After Sheela and I had exited the cave and replaced our makeshift tree-barrier, we grabbed our spears and walked down the ramp. I stopped her as soon as we were out of earshot from our two other companions and then gestured to the ruins of the camp.
“A tamed dinosaur can help us fix this in a snap,” I said as we both looked at the mess.
“I agree, but do you think we are going out too soon?” Sheela asked.
It had been an hour since the stampede, and it was one hour more than I wanted to spend waiting. I’d promised to tame a dinosaur, and I was anxious to deliver.
“We’ll never know for sure. All I know is that most of the carnivores ran up there,” I pointed toward the valley to our right, “so we’re going the other way.” I pointed to the left, toward the lake.
“Yes, the predators are likely distracted by the easy prey running with the stampede. We may never have a better opportunity to explore the lake unmolested,” Sheela replied.
“Yeah, I like the way you think,” I said while remembering of all sorts of video games back home. “Hit their home base while they’re distracted.”
I motioned for her to keep going down the ramp.
There should have been a horse-sized dinosaur lying on the rocks next to our walking path, but the body had been taken.
“You were right, Sheela. Those dinosaurs were drawn to this guy. I’m guessing they carried his body back to their lair.” I pointed left to the splotches of blood and blowing feathers in a trail leading away from us. “Probably back toward the lake.”
“Maybe. These carnotaurus dinosaurs, as you call them, are quite different from what chased us from the lake,” Sheela said while she hopped from rock to rock.
“So you don’t think they live there?” I asked.
“I do not know. Perhaps there are other lakes inside the jungle, or multiple predators share the same lake. However, wherever you find herds of herbivores that is where you will also find predators.”
She wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t already know about animal behavior, but it did make me wonder how many other carnivores were in that jungle.
“Why did they take the body? Hungry kids, maybe?” I tried to insert some humor in my voice to cancel out the fear gathering in my stomach.
“It was small enough to drag away,” she answered with a shrug.
I searched what little I could remember of how reptiles cared for their young. I was pretty sure most of them laid eggs and then abandoned them, but some species could take care of their young the way birds did.
“Maybe they took it back to feed their brood,” I said. “It would explain why the two were tag teaming it.” Sheela also saw the two predators working together, so maybe that was common for mated dinosaur pairs.
“If we follow the blood trail, we would shortly know the answer,” my feline friend replied with a smile.
I knew she wasn’t serious by the way she said it. Following a blood trail through a dinosaur-infested forest was probably the shortest path to a grisly death.
While we stood there, orange birds squawked in the trees high above.
“Fuck,” I said while I glared up at the intrusive birds. “A stampede isn’t bad enough. I almost forgot about these assholes.”
“I know you want to go, but perhaps a slight delay is still in order while we ensure they are not coming down,” Sheela said. Her bravery was beyond all doubt, so I read her statement as wanting to ensure our friends in the cave weren’t in danger.
“If we don’t leave now, we may never get another chance,” I insisted. “Our base is well defended from the inside, no matter how much Trel pretends she won’t help. She’s protective of Galmine, and you saw her with that spear.”
“Your logic is sound, Victor,” she said in a supportive way.
Ten minutes later, Sheela and I were trotting on the far side of the trail of destruction caused by the stampede. We intended to use it as breadcrumbs to take us back to its source, which we assumed was our lake.
“It was wise to avoid taming a predator dinosaur,” Sheela said on one of our first halts to listen for bad guys.
“I tried to tame that black-feathered dinosaur, and it didn’t work, so I’d be pretty stupid to try an even bigger and more aggressive dinosaur, next.” I continued speaking in a quiet voice while we watched the forest. “I was able to control Jinx, so he killed the orange bird. I think if I practice enough I will be able to get him to do all kinds of stuff for me, but if I’m going for something bigger, it’s going to be a dino that isn’t going to eat me on sight.”
We walked a little while longer until we stopped at a smallish redwood tree next to the stream. We were in the transition zone between our redwood grove and the jungle, so there was a mix of trees around us. The swath of destruction caused by the stampede had brought us near the lake, but now the trample path broke into smaller trails and became harder to follow. We chose to cross the stream so we could go to the far side of the lake where the beach-going herbivores liked to hang out.
