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L. Sprague de Camp

L. Sprague de Camp is a seminal figure, one whose career spans almost the entire development of modern fantasy and SF. For the fantasy magazine Unknown in the late 1930s, he helped create a whole new modern style of fantasy writingfunny, whimsical, and irreverentof which he is still the most prominent practitioner. His most famous books include Lest Darkness Fall, The Complete Enchanter (with Fletcher Pratt), and Rogue Queen. His short fiction has been collected in A Gun for Dinosaur, The Purple Pterodactyls, and The Best of L. Sprague de Camp, among many other collections. His most recent books include a novel written in collaboration with his wife, writer Catherine Crook de Camp, The Pixilated Peeress, and, of special interest to the readers of this anthology, a collection of his tales about Reginald Rivers’s time-traveling adventures, Rivers in Time.

The story that follows is one of those adventures, a direct sequel to de Camp’s famous story “A Gun for Dinosaur.” This one takes Reginald Rivers and a band of intrepid scientists back through time to observe the mysterious cosmic catastrophe that wiped out the majority of all living things at the end of the Cretaceous. As Reggie soon discovers, though, the problem is not to observe it so closely that you become extinct yourself . . .

* * *

What was my closest call, Mr. Burgess? Let’s see. There was the time that drongo Courtney James woke up a sleeping tyrannosaur by shooting a gun over its head . . . But if you really want to know, on these time safaris we haven’t had so much trouble from the animals as from the people, and we haven’t had so much grief from the people as we have from natural forces. Like that time we ran into Enyo. No, not Ohio, Enyo. That’s what those scientific blokes call the K-T Event. Somebody named it Enyo after some Greek goddess of destruction.

Ta, don’t mind if I have another.

The K-T Event? That’s what killed off all the dinosaurs; pterosaurs, plesiosaurs, etcetera at the end of the Cretaceous. So Rivers and Aiyar, Time Safaris, took a couple of scientists to the edge of the Event, hoping it would not kill us off along with the ornithopods. And it nearly bloody well did. If Bruce Cohen, the chamber wallah, had been a second sooner or later with the doors, Aljira only knows what—

Who’s Aljira? That’s the head god of one of the tribes of Abos—excuse me, Native Australians—in the outback. You see, down-under we have lots of wowsers, worse than your Puritans here in America. If they hear you say “By God!” they raise a stink. So I long ago got into the habit of swearing by Aljira to avoid arguments.

But to get back. The scientists had been arguing for half a century over the nature of the K-T Event. Some said a comet or a planetoid hit the Earth; others, that one or more of those big super-volcanoes, like the one that made your Yellowstone Park, cut loose with an eruption that blanketed the Earth with ash and smoke.

When Professor Prochaska, here in St. Louis, got his time chamber working right, and the Raja and I made a going thing of Rivers and Aiyar, a couple of big universities thought to settle the question by sending a pair of their biggest brains back in time for a first-hand look at the Event. One came from Harvard and one from Yale, since no other unis could have afforded the rates.

The man from Harvard was a paleontologist, George Romero of the Museum of Comparative Zoology; a short, plump, middle-aged fellow with sparse gray hair. The other was a geologist, Sterling Featherstone of Yale, a bit younger, a tall, angular, black-haired bloke of the kind they call “raw-boned.” Imagine a younger Abraham Lincoln without his whiskers and you’ve got the idea.

This pair came into the office together and broke the news. I had a pretty full schedule lined up, but in one slot I had only two cash customers ticketed: Clarence Todd, a trophy hunter, and Jon O’Connor, an artist. If you’re wondering why an artist should be keen to go back to the Mesozoic—or how an artist could afford the fare—he had a contract with that museum in San Francisco to paint Cretaceous scenes from life. They paid his way.

“You understand,” said Romero, “that we shall also have to have an astronomer. We need him to keep watching the sky, in hope of calculating when Enyo will hit.”

“Who’s Enyo?” I said.

“That’s our name for the planetoid whose fall caused the K-T Event—”

“He means,” said Featherstone, “if, as he believes, the Event was the impact of an extraterrestrial body. I’m a supercaldera man myself.”

“Has anybody seen this body circling the sun?” I said. “They keep track of a lot of asteroids with their telescopes.”

“Of course not!” said Romero. “The impact vaporized it.”

“Silly of me. Have you picked your astronomer?”

“Yes,” said Romero. “If it’s okay with you, it’ll be Einar Haupt of Cal Tech.”

“I shall want to meet Mr. or Dr. Haupt,” I said. “We always like to judge our sahibs before we take them on. A crook choice can cause serious trouble later, as we’ve found to our sorrow. Right, Raja?”

