Maddy never had to ask whether someone remembered the future Earth. A minute or two of incidental conversation always made clear how keenly the person felt the gaping enormity of difference between this world and the old one. Did their eyes unfocus a little at every unfamiliar cry that echoed from the surrounding forest? (A forest! That surrounded them!) Did they take deep and hungry breaths of air every so often, for no apparent reason other than to taste the clean, delicious air? Were relatively common events such as a 15-foot-tall Carnotaurus damaging the wall at the western edge of the colony relayed via the day's gossip with a certain disbelieving laugh, as in ha ha yes now we live in a world where there is clean air, we can have as many children as we want, and sometimes dinosaurs break our stuff. Totally absurd.
Everyone seemed to have their own way of dealing with this. Her dad went on long men-only man-trips with Commander Taylor. Her mother, meanwhile, routinely worked 14 hour shifts trying to make the colony's medical wing as much like a good old-fashioned research hospital as she could. This was a task in which Maddy briefly entertained the possibility of assisting, but a combination of a weak stomach for human gore and a nagging sense of missing the literal forest for the metaphorical trees resulted in her internship in the Terra Nova Medical Ward being a short one.
"I don't know," said Maddy to Mark of her decision to quit, during one of their rare lunches together. "Just... the more I thought about it, the more I realized I'd be spending all this time focusing on people—you know, humans—and there's this whole new world around us and I didn't want to miss it or whatever."
"You sure it wasn't about not wanting to look at infected megapede bites all day?"
"Hey, easy. Remember that time I let you rub stinkweed all over me? As far as I'm concerned that obviates any right you might have to give me trouble for the weak stomach I may or may not possess."
"'Obviates?' Is that even a—"
"It means 'removes,' and yes, it's a word." Maddy poked Mark in the chest. Her hand lingered there as she was struck, not for the first time, that it was a very nice chest, as chests went.
"So have you decided what you're doing for the science fair?" Mark took affectionate hold of her hand as it began to trace a line down his sternum.
"Yes! Well, technically—no. But I know the kind of thing I want to do. I want to find a real problem and solve it, and I want it to be somewhere at the interface—" Maddy here removed her finger from Mark's grasp and interdigitated her hands to punctuate the word—"of humans and the new environment."
Mark seemed to process this for a moment; Maddy appreciated that he'd mastered his tendency to get flustered when her usage passed a certain threshold of technical precision. She'd made it very clear that while he wasn't a scientist she absolutely, 100% considered him her intellectual equal, which she occasionally admitted to herself was an oversimplification but was nonetheless fundamentally true. "Well..." Mark began, "the biggest problem I can think of that's at that, uh, interface, is the one where there are giant hungry lizards that try to eat us. But I think the solution is mostly more and bigger guns."
Maddy laughed a genuine laugh. "I can see the experiment title now: 'The Effects of More and Bigger Guns on Terra Novan Apex Predators."
Going along with the joke, Mark grinned. "Hypothesis: They don't like bullets."
They were on a roll now. Maddy continued. "Experimental method: Shoot at them."
Mark: "Result: hypothesis confirmed!"
Maddy: "Further research is necessary to determine the effects of increased caliber and muzzle velocity, but experimental results suggest an upward-trending correlation with adverse wildlife reaction."
Mark: "Who says science is boring?"
Maddy giggled. "I think I'm looking for something a little more... subtle than than the 'interface' of bullets with dinosaurs. Although I will admit that you are pretty cute when you're shooting at stuff, so that would be a perk."
"'Cute' is not what I'm going for. More like... savagely handsome."
"Let a girl have her euphemisms."
It was during a different lunch that Maddy's science project suggested itself. She'd been tasked with babysitting duty and was poring over the latest science brief to come out of Dr. Wallace's lab while Zoe played Tea Time with Mister Carnotaurus and Friends, the young girl staying mostly quiet except for the occasional "Raaaar! Chamomile!"
It was just past noon when Skye and Josh came barging in, the girl laughing and her brother scowling more than the cosmic teenage boy background radiation that was his constant mild sneer.
"Why didn't you warn me?" Josh complained as he went immediately to the bathroom. Maddy heard the sound of the medicine cabinet being opened.