“Looks like we’re going to get wet,” I suggested with a smirk. Of the two of us, she was the one already wearing a bathing suit. I automatically checked for my wallet in my right front pocket but didn’t think it mattered if my six dollars, expired school ID, and “Levels and Lords” video game rewards card got wet.
The stream was deeper here than where we got our water, but it wasn’t flowing very fast. I did a quick scan in each direction to see if we’d be lucky enough to have a log to cross, but the stream was clear.
“At least we will get ‘cool’ as you like to say,” Sheela replied, again messing up my turn of phrase.
“Yeah. We’ll be cool while we’re staying cool,” I admitted.
Sheela tilted her head as if trying to understand.
“Your people have several meanings for some words, do you not? We have very few words like that.” She spoke to me while we huddled in some ferns to check for threats.
“Some have dozens of meanings. You should hear people use the word ‘fuck’ over and over in the same sentence.” I laughed while wondering how the alien’s Eye-Q could ever translate all the subtle differences of that four-letter Pandora’s Box.
“You have said the word several times, and it always seems to mean something has gone wrong. Is that what it is used for?” She didn’t appear to be joking, but it was extra tough to tell because we were also busy searching for predators.
“Mainly, it means ‘have sex,’ but you can use it for pretty much anything. For instance, I could say we’re at this fucking stream keeping a fucking look out for some fucking fuckers who want to fuck us up.” I chuckled at my fake sentence because it sounded exactly like something a couple of my friends would say. It was total nonsense, but I wondered how the translator would handle it.
“Did you understand what I just said?” I asked.
“We are waiting by this stream looking for evil dinosaurs,” she replied by way of interpretation.
“Yes! Somehow you knew what I meant,” I said, but I instantly wondered how it worked. Was it dependent on context? Would she have figured out the same sentence if we were back in the cave instead of by the water? I was naturally inclined to seek the limits of the translation. Given enough time, I was sure I could make a complex sentence using almost nothing but F-bombs.
“Now, we should go,” Sheela said. She wasn’t nearly as interested in converting cuss words to regular speech as I was.
I led her into the waist-deep stream while I held my spear and axe above my head. The pull of the current wanted to suck me downstream and it gave me some legitimate “oh fuck” moments when I almost slipped. As I crossed the deepest part, I ignored the dark shadows swimming around my feet. I had no choice but to fight the current and stride across, and I held my breath the whole way. Fortunately, the stream wasn’t much wider than a two-lane street, so we were back on dry land in a matter of seconds.
“Did you see all those piranhas?” I asked in the steadiest voice I could manage.
Sheela looked into the water, then back to me. I was captivated by her inquisitive eyes in the sunshine, at least until she replied.
“Victor, those were rocks,” she deadpanned.
“Are you sure?” I said with surprise. I knew Sheela would never lie about something so dangerous, but I was convinced they were living animals.
She just shook her head, smiled a bit, and then got down and began to drink from the stream.
“Yeah. Okay. But cats have worse vision than humans,” I said with a playful laugh. I knew she wasn’t a cat, no matter what she looked like, but I was joking with her to bring my stress level out of the red zone.
“What is a cat?” she replied.
“Uhhh… I’ll tell you another time. We have to keep moving.” I got down and raced through some quick gulps of water then hopped back up to get us moving again.
Sheela followed me across a muddy bank, and we hid in some more ferns and bushes to check again for predators. The smaller stampede path continued along the stream on the way to the lake, so that’s where I was looking.
“The beach is not far down the stream,” she said quietly in a back-to-business voice, and I tried to not notice her wet bikini bottom or the water dripping from her toned legs.
“Okay, I think we know some of the stampede came from the lake, and I don’t want to walk us right out in the open,” I said while thinking of the plan on the fly. “Instead, let’s go farther into the woods, turn left at the jungle, and then pop out behind whatever dinosaurs are now gathered at the lake. That will give us a chance to see what’s happening without exposing ourselves to danger.”
“Spoken like a true hunter.”
“I’m learning from the best,” I replied with pride.
We walked for about ten feet when we heard the call of a carnotaurus from far away.
“Oh, shit,” I exhaled in a whisper. My blood pressure was on a roller coaster.
We froze at the sound and tried to figure out its location, but even after waiting a couple of minutes we didn’t hear it again.
“We have to go on,” I insisted. Galmine was right about one thing when she said there would always be dinosaur threats outside. We simply had to make the best of it and hope we could avoid the worst of them.