“Absolutely,” said the Raja—that is, Chandra Aiyar. I call him “Raja” because he’s actually the hereditary lord of some place in India called Janpur. If he went back there now and tried to assert hereditary claims, the locals would probably throw things at him. I gather the last reigning Raja of Janpur, before the Republic, wasn’t universally beloved.

Dr. Haupt turned out to be a big, beefy fellow, almost my size, with red hair and whiskers. He needed the beef to lug his instrument: a super-scientific combination of telescope, transit, and radar set, all over knobs and lenses. By means of the radar he could get a quick reading on the distance of anything this side of Mars.

The first complication popped up when I talked to Beauregard Black, our camp boss, about the trip. The problem was that, since the Event was likely to be a bloody catastrophe for everything around, we had to have the chamber stay with us the whole time we were there leading up to the Event, so we could make a quick getaway. There’s no telephone line to Present, so you can ring up and yell:

“Come and get us, quick!”

Bruce Cohen, who ran the chamber, said that that was okay with him as long as he was paid his regular rate. In fact, he said, he was glad of a chance for a good look at one of these primeval landscapes he’d been ferrying people to. So far he’d only had brief glimpses when he opened the chamber doors for the time travelers to hop out and later back in.

When we explained this to Beauregard, he said he had to talk to the rest of the crew, the helpers and herders and Ming the cook. Next day he came back to say in effect: sorry, mate, no dice. The sahibs and I could go back and sit on a log to watch the end of the Mesozoic world, but to him and the others that was taking too much of a chance. He said:

“Mr. Rivers, I don’t know how fast we’d have to skedaddle; but it would sure be a lot faster than the usual way, with at least two trips in the chamber. With the jacks, it’d take at least three. And we jest ain’t gonna stand around watchin’ the world go up in smoke waiting for the chamber to come back for the next load.”

“We’re not taking the asses,” I said. “Since we don’t know the exact time of the Event, we shan’t dare go far enough from the landing site to call for moving the camp. So the crew will be smaller.”

Beauregard shook his head. “Jeez, I’m sorry, Mr. Rivers; but I’m afraid we jest ain’t gonna. I’ve talked with the other boys, and we all agree. We got families and that kind of thing.”

The Raja and I tried to argue Beauregard round, but we might as well have tried to knock over a mammoth with a flyswatter. I suppose I could have fired him and the others for breach of contract; but I doubted I should ever again find such a bonzer camp boss. We’d been on several safariin together, so I knew Beauregard pretty well. Not having our regular helpers would rather leave us up a gum tree. It’s not the sort of expedition on which you could rely on casual, untrained help. To push off with such a crew would be asking for disaster.

And so it turned out, when I discussed the problem with our five sahibs. The scientists complained that all the pitching and striking camp, cooking and cleaning up, etcetera, wouldn’t leave them time for their scientific work. O’Connor complained that it wouldn’t leave him time for his art. But the loudest complaints came from Todd, who was one of these little, Napoleonic types who tries to make up for his physical stature by a prickly, aggressive attitude.

“If this safari doesn’t have the things it was advertised as having,” he said, “I’m damned if I’ll go along on it. I won’t be able to get in a decent hunt if I’ve got to fuck around collecting firewood and all that nonsense. I’ll expect my deposit back, too.”

Later, when the Raja and I were alone, he said: “I believe I see a way out, Reggie.” Back down-under nobody calls me “Reggie.” There, it’s “Reg.” But the Raja had been through one of those English-style educations and picked up some pommy habits. Americans on these jaunts hear him and copy him; so to them I’m “Reggie,” too. I don’t mind; life is full enough of real problems without stewing over trifles. The Raja explained:

“Suppose Mr. Black and his crew come back to pre-K-T with us, set up camp, and then go back to Present. Then let Mr. Cohen bring the chamber back to pre-K-T and stay there. When time comes to leave, we shan’t strike camp in our usual environmentally careful way; just heave the small, valuable items like guns and instruments into the chamber and leave the tents, camp chairs, and so on where they are. The universities won’t like the cost of wasting that stuff, but we shall simply tell them this is the only way the job can be done.”

That’s how it was decided. The sahibs still grumbled; but their protests were muffled when Ming decided to come along for the whole stretch, so at least they wouldn’t have to cook and wash dishes. He explained:

“Mr. Rivers, someday I’ll have my own restaurant, and I’ll advertise myself as the world’s greatest cook for dinosaurs and other extinct animals. You shoot ’em, I’ll cook ’em. Besides, I want to try out that new set of kitchen hardware you bought for this time trip.”


The first problem, Mr. Burgess, was in setting down the transition chamber at the right time—within a convenient interval before the Event, but not so far ahead that we should grow old while waiting for it. The dating for rocks from the time of the formation had narrowed down the time of the onset of the Event to about a year and a half. They were pretty sure it began in 65,971,453 B.C. or the year following. They couldn’t get any closer, and certainly it was bloody marvelous to be able to pin it down to one part in tens of millions.

