Chris Larsen shoved aside a laurel shrub halfway down the hill to find Andrea sitting on a stump playing with a lighter.
"Took you long enough." She flicked the lighter closed and tucked it into the pack around her hips. "Come on, I want to make it to the base of this hill before the hour."
Her lithe body uncoiled and Chris recovered his good mood. Andrea was muscular enough to make a nice hourglass shape from shoulders to thighs, and her powersuit should have charged pay-per-view, the way it hugged her compact curves. And how it held her feet so she was almost on tip-toe? Very nice.
The problem was that delicious rear end vanished almost immediately into the bush.
"Come on, professor. Let's go!"
Chris struggled to keep up, bouncing like a cyborg bunny in his powersuit. The feeling was very sensual, very in-control and macho. But while Chris only thought he could break sprint records, Andrea actually was running down the semi-tropical hill, slipping between the scaly trunks of the conifers like there was a flag at the bottom she needed to capture.
The forest got thicker as they descended the little hill. Pines and cheirolepids gave way to big, bushy laurels, sycamores, and the ubiquitous massive "Dryophyllum" walnut-beeches.
He pushed a branch away from his face. Another probable-laurel with round, lobate leaves riddled with pale, mazelike tracks. Hispine leaf-miner beetles. If Chris could get a closer look at one...But then he'd fall farther behind and his date would yell at him. And no nookie for Capitan Time Botanist. "Hey."
Her cheek-length hair swayed as she turned. Her face was fine-boned, with a narrow chin and large, dark eyes above winging brows. It made even her best soldier snarl look adorable. "What?"
"Is there anything you want to know about this environment?"
Andrea rolled her eyes, turned, and punched a big fallen walnut-beech. "Sure. Fine." She walked through the steaming hole. "So where are all the dinosaurs?"
"I'm sure they're around us," Chris said. "Thescelosaurs, marginocephalins like Pachycephalosaurus. Small predators. The big famous ones will be down ahead of us, at the bottom of this hill."
Their game trail debouched on the bank of a wide, shallow creek. Creeper-hung cypresses towered over flowering magnolias and shaggy palms, casting shifting shadows on the water lilies. The place was gorgeous, but Chris had the notion that Andrea didn't appreciate flora. "See those tracks?" He pointed to the margin of the stream. "Hadrosaur footprints."
Her head whipped around, the black fabric around her ballooning into combat-ready artificial muscles. "Where?"
"Relax, hadrosaurs are herbivores. Uh, plant-eaters."
"I know what an herbivore is. What makes you think it was a friendly dino that made those tracks and not a raptor or something?"
"Velociraptor, please, and they lived in Asia, and a long time ago and they're about a hundred times smaller than what made those tracks."
"So we won't find raptors here?"
"We'll get troodontids and dromaeosaurids like Acheroraptor and Dakotaraptor. Those are the ones with the," he curled his index finger into a sickle shape and held it up, "the raised killing claw."
For the first time she looked at him with something that might be respect. "And those things are dangerous?"
"It depends on what their behavior turns out to be. Even coyote-sized troodonts might be dangerous if they hunt in packs." He shrugged. "But we're wearing powersuits, anyway, so I can't imagine they could do much to us."
She grunted, scanning the clearing with quick sweeps of eyes and whatever sensors the powersuits had and Chris didn't know how to use. "Well, what about the big fuckoff guys, like T-rex?"
"Tyrannosaurus," Chris corrected, "and some other theropods in the lowlands. They'd eat you all right. And there's giant monitor lizards, crocodiles, champsosaurs. Plus the herbivores might be dangerous too. Hippos kill more people in Africa than lions."
"Which means your plant-eater might kill us after all. Where are the footprints? Next to the stream?"
"No," said Chris, "they are the stream."
Andrea jerked in surprise, and the powersuit extruded a stubble of anti-personnel spines down her back. "Shit, I've seen assault vehicles make less of a dent in the landscape."
"Well it's possible the hadrosaurs widened an existing creek, or maybe this is somebody's mud wallow." Chris hopped down the bank. In the powersuit, it felt like landing on a trampoline. Sparrow-sized birds took flight as he bent to examine the soil. "Hadrosaurs in the sandstone-depositing riverlands," he chuckled. "If I can confirm Lyson and Longrich, maybe work in some slick paleobotanical analysis on the high-turnover angiosperm megaflora of the banks—"
"So you think we are in the past?"
Chris winced. "Past and present, cause and effect are just illusions caused by the way the brain processes information as we move down the entropy slope..." There was no way she'd get any of this. "Right. Yes. All the right index species are here: laurel, ficus, and, aha! At least one Hell Creek cannabacean is a hops-like creeper. I wonder if you can make beer with it or smoke it." She didn't look where he was pointing. "And those big deciduous trees on the slope might be either beech or walnut or something else. Oh, hey, and see that down there? That's Cretaceous ginger. Yes, this is the 'real' past."
"Great so..." Andrea stood down, suit slimming back to skin-tightness. "Take samples or whatever and let's get back to base camp."
"Uh sure." Chris broke a branch off a magnolia and tried to think of something smooth to say. "So what brought you to the Mesozoic era?"
She looked at him narrowly, but unclenched her pretty jaw and said, "Not much else I could do. I've spent my professional life learning how to kill people. Police work was a joke, and I couldn't stand what the armed forces were turning into any more. You got to do something with your adrenaline addiction."
"What's extreme about it if nobody's actively trying to kill you? I play rough, Larsen."
That had to be a come on, although the army-girl bravado was a bit too much overcompensation. He grinned. "How about some extreme sex?"
She gave him a long look, lips pursed. "Let me be as professional and clear about this is possible. I am not interested in a romantic relationship with you, Professor Larsen."
Her fists clenched and swelled. A squeeze from those claws would pop an unarmored man's head like a zit. She was pushing him, and inviting him to push back. "How about I buy you a drink when we get back home?"
"No. Because then you'll spend this trip pulling stupid shit, trying to impress me, and maybe get yourself killed." She sighed and flicked her hands, powering down. "So just keep it in your pants, okay? Otherwise, you might lose it."
Oh, that was just vulgar. "Look, we're not in high school any more," said Chris, face heating. "I'm the premier expert on North American Maastrichtian pollen in the world and if that kind of shit doesn't impress you, that's your problem, not mine." Chris spun, a little too fast in the powersuit, and stamped toward the mud-wallow.