“I think it came from a long way behind us.” Sheela craned her neck like she was straining to listen to the jungle.
“I don’t doubt you for a second, Sheela, but the real question is which way is it heading?” I looked at the wide variety of trees in the transition zone between the redwood forest and the dense jungle. Most of the trees we'd be able to climb if we needed, but then again, Kelg found out that wasn’t always a place of safety.
“I will listen for it to call out again,” she said in reply.
“Let’s keep moving.” I started walking again but kept my eye out for suitable trees to scale.
Ten minutes later we were on a little rise looking out at the watering hole. From the new vantage point, the lake looked a little like a hand with three fingers. Our fishing cove was the narrow third finger, and the thicker first digit was where I encountered the giant croc. The larger “palm” of the hand was the main body of water just in front of us.
Our overlook was at the edge of a broad, treeless floodplain surrounded by the tall trees of the jungle. It was kind of like the wrist attached to the hand. The opening was about two hundred yards wide and went about that far up into the jungle. It was big enough to give us a great view of this side of the lake.
A handful of dinosaurs lounged on the nearby sandy shore, confirming that at least some of the herbivores were already back at the watering hole. However, I could only see dinosaurs with the long, tubular crests on their heads. There were none of the triceratopses I’d been hoping for.
“Dammit, I wanted those trikes to be here.” After I said it, I realized it didn’t really matter. One dinosaur was as good as the next as long as it didn’t want to eat me. However, ever since I missed taming one in our grove, I pictured a trike as my preferred target.
“Shall we come back later?” Sheela offered.
“No, but I am taking suggestions on which one of those seems most likely to be tamed,” I said with a chuckle to steady my beating heart. I wanted a trike, but it was definitely not the time to be a dinosaur snob. However, the thought of going up to one of those tube-head dinosaurs jacked up my beats per minute. Friendly or not, the beasts were a little larger than elephants, and they could crush me without noticing I was under them.
Other than their size, these dinos defied comparison to modern animals. Their most prominent features were their gently curving head crests. It looked like they had a six-foot loaf of French bread balanced on their head, with most of it poking out behind them. They honked playfully with each other, suggesting the crests were part of their speech system.
I got a good look at their relatively short necks, stubby tails, and gray barrel-like bodies. They sometimes walked on all fours, but mostly used their two larger hind legs to get around. The more I watched, the more I felt they would be perfect for our needs.
“We should avoid taming the very largest, since it is probably the alpha,” Sheela said while studying the herd. “If we can identify him, we should also avoid the females closest to him.”
“Is that because they will be the hardest to tame?” I asked.
“No. If you tame the alpha, the females may follow. If you tame a captive female, the alpha may pursue and try to free her. Of course, I could be completely off.” Sheela didn’t sound like her usual reassured self.
“Are you okay?” I asked her as I reached over and touched her arm.
She looked at me for a moment before she continued.
“I am fine. I reminded myself of home, I suppose. But do not let it distract you. The one you want will be away from those few I have just mentioned.” She pulled out the rope and busied herself with tying it in knots to get it ready to lasso the head of our dinosaur. We’d discussed a general plan of taming our mark, then walking it back to camp using the rope.
I got comfortable as I observed the wild gray beasts. A couple of the biggest dinosaurs pulled at the reedy vegetation on the shore, reinforcing my belief these were herbivores.
I got one of them in my Eye-Q, and the system was able to recognize it instantly. The computer displayed Identification: Dinosaur, Parasaurolophus walkeri, female.
“Parasaur has a nice ring to it,” I said while admiring the beasts spread across the shore in front of us.
But I had to search for one that wasn’t a part of the main group. I tried to use Sheela’s technique for picking out the leader male and his females, but they all looked identical. I finally did see a loner tugging at leaves from a fluffy little tree across the clearing from us.
“Over there. What’s it doing?” I pointed to a parasaurus that was separated from the others. Rather than play at the shore, it rubbed itself on a tree thirty yards away from the others.
“It is smaller than the rest of them,” she answered. “It may not be mature.”
It was hard to get a clear perspective when all the animals were gigantic. The main group of them were maybe twice my height and about thirty feet long from nose to tail. The smaller one was maybe half the height of the others and not nearly as long, and it was still about as bulky as a draft horse.
