Chapter 8 - South of Heaven

"So, how's the ankle?"

Leon sighed and turned to look at Adrian, "Good, good. They say I shouldn't put too much strain on it for the next week or so." Adrian said, quietly, "You sure you're up for doing work?"

Leon sighed – he'd had this exact discussion with Kyle and Nikolai. Once his ankle had recovered to the point that he was now allowed to take part in keeper duty at the park, he'd asked Kyle and Nikolai if he could come back. After much deliberation, they'd reluctantly conceded – as long as it was only on a reduced schedule.

However, it would take at least another week after today before he could be capable of going on rescue missions again. Including the one today.

. . . .

"Might I ask what's got you so excited this morning?"

It had been two whole weeks since the Carboniferous mission, and Jack and Alice were standing in Drew's office, waiting to hear about the new mission. "If it has anything to do with what today's target is, I hope you don't keep us waiting much longer." Jack sighed. "I tried to ask Dolittle if he'd give a few hints again – he said no."

Drew nodded his head, still smiling. "Fear not, ye of little faith. Because trust me, today's mission is going to be a real treat."

Alice raised her eyebrow. "And why might that be?"

"Simple." Drew nodded his head. "We've got another Palaeozoic mission."

Jack and Alice nodded in the affirmative.

"True enough," said Jack.

"Well this time, we're going a little bit forward than the last time."

Drew activated the projector, projecting an image of a group of reptiles. They all shared a similar body plan - four limbs, long tail, long body...and a pronounced sail on their backs. "These creatures are called pelycosaurs. The group isn't natural – they look similar, but some of them aren't closely related. All of them, though, share a similar body plan. Most famous amongst them is this one: Dimetrodon. When it was alive, it was the most dangerous predator on land."

Jack nodded to himself, impressed. "Dimetrodon, huh?" He nodded his head once more. "Was waiting for when we were gonna being going after it."

"Yeah, Dimetrodon is a pretty cool target…" Alice noted. She nodded her head, a look of approval on her face very similar to her brother's. "And I'll admit, bringing back everything else that lived alongside it is going to be fun, too."

At the portal site, an employee entered the time period and location and the portal flared to life at the push of a button. Shortly after, the portal opened again. Drew put the portal remote in his pocket and secured it. He turned to Jack and Alice, who gave him a thumbs-up – Alice somewhat more reluctantly than her brother. Drew returned their gestures, smiled at them and they went through the gleaming portal.

Emerging from the portal, the team found themselves on the edge of a forest. Looking out, they saw a dry desert that covered much of the land. However, in the distance, stood mountains, the largest of which were topped in snow.

Looking at the mountains, Jack mused, "You don't really associate the Permian with snow, do you? Most people think of the Permian as being a dry time." "Yeah", Drew nodded, "Weirdly, most of the Permian was actually part of an Ice Age. However, the ice never reached North America."

Walking down to a nearby lake, they noticed griffinflies flitting about, searching for prey. Whilst their age was over, the griffinflies still existed – however, they were the last of a dying breed. "Those are Meganeuropsis, right?" asked Jack, who had taken a moment to observe the giant insects.

"Yep. They're the largest flying insects to ever exist – even bigger than the Meganeura," replied Drew, also watching the giant bugs with interest.

Alice, also looking at the insects, said, "What do they eat?"

"Mostly smaller bugs - there weren't many other giant flying insects around."

"I see...were there any other giant flying insects?"

"Some, yes," answered Drew, "the Paleodictyopterans."

"Cool. So what did they...look...like..."

"Basically, like a stick insect, but with four wings, two little winglets in front of the first wings, and beaked mouthparts. Why did you ask?"

When Jack did not respond, the team came to a halt and look toward him...to find him trying not to move as an insect matching that exact description. Nearby, several more of the bugs were resting on a tree.

Wordlessly, Jack turned his gaze from the bug toward Drew. At his teammate's look, Drew rolled his eyes and quickly readied the portal. When it whirred to life, the team hastily broke out nets and caught the insects – not wanting to be cheated out of their prey, the griffinflies followed too.

Once the giant insects were through, the team searched the lake, looking for smaller animals. There were an abundance of small amphibians skittering around the lake, some of which resembled small green, armoured frogs and others, lacking the osteoderms and having greyish green skin, which resembled little lizard-like salamanders. Looking at the amphibians, Jack said, "The little armoured ones are Cacops and the ones with the long tail are Seymouria, right?" Drew nodded, "Yup. Let's get these little guys through the portal." Using insects as bait, they were able to lure the amphibians through the portal, back to the park.

Walking up to the lake, the team saw several small amphibians swimming in the lake – the largest was about three feet long and looked rather like a salamander… except for the head, which was long, flattened and boomerang-shaped. The amphibians seemed rather ill-at-ease, swimming cautiously. Suddenly, the small amphibians went rigid, as several large amphibians, resembling the crassygrinus back at the park, began swimming towards them, hungrily.

Jack breathed out and said, "Diplocaulus. The boomerang amphibian. Was kind of hoping we were going to encounter these. And I'm guessing the big guys are slaughenhopia. So, fearless leader, how are we going to get this lot through the portal. In response to this, Drew reached into his backpack. "This," he stated as he drew out a round device. "Portal grenade," he explained. "Something new from Theodore to make it easier for us to obtain animals." And so, he carefully dropped the portal grenade where the Diplocalus and slaughenhopia were and pressed a button on the remote. Suddenly, in a burst of light, the amphibians disappeared through the portal, into the present. Drew turned to his team and said, "And that, my friends, is how you use it."

