Zoe could have gone to Florida. Her college friends had invited her to make the trip with them.
"Sun," Amy said.
"Sand," Tracy said.
"Hot boys wearing next to nothing," Amy said.
"And girls," Morgan added.
"It's practically a spring break tradition!" Tracy said. "You don't want to break tradition, do you?"
Zoe had laughed and thanked everyone for the invitation, but told them no, she'd rather go home to Eureka. Besides, Jenna was getting so big, and Zoe had to see for herself the reported cookie raids Jenna was engineering with SARAH's help. Also, Kevin had mentioned something about Eureka opening one of the biology and paleontology department's projects to the public for a few days. Zoe never had been able to resist Eureka's siren song of ridiculous (and ridiculously awesome) science. She needed to take her own firsthand look.
This might have been a mistake.
"You were so good," Jack said mournfully, staring at Fargo with disappointment. "I thought you'd gotten over this."
Allison typed frantically away at the controls. Kevin picked up Jenna in case they needed to make a swift egress. Jo put herself between the civilians and the room with all the brightly flashing pods.
And Fargo put his head in his hands and said, "I thought it was part of the interactive display!"
"There is no interactive display," Dr. Fortwyth said shrilly. He waved his hands in frantic parabolas. "You've woken them all up and set them free!'
"Why would you put all those commands under one button?" Jack demanded.
"Because," Zoe said bitterly, "this is Eureka."
Definitely should've gone to Florida.
Kevin and Jenna were sent with the evacuating visitors, which Andy was assigned to shepherd safely from the building. Jack, Fargo, Dr. Fortwyth, and several other scientists—which Zoe hoped included someone competent like Henry—stayed behind to try to slow or stop the process and come up with a solution for the dinosaurs that had already broken free, including a dazed t-rex that had stumbled after an equally dazed apatosaurus fleeing haphazardly toward the concourse. Allison said something about heading for the infirmary right before the throngs of people separated everyone.
The evacuation was going fine, orderly, even, because this was Eureka, and what was a Wednesday without disaster? Then some political tourist jack-ass caught sight of the t-rex and screamed, "It's coming this way! We'll all die!" He continued to wail something about being eaten and suing everyone, but Zoe lost the thread of his words what with the sudden stampede.
Zoe had been torn between helping people with Allison and making sure Kevin and Jenna made it home safely, but her options now had narrowed down to trying not to get trampled. Eventually, she made it across to one of the maintenance corridors where she could hide behind the door. Dinosaurs, nothing, Zoe had lived here long enough to know humans were the real menace.
"Andy had better be taking care of them," she muttered, thinking of Kevin and Jenna, who'd been standing directly next to him. She pulled out her phone to check on them when she noticed she was, well, surrounded.
There were nine or ten of the puffy little things, covered more in fluff than feathers. They were maybe the size of her fist, but they had wickedly sharp beaks and beady little eyes. One of them emitted a shrill noise, halfway between a squeak and a squawk, and another hopped closer. The rest took this as a cue to charge.
Instead of cleaving meat from bone as Zoe had feared, they fought over her shiny silver shoelaces.
Zoe scooped one up to peer at. "You're more magpie than pterodactyl, aren't you?"
It nipped her thumb.
"Okay, okay, ferocious predator, got it."
Normally, Zoe might worry about where their mom was hanging out, but as far as she knew, the dinosaurs were all abominations of science. The closest they had to a parent was Dr. Fortwyth and his cohorts, who admittedly were as proud as any parent could be. It looked like that wasn't enough for these adorable little monsters.
"I can't adopt you," Zoe told them when they tired of her laces and tried cuddling up in piles at her feet. "My dorm doesn't even allow fish."
The one in her hand crawled up her arm and tried nesting in her hair.
"Okay," Zoe relented. "Okay, I'll try to find someone here to take care of you."
That someone was not Taggart.
Zoe had taken corridors at random, mostly trying to stay in spaces too small for the t-rex, which might still be hungry after that apatosaurus. She just hoped the carnivorous dinos were sticking close to their displays, or were at least distracted by all the tasty-looking grass-eaters that had also gained their freedom. The baby pterodactyls trailed behind her like a line of ducklings following their mom, and Zoe was reminding herself for the umpteenth time she really couldn't keep them when she stumbled across Taggart and five downed dinosaurs that were maybe three feet tall, but longer than her and Taggart's heights combined. Taggart was—there was no other way to put this—cooing over them.
A sixth came gamboling down the hallway, mouth drawn wide open as though to swallow everything in its path. Taggart casually drew a dart gun and unloaded it in the thing, which stumbled, then fell, momentum sliding it across the floor to rest at their feet.
Zoe swallowed hard, while Taggart crouched over this newest addition to his little collection.
"Aren't they adorable?" Taggart barely turned to look at Zoe in favor of the vicious-looking thing, which, now that it was no longer moving, Zoe could see had three rows of teeth and claws larger than her face.
