird. They’re all gathered here like they’re waiting for something.”
“What about the Alpha Male?” Ann said. “The one who killed the Captain.”
“He showed up an hour ago,” Suarez said. “He was frothing at the mouth, ready to gobble us up, but that scar-faced one fought him off. Killed him, I think.”
Ann smiled. “So Scar is the alpha now.”
“Well,” Talie said, “you have a long, boring voyage ahead of you. You still have to figure out how to fly this ship, where to fly it to, and where the Ushakaronians kept their food supply. I don’t cover mundane stories like that, but before I go, Ann, would you like to make a statement?”
“Tell you what,” Ann said. “When we get the Sapiosaurs to their new home, you can have an exclusive interview. Deal?”
Talie smirked. “Perfect,” she said, and in a flash she and Cognis disappeared.
“Umm…” Bixler said. “Where are we going?”
* * *
Ann had tried to explain to the dinosaurs how they were traveling through the stars, but she didn’t think they really understood until they saw it for themselves. Through trial and error, she and Bixler had activated the ship’s holographic star charts. The Sapiosaur pack–a total of thirty dinosaurs still alive–now stood among holographic stars and clouds of cosmic dust, their eyes sparkling with wonder.
Suarez had discovered more cryogenically frozen plants and animals. It seemed the Ushakaronians had intended to preserve an entire ecosystem for the Sapiosaurs. Until they reached their destination, this would have to serve as their food supply.
Bixler managed to get the engines working again, though he couldn’t figure out what they used for fuel. He swore this technology violated the laws of thermodynamics.
Ann may not have earned her Ph.D. in xeno-linguistics, but she’d picked up a few techniques in grad school to help her learn both the Sapiosaur and Ushakaronian languages. She’d decided to let Scar keep the translator clip. He needed it more than she did if he was to serve as a liaison between humans and dinosaurs.
On the bridge, the communications system announced an incoming transmission: “This is the William Clark to any surviving crew from the Meriwether Lewis. Please respond.”
Ann glanced at Bixler and Suarez. Suarez grumbled, but they’d taken a vote, and even he agreed Earth was no longer a good place for dinosaurs to live.
Bixler stepped over to the communications panel. “William Clark, this is Flight Engineer Bixler,” he said. “We no longer require your assistance. We have been given a new mission. Over and out.”
Ann pressed a button marked “faster-than-light,” and Othniel’s Object accelerated to speeds no Earth ship could match.