The Lost World, Page 2Michael Crichton
Malcolm’s reply was immediate: “What makes you think human beings are sentient and aware? There’s no evidence for it. Human beings never think for themselves, they find it too uncomfortable. For the most part, members of our species simply repeat what they are told—and become upset if they are exposed to any different view. The characteristic human trait is not awareness but conformity, and the characteristic result is religious warfare. Other animals fight for territory or food; but, uniquely in the animal kingdom, human beings fight for their ‘beliefs.’ The reason is that beliefs guide behavior, which has evolutionary importance among human beings. But at a time when our behavior may well lead us to extinction, I see no reason to assume we have any awareness at all. We are stubborn, self-destructive conformists. Any other view of our species is just a self-congratulatory delusion. Next question.”
Now, walking across the courtyard, Sarah Harding laughed. “They didn’t care for that.”
“I admit it’s discouraging,” he said. “But it can’t be helped.” He shook his head. “These are some of the best scientists in the country, and still . . . no interesting ideas. By the way, what’s the story on that guy who interrupted me?”
“Richard Levine?” She laughed. “Irritating, isn’t he? He has a worldwide reputation for being a pain in the ass.”
Malcolm grunted. “I’d say.”
“He’s wealthy, is the problem,” Harding said. “You know about the Becky dolls?”
“No,” Malcolm said, giving her a glance.
“Well, every little girl in America does. There’s a series: Becky and Sally and Frances, and several more. They’re Americana dolls. Levine is the heir of the company. So he’s a smartass rich kid. Impetuous, does whatever he wants.”
Malcolm nodded. “You have time for lunch?”
“Sure, I would be—”
“Dr. Malcolm! Wait up! Please! Dr. Malcolm!”
Malcolm turned. Hurrying across the courtyard toward them was the gangling figure of Richard Levine.
“Ah, shit,” Malcolm said.
“Dr. Malcolm,” Levine said, coming up. “I was surprised that you didn’t take my proposal more seriously.”
“How could I?” Malcolm said. “It’s absurd.”
“Ms. Harding and I were just going to lunch,” Malcolm said, gesturing to Sarah.
“Yes, but I think you should reconsider,” Levine said, pressing on. “Because I believe my argument is valid—it is entirely possible, even likely, that dinosaurs still exist. You must know there are persistent rumors about animals in Costa Rica, where I believe you have spent time.”
“Yes, and in the case of Costa Rica I can tell you—”
“Also in the Congo,” Levine said, continuing. “For years there have been reports by pygmies of a large sauropod, perhaps even an apatosaur, in the dense forest around Bokambu. And also in the high jungles of Irian Jaya, there is supposedly an animal the size of a rhino, which perhaps is a remnant ceratopsian—”
“Fantasy,” Malcolm said. “Pure fantasy. Nothing has ever been seen. No photographs. No hard evidence.”
“Perhaps not,” Levine said. “But absence of proof is not proof of absence. I believe there may well be a locus of these animals, survivals from a past time.”
Malcolm shrugged. “Anything is possible,” he said.
“But in point of fact, survival is possible,” Levine insisted. “I keep getting calls about new animals in Costa Rica. Remnants, fragments.”
Malcolm paused. “Recently?”
“Not for a while.”
“Umm,” Malcolm said. “I thought so.”
“The last call was nine months ago,” Levine said. “I was in Siberia looking at that frozen baby mammoth, and I couldn’t get back in time. But I’m told it was some kind of very large, atypical lizard, found dead in the jungle of Costa Rica.”
“And? What happened to it?”
“The remains were burned.”
“So nothing is left?”
“No photographs? No proof?”
“So it’s just a story,” Malcolm said.
“Perhaps. But I believe it is worth mounting an expedition, to find out about these reported survivals.”
Malcolm stared at him. “An expedition? To find a hypothetical Lost World? Who is going to pay for it?”
“I am,” Levine said. “I have already begun the preliminary planning.”
“But that could cost—”
“I don’t care what it costs,” Levine said. “The fact is, survival is possible, it has occurred in a variety of species from other genera, and it may be that there are survivals from the Cretaceous as well.”
“Fantasy,” Malcolm said again, shaking his head.
Levine paused, and stared at Malcolm. “Dr. Malcolm,” he said, “I must say I’m very surprised at your attitude. You’ve just presented a thesis and I am offering you a chance to prove it. I would have thought you’d jump at the opportunity.”
“My jumping days are over,” Malcolm said.
“But instead of taking me up on this, you—”
“I’m not interested in dinosaurs,” Malcolm said.
“But everyone is interested in dinosaurs.”
“Not me.” He turned on his cane, and started to walk off.
“By the way,” Levine said. “What were you doing in Costa Rica? I heard you were there for almost a year.”
“I was lying in a hospital bed. They couldn’t move me out of intensive care for six months. I couldn’t even get on a plane.”
“Yes,” Levine said. “I know you got hurt. But what were you doing there in the first place? Weren’t you looking for dinosaurs?”
Malcolm squinted at him in the bright sun, and leaned on his cane. “No,” he said. “I wasn’t.”