Neither would it do to overshoot our mark and land in the midst of the Event, which might cause the chamber and us inside it to go poof. It would also be unsatisfactory to land after it was over. If that happened, we could witness the aftereffects but we should not be able to tell what caused them. This was, after all, the main purpose of the project.

So we agreed that Cohen should pilot the chamber to somewhere in the low sixty-six millions, and then we should bring it forward in time by jumps of ten years, with Haupt setting up his instrument at each step to try for a dekko at Enyo—that is, assuming this asteroid or comet really existed. As we neared the date of the Event, we should shorten the jumps, first to a month each and then to a day.

The next question was, would the time we chose to settle in provide us with a suitable landing area? The chamber moves back and forth in past time but stays at the same latitude and longitude, and as the centuries fly past the land changes beneath you. For a part of the Cretaceous, the area around St. Louis, Missouri, was under an arm of the Kansas Sea, and the chamber’s not equipped for landing in water. At other times, this spot might be the side of a cliff, or a mucky swamp where the passengers couldn’t leave the chamber. This chamber has telescoping legs that allow it some latitude in terrain, but only within limits.

Since we couldn’t move the chamber horizontally over the Earth’s surface, we had to learn what we could from the sites we stopped at, whatever these turned out to be. The scientists—those who believe in an extraterrestrial Enyo, that is—had various ideas as to where it hit. The largest vote was for some place in the Caribbean Sea or the adjacent Yucatan peninsula. Others held out for India, and one group argued that the impact had caused the Bering Sea.

There was no sense in fetching the entire crew and equipment back with us each time. Each step required Haupt to sit up all night with his face glued to his eyepiece, while he twiddled knobs and either the Raja or I stood behind him ready to shoot any carnosaur that thought we smelled edible.

As things turned out, no carnosaurs came near us during a couple of score of these all-night vigils. As an astronomer, Haupt was used to these odd sleeping hours; but the Raja and I found them a bit—ah—taxing. We did see a lot of plant eaters, always much the more numerous in any fauna. Mostly smaller species of hypsilophodonts and hadrosaurids, they merely looked us over and waddled away, as if to say they didn’t know what sort of creatures we were but didn’t care to take chances on us.

I tell you, those months of popping in and out of the late Cretaceous and standing guard over Haupt while he fiddled with his instrument were just plain bloody hard, tedious work. Half the time, when we opened the chamber door, there’d be an overcast or rain. Then we should have to button up the chamber and go on to another day, better for Haupt’s seeing.

One night, after his usual hours at the eyepiece, Haupt said: “Don’t get your hopes up, Reggie; but I think I may have something.”

“You mean you’ve got this Enyo in your sights at last?”

“It looks that way. Something at about twice lunar distance is headed our way.”

“When’s it going to hit, and where?” I asked. I’m afraid I let the excitement show in my voice.

“Can’t tell yet,” said Haupt. “Let me finish my observations. When we get back to Present, I’ll have a stack of records for the boys to crunch in their computers. Want a look?”

I looked, but all I could see in the crosshairs was a little spot of light, like another star. “How do you know that’s it?” I asked.

“The radar gives the distance, now about eight-hundred-thousand kilometers, and also tells us it’s fast approaching. If we had a real star at that distance, we’d all be fried to grease spots in no time.”

“Could this be a near miss?”

“I doubt it. Its bearing is close to constant, which means we and it are on a collision course. Even if it’s not aimed for a bull’s eye, Earth’s gravity will partly correct that.”

“How soon will it arrive?”

He shrugged. “Have to let the number-crunchers chew on my results. As a rough guess, I’d say three or four days.”

“Stone the crows! That gives us bloody little time to get the reception committee in place. We’d better be off like a bride’s nightie to fetch our people, if O’Connor’s to have time for his paintings and Todd for his hunt.”

I admit that Haupt’s words gave me a bit of a shiver. I felt the way a fly must feel when it sees the swatter on its way down, and it’s too late to take off—if you can imagine an intelligent fly.


So Bruce Cohen took us back to Present and, yawning from being up all night, I rounded up the gang. When I had explained Haupt’s findings, Romero said to Featherstone: “Ha, Sterling! So much for your supercaldera theory!”

“Not at all, George,” said Featherstone. “If this thing hit, the impact would send the grandfather of all earthquakes roaring around the globe. Then any supercalderas in a stressed condition might be touched off in eruptions, which otherwise might not happen for thousands of years. A few of those would have a more global effect than just the one impact of Enyo.”

“Hm, we shall see,” said Romero. “Reggie, how would it be for us to sit out the whole sequence, to try to detect by instrument whether any such eruptions occurred right after the impact?”