“That’s the one. I can feel it. We’ll sneak over there, and then I’ll get even closer and look into its eyes.” I gathered my spear, but Sheela grabbed my arm before I could stand.
“Here. The neck rope should now be the size needed to loop over its head.” The feline warrior tossed the rope to me.
“I should warn you, my skills with horse-like creatures are pretty rusty. I rode a couple of times for my animal husbandry classes in community college. Oh, and I guess I’d also count that one day-long horseback adventure with a date from hell.” I couldn’t even remember the name of the girl, but I did remember having a sore ass for days.
“You have the advantage, Victor. My planet has no such beasts of burden.”
I let that sink in as we snuck through the undergrowth at the edge of the floodplain with my healthy-looking companion. Sheela looked like a sexy workout trainer, which made sense if her planet had no modern technology or beasts of burden to carry them around. I’d be a buff-assed mofo, too, if I jogged all over Los Angeles instead of taking my car. As we moved, I realized my health was getting better.
Probably the only benefit to being on this world.
We stayed on the edge of the clearing and used small bushes as cover until we were about twenty feet from the parasaur. The dino never looked at us, so I thought we did a good job sneaking up on it. Sheela held my spear as I got ready to cross the final few yards by myself.
“Wish me luck,” I whispered as my heart began to pound into my ribs like cops kicking down a door.
I had absolutely no idea how to tame a dinosaur as big as the one in front of me. Should I approach it from behind, so I could sneak in close? Do I move in from the side? Would it be best to get its attention right away, so I avoid scaring it? I didn’t even know how close I had to be for my Tame skill to work.
It remained standing while it chomped away at the leafy growth all around us. I decided the safest course of action was to let it know I was there. While walking to where it could see me, I did a quick Eye-Q check and learned this one was another female.
“Hey, girl. I’m a f-friend,” I stuttered. Could this dinosaur smell fear? If so, I’d just given myself away. After taking a deep breath, I tried to wall off all my fright. Being this close to a wild animal was borderline insane, even back on earth.
It took a moment for the dinosaur to notice me. Though she continued to crunch at the leaves hanging from the side of her mouth, she adjusted her crested head to look me over.
“You’ve got some on your chin,” I said to lighten the mood. I’d gotten close enough to see boxy imprints of her teeth in the half-chewed slimy green leaves in her mouth. Her left eye squinted as if making sure I was real. The ring of yellow around the black pupil made the eye appear friendly and inviting, but I didn’t let that fool me. Though I had no reason to think she would do it, her mouth was big enough to bite off my head.
I opened my hands and held them in front of me with the palms out, just like I’d do when meeting a new dog. I hoped the action translated to dinos.
“I would never harm you. I’m here to make you an offer to come back to our camp and do a little work for us. There are four in our group. Actually, we have five if you count Jinx. You two would have lots in common.” With many animals, it wasn’t what you said, but how you said it, and with this one, I tried to remain friendly and casual.
The parasaur continued to imitate a cow chewing on grass.
I had no idea of the mechanics of Tame. I looked into the eye facing me and mentally suggested she accept my offer. It seemed ham-handed, but with animals, simple was always better.
“Will you let me put this loop on you?” I asked in a soft voice.
She kept on chewing with the suggestion of a bored look on her face.
I already had the Eye-Q open, so I tried to “use” the Tame ability if that’s how it operated. I didn’t have to do anything to tame Jinx, but he was a hundred times smaller, and maybe he required less of my concentration.
“I want to tame this dinosaur,” I said as if executing a command to the computer.
The parasaur blew a few pleasant notes through its crest.
“Is that a yes?” I said happily.
I tested the connection again by mentally suggesting she should drop her head. For ten seconds she seemed to mock me by continuing to chew, but then she did lower it.
“Holy shit,” I said with barely contained excitement.
“Can you lie down so we can ride on your back?” I asked. I kept my tone friendly like it was the easiest thing in the world.
She knelt down and then sprawled out in the undergrowth of ferns. I marveled at the details of her head and neck and ran my fingers over the bumpy scales on her side. Her skin was mostly gray up top and on the sides, but it became a light brown underneath. Pieces of dried mud were wedged in various crevices under there. She wasn’t the flashiest dino, but at that moment she was the prettiest I’d ever seen.
“It worked,” I said loud enough for Sheela to hear. I also waved her to come closer to me.
