“Missing Links”

Stardate 74251.3; April 02, 2397

 

Episode 55

 

 

 

 

Prologue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Valley of the Moon, Argentina

100 Million Years Ago

 

The dense, verdant jungles of Jurassic Argentina exuded an ethereal sense of calm.  A deafening silence filled the air, disturbed only occasionally by the rustling of leaves in the wake of a gentle breeze.  Massive deciduous trees soared high into the air, scattering the sun’s golden rays in a lush canopy of leaves, and creating a series of intricately dancing shadows to on the forest floor.  It was as close to paradise as one could hope to get.

 

Almost.

 

A tiny Hadroceras scampered through the wild underbrush with lightning speed.  Had it been equipped with wings, the sleek little dinosaur might have taken flight, but no such appendages existed, and the critter simply soared through the bushes as quickly as its little legs would take it.  In this instance, flight would have given the Hadroceras a considerable advantage; hell loomed only a few meters behind—and it was very hungry.

 

Measuring nearly eight meters long, and weighing more than a ton, Carnotaurus was a force to be reckoned with.  It was one of the most lethal dinosaurs to roam Argentina’s myriad jungles.  Swift, agile, and relatively intelligent, it was armed with four sharp claws on each of its hands, large, piercing horns over its eyes, and a powerful jaw filled with razor-sharp teeth.  Unlike most of its brethren, Carnotaurus had excellent eyesight, allowing it to pinpoint its prey with ease—and as it trampled through the lush jungle terrain, it knew exactly where its prey was headed.

 

In a desperate, last-ditch effort to elude its predator, Hadroceras quickly darted around a grove of large cycads, through the hollowed-out remains of a fallen tree trunk, and into a densely forested area where it had a miniscule chance of using its greenish skin as camouflage—but Carnotaurus was not fooled.  He quickly stormed through the cycad grove, knocking over two of them in the process before leaping onto the hollowed out log and into the underbrush—seconds later, its massive jaw clamped down upon the helpless Hadroceras.

 

Velvety red blood immediately oozed from the dying dinosaur as Carnotaurus hefted it into the air with its powerful jaw; it allowed the Hadroceras to dangle for a moment before chomping down upon its torso, swiftly chopping the dinosaur in half.  The bloodied hind-quarters of the Hadroceras squirmed in the underbrush for only a few seconds before Carnotaurus moved to finish its meal—but suddenly, a massive shadow loomed overhead, and in that instant, the hunter became the hunted…

 

 

 

Valley of the Moon, Argentina

Stardate 74251.3

 

The Valley of the Moon endured for millions of years, but time was not kind—and a paradise, it was not.  In fact, the once lush jungle was now barren, its terrain far more consistent with its namesake, the moon.   Rugged ochre mountains stretched across the landscape, all of them devoid of flora and fauna.  Windswept dunes of pinkish sand frequented the myriad gaps between mountain peaks, many of them filtering into the gaping crater that created the heart of the valley.  But even amidst all this change, one constant still managed to endure over the centuries: Carnotaurus.

 

Though the feral beast had perished long ago, its fossilized bones remained embedded in the valley’s reddish rock face, waiting patiently through the ages to tell their ancient story—and as Kendall Johnson peered over the exposed ribcage, the first few pages began to unfold.

 

“That is really a Carnotaurus,” he said, awed by the incredible sight.  “I have been waiting years to see one of these up close.”

 

After reaching Earth, Captain Christopher had granted shore leave to the crewmembers not affected by the debriefings and other post-war necessities Starfleet Command felt compelled to address.  Having resigned from Starfleet late last year, Kendall was certainly not affected by Starfleet’s actions, and quickly convinced Lucas Tompkins to join him on the planet’s surface to help excavate the remains of Carnotaurus.