They were all three sitting at a small painted table in the corner of the Guadalupe Cafe, on the other side of the river. Sarah Harding drank Corona from the bottle, and watched the two men opposite her. Levine looked pleased to be with them, as if he had won some victory to be sitting at the table. Malcolm looked weary, like a parent who has spent too much time with a hyperactive child.
“You want to know what I’ve heard?” Levine said. “I’ve heard that a couple of years back, a company named InGen genetically engineered some dinosaurs and put them on an island in Costa Rica. But something went wrong, a lot of people were killed, and the dinosaurs were destroyed. And now nobody will talk about it, because of some legal angle. Nondisclosure agreements or something. And the Costa Rican government doesn’t want to hurt tourism. So nobody will talk. That’s what I’ve heard.”
Malcolm stared at him. “And you believe that?”
“Not at first, I didn’t,” Levine said. “But the thing is, I keep hearing it. The rumors keep floating around. Supposedly you, and Alan Grant, and a bunch of other people were there.”
“Did you ask Grant about it?”
“I asked him, last year, at a conference in Peking. He said it was absurd.”
Malcolm nodded slowly.
“Is that what you say?” Levine asked, drinking his beer. “I mean, you know Grant, don’t you?”
“No. I never met him.”
Levine was watching Malcolm closely. “So it’s not true?”
Malcolm sighed. “Are you familiar with the concept of a techno-myth? It was developed by Geller at Princeton. Basic thesis is that we’ve lost all the old myths, Orpheus and Eurydice and Perseus and Medusa. So we fill the gap with modern techno-myths. Geller listed a dozen or so. One is that an alien’s living at a hangar at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Another is that somebody invented a carburetor that gets a hundred and fifty miles to the gallon, but the automobile companies bought the patent and are sitting on it. Then there’s the story that the Russians trained children in ESP at a secret base in Siberia and these kids can kill people anywhere in the world with their thoughts.
The story that the lines in Nazca, Peru, are an alien spaceport. That the CIA released the AIDS virus to kill homosexuals. That Nikola Tesla discovered an incredible energy source but his notes are lost. That in Istanbul there’s a tenth-century drawing that shows the earth from space. That the Stanford Research Institute found a guy whose body glows in the dark. Get the picture?”
“You’re saying InGen’s dinosaurs are a myth,” Levine said.
“Of course they are. They have to be. Do you think it’s possible to genetically engineer a dinosaur?”
“The experts all tell me it’s not.”
“And they’re right,” Malcolm said. He glanced at Harding, as if for confirmation. She said nothing, just drank her beer.
In fact, Harding knew something more about these dinosaur rumors. Once after surgery, Malcolm had been delirious, mumbling nonsense from the anaesthesia and pain medication. And he had been seemingly fearful, twisting in the bed, repeating the names of several kinds of dinosaurs. Harding had asked the nurse about it; she said he was like that after every operation. The hospital staff assumed it was a drug-induced fantasy—yet it seemed to Harding that Malcolm was reliving some terrifying actual experience. The feeling was heightened by the slangy, familiar way Malcolm referred to the dinosaurs: he called them “raptors” and “compys” and “trikes.” And he seemed especially fearful of the raptors.
Later, when he was back home, she had asked him about his delirium. He had just shrugged it off, making a bad joke—“At least I didn’t mention other women, did I?” And then he made some comment about having been a dinosaur nut as a kid, and how illness made you regress. His whole attitude was elaborately indifferent, as if it were all unimportant; she had the distinct feeling he was being evasive. But she wasn’t inclined to push it; those were the days when she was in love with him, her attitude indulgent.
Now he was looking at her in a questioning way, as if to ask if she was going to contradict him. Harding just raised an eyebrow, and stared back. He must have his reasons. She could wait him out.
Levine leaned forward across the table toward Malcolm and said, “So the InGen story is entirely untrue?”
“Entirely untrue,” Malcolm said, nodding gravely. “Entirely untrue.”
Malcolm had been denying the speculation for three years. By now he was getting good at it; his weariness was no longer affected but genuine. In fact, he had been a consultant to International Genetic Technologies of Palo Alto in the summer of 1989, and he had made a trip to Costa Rica for them, which had turned out disastrously. In the aftermath, everyone involved had moved quickly to quash the story. InGen wanted to limit its liability. The Costa Rican government wanted to preserve its reputation as a tourist paradise. And the individual scientists had been bound by nondisclosure agreements, abetted later by generous grants to continue their silence. In Malcolm’s case, two years of medical bills had been paid by the company.
Meanwhile, InGen’s island facility in Costa Rica had been destroyed. There were no longer any living creatures on the island. The company had hired the eminent Stanford professor George Baselton, a biologist and essayist whose frequent television appearances had made him a popular authority on scientific subjects. Baselton claimed to have visited the island, and had been tireless in denying rumors that extinct animals had ever existed there. His derisive snort, “Saber-toothed tigers, indeed!” was particularly effective.
As time passed, interest in the story waned. InGen was long since bankrupt; the principal investors in Europe and Asia had taken their losses. Although the company’s physical assets, the buildings and lab equipment, would be sold piecemeal, the core technology that had been developed would, they decided, never be sold. In short, the InGen chapter was closed.
