This is a Deleted Scene from the beginning of “Of a Feather“, in which I explore where birds came from and why some of them are brighter than we give them credit for.
The days were getting noticeably shorter, and colder. The plants were not doing well. Some of the more aware dinosaurs gathered to discuss what might be going on.
“We call it ‘winter’,” said a huge herbivore, lowering its head into the conversation from somewhere above.
“Well I’ve been counting and I’m pretty certain we should still be in summer! There should be fruit and foliage and everything!” The speaker was a smaller, spikier herbivore who was feeling extremely nervous.
“He’s got a point,” said one of the reasons for the spiky herbivore’s nerves. “Normally, some of you should be migrating just before winter, but you’ve not.” The carnivore stretched and flexed running muscles, bared its teeth in a grin and flailed a pair of tiny arms.
One of the smaller omnivores ran in a small, panicky circle.
“Everything is going wrong!” it wailed, to no great purpose.
“No no” said the huge plant eater, full of sauropod smugness, “it’s merely a little early winter. That’s all.” The omnivore stopped running.
“You don’t think it’s anything to do with the enormous rock that fell out of the sky, the huge column of flame, the terrible winds, the sudden clouds and the terrifying quakes we’ve been having?”
“Are you sure?” The little omnivore was leaning so far back that it was in danger of falling over. It shook a tiny fist at the vast sauropod.
“Correlation does not equal causation,” boomed the Sauropod, “surely we all remember that?”
The smaller dinosaurs stared at each other.
“So,” said the spiky herbivore, “you don’t find the timing at all suggestive?”
“Bollocks to you, then,” squeaked the omnivore, “because I’m pretty close to the mammals and they’re starting to sound pretty smug with their homeostasis and their fur.”
“Well even if you don’t think the falling rock was the cause, you’re surely aware that by the normal count of days we’re still in late summer? But the plants are dying off and there’s no sign of the normal late summer fruits or autumnal fare.”
“A harsh winter is something we’ve all been through before and will all go through again, I’m sure,” said the Sauropod. The omnivore bristled.
“Patronising bloody mobile mountain!”
“Calm down,” said the spiky herbivore. “It can’t do any good to get upset.”
“It’s going to affect you lot first, of course,” said the carnivore. “I can see me getting a great many really good meals before the End.”
“Is it really going to End, then?” The omnivore quaked and backed under the limited shelter of a wilting bush.
“Oh yes,” said the carnivore, “if the plants continue to die off this way there will be excellent hunting for a while as all the plant eaters compete for what remains of their food. But sooner or later that supply will be exhausted, whether due to over-grazing or the continued climate disaster. Meat eaters will do well in the short term, but you know what it’s like: when there’s plenty of food, everyone gets very romantic and before you know it there’s a population explosion. Bad news all around, really, as the apex predators graze on anything they can hunt down, finally turning on their own before all life as we know it is extinguished.”
The little group fell silent.
“What can we do?” The spiky herbivore looked around. “I mean, there MUST be SOMETHING.”
“I plan to lay in a huge supply of condiments,” said the carnivore.
“And that’s it?”
“We could always try evolving,” said the omnivore.
The predator cocked its head to one side.
“Now there’s a thought,” it said.
“Don’t be silly,” said the spiky herbivore “our greatest minds have agreed, more or less, that evolution is a gradual process that happens over generations as species self select to best fill an environmental niche.”
“It’s only a theory,” said the Sauropod, with a faint smile. The omnivore and the herbivore exchanged glances.
“Don’t give him the satisfaction,” said the spiky herbivore. They all became aware that the carnivore was making some very unusual noises, and turned to watch.
The carnivore was standing completely still, every muscle flexed and thrown into sharp relief as it quivered with effort.
“Hhhnnnnnnnnnnnnnng!” it said.
“What are you doing?” The omnivore started backing away, just in case the predator was tensing to leap into the attack.
“Huuuuuhhnnnnnngngngngngngngngng…..pah!” said the carnivore, breathing heavily.
“You’re not laying an egg, are you?” The spiky herbivore planted its feet, just in case.
“Huhhhhh….no, I’m evolving…hUUUUUUUUHHHHHHHHNNNNNG!”
The final effort left the carnivore dazed, out of breath and staggering. It shuffled, claws finding purchase in the soft earth, but its eyes were crossed and it was breathing hard.
“You’ll do yourself a mischief,” opined the sauropod.
“This isn’t how evolution works!” said the herbivore, “Were you listening when we said it was a gradual process? Evolving takes generations and generations! You can’t just put some effort in early on and expect results!”
“You….phew…you’re just not…trying…” panted the carnivore.
“You’re ridiculous,” said the spiky herbivore. “I shall fetch a biologist and get you a proper explanation. You wait there, try not to prolapse anything in the meantime.”
“HNGGNGNGNGNGNGNNNNNNN!” Claws gouged tracks into the earth, every cell in the carnivore’s body seemed to vibrate. Its eyes were closed, screwed up in effort, as it attempted to do in moments what any sensible biological system took generations to accomplish.
“Oh this is nonsense,” said the herbivore, turning away.
“HUH! HGNNNNNNNNN – “ there was a soft pop, like the sound you make when you want to imitate a bottle opening, and a sudden stillness. The omnivore stood paralysed with astonishment.
“…crikey,” it whispered. The herbivore turned slowly back.
Where the carnivore had stood there was something much, much smaller. Smaller, and reddish brown. Feathered, reddish brown, and small. It scratched hesitantly at the ground and made a noise that was perhaps best represented as
The herbivore sighed.
“Oh well done,” it said, as one might to a naughty child who has succeeded in doing the thing that you have laboriously told it is the only thing it must not do, “brilliant. You know you’ve doomed yourself, don’t you? There’s ONE of you. Who are you going to share genes with? Because you’re dinner to any of your former own kind.”
“And now you don’t even speak the language. You’re a bloody genius, you know that?”
“What worries me,” said the omnivore, looking around him like someone expecting an ambush, “is the conservation of energy. All that mass has to have gone somewhere. And there’s no way we’d still be standing here if it had been perfectly converted into energy.” It realised, with sudden joy, that it was substantially taller than what the carnivore had become.
“Where’s all that extra mass, eh? What have you done with it?”
The new arrival pecked at the ground.
The omnivore shrugged and trotted after the spiky herbivore.
“Don’t worry,” said the herbivore, “it’s very unlikely to happen twice, and even if he can tell someone else what he did and how he did it, I doubt it will catch on.”
“What about us?”
The herbivore looked down.
“I think we might have to eat, drink and be merry. You know, while we can.”
“I know,” said the omnivore. Some mammals scrabbled past, too small and fast to be snapped up and eaten. Around them, the day grew darker and the temperature fell again as the night drew in ever more quickly.