"It's kind of a tradition. Everybody's gotta eat nicoraptor meat once. And then everybody's gotta pay the price."
Her determination to ignore the pair for as long as she could overcome by her curiosity at potential misfortune befalling her brother, Maddy looked up at Skye from her spot on the couch. "What price?"
"Can't eat native meat without... really bad gas," said Skye. "It's kind of a rite of passage."
"Oh my god that is such an understatement!" yelled Josh from the bathroom. There followed the sibilant sound of the bathroom sink's faucet running, then of Josh gulping water as he presumably swallowed whatever remedy he'd settled on.
"That's not going to help you. Also you should probably get out of the house unless you want to—" Skye's suggested was interrupted by a sonorous fart that echoed out from the bathroom.
"God dammit!" yelled Josh as the three girls laughed.
He stomped out of the bathroom and glared.
Seconds later, the smell followed him. Maddy sniffed a tentative, experimental sniff. "Oh my god. Oh my—Josh, get out of the house. That is... I honestly can't think of a word. That is unbelievable. Get out. Get out! No, wait, I'm getting out, you do what you want. Zoe, c'mon." Maddy grabbed Zoe, who in turn grabbed Mister Carnotaurus.
As the two girls exited the foul-smelling house (plex in Maddy's hand, Mister Carnotaurus in Zoe's), Zoe spoke—not to Maddy in particular, but more to herself in a vague, wondering-aloud, sort of tone.
"It doesn't seem fair that dinosaurs can eat people but people can't eat them."
By the time they returned to the house an hour later, Maddy knew what her project would be.
"So what I need is permission to go along on the next science team excursion. Just a short one. I just need to sedate an Oviraptor and get—"
"Hold—hold on, now. Why an Oviraptor?" Dr. Wallace wanted to know.
"Well, we know they're not obligate carnivores, they're at least partial omnivores, so I need to look at their gut bacteria."
"For my science project. For school. I have a hypothesis and I want to test it."
Malcolm Wallace narrowed his eyes. He was mostly a cypher to Maddy; she didn't know much about him other than her dad's inexplicably snide manner whenever the man's name was mentioned in their house. She'd immediately ruled out attempting to cajole or charm her way into getting onto the next short survey trip. Her devotion to the science of it was her only bargaining chip.
But it was enough. "That's... actually rather interesting. If you can get your parents to agree, then I'm happy to add you to the team."
Maddy practically bounced. "Great! Great."
"You want to do what?" said Jim Shannon, incredulity freezing his pasta'ed fork halfway to his mouth during dinner. Her dad had a classic what-you-said-is-so-crazy-I'm-not-even-sure-I-heard-right look in his eye. Maddy found it doubly irritating, since Josh was much more frequently on the receiving end of that particular look.
"It's just a short research trip, not even overnight. I just really need to go for my project."
"And what do you plan to accomplish on this trip?"
"I'd hardly be alone," Maddy pointed out. "Dr. Wallace and his field team would be there, along with an armed escort."
"Yeah, I know that," said her dad. "But what do you want to do that you can't just ask them to do?"
Maddy looked at her dad with what she hoped was a reasonable facsimile of the incredulous gaze she'd just weathered. "It's for the science fair, dad. I have to do all the work myself."
"Yes, and so what is the work?" pressed her mother.
"I need to get a sample of bacteria."
"Okay..." prompted her dad.
"...from the digestive tract of a..."
"A what?" said her mother.
"...a sedated oviraptor."
Maddy's parents gawped at her.
"What?" she asked. "I don't want to kill it."
"...So once they got over their shock and called Dr. Wallace, it wasn't too hard to get them to let me come."
"And how'd you rig things so I got assigned as part of the security detail?" Mark asked as they bounced along in the back seat of the second of the two rovers that carried the survey team.
Maddy shrugged. "That's just a nice coincidence."
Mark didn't seem like he totally bought this explanation, but didn't press the matter further, instead changing the subject. "So. Remind me how to safely fire a sonic carbine."
Closing her eyes, Maddy visualized the procedure she'd been taught in survival class. "Thumb safety off, select fire mode, stock tight on shoulder, target in sight, squeeze trigger. After firing be ready to double tap if necessary." She could see the words detailing the procedure in her mind, could visualize the features of the carbine, what they'd done and how they'd felt. It had been a good day in survival class—Commander Taylor insisted on teaching the firearms unit himself—and Maddy had surprised herself with how much she'd enjoyed it.