“According to what you scientific blokes tell me,” I said, “the impact will send out a shock wave that will kill everything bigger than an insect and set fire to anything combustible, at least over the hemisphere in which the impact takes place. If you want to try it, you’ll have to sign forms releasing us of any responsibility if we go back to Present leaving you alone with your instruments. Myself, I wouldn’t dare try it; my wife would kill me for taking foolish chances.”


Beauregard and his boys loaded the equipment into the chamber, and in we piled. O’Connor complained he’d forgot his sheath knife, but we didn’t have time for him to go back for it.

The morning after Haupt’s all-night vigil that discovered Enyo, Cohen took the whole party back to midday of that same day. I let several hours elapse between the time Haupt and I left the Cretaceous and the time we returned to it, for safety’s sake. It wouldn’t do to try to occupy the same time slot twice, since that would create a paradox. Can’t have that sort of thing in a well-run universe, so the space-time forces snatch you back to Present and blow you to bits in the process.

The place we set down the chamber was about as good as we could have asked for. We were on the shoulder of a hill looking off to southeastward. There wasn’t much vegetation on the shoulder, just some scrubby cedars and one big tree like the bombax I used to see in India. On the edge of the shoulder and on down the slope grew some stilt-rooted pandanus trees or screw pines. If we cut down a couple of these, we should have a clear view to the south and southeast; in other words, straight at the area where the blokes who favored a Caribbean or Yucatecan impact thought it would fall. On a clear day, Featherstone claimed he could see an arm of the sea on the horizon; but I doubt that. In any case, if the Caribbean bods were right, the thing hit at least two thousand kilometers distant. That was quite close enough for me.

Below the hill, the country was flat and, from what I could see through my glasses, swampy, with a dense forest cover. My American sahibs agreed that the trees were mostly a kind of bald cypress, like the one they knew from their own time.

I ought to know more about such things; but there’s a limit to what you can cram into one mind. It’s hard enough to master the fauna and flora of one area—say, within a hundred-meter radius of St. Louis—for one geological period. When you try to cover the biotas of a couple of hundred million years, it gets bloody hopeless.

As usual, the Raja and I jumped out of the chamber first, with our big guns ready, in case something hostile were out there to receive us. All we saw was a flock of black-and-white birds, which flew up out of a tree. They looked like normal present-day birds, like your American mockingbird. I couldn’t see whether they had teeth in their beaks, as some birds from this time have.

While the crew were setting up the camp, I told O’Connor: “You’d better get on with your painting, Jon. Don’t go away from the camp farther than shouting distance—say, fifty meters—and stay in sight.”

So off went O’Connor with his load of canvases, paints, and accessories. He was the youngest of our sahibs, with the shaggy-artist look. If he’d been cleaned up and given a proper haircut, he’d have been movie-actor handsome. Otherwise he seemed a mild, obliging sort of young man, if a bit vague about non-artistic matters.

Then up bustled little Mr. Todd, saying: “Look here, Reggie, with so little time, I ought to start my hunt right now.”

“Sorry, but we can’t,” I said. “The Raja and I are tied up with setting up the camp. In an hour or so, one or the other of us ought to be able to take you on a little recco.”

“But,” says he, “I want to go now, while the daylight lasts! If you can’t come along, I’ll go by myself!”

“Now, Clarence,” I said, “you agreed in writing that you’d follow your guides’ orders. It won’t kill you to wait a bit. When that Thing gets closer, we shall all have to stay close to camp, to be able to board the chamber in seconds.”

“You let O’Connor go off by himself!”

“Only to a distance of fifty meters, so we can watch each other. That distance wouldn’t do you any good for hunting.”

He turned away, grumping, and I went back to siting the tents and the galley. When that was done and the crew were filing back into the chamber, I asked Haupt:

“Is there any indication yet what part of the Earth that Thing will strike?”

“Give me another night, and I can make at least an educated guess. The distance of Enyo and its present velocity, with a correction for the acceleration by the Earth’s gravity, will tell us when it will arrive; and knowledge of the time tells us which side of the Earth will be turned toward—”

He and I both jumped at the thunderous bang of Todd’s heavy rifle. I looked around the camp but saw no sign of him. I yelled at the Raja:

“Did you see that bloke leave the camp?”

“No,” said Aiyar. “I was working with Ming on the supplies.”

I was so angry at Todd that I was damned if I’d go crashing off in the outback looking for him, although I had a pretty good idea of where the shot came from. So the Raja and I spent the next half-hour waving off Cohen and the crew in the chamber and getting our sahibs settled.

By then it was near sundown. O’Connor straggled in, loaded with canvases, stands, palette, paints, and a camera. The Raja and I agreed it was time for our evening’s spot of lubricant, so I called time. We were sitting round drinking our tot of whiskey. (I’m pretty strict about how much I allow per person. I’ve seen what can happen when someone goes over his limit on grog.) O’Connor showed off his sketches and talked a streak about reculement and other artistic matters that went over my head.