Suddenly, the water parted and a large creature launched itself out of the water like a crocodile, at such a speed it was almost a blur. The three stumbled back in fright, surprise, and shock before moving away from the shore as the animal hauled itself out onto land. It looked like a cross between a toad, a salamander and a crocodile. The animal was a brownish-green, grading to a lighter colour on the underbelly. The tail was powerful, along with its jaws, filled with monstrous looking teeth – whilst the legs were almost comically small, it did not take away from the monstrous size of the animal. It let out a low, croaking bellow and several others appeared from the water and began to head on to shore, some the size of the gigantic beast, with some being slightly smaller.

The amphibians hauled themselves out onto land, moving menacingly towards the team, letting out a sound that was a cross between a croak and a hiss. Suddenly, Drew and Alice turned to see Jack walking away from them, preparing to lift the horn. Before Alice could step forward to stop him, Jack blared it loudly. The first of the giant amphibians to emerge stopped, looked at him in confusion, and began advancing towards him menacingly, the others following it.

Jack smiled, "I leaned from the best, fearless leader."

. . . . .

"Well, I see they've started off well", Kyle said, half-sarcastically, as he noticed the large temnyspondyls swim through the freshwater holding pool, "What part of 'start small' do they not understand?" Two kinds of large temnyspondyl had been brought back in the space of a few minutes – it had been the giant Eryops that had posed most of the problems. The damn things had nearly taken a staff member's arm off.

At this, Nikolai gave Kyle a cold look, "Whilst I agree in principle, they didn't – so we must, how shall I put it… pick up the pieces." Kyle glared at him, "I know that – don't assume I don't. So how are we going to get this lot transported?" Nikolai snorted, "I would advise your team to be careful – the Eryops are dangerous."

At this statement, Kyle glowered, "Why did you specifically mention my team? Do you really think we don't know how dangerous these animals are?" Nikolai glared at him coldly, "I only thought it worth mentioning – my team already know how to react in this sort of situation. I just thought, in case one of your team gets a little close…" Kyle snarled and stalked off, to co-ordinate the keepers on his end.

At this argument, the staff at the portal looked awkwardly away. Aaron, Carmen and Maria were among them. Rolling his eyes, Maria said, "Geez, just when you thought they were letting up on it…", to which Aaron said, "They find working with each other so hard – what about us poor bastards who have watch it?"

The other staff nodded. Tensions between Kyle and Nikolai had been running high for quite some time; it seemed that they were incapable of agreeing with each other. Many of them had tried to bring the matter up with Drew, but he'd ignored them or brushed them off.

. . . .

At the same time, Leon was sitting at a bench nearby Diego and Shira's paddock and observing the two smilodon fatalis.

He'd chosen to take full advantage of the opportunity to improve his skills as a keeper, mostly with Diego and Shira. However, as he watched the two cats interact, he started to realise he was getting complacent – he'd have to broaden his horizons. But what…

The reptile and amphibian team were off the cards, considering how they viewed him – in their mind, he was a gutless walking textbook, hired only because he was friends with the boss. He briefly considered the birds and pterosaurs – however, it might fuel cronyism rumours. The dinosaur and mammal teams were quickly excised – maybe build himself up to that. That left him with the aquarist and invertebrate division.

He thought the matter over further, slowly realizing that the aquarist and invertebrate was probably the best choice of keeper category for him to try and go into. The benefits would be double – not only would he gain some experience, he'd also be able to get over their unnerving him. There'd be someone at the dome who'd be willing to help.

In that instant, he made up his mind. He checked his watch – 15 minutes before his break ended. More than enough time to get to the Dome. "Here goes nothing," he whispered to himself before he stood up from the bench and started on his way to the dome.

. . . . .

After their encounter with the Eryops, the team sat, partly to take a breather and partly to wait for other animals to arrive from the lake. However, what they did not know was that they were being watched.

Hidden within the tree roots, tiny animals began to crawl about, all looking for food. These creatures resembled lizards but were only distant relatives. These ones were part of a lineage that would die off at the Great Dying, leaving no modern descendants. Normally, they were content to hide away from other creatures, occasionally venturing out away from the trees to feed on insects...but the arrival of the humans had them on edge. At first, they remained hidden, but as it became apparent the humans did not know that the creatures were here, curiosity began to trump caution, leading the basal synapsids to begin approaching the beasts. In particular, the curious animals began to examine the team's bags, trying to see if there was anything edible inside.

This would prove to be their undoing. By the time the anapsids were able to determine there was no food to be found, the humans were packing up, unknowingly taking some little stowaways with them in their quest for more rescues.

. . . . .

Yolanda Hall was on her way to the Carboniferous Dome. At the moment, Bethany had asked for assistance in giving the arthropleura to a routine checkup, and Yolanda was the only one who was avaliable. She smiled as she calmly made her way over from the veterinary offices towards the Carboniferous Dome. A part of her was a little excited about checking up on a millipede the size of an anaconda.

As she walked towards the dome, she smiled. "Today's going to be a great day," she thought to herself. "I'm sure of it." Not only was her morning going well so far, but she also currently had plans to hang out with the Denhams that evening after work, an activity she was always happy to take part in. She nodded her head, hazel eyes agleam and a wide smile on her face as her golden hair billowed lightly in the breeze, and then turned her head to face forward...

...just in time to find herself colliding with Leon, at which point they both fell backwards on their rears against the dusty path they were walking upon.

"Sorry," Leon winced, gritting his teeth as he worked to get back on his feet, reaching to pick up his dropped cellphone in the process. "I was too focused on getting to the Carboniferous Dome to watch where I was going. Sorry."

"It's fine," Yolanda managed to say, briefly wincing herself as she gathered up the equipment that had spilled out of her veterinary equipment bag. But even after she'd finished getting her spilled equipment back into her bag, she still couldn't help but smile when she noticed that Leon, now back on his feet, was extending his hand to help her up. "Thanks," she said as he helped her up.

"You're welcome."

It was immediately after Leon said this that he suddenly gulped silently, a slight blush forming on his face and his brown eyes widening as if he'd seemingly realized something important. "And uh...HI!"