 

Though Lucas wasn’t exactly thrilled at the idea of mucking around in a hot, arid desert, he quickly warmed to Doctor Dana Horner, the paleontologist heading up the expedition.  She was a tall, attractive woman with short, dark hair and a pleasant smile that Tompkins undoubtedly found quite enjoyable.  To Kendall’s relief, however, Horner virtually ignored Lucas’s advances, leaving them to their work.

 

“It looks like we’ve got quite a nice specimen here,” commented Horner as she swept some dust away from the fossil with a small brush.  “If the rest of it is as well-preserved as this ribcage, we may have unearthed one of the best Carnotaurus skeletons ever.”

 

The mere prospect of such an incredible find was enough to excite Kendall.  He carefully pulled a mallet and small chisel from his toolkit and began to pick away at the reddish rock near the bones.

 

Horner observed him for a few moments before beginning a similar procedure with her own tools.  “You have a nice technique,” she commented as she began chipping away at the rock.  “Have you been on many other expeditions?”

 

“Only three or four,” said Kendall quietly.  “And they didn’t turn up much of anything.  Certainly nothing like this.”

 

Horner smiled.  “So you’re just a natural?”

 

“I, um, learn quickly, I guess,” he said.  Carefully, Kendall tapped his mallet on the chisel, rhythmically clanking away the ruddy rock until Lucas Tompkins crouched down beside him.

 

The chief engineer watched with some interest for several moments before turning to Horner.  “Why don’t you just beam that sucker out of there?” he inquired.  “It would be a hell of a lot faster.”

 

Horner paused for a moment to brush away some dust, and then turned her brown eyes upon Tompkins.  “You’re right,” she admitted.  “It would be faster.  But these fossils have been here for millions of years.  A few more days won’t make much of a difference.  Besides, it’s more satisfying to do it the old fashioned way—to know that I personally freed this little piece of history from the cold, hard rock.”

 

As inefficient as it may be, Tompkins had little choice but to accept Horner’s method—because he could apply a similar concept to his work in engineering.  The computer could easily do some of the menial tasks required, such as inspecting the warp core or realigning the transwarp matrix—but it always made Tompkins feel so much better to simply do it himself.  Not only did it make him feel useful, it gave him the piece of mind that it was done right.

 

He watched Dana and Kendall for several minutes as they worked away at the Carnotaurus.  It didn’t look like it was very hard to simply chisel away some rock, and Tompkins was tempted to offer assistance—but considering the relative importance of the find, he didn’t want to screw things up with his inexperience.  Thus, Tompkins just watched as they uncovered more and more of the bone, awed by the fact that such an incredible beast actually roamed the Earth millions of years ago.

 

After awhile, Lucas began to notice some chipped and fractured bones on the beast, and though he was no expert, he was certain that wasn’t right.  “Look at that,” he said, pointing to several of the fractured ribs.  “Looks like they were broken.”

 

 Kendall quickly dismissed the notion.  “It probably happened after the fact.  There weren’t very many dinosaurs out there able to attack Carnotaurus.  You’d probably have a few broken bones, too, if you were buried in rock for a couple of million years.”

 

Dana Horner paused for a moment to peer at the questioned ribs herself.  She brooded for a quiet moment before chipping away some of the rock with her tools, coming upon a crushed vertebra after a moment.  “It’s hard to say what happened,” she admitted, holding up a large chunk of mangled bone.  “It looks like this piece is quite deformed, as if it tried healing itself when it became infected with something.”

 

Kendall immediately frowned.  “But what could attack a Carnotaurus?  Giganotosaurus, maybe?”

 

“One of largest carnivores of all time,” mused Horner.  “Good guess.  He lived in the neighborhood all right, but several million years after Carnotaurus.  It’s doubtful the two ever crossed paths.”

 

Kendall affirmatively nodded as he absorbed the data.  “If that’s true, then something entirely new had to have killed Carnotaurus…” Excitement started to swim though his veins as he realized, “We just might have a bigger find than we thought…”

 

 

 

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