“I’m going to toss this over your head, but it isn’t going to hurt. I promise.” I started by looping the rope over the long crest, then I let it fall over her eyes and around her snout. I’d begun to think this was going to work.
The Eye-Q began to flash, and I eagerly read the Parasaurolophus tamed, notice.
“Fucking A!” I said triumphantly. My loud voice made the parasaur flinch, but I held my hand on her neck, and that seemed to steady her.
“She is tamed?” the cat woman asked.
“I don’t know if she’ll do any tricks for me, but my Eye-Q has put her into my tamed inventory,” I said. “It did the same for Jinx. All we do now is see if she’ll let us walk her.”
We brought the rope on the assumption we’d use it to drag the tamed dino back home, but standing there in front of her I knew that was thinking small. If we were ever going to maximize the potential of this parasaur, I had to think big. This dinosaur looked like she was designed to carry people upon her shoulders, and the rope was already up there, so why not give it a try?
“There now,” I said in a nice, even voice. “Good girl. Me and my friend are just going to climb up onto your shoulders. That’s cool, right?”
“Are you sure?” Sheela interjected with a surprising amount of hesitation in her voice.
“I’ve never been surer in my life. This is what we’re doing. Swing for the fences, right?” I really didn’t know if it was going to work, but I was ready to try.
The dinosaur never stopped chewing, even as Sheela and I got up on her shoulders. The feline woman sat down right behind me and wrapped her arms all the way around my midsection. I patted my hat tighter onto my head to keep it from flying off and then took a deep breath to steady my nerves. When I was ready, I tightened my grip on the neck rope while a firehose of adrenaline flooded my body.
I was about to ride a big ass fucking dinosaur.
“Here we go,” I said to Sheela while doing my best to pretend I was totally calm.
Her grip tightened on me, and I got the feeling she had some misgivings about what we were doing. I did too, but years of training animals in my parents’ clinic taught me the secret was to never display that doubt. Animals became confused when the trainer himself was wishy-washy.
“Up!” I commanded both mentally and out loud.
The parasaur slowly lifted Sheela and I. At first, she used all four of her feet, but then she seemed to lean back on her hind legs, a little like a kangaroo. We didn’t fall backward because my legs were draped over her shoulders.
“Whoa!” I blurted as we nearly slid sideways. Sheela hugged my midsection tighter until we steadied ourselves. She also placed her axe and both spears over her lap, so they sort of acted like tightrope walker’s poles.
The parasaur stood a little more erect, turned its head, and seemed to take stock of us on its back. She and I regarded each other, and I wondered if she would roll over on top of us. Instead, she shifted her orientation, so she was looking at a clump of trees in the nearby jungle. It seemed as if she was ready for orders, and she blew a short toot on her crest.
Despite my appearance of control, my insides were in a spin cycle. We balanced on the back of a multi-ton alien dinosaur, and I was using training techniques from when my biggest worry was having a dog piss on my leg. I had confidence in my ability to keep it together for Sheela and the women, but I’d never felt farther from “being in control” than I did at that moment.
“Victor, this is marvelous,” Sheela whispered. “The others will be so proud of you.”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” I replied. “I’m not even sure I can move this thing.” To test that theory, I yanked on the rope and used my foot to press into her right side. She turned part-way to the left, but not all the way around.
“Actually, I was wrong. I can turn her,” I laughed. I tried to push with my left foot, and she spun back to the right.
While we practiced those simple commands, the parasaurs in the main group began to get noisy behind us. Their honks didn’t sound quite so playful, and I turned toward them.
Instead of their usual activities near the shore, the group of elephant-sized dinos were clumping together as if gossiping about what I was doing with one of their own.
A deep carnotaurus howl rumbled far away, but when the parasaurs heard it, the already-agitated group seemed to ripple with fear.
“Is it getting closer?” My muscles tensed as I listened, and I noticed the parasaur underneath me was also very tense.
“I cannot say for certain, but it sounded more distant than before,” she said with a touch of relief in her voice.
We both continued to watch the odd behavior of the dinosaurs behind us.
The main group of parasaurs now stood shoulder to shoulder on the flat ground next to the shore. They weren’t just waiting in their normal standing pose but were down on all fours as if they were about to spring forward at us.
“Maybe they kicked this one out,” Sheela whispered. “Or she is sick in some way. That might explain their behavior.”