We all turned round as Todd came staggering up the slope. He was covered with blood, and for a bad second I thought he’d lost a chewing contest with a theropod. But he seemed cheerful, with his big-game rifle in one hand and his other arm around his trophy. This was the head of one of the smaller sauropods, the ones that look like a gigantic snake threaded through the body of an elephant. I think this was an Alamosaurus; there were still a few sauropods around at the end of the Cretaceous, though nothing like so conspicuous as they were in the late Jurassic. Todd had the head and almost two meters of the animal’s neck balanced on his shoulder like a drooping log.

I never advise my sahibs to shoot sauropods. It’s not at all sporting, any way you look at it. They’re harmless creatures if you leave them alone, pretty stupid even by dinosaur standards. I don’t mean that dinosaurs are extraordinarily stupid, any more than modern crocs and other reptiles. They have a set of serviceable instincts, which see them through most of the crises of their lives; and they can actually learn, though not so quickly as any mammal.

All the sauropods do, however, is eat, eat, eat anything green they can reach with those long necks. Some are bigger than people thought anything could be and still walk on dry land. But it seems the limiting factor is not the strength of their legs but how much greenery they can gulp down and process in those mighty guts in any one day.

They can survive a lot of gunfire, too. Todd was lucky to have got one in the heart with his first shot. And if you kill one, what have you got? Just that silly little head on that long stalk of a neck.

None of that had stopped Todd. “See?” he said, grinning ear-to-ear. “I got my trophy, and all by myself. Hacked off the head with my machete, and here it is.”

“How far down the slope were you when you shot it?” I asked.

He waved. “Maybe two-thirds of the way down, just inside that timberline of bald cypress, where the trees are stunted and scattered.”

“And you left the carcass there?”

“Sure! Did you expect me to haul ten tons of dinosaur up that slope? Where’s the salt to preserve it with?”

“You bloody idiot!” I said. We get all kinds on these time safaris, but the buggers who cause the most grief are those out to prove their manhood. I went on: “Don’t you know the smell will draw carnivorous dinosaurs like flies? They’ll be having a grand carrion party before the night is over. That’s all right so long as they stay round the carcass; but what’s likelier is that a big one will chase off a smaller. Then the smaller, not to be done out of its tucker, will wander up here looking for more—us.”

“Scared, eh?” he sneered.

“Why, you ratbag—” I began. Things were making up to a first-class row, when the Raja took hold of Todd’s arm and led him aside, saying: “Now look, Mr. Todd, if we start off with a mutiny, we might as well all get back in the chamber and return to Present . . .”

They passed out of my hearing; but the upshot was that Aiyar calmed Todd down to the point where, looking crestfallen, he came back to me and mumbled something about hoping nothing bad would come of his impulsiveness. The Raja found him the preserving materials while Ming got our tea—what you fellows call “dinner.”

On a normal time safari, I take the sahibs out on the first full day to hunt fresh meat; that gives us the protein we shall need for scrambling around a rough landscape and also to judge which of the time travelers is to be trusted with a loaded gun. In the Mesozoic, that means one of the smaller herbivorous dinosaurs, like a bonehead or a thescelosaur. This time our stay was to be so brief that it didn’t seem worthwhile. We had enough food from Present to do us. Besides, Todd seemed the only one keen on hunting.


As I had predicted, the theropods gathered round the carcass of Todd’s sauropod down the slope. We could hear their grunts and bellows as they sorted themselves out into a pecking order; but there was so much meat there that they didn’t have to compete for it. Anyway, none came up to the shoulder of the hill where we were camped.

When the sun came up next morning, the last of the theropods had gorged itself until it could barely waddle, and little by little they all wandered off into the cypress swamp. Looking through the glasses I could see a set of bare ribs sticking up.

I suggested there was still a fair amount of meat left on the carcass, so we had better keep our guard up against theropod visitors. We don’t get the famous Tyrannosaurus around our site at this particular time, but those we do get include an Albertosaurus big enough to make a snack of you.

Einar Haupt was up most of the night stargazing. After breakfast, he came up with a little pocket-sized computer, saying:

“Reggie, I think I’ve got Enyo’s arrival nailed down. According to my instruments’ figures, it’ll hit about dawn the day after tomorrow, and pretty certainly on this side of the planet.”

“Can you fix the place of impact any closer than that?” I asked.

“Nope. If we were back in Present, my fellow astronomers could dope it out; but we’re not.”

That gave me an idea of what those blokes must have felt in the two big wars, when they were in a city the enemy was going to bomb. You might comfort yourself with the thought that there was a good chance the bombs wouldn’t hit you; but it would be a lot nicer if they didn’t fall at all.