Yolanda briefly raised her eyebrow at this behaviour, only to then find her own eyes widening and a blushing slightly as she remembered something important; namely, that she'd noticed him looking at her on the day of the first mission. "Heh, heh," she managed to say. "Nice to meet you to", before nodding. Regaining her composure, she said, "You said you were heading to the Carboniferous Dome?".

"Yeah, I did actually." Leon nodded his head. "Am I going the right way?"

"Mm-hm."

Yolanda pointed down the path. "Just go down that path and it shouldn't be too hard to find from there." She paused, "By the way, I was heading there myself, so… why don't we go together?"

She mentally facepalmed. "Well done, Yolanda," she thought sarcastically to herself, "That won't make things awkward."

"Um...sure," Leon said, "Yeah, that actually would be pretty helpful." His eyes then widened as if he'd remembered something. "May I ask why you're going there?"

"Oh nothing too big," Yolanda responded, "Just gonna help Bethany with a routine checkup on the arthropleura." She thought to herself. "And we might take a look at some of the other animals in that dome while we're at it."

"So you're working with the invertebrates?"

"Yes," Yolanda responded. She briefly raised her eyebrow, taking note of how Leon seemed nervous, yet also hopeful at the same time. "Is there something else I can help you with while we're at the dome?"

"You could say that." Leon nodded. "I was planning on seeing if I could start gaining some experience with the invertebrates." He looked back at Yolanda, a sheepish look on his face. "And I was wondering if you and Dr. Williams could maybe help supervise?"

. . . . .

Back in the past, the team had continued with their march, unaware of the stowaways in their midst. Soon, though, they found themselves once again in the company of synapsids.

Before them lay a herd of caseids – their fat bodies contrasting with their tiny heads, almost comically. The herbivores were all busy tearing into some ferns, and after a moment of staring down the humans, went back to business as usual.

Enticed by the lucky sight, the team began to set up the portal. As they finished preparations, though, several new shapes emerged from the underbrush, bringing the caseids' feasting to a halt. They looked like a cross between a crocodile and a monitor lizard and circled the caseids menacingly.

"...Are those Ophiacodon?" questioned Alice.

"Yes," replied Jack, "and I think the caseids are Casea and Cotylorhynchus. Fearless leader, you think we'll need to distract the Ophiacodon so that they don't eat out other targets?"

That question proved to be unnecessary - the caseids, sensing danger, began to amble away, and ended up heading right toward the team. Drew smiled, "Well, that's surprisingly easy – I'm almost disappointed that there isn't more of a challenge." A flick of the portal later, and the two groups charged through, into the present. Now for the Ophiacodon.

Meanwhile, Drew turned to the Ophiacodon and began blaring his airhorn. The pelcyosaurs turned to him and snarled – to this, Drew smirked and began slowly moving backwards, blaring the horn again. The four pelycosaurs slowly started following him, now completely focused on him. When the predators had gotten close enough, they charged towards him; Drew dived out of the way and activated the portal remote, and the theropods dove through the portal into the present. Drew turned to his team and smiled, "Let's get looking for more stuff." Jack looked, almost impressed at Drew's bravado, whilst Alice looked quizzically.

Suddenly, a hissing sound nearby caused the team to turn their heads to see a small pack of monitor-lizard-like synapsids with black-and-tan striped bodies snarling at a small herd of reptiles with green-and-grey scaled lizard-like bodies but tortoise-like heads. The six herbivores were all gathered into a circle ten carnivores all snarled and had their eyes narrowed as if waiting for an opening.

"Matt's told me about these," Alice stated, pointing her finger at the synapsids. "Those are varanops. And the other creatures are diadectes."

"Correctimundo," said Jack, who then turned to Drew. "How shall we proceed fearless leader?"

Drew took a quick look at the creatures, his eyes narrowed. "Let's get the varanops taken care of first, before moving on to the diadectes."

"Well in that case," Jack stated, a wide grin on his face and his hands clasped together. "I know just what to do."

Alice raised her eyebrow. "Why am I suddenly feeling unnerved?"

"Let's find out," Jack chuckled before creeping up towards the pack and suddenly blaring the horn directly at the nearest varanops. With a surprised hiss, the varanops briefly turned its head and snarling in rage at Jack. The rest of the group, attracted by the noises, turned to see Jack running away, before they tore after him. Fortunately, the distance between Jack and the team was quite short, and he reached Drew and Alice first, before setting up the portal and sending them through.

"Not bad," Drew said after he closed the portal, "Not bad at all."

Alice shook her head side to side, half bemused and half irritated, "You just cannot help yourself, can you?"

"What can I say Ally?" Jack chuckled, with a proud smirk, "I just love to improvise."

Alice rolled her eyes, shook her head, and then looked at Drew. "Now what?"

Drew pointed at the diadectes, all of which were now glancing curiously at the team, "You know the drill."

And sure enough, half an hour later, the trio had gathered up enough nearby foliage to lay a trail – after a few minutes, the herd began to feed and ended up walking through the portal. Once the last of them went through, Drew closed the portal. "Perfect."

Happy with themselves, the team continued to march onwards, still unaware that they had hitchhikers.

. . . . .

Meanwhile, at the Carboniferous Dome, Leon gulped, a nervous look on his face as he stared straight at the vivarium where the pulmonoscorpius lived. Selqet looked back at him claws out and tail raised as a threat gesture. Leon looked to Yolanda, who was standing right next to him. She nodded her head in encouragement.

"You can do this. All you have to do is extend the pole down into the vivarium, and she shouldn't be anywhere near within striking range of you. You're too big of a meal for her anyway."

"Right, I understand." Leon gulped, nodding his head, "Just...uh...working to psych myself up, that's all."

"It was your idea to do them after the arthropleura," pointed out Bethany, who was sitting on a bench behind the two younger staff members.