"It tried to eat us," Zoe said. She drew the line at dinosaurs that thought she'd make a good snack and tried to put that thought into action. She lifted one of the fluff-balls and told herself she was comforting it and not herself. That her pterodactyls seemed largely unconcerned was probably a front for endless terror.
"They're just hungry. Not getting enough nutrition outside their containment units." Taggart patted the thing's head, then gestured encouragingly at Zoe. "C'mon, give 'er a try."
She shook her head and took a step back. Subdued or no, there weren't enough tranquilizers in the world.
"Just, uh, just tell me where to find Jo." Jo would probably have answers to what to do when a flock of dinosaurs adopted you, answers that wouldn't include "go out and adopt some more."
"I thought you went back with Kevin and Jenna," Jo said when Zoe finally found her, perched on an edge overlooking the concourse with a truly frightening amount of weaponry piled around her.
"Some out-of-towner started a stampede."
"Amateurs," Jo snorted. She offered up some sort of energy weapon. "Want one?"
"I thought my dad said I couldn't use those until I was thirty."
"I thought that was dating." Jo smiled. "What he doesn't know won't hurt him."
"Sure." Zoe tentatively tested her grip. "Why not? It's better than trying to punch a dinosaur in the face."
"I can tell you from personal experience now that that," Jo’s smile edged into a grin, "isn't true."
There was a reason, Zoe reflected as she switched on the prototype, that Jo and Taggart had dated once.
Then a small horde of things Zoe couldn't identify—except as dinosaurs and also monsters from her deepest nightmares—tried assaulting the ledge, and Zoe was just grateful for Jo and her large stash of weapons.
Twenty minutes later, the horde was smaller, but still trying.
"I should have gone to Florida." A baby pterodactyl bumped into Zoe's ankle as she watched Jo reload. Her own weapon—which she'd discovered on firing was one of the newer sonic guns, score; it was almost worth the high pitched sound it had been making since she'd turned it on—had jammed somehow, and it was kind of hard to concentrate on fixing it between the ongoing attack and her own attempts to babysit a bunch of pterodactyls. "Really, really should've gone to Florida."
"Aw, but then you'd have missed the cook-out." Jo hefted her gun and lined up a shot at the angry four foot dinosaur trying to jump and claw its way to their ledge. Zoe wouldn't be concerned, only it had so many teeth, like a shark had a baby with a bloodthirsty chicken.
"What cook-out?" One of her pterodactyls got too close to the edge, and Zoe nudged it back with her foot.
"You really think Vincent is going to let all this food go to waste?" Jo's smile was a little wild as she emptied her clip. "I can taste the barbecue already."
A second chicken-shark managed to nudge its teethy, beakish mouth almost up to the guard rail, its claws finding purchase in the metal, and Zoe gave up on fixing her weapon to club it with the butt of the gun instead.
"Nice," Jo said approvingly as she switched clips again, then fired down after it.
After another fifteen minutes, during which Zoe was almost certain she'd fixed the sonic weapon except for the annoying sound it was emitting and a steady stream of dinosaurs arrived to replace those felled, Jo apparently got bored with slaughtering dinosaurs like they were stuck in a 3D version of one of those time travel shooter games. "This is ridiculous. Where are they all coming from? And why are they coming here?"
"Maybe they can smell all the blood?" Zoe suggested. "I mean, Taggart was just tranqing them. You practically chopped that one in half."
"Maybe," Jo said doubtfully, staring down at where one of the creatures had taken her bowie knife with it. "But then why would they be trying to get up here?" She turned to look, gaze clearly speculative, at Zoe. "You know, I don't think they were attacking in these numbers until after you showed up."
"What, you think they're coming after me?" A pterodactyl bumped into her legs again. "Or them?" Zoe was not letting the carnivores eat her pterodactyl chicks.
"No." Jo pointed at the sonic gun Zoe was fiddling with. "I think they're after that."
Jo got ahold of Henry and Jack, who confirmed that all of the dinosaurs were converging on Jo and Zoe's position and also relayed that they'd locked Dr. Fortwyth in a closet until it was all over. He could be heard faintly screaming through the door, "STOP KILLING MY BABIES."
"We'll be fine," Jo said when Jack offered to send reinforcements. "I haven't even used the flamethrower yet."
"We?" Jack asked.
"Why not?" Zoe demanded. That twelve-armed scaly thing had nearly gotten one of her pterodactyls.
"I thought it would be overkill," Jo said as Jack yelled in tones as indignant as the imprisoned Dr. Fortwyth, "ZOE'S THERE?"
"So much for what he doesn't know," Zoe muttered. More loudly, "I'm fine, Dad."
"Too late," Henry said. "He already took off. I'll see if I can't get Taggart to catch him." Then, "To be clear, the plan here is to kill all of the dinosaurs?"