“In other words,” I said, “we may expect the lady in a little less than two complete revolutions of this bloody planet?”

“That’s right.” I hadn’t said “forty-eight hours” because at that time the Earth rotated a bit faster than it does now, so the hours—I mean the twenty-fourths of one revolution—were shorter. This complicates our efforts to run a safari on schedule, since the sahibs’ watches don’t conform to the movements of the sun. I’ve thought of having special watches and clocks made; but the Raja and I decided the expense would be out of proportion to the benefits. Such timepieces would have to be adaptable to the planet’s angular velocity for all the times back to the pre-Cambrian.

It was building up to a sticky-hot day. Sterling Featherstone wandered by, saying: “Have you seen George around, Reggie? There’s a geological question I want to discuss with him.”

No, I hadn’t seen Romero; and a search of the camp failed to turn him up. Oh, lord, I thought: don’t tell me another of these coves has gone walkabout by himself! It wouldn’t have much surprised me with O’Connor, who seemed a vague, dreamy sort—but not George Romero, a brisk, no-nonsense field scientist. I once thought scientists of all people were supposed to have better sense, but I find that’s not necessarily so.

I made the round of the camp, questioning everyone as to what had become of George Romero. At last Todd told me:

“He said something, half an hour ago, about taking a little walk to watch the local fauna undisturbed by our presence. I’m sure he hasn’t gone far.”

The Raja saw I was about to blow my top over the matter. He said, “Calm down, Reggie; I’ll go hunting for—”

Then a disturbance interrupted. Around the bend of the hill came George Romero, doing a fair turn of speed in spite of being short and middle-aged. Right behind him ran a steno, trying to get close enough to flesh its fangs in his back.

A steno? That’s short for Stenonychosaurus, one of the saurornithoids of this period. We call them “stenos” because people find Stenonychosaurus hard to remember. They’re smaller flesh-eaters. One weighs around fifty kilos—in other words, as much as a smallish human being. They have a slim running shape, and when moving they come up about to your navel, with the head and tail sticking out horizontally. When they rear up, they can look you in the eye. They’re normally harmless, since their prey is little things like lizards, birds, and the mammals of those times, all of which looked much like rats and mice.

But here this bloke was chasing our scientist with obvious hostile intent. Romero ran through the camp and headed for the time chamber, which stood on a slight rise on the edge with its doors open.

I jumped for the Raja’s and my tent and came out with my heavy rifle, in time to see Romero dive in the doors of the chamber. Cohen was in the chamber, making adjustments, and I heard a startled yell from him. Then the doors slammed shut in the steno’s face.

The reptile went splat against the steel doors and backed off, shaking its head as if in wonder at human technology. It looked about, seeming to realize for the first time that it had blundered into territory off-limits to dinosaurs.

I hesitated to shoot, lest I hit somebody or something in the camp. The Raja came out with his gun, but he paused likewise. Then the steno set off at a dead run, out of the camp and around the curve of the hill from which it had chased Romero. In a few seconds it was out of sight.

By banging on the chamber door, we persuaded Cohen to open up. Romero, still breathing hard, came out looking like a lad caught with his hand in the lolly jar. He apologized all over the place: I had seemed too busy to bother, and he took only a little stroll, etcetera. Meanwhile Cohen locked the chamber doors behind him in a marked manner.

“But,” I said to Romero, “What on earth did you do to rile up that steno? Normally they leave us alone, since we’re much too big to serve as their normal prey.”

“It was this way,” he said. “I walked quietly around the hill till the camp was just out of sight. There was a pair of these stenos on a little flat place, doing a kind of dance. So I watched. One just stood, while the other went through what looked like the calisthenics I do when I get up in the morning. It did deep-knee bends, squatting down and rising up again; then it stayed up but bowed down and touched its head to the ground, over and over. Then it went back to squatting and rising.

“I figured out that this was a mating dance, and the one doing the setting-up exercises was the male, hoping to get the female into a receptive mood. It seemed to be working, because the male extruded that great long hook-shaped hemipenis—or rather, he extruded the half of it on the side toward the female. Then he grabbed the female with his foreclaws, hoisted one leg over her hindquarters, and started feeling around her underside with this organ to find the point of entry.

“I couldn’t resist the temptation to shoot a few frames on my camera. Whether the tiny click of the shutter aroused the male, or the motion of my arm, I don’t know. But he suddenly stared at me, let go of the female, and withdrew his hook inside him. He uttered a kind of caw, like a crow, and started for me. Not being armed, I ran for it.”

The Raja and I had the same thought, and we both burst out laughing. “Sport, he thought you were a rival, who wanted to screw his mate,” I said. “Naturally, no right-thinking bull steno is going to stand for that!”