Leon took a deep breath, and then exhaled, his mind now engaged in a slight wrestling match. In the end, he decided to do it – delaying would only make things worse. He looked to a small tray that had eight small rods skewering a dead cricket each, then at Selqet, and then at Bethany. "Ok; I'm ready. Key please?"

The older vet nodded her head, her half black and half red hair framing her firm, but not unkind, face as she drew out a key and handed it to Leon. "Don't worry," she said, "The sooner you get it done, the better you'll feel once you've finished."

Leon nodded his head, took one more deep breath, and then extended the key over to the lock positioned upon the roof of Selqet's turf. With only the slightest of effort, he managed to turn the key and unlock the roof hatch. The slight clicking noise that resulted seemed to alert Selqet, who seemingly looked up towards the roof and at Leon, her claws and tail at the ready to strike. For a few seconds, a silent stalemate ensued between her and Leon, with the young keeper staying absolutely still while lifting the hatch and noticing the scorpion staring intently at him. Leon could practically feel Selqet's eyes on him, as if she were saying, "Do you feel lucky punk? Do you?", before suddenly feeling a hand on his shoulder, turning to see Yolanda smiling encouragingly. He smiled back; for at least he wasn't alone.

He remembered how he'd briefly glanced her way during the staff meeting from the day of the brachiosaurus mission, and he was even now not entirely certain why he'd done so. After all, from a young age he'd found it very difficult to interact with girls - most hadn't really caught his attention anyway. Yet somehow Yolanda had. And this, combined with what Alice had said, had led to him asking her for help. She had faith in him – that wall he needed. He steeled himself up, took another deep breath, and then slowly lifted up the hatch.

With the hatch lifted, Leon extended his hand towards Yolanda. "Cricket please?" Yolanda handed him one of the crickets, which he slowly started to lower into the vivarium towards Selqet. The scorpion stayed completely still as the cricket was lowered down closer and closer. Eventually she lashed out with one of her claws, snapping it tightly around the cricket. At this Leon pressed a small switch on his end of the pole that released the cricket, allowing Selqet to feed. He lowered the hatch back into place immediately after he'd withdrawn the feeding rod, locking it tightly once more afterward.

Yolanda nodded her head. "Good job. They say the first step is always the hardest."

Leon chuckled. "That's certainly true." He then took a look back at the vivarium, noticing the other pulmonoscorpius. He clenched his fist and looked determined… before the realisation hit him. He looked to Bethany, holding up the key, "Does this work on all eight sections? Or does each section require a separate key?"

. . . . .

Adrian was listening carefully alongside Kaisumi, Will, and Matt as Khatin carefully explained how to operate a special device to attract the meganeura towards them for closer observation. He smiled – Alice had been right about them. His thoughts were interrupted by two voices.

"So you're saying he likes to rear up and raise his claws in the air when he sees the cricket?"

"Yep."

"And I thought Selqet was unnerving."

"That's Scorpio for you."

Adrian took a brief glance in the direction he'd heard this pair of voices coming from. And as he'd suspected upon hearing said voices, he saw Leon and Yolanda standing together at the pulmonoscorpius vivarium. And at that moment, Leon was opening the hatch of the segment where Scorpio lived, with Yolanda smiled encouragingly. Nodding his head, a slight nervous look on his face, Leon started lowering the cricket towards the scorpion; which, true to form, reared up on its four back-most legs, snapped its claws, and prepared its tail for a dry sting at the sight of the cricket being lowered towards him. But even as he saw this, Adrian made sure to keep focused on Leon.

And right now, he couldn't help but feel quite intrigued at how Leon was interacting with Yolanda. He remembered how Leon had been uncomfortable around the girls at school – in fact, he was only barely comfortable with engaging Alice in conversation. Yet, here he now was with Yolanda, chatting very naturally… almost too naturally. In that instant, he raised his eyebrow, allowing a wry grin to appear on his face. "I wonder...," he thought to himself.

Matt abruptly snapped his fingers near Adrian's ear. "Earth to Sky!"

Adrian immediately turned his head back towards Khatin and the three younger research division workers, a sheepish look on his face as he realized he'd been caught off task. "Sorry," he said. "Just keeping a quick eye on Leon."

"I'm sure you were." Khatin lifted up his noise emitting device. "You clear on what we're doing with this?"

"Yes." Adrian nodded his head. "We turn it on, adjust the frequency as needed, and use them to attract the meganeura into coming towards us, possibly even landing on one of our arms."

"And what will we be doing in the event one lands on one of our arms?"

Adrian thought to himself. "Can you real quick go over that a second time? I may have accidentally zoned out halfway through while I was watching Leon."

"Your honesty is appreciated." Khatin nodded his head. "I'll give you a second explanation, but please try not to lose focus this time."

"Understood."

Kaisumi let out a low chuckle.

. . . . .

Leon was feeling quite pleased with himself as he locked the hatch for the vivarium segment of the final pulmonoscorpius to be fed. As the pulmonoscorpius in question, a surprisingly calm and mild-mannered male named Riddick, started eating the cricket, Leon turned to Yolanda and Bethany. "Ok then," he stated, clasping his hands together. "Which invertebrates are left on the list in here?"

"The choice is yours," said Bethany. She pointed towards the 'meganeura paddock' where Khatin, Adrian, and the three young assistant researchers were gathered. "We can do either the dragonflies now." She then pointed at the megalorachne vivarium directly opposite the pulmonoscorpius vivarium. "Or the spiders."

Leon took a glance at the spider vivarium, his face noticeably starting to turn pale, "I uh...I think I'll save the spiders for last."

"Meganeura it is then." Bethany nodded. "Let's see if Khatin and his little group will let us get involved."

Leon and the two vets started heading over towards the meganeura paddock, crossing the bridge over the crassigyrinus pool. The trio had just reached the very centre of the bridge when Adrian noticed them coming. He smiled and waved. "Hey there Leon," he said. "How's everything going?"