"Not all of them," Jo said indifferently. "I understand Taggart has some captured somewhere."
"Fortwyth will be so pleased," Henry said before signing off.
Flamethrowers were impressive. "These are military grade," Jo explained. "And this is Eureka, so we can actually get over the usual sixty to eighty if we needed."
Jo did not mean feet, Zoe had discovered. She meant meters. "Hollywood did not prepare me for this."
"Want to try it yourself?" Jo asked, holding it out, but keeping the nozzle pointed carefully toward the flaming remains of the dinosaur army.
Zoe's dad probably was already planning to stick her in a nunnery or lock her in a closet somewhere like Dr. Fortwyth, but—"I shouldn't."
Jo shrugged and set the few dinosaurs still moving alight.
"So much for that barbecue," Zoe said when it was all over but for the clean-up. She didn't know what they paid the janitors at GD, but it couldn't be enough.
"They're only a little charred," Jo said. One of the dinosaurs crumbled in on itself. "People like well-done."
Zoe supposed there might possibly be something edible in there, but it would taste of charcoal if not napalm. "You know Vincent prefers to do the cooking himself."
"True. And it just wouldn't be the same without his lemon-tangerine sauce."
Zoe and Jo stared contemplatively down at the massacre until reinforcements arrived. Considering they were composed entirely of Zoe's panicked father and a man who was mourning the loss of all the "poor little beasties," she'd almost have preferred to do without.
"They're not pterodactyls. They're pterosaurs," Dr. Fortwyth said snottily, grabbing for one of the balls of fluff darting about his feet. Zoe already regretted returning them instead of smuggling them out and trying to find a way to keep them at Harvard with her. Maybe she could've housed them in one of the bio labs and tried to pass them off as a class project.
"Are these what I think they are?" Henry asked, crouching down to let one nibble on his fingers.
Dr. Fortwyth was only slightly less annoying when he was projecting proud papa with his every iota. "Yes, they're Quetzalcoatlus. Already we're discovering—agh!" The little darlings didn't seem to be as gentle with him as with Henry or Zoe, she noted smugly.
"Quetzelcoatlus?" Zoe asked. "Aren't those the ones that grow huge?"
"This little fellow," Henry held up the fluff-ball that had taken a liking to him, "should eventually reach a wingspan between ten and eleven meters."
It looked like the bio labs plan was right out if she changed her mind. "I promise I'll come visit you all next break," Zoe told the ones that refused to move from their huddle at her feet. "And every break after that."
Meanwhile, Jack was asking, "And you're sure we've got them all?"
"My team can't find any active outside the temporary pens Taggart set up," Jo confirmed. "Yet another crisis averted."
"Yes," Dr. Fortwyth said bitterly, "wholesale slaughter of invaluable scientific specimens. Definitely a crisis averted."
Another of the scientists, whose name Zoe hadn't caught, said, "They killed our project. Literally."
Fargo awkwardly cleared his throat. "I'll be sure you get the funding to replace them."
Dr. Fortwyth whirled around and advanced menacingly on Fargo. "Can you replace the years of my life? The love that wasted away with their poor little bodies? The—the—" He looked puzzled and held a hand to his neck. "What just—" He slumped over.
"Whoops, got a little overexcited there," Taggart said, pocketing his tranquilizer gun. "Let's get you settled somewhere to sleep it off."
"Did he just—" Zoe said, wide-eyed.
"Standard company procedure," Jo reassured her. "There are standing orders to subdue anyone who looks in danger of assaulting GD's head staff. Though we've had to tranq a lot more scientists since Fargo became president."
Fargo looked so miserable that Zoe handed him one of the pterosaurs.
Kevin and Jenna were fine. Someone (probably Zane) had hacked GD's security feed and—in blatant defiance of a ton of laws, but in full support of a few unspoken rules about the more entertaining crises—put it up on Eureka's town-wide broadcast system. Jenna apparently wanted a Quetzelcoatlus of her own; Kevin just wanted a chance to use the flamethrower.
"I can't believe you turned it down," Kevin said.
"I can't believe you took the sonic gun," Jack said.
"Would you rather she not have a weapon the next time she's attacked by dinosaurs?" Allison asked.
"That's not fair," Jack said as Zoe mouthed thank you.
"If it makes you feel any better," Zoe said, "next year I can go to Florida."
"It does," Jack said. Then, "Wait, next spring break? With, with boys and swimsuits and, and—"
"Or I could come home again."
Jack laid his head on the counter. Jenna, helped up by one of SARAH's raising platforms, offered him a cookie.
Zoe could have gone to Florida. She could've had sun, sand, and half-naked boys. Instead, she'd gotten things trying to kill her, pterosaurs trying to adopt her, and more fire than in a Hollywood film.
She'd definitely made the right decision.