The whole camp had a good laugh over the incident. But then our spirits sank as the clouds formed huge anvils, with lightning and thunder. By the time for tucker, rain was coming down in buckets.

It kept up the whole night. Maybe theropods gathered again round the sauropod carcass to resume their feast; but the storm made so much noise we couldn’t have heard them. The next day was more of the same, all day.

“Lousy luck,” said Featherstone. “If we can’t see the results of the impact from a distance, we don’t dare hang around until it happens. The shock wave might catch us unawares and smear us.”

Haupt said: “There may be enough light from Enyo to warn us as it makes its final plunge, even through the cloud cover.”

“How about the big wave?” asked Romero. “If that Thing lands in water, it’ll kick up the grandfather of all tsunamis. You know what they say: If you’re at the beach and see a tsunami coming, it’s already too late to save your life.”

“Unless,” said Featherstone, “you had a fast motor vehicle and floored the gas away from the beach.”

“And if,” said Romero, “the road wasn’t jammed with other people trying to do the same thing. But how about this tsunami?”

“Don’t worry,” said Haupt. “One might wash inland over flat country for a few kilometers—maybe ten or twenty—but we’re at least a hundred kilometers from any sea. The speed—”

“How do you know,” interrupted Todd, “that we’re a hundred kilometers from the sea, when we haven’t a map of the area for this period?”

Haupt answered with the forced patience of a school-ma’am with a backward pupil. “Because if it were closer, we could see it plainly from this altitude. The speed of the wave would be only a fraction of that of sound, which is a little over 330 meters per second, and which is also the speed of the shock wave.”

I held up a hand to quiet the argument and said: “Listen, please. We shall get up hours before the expected impact. Then we shall load into the chamber all the stuff we plan to take back with us and stand by the doors, ready to leap in the minute you blokes see a flash in the sky. We shan’t wait for any shock wave but take off for Present instantly.”

So it was decided; but as things turned out, that scenario did not prove necessary. During a day of rain, I had to listen to Todd’s complaints over not getting a second hunt, and O’Connor’s complaints over not being able to paint more pictures, as if I were somehow responsible for the weather.

The evening before the Event, the rain tapered off and the clouds broke up. We loaded into the chamber the stuff we were taking back, like Todd’s sauropod head and O’Connor’s pictures. Ming hauled a bag full of our new kitchen utensils; he wasn’t going to sacrifice them if he could help it.


When we got up before dawn, we had a clear, deep-blue sky-overhead, in which the stars were going out one by one as the glow of the coming sunrise brightened in the east.

“Where’s Enyo?” I asked Haupt.

“She’ll be up any minute,” he said. “The Earth has to turn more toward her—ah, there she comes! Call your gang together!”

Rising from the southeastern horizon, which was still a pretty dark blue, came another spot of light, somewhat resembling the planet Venus at her maximum brightness. I stared at it but could not see any relative motion between Enyo and the few stars still visible.

“Is she going to make it?” I asked Haupt. “She doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere.”

“She’s moving, but too slowly to make out with the bare eyeball,” he said. After we had stood for a while, jittering and thinking—at least I was thinking—whether it wouldn’t have been smarter to have used robot instruments instead of human observers, Haupt said: “Look carefully, now. She’s visibly declining toward the horizon.”

I looked; and sure enough, the spot had moved. Down it went, at first as slowly as the minute hand of a clock, then faster.

“There she goes!” cried Haupt.

The spot disappeared below the horizon, but almost at once a glow sprang up in the southeast. The glow of the coming sunrise in the east was already quite bright, but it was as if two suns were rising at the same time, almost a right angle apart. The normal sunrise went on at its usual leisurely pace; but the other one brightened much faster. Then there was a perfect blaze of light from south-by-east. I shan’t say it was brighter than a million suns; but for a few seconds it made the true rising sun in the east look like a mere candle.

“Look at the horizon,” said Romero. “I think the people who bet on Windward Passage are going to lose. The bearing indicates Yucatan.”

The bright light faded, but then followed something the like of which I had never seen. A kind of illuminated dome thrust up over the horizon. This thing went up and up, becoming the top of a vast single column. It was of mixed colors, mostly red. Along the top it was a dark red, with a kind of ragged appearance, as if made of a million separate jets of steam or water or lava. Further down the column, the color brightened to a brilliant yellow at the base, and little blue flashes of lightning played all over the surface of the whole fantastic thing. Romero said:

“What’s the azimuth of that, Einar?”

Haupt squinted and made an adjustment, with his eye to the lens. “Eighty-four—no, eighty-five degrees.”

“That would be the east coast of Yucatan,” said Romero.

I asked Haupt: “Why haven’t we heard anything?”

He said: “What do you expect? That’s about two thousand kilometers from here, so it’ll take at least twenty minutes for the sound and the shock wave to get here.”