"Pretty well actually." Leon gave his friend a thumbs up from his position on the bridge. "So far, I think I'm off to a good start. Granted, not without a little help."

"I can see that," Adrian noted. He then pointed at Yolanda. "And it's nice to see you're making some new friends."

Bethany, ever the responsible one, got everyone back on task. "Leon was thinking of seeing if he could get a little training in how to handle the meganeura before making an attempt at feeding the megalorachne", before turning to Khatin, "Think you and your little group can make a little room to fit us in?"

"I don't see why not." Khatin nodded, an accepting look on his face.

"Yeah," said Matt. "The more the merrier after all!", thrugting his left arm up in the air, accidentally letting go of the clipboard he'd been holding in his hand at the time, sending it flying up in the air, landing near Yolanda. Stepping back in surprise, Yolanda ended up stumbling backwards straight up against the bridge railing behind her, before slipping on the wet railing and, with a surprised shriek, falling ten feet straight down into the crassigyrinus pool.

. . . . .

Back in the Permian, the team walked over a hill to see a herd of large, pot-bellied grey creatures roaming around the land; at about ten feet long, they had a lizard-like body shape with large brown sails, with blue eyespots on their backs. A few of the creatures took notice of the intruders but soon went back to feasting on the plants or drinking from the lake. "I take it these are Edaphosaurus?", Alice asked, to which Drew nodded, "Yup." Suddenly, one Edaphosaurus lifted its head and sniffed the air, before bellowing.

The team turned and looked as a rust-red shape ghosted through the scrub. Jack muttered under his breath, "Dimetrodon?" Drew shook his head, "Nope – can't see a sail…" The herd got more and more nervous, as the youngsters started to bunch together into the centre of the herd. After a few seconds, things went quiet…

Before, suddenly, a rust-red synapsid, about ten feet long, burst out of the scrub and tore towards the Edaphosaurus. The edaphosaurs stampeded, the predator following in pursuit. "Hurry!", Drew tossed the remote to Jack, the team member closest to the front of the stampede – barely catching the remote, he activated the portal and the edaphosaurs all stampeded through. However, an elderly edaphosaurus, at the back of the herd, was caught by the predator – restraining it with its forelimbs, before delivering a bite and retreating. The edaphosaur, bleeding from its deep wounds, limped away, the predator following. Eventually, after about half an hour, the edaphosaur collapsed, allowing the predator to feast.

Jack turned to Drew and asked, "Isn't that a Sphenacodon? As I recall, it's a cousin of Dimetrodon, right?" Drew nodded, "Yeah.", before Jack continued, "Odd how it killed – kind of like a Komodo. I wonder…" Suddenly, the sphenacodon sniffed the air, pawed the ground and snarled. The team turned to see six more sphenacodon emerge from the darkness.

The seven synapsids sized each other up, waiting for the moment to strike. Suddenly, the water began to move, and a low alligator-like bellow echoed through the air. Their rivalry ignored, the sphenacodon turned to see the new arrival.

At about ten feet long, it was larger than the sphenacodon, distinguished by its slate grey colour and the gigantic, resplendent sail on its back. Its tail was longer and flatter than the sphenacodon and its back was pitted with crocodile-like scutes. A snarl revealed a mouth full of pointed teeth, some of which were broken.

Jack silently pointed at the gigantic creature, "I take it that's a Dimetrodon?" Drew nodded.

Now united in the face of a common enemy, the sphenacodon began charging and snapping at the new arrival. The dimetrodon, unbowed, let out a loud bellow, and charged forward at the sphenacodon, putting the smaller sphenacodonts to flight. Lifting the portal, Drew activated it in the direction of the retreating creatures, sending them through to the park. Now for the Dimetrodon. Drew smiled – he knew the plan.

Suddenly, getting up from the scrub, he walked towards the feasting dimetrodon and began blaring his horn at it. The giant synapsid turned and snarled at him, before slowly walking towards him. Walking backwards, Drew muttered, "Come on, big guy, come and get it." Once the dimetrodon had gotten close enough, it pounced – Drew rolled away and activated the portal. Unable to change its trajectory, the dimetrodon went through the portal, into the present.

. . . . .

"And he goes and outdoes himself again", Kyle sighed, as the large dimetrodon walked around the holding pens, "Two large predatory synapsids in the space of a few minutes – even worse, there's probably going to be more Dimetrodon soon."

At this, Nikolai gave Kyle a cold look, "Will you stop complaining? Given all we've handled before, he doesn't seem particularly that big of a deal." Kyle glared at him, "Could say the same about you. Is that getting cocky I detect?" At Kyle's sneer, Nikolai snorted, "It's not complacency, Kyle – I am merely saying that my team knows the drill, as it were, with animals like this."

At this statement, Kyle glowered, "My team know the drill too, Nikolai? I wonder how far your lot would get without my team's handling experience." Nikolai glared at him coldly, "I do not care for your tone, Kyle." Kyle cocked his head and gave Nikolai a cold stare "Takes one to know one." At this, Nikolai glowered and stalked off, as did Kyle in the opposite direction.

At this argument, the staff at the portal looked awkwardly away. Aaron turned to Carmen, standing next to him and said, "How long do you think they'll go on like this?" Carmen shrugged, "Bet you any money it's when someone dies in the handling pens because of them trying to undermine each other – and I'm lowballing."

. . . . .

Everyone watched, dumbstruck with horror, as Yolanda plummeted straight into the crassigyrinus pit. After a few seconds, she emerged, unharmed by the fall and grabbed on to the tank's edges. She groggily looked around, before giving a sudden yelp of pain, as Sasha grabbed her ankle in a vice-like grip and began to pull her into the tank. The struggle lasted for several minutes. However the temnyspondyl's pull was irresistible against her weak grip and it won out, forcibly pulling Yolanda into the water. As she ineffectually attempted to struggle the amphibian's grasp, she bashed her head on the tank walls, knocking her unconscious. The rest of the crassygrinus moved closer, surrounding her like sharks.