I didn’t know what to make of it, either, but our parasaur didn’t seem bothered by its friends behind us or the faraway carno. Our ride kept her eyes on the trees a dozen or so yards in front of us. I tried to hide my sweaty palms and creeping fear, but then the animal started quivering like a massage chair under us.
Something bad was going on.
I put myself in her shoes and tried to see the jungle as she would. All the action was behind us, yet she was looking ahead. Why?
I scanned the leaves and trees of the thick rainforest beyond the edge of the open field. I could see maybe fifty yards into the shroud of undergrowth before it became a solid wall of greenery, but I noticed the flinch of a light-colored animal a shitload closer than fifty yards.
“She’s not sick,” I added hastily, as I finally guessed what was happening.
I gently kicked my dinosaur’s right side to get her to turn left, but once she started the turn, I kicked her harder.
“Run!” I ordered her.
She complied immediately, and I hung onto the rope with both hands as she exploded from her standing position. At the same time, a rust-red predator with two badass horns sprang from the trees we’d been facing a few seconds before. Despite its massive size, the carno had used the thick tree cover to creep to within a dozen yards of the stray parasaur.
“Fuck!” I shouted. The carnotaurus gave chase, and I had a second to decide if I wanted to turn right to run along the lakeshore, run straight into the lake, or turn left and guide our ride back toward the protective line of its friends.
I waited until the last second and yanked at the rope while jamming my foot into her right side. Her feet slid on the sandy bank, but she stayed out of the muddy water as she made the sharp left turn.
The horned predator followed at a sprint, but he wasn’t able to turn fast enough, so he skidded on the sand and splashed into the water with a loud growl.
For a moment I thought we were in the clear, but I was disappointed when I glanced backward. My bright idea didn’t do much to slow him down, and the carno was already back on his feet. The beast was soaked and growling like a fiend, but he surged out of the shallows a few seconds later.
I looked ahead and aimed my mount toward the pack of parasaurs. I figured they’d be running away in fear, but the mob tightened up as we approached. It was a pretty good defensive measure, but I didn’t think they would let us into their ranks.
I leaned in and guided her, so we ran along the line of other parasaurs. My mount let out some urgent honks and howls which I read as a raw fear and rejection. Her friends had pretty much betrayed her, and the gentle dino I rode was heartbroken.
The herd whistled loudly and stamped their front feet as the predator neared. Though they sounded pretty mean, they just stood there. It surprised me when the carnotaurus turned away from the line of giant herbivores to chase after us, but I guessed that the large predator was more interested in the lone prey.
Sheela squeezed her arms around my waist as our parasaur hit her stride. We leaned from side to side and squeezed our legs around the dino’s neck to keep from falling off. Sheela also adjusted the spears on her lap as a crude counterbalance, but we were still in danger of falling off if we didn’t slow down.
“We must end this, Victor!” Sheela yelled. “The other beast is faster.”
I felt like we were flying while riding on its back, but as I angled my crested dinosaur to one side, I was able to look behind and confirm Sheela’s words. The carno took massive strides with its long legs, and it had closed much of the gap behind us. It wouldn’t take it long to catch up completely.
We couldn’t outrun the killer; our only option was to fight it.
“Can you jab that thing from up here?” I yelled back. We were both out of our element riding on the back of a dinosaur, so I had no idea if she could throw a spear on the move.
“I will try,” she said in my ear.
“I’m going to get us in position. Put it right through that thing’s heart!”
“I will do my best, Victor,” the warrior woman said again while squeezing me tightly.
I ran the parasaur into some of the thicker parts of the jungle and tried to avoid the numerous tangles of vines. It would be a sad end to my glorious first dinosaur ride if I was knocked off by a plant.
The parasaur turned out to be a fast runner, especially on the uneven surface of the jungle and shoreline. The carnotaurus was much larger, and the deeper we got into the jungle, the more certain I was that we would be caught.
We weaved around trees and ducked under low-hanging branches as I tried to come up with a plan. I had no idea what the parasaur would do to defend itself when it was alone, but I didn’t think it was built for combat. Sheela and I certainly wouldn’t survive hand-to-jaw fighting with the fifteen-foot tall meat eater, so our only chance was to use our weapons.
“Okay, get ready,” I shouted.