I looked at my watch and said: “Twenty minutes, and we must all be in the chamber and buttoned up. Has anybody any last-minute thing he wants to do?”

The column continued to rise, although more slowly, and the colors darkened and faded a bit. It reminded me of a flick I once saw, showing the explosion of the American H-bomb on some poor little island in the Pacific. This was something like that, but on a vastly greater scale.

“Fifteen minutes!” I said. “Are you ready to let us in, Bruce?”

“Yep,” said Cohen.

“I’ll hold the door when he opens it,” said the Raja.

“Ten minutes!”

A band of darkness appeared above the horizon and seemed to be creeping closer.

“Dust, smoke, and water vapor, I think,” said Featherstone.

Change crept over the cypress-swamp plain before us. It started at the limits of vision and came swiftly closer. The change was the turning of the whole forest into a vast bonfire. The trees along the leading edge of the change blazed up in bright yellow and orange and then were hidden by a colossal cloud of black smoke, while the next nearer line of forest blazed up likewise.

“There’s our shock wave,” said Featherstone.

“Five minutes!” I said. “Into the chamber, all of you! Fast!”

We ran to the chamber, to find Cohen and the Raja on hands and knees in front of the closed doors.

“What in God’s name?” I cried.

“Bruce dropped his keys,” said the Raja. “Don’t anybody disturb the soil!”

They hunted and hunted, sweeping their hands over the ground. The time couldn’t have been more than seconds, but to me it seemed hours. I thought the dawnlight was already dimmed by the onrushing cloud of smoke, but that may have been my imagination.

“Let me,” said Todd. He produced an electric torch, which he played back and forth over the ground. Just as it looked hopeless, Cohen yelled: “Got ’em!” and pounced.

At any rate, Todd had proved himself something more than a mere pain in the arse. Cohen got the door open the quickest I’d ever seen, and we piled in. I counted noses as they went by and said:

“Where’s O’Connor? Oh, Jon! Where the bloody hell are you?”

“Coming,” said O’Connor, walking in a leisurely manner from the tents towards the chamber, with a framed square of canvas under his arm. “Forgot this sketch,” he explained.

“Run, God damn it!” I yelled.

At last I got him safely inside and then myself. Bruce Cohen, at the controls, had his hand out to the door-closing lever, when another shadow fell across the doorway. I was sure all my sahibs were in. Several set up a yell as the newcomer leaped in with more agility than any mere human being could command.

Cohen hesitated, then frantically pulled the lever. The doors slammed shut. The newcomer uttered a squawk, because the closing doors had snipped off the last centimeter or two of the point of its long tail. It was in fact a steno, like the one that had chased George Romero into the chamber two days before.

“Take her to Present!” I shouted at Cohen, who was already working his controls.

There was a motion of the chamber that was not just going through time; it was a physical movement in the late Cretaceous.

“Earthquake!” cried Featherstone.

By then Cohen had us well on the time-travel route. The lights dimmed, and everybody felt the horrid vertigo and vibration and nausea. I looked toward our stowaway, huddled in a corner of the chamber near the door. What the hell should we do with it? To fire a shot in those close quarters would be suicide. On the other hand, to leave our people at the mercy of a Mesozoic carnivore . . .

“He seems unaggressive, Reggie,” said the Raja. “Must have remembered the chamber from the day before yesterday and, when he saw his world going up in smoke, figured that this was the safest place for him. They’re considered bright as reptiles—oh, oh!”

The nausea affected the Stenonychosaurus so that it puked up its last meal on the floor of the chamber. Bruce Cohen, when he saw, did some of the fanciest swearing I’ve ever heard. Made the most eloquent bushie seem like a schoolma’am.

The Raja was right about the steno’s being smarter than most reptiles. Some museum coves reason that if it hadn’t been for Enyo, the dinosaurs might still be going strong, and the steno’s descendants might have evolved into the reptilian equivalent of mankind.

“If we leave him alone,” said the Raja, “he’ll probably do likewise to us. He must have been more frightened by the Event than by us. Lots of zoos would love a live dinosaur. The museum that tried to bring back eggs had no luck; they didn’t hatch. I’ll see if he’ll let me bandage his tail; you know me and animals.”

“By God!” said Romero. “I do believe he’s my sometime rival for the affections of that female. Has the same scar on his muzzle. The poor girl will have been killed by the shock wave.”

“Too bad we couldn’t bring the pair back,” said Featherstone, “and breed them.”

I said: “If you museum blokes will produce the money to fetch a pair, you’ll find Rivers and Aiyar ready to talk business.”

And that, Mr. Burgess, is the story of my closest call. It’s like being shot at and missed. Makes you feel good at the time and gives you a story to dine out on; but on the whole you’d rather not take that kind of chance again. No more for me, thanks. My wife’s due to pick me up. Ta-ta!

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