As a girl, Portia Oakeshott dreamed of caring for the reconstructed
dinosaurs roaming the preserve near the south pole of her balmy home
planet, New New South Wales.
As a graduate from the planet’s top veterinary school and a recent
hire by the dinosaur preserve, caring for dinosaurs brings Portia into
conflict with land-coveting ranchers, spoiled teenagers, villainous
millionaires, religious fanatics, and scheming politicians.
Her adventures take her from the “big smoke” to the “back of
Bourke”—from the bustling city of Port Bounty, across a continent of
vast fields where farmers raise pigs containing cloned human organs, to
the lush Cretaceous forests where dinosaurs roam at the bottom of a
Sample of Portia Oakeshott, DInosaur Veterinarian
The quadrotor flier banked over fields and paddocks aligned with the contours of the land. From just above the northern horizon, the K6 sun, Stella Australis A, threw shadows of houses, barns, and scattered groves of oaks and elms long distances over the slender ribbons of purple-black living asphalt and slate gray gravel linking the human habitations to the nearest town.
All familiar sights. Portia Oakeshott’s gaze went due south. Pasture land gave way to the perimeter strip of untamed grasses dotted with trees. Judging from the color and texture of foliage, some were elms and oaks, but the trees common to the inhabited territories of New New South Wales shared the terrain with deeper, wilder greenery: cycads, conifers, woody ferns. Further south, between the perimeter and the jagged, snow-capped peaks of the Lesser South Polar Range peeking through the blue haze at the horizon, the deeper green thickened. The dinosaur preserve.
She’d entered the preserve on training missions, but now was the first time no senior veterinarian mentored her.
The quaddy descended toward the last farmstead. Four hundred meters away, cycads spread palm-like fans of leaves high over the ground. The barbed-wire fence of the last paddock ran between squared-off poles striped indigo and scarlet. Perimeter markers. Below, a rambling house and a steel-walled barn. Though the quaddy descended with the house and barn between them, a herd of pigs squealed and fled to the corner of their enclosure farthest from the buzzing machine.
”The riddlepigs are still spooked from the cryla,” said McAdams, the ecologist. His booming voice easily overpowered the rotors’ whine. From under wavy, graying hair, his bulging eyes watched the pigs stampede to a different corner of their pen.
Portia shivered. The pigs had good reason to be spooked. The farm’s surveillance video left no room for doubt. The forehead crest running laterally just behind the eyes, the two three-toed legs jumping over barbed wire, the rows of small sharp teeth clamping on the back of a pig’s neck. Cryolophosaurus. A female—the forehead crest was smaller and a duller mix of orange and red than a male’s. Still young, barely two meters tall and only six meters from snout to tail-tip.
Only. A theropod, the closest thing to a T. rex near Earth’s south pole during the Jurassic. The apex predator of the dinosaur preserve.
She’d played the video enough times on the thirty-minute flight from Margarettown to memorize the sights and sounds. Sirens roared out the same notes as the repulsion markers. Pigs squealed. Dogs bared their teeth and the hair on their backs bristled as they barked at the green intruder. A man’s voice, shouting curses. The deafening bangs of rifle fire.
Three shots, then the cryla fled, jumping as high and running even faster than a king kangaroo. Did it favor its left leg? Was that a red crease on the thigh?
They touched down on a grassy area thirty meters from the house. The rotors whined to a stop. They climbed out of the cabin into warm summer air. Portia yanked her medical kit from under her seat. They ducked under the rotor struts. Gravel crunched under their boots on their way to the house’s front door.
Centered on a dark green lawn of gene-engineered grass, the house showed native stone walls, wide windows facing north, a metal roof with a shallow pitch and rippled and painted brick-red in imitation of spanish tile. Two saplings, protected by cylindrical cages, grew on the sides of a flagstone path. The shine of Stella A tinged the house a warm orange. A cozy place for a quiet life, if that’s what you wanted.
The front door opened. A woman came onto the front step and shut the door on a quartet of barking dogs. The light emphasized fine lines and spots of middle age. Brown hair straggled loose from a headband tucked behind large and saggy ears. She raised her hand to shield her hazel eyes against the low sun. Her gaze jittered to the Blighland Dinosaur Preserve corporation’s logo on Portia and McAdams’ shirts. Her eyes settled on his shirt, following the ring of dinosaurs encircling the outline of the continent. “G’day,” she said with a guarded, nasal voice.
McAdams stepped forward. “G’day, ma’am. You’re—” He obviously double-checked the name through his neuronal interface. “—Ms. O’Connor?”
”The dino company sent us from Margarettown. My name’s McAdams and the young lady is Dr. Oakeshott.”
”Doctor…. A veterinarian?” Gwendolyn O’Connor cradled her cheek with her palm. “Of course a vet. I’m still not thinking straight after the cryla attack.” Her eyes sharpened their focus. “Never mind me. My husband. He’s in the barn with her. She’s still alive.”
Portia’s heart quickened. A chance to treat an injured dinosaur! Creatures reconstructed from fossilized bone, genetic extrapolation from modern birds, imagination, and Aussie pride. A dream born fifteen standard years earlier, with toys on the floor of her bedroom thousands of klicks away. A dream that survived teen angst and a challenging courseload at university.
A dream coming to fruition mere moments from now. Her voice trembled. “Which way?”
The woman gestured at an extension of the gravel lane that rounded the house.
”We’ll take a look straight away,” said McAdams. Portia stepped down to the lawn before he finished speaking.
”Come by the house when you’re done,” Gwendolyn O’Connor said. “I’ll put on the billy for a spot of tea.”
”I’d love a cuppa,” Portia said over her shoulder, “but duty calls.”
Her feet reached the gravel lane. She strode even faster.