Matt was very quick to react upon seeing this. "We need to help her!"

"Agreed," said Will. "Come on, let's go get the emergency rope!"

"She'll already be swarmed by them in the time it will take to get that!" Kaisumi pointed out.

"Not if I have anything to say about it."

Bethany, Adrian, and the researchers turned their heads in time to see Leon placing his walkie talkie and glasses on the bench near the beginning end of the bridge and rush over to the nearest section of the railing surrounding the crassigyrinus pool.

"Gilbertson, what are you doing?!" Khatin yelled, gaping at the young keeper with an open mouthed look of shock on his face.

"Giving you guys time!" Leon gestured in the direction of the supply closet where the emergency ropes were located. "Go get the rope! I'll hold the crassies off!" And then, without warning, he climbed over the rail and dove into the pit to join Yolanda, grabbing a metal rod from the food preparation area. Everyone watched, mute with shock… except for Will, who realised that, whilst it wasn't entirely ideal, Leon given them an opportunity. "You heard what he said! Come on! Let's go get the rope!"

"He won't be able to hold them off for long," Khatin said, quietly, before saying to Adrian, "Open the doors to Tank Five, just in case they need some help." Galvanized into action, the six staff members outside the crassigyrinus pool made a beeline for the supply closet where they'd find the all-important emergency rope.

Leon landed with a large splash right where Yolanda herself had initially landed, startling Anne, Sasha, and Marcy, the three nearest crassigyrinus. Then Leon abruptly burst up from the water, much to the bemusement of the three surprised amphibians, before grabbing Yolanda. "Stay back," Leon hissed, eyes narrowed and teeth gritted as he continued swinging the rod with one hand whilst he carried Yolanda in the other.

Sasha hissed, jaws open, before lunging towards Leon and Yolanda; but a swift blow from the cattle prod threw off her lunge. Anne and Marcy hissed, preparing themselves for lunges of their own, only to then briefly recoil backwards with a surprised hiss when Leon slammed the rod against the water. Unfortunately, it wasn't too long after this before the rest of the crassigyrinus joined, hissing with open jaws. Leon began to swim, dragging the semi-conscious Yolanda with him.

By the time the two had reached the wall, the crassigyrinus were just a couple feet away from reaching them. "Stay with me," Leon growled, gesturing for Yolanda to stay right by his side. Yolanda got herself into position immediately at Leon's right, watching nervously as the eight carnivorous early amphibians got closer and closer.

Sasha lunged at Leon with a hiss, only to recoil from the rod as it hit the water. Anne and Marcy tensed up to dart towards the two humans, only to be startled into a recoil by the rod slamming against the water's surface.

For what felt like an eternity, Leon kept up his efforts at keeping the crassigyrinus at bay, holding the semi-conscious Yolanda. However, despite Leon's efforts, the crassygrinus were simply getting closer – when one recoiled, another two came closer. Eventually, Sasha moved forward, preparing to lunge at Leon's head… When suddenly, the crassygrinus scattered into all directions, fleeing to every corner of the tank.

Mia soon saw the reason why; Andrias had entered the tank, looming menacingly over the smaller temnyspondyls. The Crassygrinus cowered in the face of this greater predator; all trying to move as far away from it as possible. Sasha made an ineffectual snap before being cowed into retreating by the larger amphibian. Whilst Leon and Yolanda were staring awestruck, a long white rope dropped down into the water directly between the amphibians and their would-be prey.

"Grab on!" Will shouted from above. "Start climbing!" Adrian added in. As Leon was starting to notice that the crassigyrinus' moment of terror wasn't going to stop long, Khatin yelled, "Hurry! Grab the rope!"

"Will do," Leon hissed, and began climbing up the rope, carrying the semi-conscious Yolanda. By the time the eight amphibians had recovered in time for Sasha to make one last furious lunge, complete with a furious hissing, she could only helplessly snap her jaws on thin air and fall with rage back into the pool empty jawed as Leon managed to get completely out of reach mere seconds before she would have otherwise snapped her jaws around his ankle for the second time in his life.

Once he had joined Yolanda and the others outside of the crassigyrinus pool, he and Yolanda both lay on their hands and knees on the pathway, panting and gasping in equal parts exhaustion and relief over the recent ordeal.

"You ok?" Adrian asked.

"We're good," Leon panted, as Yolanda gasped, before turning to Leon and smiling. "You...idiot...," she panted, still working to get her breath back. "You...did all that...to...save me..." She then proceeded to grab him in a clumsy hug. "Thank you," she managed to gasp.

Leon let a sheepish grin come on his face, "Heh...no problem...Yolanda."

Will and Matt couldn't help but smile in relief, the latter especially so. "I'm really sorry about this," he then said, a penitent tone to his voice. "I should have been more careful with that clipboard..."

"It's ok," Leon panted, but nonetheless directing a thankful look towards Matt while briefly giving him a thumbs up. "We're both OK." Khatin and Beth sighed in relief.

Then the moment was interrupted by the sound of an amused giggle and rather meaningful sounding cough. Leon and Yolanda promptly looked in the direction of those two noises in time to see a giddily grinning Kaisumi and similarly amused looking Adrian looking their way, with the latter even having his eyebrow raised suggestively.

In response to this, Leon and Yolanda pulled themselves apart from each other, wide eyed and with light blushes on their faces. This caused Kaisumi and Adrian to both burst out laughing, whilst Will and Matt stared bemusedly and Beth and Khatin rolled their eyes. Leon breathed out. Well, that wasn't how he'd been expecting his day to go.

. . . . .

Back in the past, the team had come to a halt some distance up the hill. Here, a moderately thick layer of snow covered the ground. Despite the cold, there were several streams that flowed without a hint of ice, and around them were all kinds of animals.