Mark's eyes widened marginally. "Wow, yeah. That's pretty much it."
Minutes later, the little convoy rumbled to a stop in a clearing and personnel started piling out of the rovers. After getting the all-clear from the security detail, Maddy hopped out and opened the rear hatch of the rover, found the hardcase labeled "Maddy Shannon," and hauled it out. Placing it on the ground, she flicked the locks open and extracted the contents: A standard sonic carbine, a portable ultrasound unit, a biopsy kit, her trusty plex, and a nickel oxide-impregnated sponge. This last piece of her equipment Maddy had sealed inside a plastic pouch to prevent the scent from escaping prematurely.
She loaded the gear into her pack, looped her arms through the straps, and secured it to her back. She slung the carbine over her right shoulder, hoping she looked much more at ease with the weapon than she felt, then looked to Mark. "Ready."
They walked from the parked convoy to one edge of the clearing, where Maddy unsealed the bait while Mark stood watch. She set it on the ground, then as they turned to walk back toward the rovers where they would set up their blind, she pulled her plex out of her pack and selected an audio file.
"Between the nickel and the mating call we shouldn't have to wait long. I hope."
"We've got 'til sundown."
"Let's hope it's enough."
Once the tent-like camouflage blind was set up, both Maddy and Mark lay prone behind it, peering through a thin slit in the wispy material at the bait. Maddy hit play on the plex, and a loud, shrill bird-like call played through the little computer's powerful speaker. "And now we wait."
Wait they did. It took nearly four hours of excruciating waiting, periodically playing the mating call but otherwise motionless and silent as the pair stared down their carbine sights.
Finally—finally!—accompanied by the barest hint of a rustle as it moved through the underbrush at the edge of the clearing, a gangly, avian form tentatively emerged. As it came out of shadow, the late afternoon sun illuminated the distinctive mottled coloration of an oviraptor.
The pair tensed in immediate recognition. Maddy opened her mouth in a soundless proto-gasp, but managed to stifle any sound. She risked a glance to Mark, who looked back and nodded minutely. Take the shot.
Maddy flicked the gun's safety off, exhaled, sighted, and—
PFOOM, the distinctive sound of the sonic carbine's stun setting echoed across the clearing, but the trigger had engaged sooner than she'd been expecting and the shot went wide. The oviraptor started to bolt, but Mark was ready, and answered Maddy's wide shot with an immediate and more accurate followup; the oviraptor staggered and collapsed to the ground.
The two stood and immediately began sprinting over to the felled animal. Mark thumbed his communicator to let the research team know that they didn't have to worry about the shots they'd undoubtedly heard. It only took a few seconds for them to reach the oviraptor, whereupon Maddy knelt down beside it and felt for breathing.
"...Good, it's still alive. Now I just need to find the intestines..." She held the portable ultrasound sensor against the animal's abdomen, and a black-and-white image flickered into view on her plex's display. As she moved the sensor along its body, the dinosaur's organs scrolled blurrily by, until she reached an unmistakable tangle. "Bingo."
A quick prick of the microbiopsy sampler was all it took to secure her prize; a smear of antiseptic gel across the tiny entry wound would ensure that the oviraptor wouldn't suffer any ill effects. She patted its flank affectionately. "Thanks. I'll put it to good use."
But then as she was about to stand, the reality of the situation hit her with sudden and stunning force. This was a dinosaur. It and its fellows had humbled and awed humanity for centuries across an unbridgeable gap of thousands of millennia, but now the gap had been bridged, and she was doing the impossible: touching it with her hand. Good god, it was beautiful. While its colorful scales were almost pearlescent in the sunlight, the gradated hues of rust, olive, and slate nonetheless provided effective camouflage in the forest's thick greenery, breaking up its outline and obscuring its movements. The animal's neck was a work of art unto itself, long and muscled and sinuous. She traced her finger along it briefly. "God, it's just... I... I can't..."
Maddy realized she was crying.