I found a set of three trees spaced kind of like a triangle about a hundred feet apart. I guided the parasaur through a hard left around the first tree and prayed she wouldn’t stumble. The devil-dino had gotten close but couldn’t make the turn at the same speed. That gave us a little extra room when we approached the next corner. I waited just long enough to be sure it was going to follow us before making another fast left turn. If he’d been smarter, he may have anticipated the repeat move and cut us off. Instead, he decelerated again to make his turn, which gave us even more of a lead.
At the third tree, I didn’t slow down to ensure he was following. I encouraged the parasaur to sprint through the turn while Sheela and I both leaned way over on our left. Our dinosaur’s toes dug into the soil, and I worried again that we might tip over, but our girl was smart, and she completed the maneuver by leaning herself hard into the turn.
“Here we go!” I yelled.
We soon faced the carnotaurus across the somewhat open clearing between the trees. I felt the parasaurus hesitate for a moment, but I conveyed my confidence at what I was doing. When I prodded her with my feet, she kicked back up to full speed and began chuffing until the wind was strong against my face.
“Kill it, Sheela!”
My feline friend shifted behind me, and I leaned forward to give her a clear view as she prepared to unleash hell on our attacker. Both dinosaurs ran toward each other at high speed, and we were seconds from impact when Sheela let out her trademark grunt.
I nudged the parasaur to the right, so we wouldn’t collide head-on, and Sheela’s spear soared into the path of the carnotaurus.
I had a fraction of a second to watch the spear punch through the carno’s front thigh and come out the back side. I held my breath, lowered my eyes, and prepared to get rammed by the injured predator.
But no impact came.
There was just a howl of anger that caused my ribs to vibrate, and I felt Sheela’s arms wrap around my waist. The carno had stumbled, and we zipped away before it could chomp us.
“Great shot, Sheela. That was amazing, but I don’t think a leg wound will kill it. Should we try it again with my spear?” I ran us toward one of the other turning trees, intending to go back.
“No, Victor. Death is not required in this case. Look back,” she said a bit out of breath.
I turned us, so I could check her work. The carnotaurus was obviously wounded, but it still made an effort to hobble along after us.
“Fuck me. That’s perfect,” I exhaled as the horned dino let out a roar of annoyance.
“I took a calculated risk to disable it with an easy toss into its leg,” she explained in my ear. “A death blow might have been possible, but it drops its front while on the run, and even a severe chest wound might still allow it to chase us. I went for the safer option.”
“You teach me something every day, Sheela. Smart thinking.”
Relief flooded my stomach, and I let the parasaur drop to a trot so she could catch her breath. Her heartbeat thumped madly from somewhere under my legs, but I got the sense she was happy. Then again, that could have been because I was really grateful we were all still alive.
The horned beast howled in pain again as it fell far behind us. Unlike almost every other injured animal I’d ever seen, I had no sympathy for it. We were one parasaur away from being its dinner, and that was closer than I ever wanted to get again.
We rode the heavy-breathing dinosaur along the lake and once again passed the larger group of gossipy parasaurs. The other animals seemed wary because the carno was still howling in the jungle behind us, but our girl seemed to ignore it all.
“You’re with us now, and we’re going to take care of you,” I said softly while stroking the parasaur’s neck. But guilt tugged at my heart for most of the ride back to our cave. If we hadn’t shown up when we did, our loner dino might have retreated back into the herd with no drama at all. Plucking the young girl from the dino herd probably put her in more danger, not less.
I also recognized my herd was definitely tons stronger with her in it, and that’s what mattered to me. I would do almost anything in my power to protect members on my “team” on this fucked up alien world, so maybe I’d just extended her life.
That perspective made me feel a lot better about the whole affair.
The carnotaurus continued to howl as we left the lake. I got concerned others of its kind would come to its aid, so we kept moving toward home along the stampede swath.
“You are one of us, now. So, what are we gonna call you?” I asked, but of course, the dino didn’t answer, and Sheela just shrugged when I turned my head to look back at her.
For the entire ride back, I couldn’t think of an appropriate name. She didn’t seem like a Speedy or a Turner, and I passed on any musical themes, despite the flute-like notes she blew in her crest.
It was only when I saw the cave and imagined Trel and Galmine waiting inside that I came up with the right name for our new friend.
“Welcome home, Hope,” I called to her.