In particular, there were many Dimetrodon had gathered here, with members from at least four species drinking from the stream, occasionally snatching fish. A small group of Secodontosaurus and several Platyhystrix also roamed around the river. Occasionally, a small shark would jump into the air, trying to avoid being hunted by a sail back.

The team grinned and readied the portal - perhaps they could rescue all of the beasts in front of them.

Suddenly, thunder cracked above them, accompanying a flash of lightning. Instead of a tree near the river, though, this one struck a bare trunk much further up the hill. The explosion that followed shattered the snowbank, which quickly began to slide down the hill...right toward the team.

Within seconds, every animal was trying to to escape the white wall of doom – the nearby sharks tried to swim out of the danger zone, whilst terrestrial creatures tried to run away, some looking for burrows to hide in. Of course, normally, this would all be in vain - these creatures were simply not fast enough to escape the icy torrent.

However, this day would be different. Drew turned to look at Jack and Alice, "Get the portal ready!" As the animals rushed down the hill, not one of them seemed to notice the strange bipeds, seemingly unfazed by the avalanche. Moments later, a strange light appeared, to the momentary confusion of the various animals in the area. Was the light a danger? Would it eat them?

However, the light blocked the only path to escape the avalanche. So, with great reluctance, the various animals bolted toward the portal, and in moments vanished through it.

Unnoticed by these charging vertebrates and large flying insects, the bipeds were heading toward the snow wall, stopping only when they were at the water to snatch up all of the swimmers within, after which they retreated to the light, with the avalanche just on their heels. The minute they inside, the portal closed, though not before a tiny rush of snow flew through the portal.

An hour or so later, all the newly rescued animals had been transferred to their brand-new homes within the appropriately named Texas Red Beds exhibit zone. Positioned directly in front of the designated 'entrance' for this zone was a building that contained an assortment of paddocks and enclosures themed after the rivers and small forests of the Early Permian. Located closest to the entrance of this section was a small 'paddock' filled with burrows that served as home for the stowaway anapsids, who were sharing a paddock. To the left, a larger paddock was now home to the varanops pack; with all ten of the pelycosaurs feasting heartily upon a sheep carcass, whilst to the right, a small paddock paddock that now served as home to the seymouria, whilst nearby larger paddock with a pool was home to the cacops.

A medium sized 'paddock' that came with a makeshift 'river' and an underwater viewing area served as home for the diplocaulus. A similarly designed paddock directly behind the diplocaulus 'paddock' served as home for the platyhystrix, all of which were currently basking in the shallow end near the shore of their river for the sake of a brief nap. An entirely land based larger paddock behind the one where the cacops lived now served as home for the watongia, all of which were now fast asleep in the center of the paddock as they waited for their next meal. And located in between the watongia and platyhystrix paddocks were both a small burrow filled paddock that served as home to the macroleter and a similarly sized 'aquatic paddock' that served as home for the pantylus. Located in the very center of the building were three large connected pits with a walkway positioned above them as a bridge, which now served as home for the three largest semi-aquatic animals. The very first pit located underneath the beginning third of the walkway contained a large lake surrounded by a ring of sandy shores that served as home to the four eryops, with the male who had attacked Jack (named Grime) hissing viciously upwards towards nonexistent competitors that this was his turf while the second male and both females rested nearby. The similarly designed pit located underneath the ending third of the walkway served as home for the acheloma, all of which were peacefully swimming in the water of their new lake. And in the somewhat larger pit located beneath the very center of the walkway was an island surrounded by freshwater that served as home for the four ophiacodon, which were currently in the midst of feasting upon a large heap of freshly prepared salmon.

Located at the very back of the building not too far away from the back end of the overhanging walkway were two tanks positioned on either side of this main chamber's back exit. The entirely aquatic tank to the right of the exit now contained the small shiver of xenacanthus, all of which were leisurely swimming around through the depths of their new home, whereas the tank on the left that contained both water and a portion of land to climb on served as home for the slaugenhopia, which were likewise leisurely swimming through the waters of their new home. The meganeuropsis and titanodictya, meanwhile, were kept in a small 'bug aviary' located directly between the 'main chamber' and the true 'back exit' of the building, and were currently flying around every which way they could while the small 'paddocks' that served as their nominal homes lay in wait for when they would inevitably need to rest.

A large outdoor paddock located to the left of the area directly outside the back exit to the 'forest and rivers building' served as home to all the rescued larger herbivores, with each largely sticking to their own herds as the edaphosaurus browsed peacefully on some 'ferns' in the paddock's center, the diadectes basked fast asleep in the sunlight near the far left of the paddock, the casea all curiously explored their chosen territory near the very front of the paddock, the cotylorhynchus drank peacefully from the lake at the far right of the paddock, and the angelosaurus basked in the shade of some trees in the very back of the paddock.

Finally, three connected paddocks of equal size were positioned to the right of the larger herbivore paddock. And it was these three that served as home to the rescued apex carnivores. The smallest paddock in the center of this arrangement served as home to the secodontosaurus, which were currently sniffing around the edges of the paddock as if on patrol. The larger paddock to the right of the secodontosaurus served as home to the sphenacodon, with the six comparatively younger fully grown adults digging into a cow carcass that had been recently provided for them to feed upon while the elderly male, whom Matt had named Fafnir, was now fast asleep upon a large rock in the paddock's center as a result of having already eaten his fill. And of course, the similarly sized paddock at the far left of this arrangement served as home to the dimetrodon, with the entire larger pack currently feasting together upon a cow carcass of their own while the single solitary male, named Rommel, lay fast asleep in his own personal 'territory' in the very back of the paddock on the other side of a 'river' that separated him from the larger pack. But though he was currently asleep and keeping his distance from the other dimetrodon, awareness of just how vicious and ill-tempered he was had already managed to spread to the rest of the staff over the course of the time it had taken for Rommel to be transferred from the holding pens to his current new home with the rest of his kind. And it was enough for the keepers to decide it would be very wise indeed to keep a very close eye on him indeed.