It took three days to isolate the bacteria in the sample, a week to sequence the genome, another week to figure out the protein metabolization paths, and a week after that to splice the relevant sections into a strain of human-compatible gut bacteria. But Maddy did it, assisted by Dr. Wallace in the form of lab access and a few incidental pointers whenever she got stuck. Mark's frequent back-rubs also helped. Josh even proved useful, scoring some of the coffee that Boylan hoarded in his bar and bringing a carafe to her during one of the three all-nighters she wound up pulling in the lab as the science fair deadline drew nigh.
In the end, she barely had time to set the engineered bacteria loose on a sample of dinosaur-derived protein in a sealed petri dish to monitor potential waste gasses. And, beautifully, rewardingly—there were none.
She created a small display showing the dish connected to the microchromatograph readout that showed gaseous by-products (or lack thereof, in this case) along with a second setup that showed how normal human bacteria failed to work in the same fashion. The title along the top read "Complete Metabolization of Indigenous Animal Protein by Genetically Modified Human Gut Flora."
The day of the fair arrived. Her dad was proud of her in that head-shaking way of his, not really understanding the minutiae of her project but certainly appreciating the difficulty involved; her mother had a more nuanced and thus more appreciative view (though she had forbidden Maddy to actually ingest the modified bacteria until it had been thoroughly tested.) But Maddy knew it would work.
When the judging panel arrived, Dr. Wallace asked some questions about her method that he already knew the answers to, presumably for the benefit of the other judges. The other judges quizzed her on her method—why an oviraptor, how she'd isolated the genes responsible, how she'd controlled for the effectiveness of her modified strain—but then one final judge, not one of the research scientists but rather one of the agricultural team leads, a woman in her fifties whose name tag read "Ann Clayborne", threw her a curveball.
"Did you consider the ethics of introducing genetically modified organisms into an otherwise pristine ecosystem?"
Maddy felt herself blush at the accusation implicit in the statement. She paused before answering, to try to compose her thoughts. "Well, um... yes, I mean... you definitely have to be careful with genetic modifications, but I think mine are rather benign..." No, no, she cursed at herself. Don't make excuses.
She cleared her throat. "Sorry, can I start over?" she asked a little sheepishly.
Clayborne favored Maddy with a skeptical nod.
Maddy took a deep breath. "In my opinion, it's silly to split hairs over the ethics of genetically modified microorganisms when we all live in the most invasive and un-natural colony imaginable. We've already modified the environment. We've already introduced hundreds of invasive species including the one we're here to preserve: us." She paused for a moment before gesturing to her display. "Everyone talks about how it's important for humanity to avoid the mistakes of the past. But we're the same species who ruined our home. There's nothing special about us, here, now. The people of Terra Nova are just lucky—lucky enough to win a lottery, or be in the right scientific field at the right time, or be children of the right person. And if we're not going to do to this new world what we did to our own, we have to... change ourselves. We can't be apart from this world, we have to be a part of it. But we don't have the luxury of letting millions of years of evolution do that for us. We have to do it ourselves, as fast as we can."
"So we might as well start."
In honor Maddy's first-place-winning science fair project, Elisabeth threw a modest celebratory dinner. In addition to the entire Shannon family, Mark was there, and Dr. Wallace, and even Skye, who Maddy suspected Josh had invited just so he'd have someone with whom to postprandially abscond, but whatever kept his sneer to a minimum was okay by Maddy, and anyway she liked Skye well enough.
"So we're gonna get to have dino-burgers now, right?" asked Mark.
"Not until we finish clinical trials of the bacteria strain," said Elisabeth, before Maddy could retort.
Maddy took the bait nonetheless, emboldened by her victory. "And anyway, I didn't do this just so we could... roast brachiosaur legs over a giant bonfire and feel like masters of the prehistoric universe. I really meant what I said at the fair."
"Idealism plus research—that's a potent combination," said Dr. Wallace. "Any idea what's next for Maddy Shannon, prize-winning scientist?"
She thought about it for moment as she chewed a bite of salad. "There are so many problems to think about. Not just scientific and technological, but sociological and cultural ones, too. There are so many things we have to start doing differently."
"Like what?" asked her father.
Maddy pursed her lips. "Like... I don't think people are having enough babies."
She was greeted by a sort of stunned silence.
"What? I'm just saying."