There was nothing more to say.
“So there’s no truth to it,” Levine said, biting into his green-corn tamale. “To tell you the truth, Dr. Malcolm, that makes me feel better.”
“Why?” Malcolm said.
“Because it means that the remnants that keep turning up in Costa Rica must be real. Real dinosaurs. I’ve got a friend from Yale down there, a field biologist, and he says he’s seen them. I believe him.”
Malcolm shrugged. “I doubt,” he said, “that any more animals will turn up in Costa Rica.”
“It’s true there haven’t been any for almost a year now. But if more show up, I’m going down there. And in the interim, I am going to outfit an expedition. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how it should be done. I think the special vehicles could be built and ready in a year. I’ve already talked to Doc Thorne about it. Then I’ll assemble a team, perhaps including Dr. Harding here, or a similarly accomplished naturalist, and some graduate students. . . .”
Malcolm listened, shaking his head.
“You think I’m wasting my time,” Levine said.
“I do, yes.”
“But suppose—just suppose—that animals start to show up again.”
“But suppose they did?” Levine said. “Would you be interested in helping me? To plan an expedition?”
Malcolm finished his meal, and pushed the plate aside. He stared at Levine.
“Yes,” he said finally. “If animals started showing up again, I would be interested in helping you.”
“Great!” Levine said. “That’s all I wanted to know.”
Outside, in the bright sunlight on Guadalupe Street, Malcolm walked with Sarah toward Malcolm’s battered Ford sedan. Levine climbed into a bright-red Ferrari, waved cheerfully, and roared off.
“You think it will ever happen?” Sarah Harding said. “That these, ah, animals will start showing up again?”
“No,” Malcolm said. “I am quite sure they never will.”
“You sound hopeful.”
He shook his head, and got awkwardly in the car, swinging his bad leg under the steering wheel. Harding climbed in beside him. He glanced at her, and turned the key in the ignition. They drove back to the Institute.
The following day, she went back to Africa. During the next eighteen months, she had a rough sense of Levine’s progress, since from time to time he called her with some question about field protocols, or vehicle tires, or the best anaesthetic to use on animals in the wild. Sometimes she got a call from Doc Thorne, who was building the vehicles. He usually sounded harassed.
From Malcolm she heard nothing at all, although he sent her a card on her birthday. It arrived a month late. He had scrawled at the bottom, “Have a happy birthday. Be glad you’re nowhere near him. He’s driving me crazy.”
“In the conservative region far from the chaotic edge, individual elements coalesce slowly, showing no clear pattern.”
In the fading afternoon light, the helicopter skimmed low along the coast, following the line where the dense jungle met the beach. The last of the fishing villages had flashed by beneath them ten minutes ago. Now there was only impenetrable Costa Rican jungle, mangrove swamps, and mile after mile of deserted sand. Sitting beside the pilot, Marty Guitierrez stared out the window as the coastline swept past. There weren’t even any roads in this area, at least none that Guitierrez could see.
Guitierrez was a quiet, bearded American of thirty-six, a field biologist who had lived for the last eight years in Costa Rica. He had originally come to study toucan speciation in the rain forest, but stayed on as a consultant to the Reserva Biológica de Carara, the national park in the north. He clicked the radio mike and said to the pilot, “How much farther?”
“Five minutes, Señor Guitierrez.”
Guitierrez turned and said, “It won’t be long now.” But the tall man folded up in the back seat of the helicopter didn’t answer, or even acknowledge that he had been spoken to. He merely sat, with his hand on his chin, and stared frowning out the window.
Richard Levine wore sun-faded field khakis, and an Australian slouch hat pushed low ove
r his head. A battered pair of binoculars hung around his neck. But despite his rugged appearance, Levine conveyed an air of scholarly absorption. Behind his wire-frame spectacles, his features were sharp, his expression intense and critical as he looked out the window.
“What is this place?”
“It’s called Rojas.”
“So we’re far south?”
“Yes. Only about fifty miles from the border with Panama.”
Levine stared at the jungle. “I don’t see any roads,” he said. “How was the thing found?”
“Couple of campers,” Guitierrez said. “They came in by boat, landed on the beach.”
“When was that?”
“Yesterday. They took one look at the thing, and ran like hell.”
Levine nodded. With his long limbs folded up, his hands tucked under his chin, he looked like a praying mantis. That had been his nickname in graduate school: in part because of his appearance—and in part because of his tendency to bite off the head of anyone who disagreed with him.
Guitierrez said, “Been to Costa Rica before?”
“No. First time,” Levine said. And then he gave an irritable wave of his hand, as if he didn’t want to be bothered with small talk.
Guitierrez smiled. After all these years, Levine had not changed at all. He was still one of the most brilliant and irritating men in science. The two had been fellow graduate students at Yale, until Levine quit the doctoral program to get his degree in comparative zoology instead. Levine announced he had no interest in the kind of contemporary field research that so attracted Guitierrez. With characteristic contempt, he had once described Guitierrez’s work as “collecting parrot crap from around the world.”