Later that evening, Leon walked up the walkway towards the front door of his bungalow. He'd just finished a talk with Drew and the rest of the rescue team over what Theodore had told Drew during a recently finished video chat. And while Drew hadn't told them just what Theodore had chosen for the next mission's target to be, he had seen it fit to let the gang know that they would have at least three whole weeks.

"Hey! Wait up!"

Leon jolted to a stop and turned his head in time to see Yolanda rushing up towards him. Leon raised his eyebrow. "I thought you were hanging out with Alice and Jack?"

"I was," Yolanda responded, "They left – exhausted from today's mission. But I just wanted to say something."

"Ok then," Leon said, now interested, "What is it?"

Yolanda chuckled before grabbing Leon in a hug, much to his surprise. "Thank you again," she said, barely audible, "For saving me."

Leon chuckled, "No problem Yolanda.", before he even realized he was doing so, he abruptly returned Yolanda's hug with an embrace of his own. They spent a few seconds embracing like this, before ending their embrace and took two steps back each, warm smiles still on their faces. "Good night Yolanda," Leon stated.

Yolanda chuckled. "Right back at you Leon." She nodded her head. She then seemed to think to herself. "What do you say we hang out a little tomorrow?" She then asked. "Get ourselves acquainted a little more?"

Leon raised his eyebrow, half confused and half hopeful. "Any particular reason why?"

"Not sure," Yolanda admitted. "I guess I just...really want to be your friend." She lowered her head, a slight blush coming on her face. "And not just because you saved me either. I mean, I know that Jack doesn't quite seem to like you very much, but Alice said a while back that I should get to know you..."

Leon's eyes widened. "Really? She said the same thing to me last week."

Yolanda chuckled, "Well that's certainly convenient. I enjoyed working with you today.", before smiling, "I hope you feel the same."

Leon let a small smile come on his face, a brief blush coming on his own face, and he nodded his head. "Yeah, I do." He thought to himself. "Would uh...lunchtime tomorrow work?"

"Sure," Yolanda stated, hazel eyes agleam.

With this, Leon nodded, "I'll catch you then."

"Perfect." Yolanda drew out her phone. "What do you say we exchange numbers? That might make it easier for us to let us know when we're both available?"

Leon, seeing no problem with this suggestion, drew out his phone and they exchanged numbers, before nodding their heads in unison and parting to head off to their respective living quarters. "See you tomorrow," Yolanda yelled happily as she left.

"Right back at you," Leon responded, warm smile on his face. He walked the next few steps elated before reaching the front door of his bungalow, entering, and locking the door closed behind him. He wasn't entirely certain why, but he couldn't help but feel happy when around Yolanda. "I'm sure it will become clearer over time," he whispered under his breath. He then yawned. "But in the meantime, I suppose I'd best get myself ready for bed and go to sleep." And so, he headed off to get ready for bed. For even with at least three weeks to wait before the next mission, he certainly didn't want to start the immediate new day to come tomorrow on a groggy note.

* Acheloma cumminsi (9; all adults; 4 male, 5 female)

* Acleistorhinus pteroticus (17; all adults; 8 male, 9 female)

* Angelosaurus (13; 9 adults, 4 youngsters; 7 male, 6 female)

* Cacops aspidephorus (6; all adults; 3 male, 3 female)

* Captorhinus aguti (16; all adults; 8 male, 8 female)

* Casea broilli (12; all adults; 6 male, 6 female)

* Cotylorhynchus hancocki (10; 6 adults, 4 youngsters; 5 male, 5 female)

* Diadectes sideropelicus (9; 6 adults, 3 youngsters; 4 male, 5 female)

* Dimetrodon grandis (13; 7 adults, 6 youngsters; 6 male, 7 female)

* Diplocalus magincornis (8; all adults; 4 male, 4 female)

* Edaphosaurus pogonias (19; 13 adults, 6 youngsters; 9 male, 10 female)

* Eryops megacephalus (4; all adults; 2 male, 2 female)

* Kahneria seltina (14; all adults; 7 male, 7 female)

* Macroleter poezicus (15; all adults; 7 male, 8 female)

* Meganeuropsis permiana (12; all adults; 6 male, 6 female)

* Ophiacodon retroversus (4; all adults; 2 male, 2 female)

* Pantylus cordatus (10; all adults; 5 male, 5 female)

* Platyhystrix rugosus (9; all adults; 4 male, 5 female)

* Rothianiscus robusta (12; all adults; 5 male, 7 female)

* Secodontosaurus obtusidens (9; all adults; 4 male, 5 female)

* Seymouria sanjuanensis (12; all adults; 6 male, 6 female)

* Slaugenhopia texensis (17; all adults; 7 male, 10 female)

* Sphenacodon ferocior (7; all adults; 4 male, 3 female)

* Titanodictya jucunda (11; all adults; 5 male, 6 female)

* Varanops brevirostris (10; 6 adults, 4 youngsters; 5 male, 5 female)

* Watongia meieri (8; all adults; 4 male, 4 female)

* Xenacanthus decheni (13; all adults; 6 male, 7 female)

Next time on Prehistoric Park Reimagined:

Drew and his team travel to the Devonian period to rescue the dunkleosteus.

(A large armored predatory fish swims ominously through the water towards the 'camera'.)

But must also risk being killed by his teammates' own attempts at killing each other.

(An angry Leon and surprised Jack start wrestling around on the upper deck of the Ancient Mariner while an alarm goes off in the background.)

And one of the dimetrodon back at home proves considerably more difficult to work with than expected.

(An enraged Rommel goes chasing after a half frightened and half irritated Matt.)

All next time, on Prehistoric Park Reimagined: Devils of the Deep!