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Just Like Old Times
by Robert J. Sawyer
Copyright © 1993 by
Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved
Commissioned for the anthology Dinosaur Fantastic,
edited by Mike Resnick and Martin H. Greenberg (DAW, 1993).
- Arthur Ellis Awards, edited by Peter Sellers, 2000
- Aurora Awards: An Anthology of Prize-Winning Science Fiction
& Fantasy, edited by Edo van Belkom, 1999
- Hayakawa SF Magazine (in a Japanese translation by Masayuki
Uchida), August, 1997
- Dinosaurs, edited by Martin H. Greenberg, Donald I. Fine, 1996
- On Spec: The First Five Years, 1995
- Dinosaurs II, edited by Jack Dann and
Gardner Dozois, 1995
- Northern Stars, edited by David G.
Hartwell and Glenn Grant, 1994
- Finalist, Seiun Award (Japan's top SF award), Best Foreign
Short Story of 1997
- Winner of the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Award
("the Aurora") for Best English-Language Short Story of 1993
- Winner of the the Crime Writers of Canada's
Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short
Story of 1993.
- Honorable mention, The Year's Best Science Fiction,
edited by Gardner Dozois
- Honorable mention, The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror,
edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
Just Like Old Times
by Robert J. Sawyer
The transference went smoothly, like a scalpel slicing into skin.
Cohen was simultaneously excited and disappointed. He was
thrilled to be here perhaps the judge was right, perhaps this
was indeed where he really belonged. But the gleaming edge was
taken off that thrill because it wasn't accompanied by the usual
physiological signs of excitement: no sweaty palms, no racing
heart, no rapid breathing. Oh, there was a heartbeat, to be
sure, thundering in the background, but it wasn't Cohen's.
It was the dinosaur's.
Everything was the dinosaur's: Cohen saw the world now through
The colors seemed all wrong. Surely plant leaves must be the
same chlorophyll green here in the Mesozoic, but the dinosaur saw
them as navy blue. The sky was lavender; the dirt underfoot ash
Old bones had different cones, thought Cohen. Well, he could get
used to it. After all, he had no choice. He would finish his
life as an observer inside this tyrannosaur's mind. He'd see
what the beast saw, hear what it heard, feel what it felt. He
wouldn't be able to control its movements, they had said, but he
would be able to experience every sensation.
The rex was marching forward.
Cohen hoped blood would still look red.
It wouldn't be the same if it wasn't red.
"And what, Ms. Cohen, did your husband say before he left your
house on the night in question?"
"He said he was going out to hunt humans. But I thought he was
making a joke."
"No interpretations, please, Ms. Cohen. Just repeat for the
court as precisely as you remember it, exactly what your husband
"He said, 'I'm going out to hunt humans.'"
"Thank you, Ms. Cohen. That concludes the Crown's case, my
The needlepoint on the wall of the Honourable Madam Justice
Amanda Hoskins's chambers had been made for her by her husband.
It was one of her favorite verses from The Mikado, and as
she was preparing sentencing she would often look up and re-read
My object all sublime
I shall achieve in time
To let the punishment fit the crime
The punishment fit the crime.
This was a difficult case, a horrible case. Judge Hoskins
continued to think.
It wasn't just colors that were wrong. The view from inside the
tyrannosaur's skull was different in other ways, too.
The tyrannosaur had only partial stereoscopic vision. There was
an area in the center of Cohen's field of view that showed true
depth perception. But because the beast was somewhat wall-eyed,
it had a much wider panorama than normal for a human, a kind of
saurian Cinemascope covering 270 degrees.
The wide-angle view panned back and forth as the tyrannosaur
scanned along the horizon.
Scanning for prey.
Scanning for something to kill.
The Calgary Herald, Thursday, October 16, 2042, hardcopy
edition: Serial killer Rudolph Cohen, 43, was sentenced to death
Formerly a prominent member of the Alberta College of Physicians
and Surgeons, Dr. Cohen was convicted in August of thirty-seven
counts of first-degree murder.
In chilling testimony, Cohen had admitted, without any signs of
remorse, to having terrorized each of his victims for hours
before slitting their throats with surgical implements.
This is the first time in eighty years that the death penalty has
been ordered in this country.
In passing sentence, Madam Justice Amanda Hoskins observed that
Cohen was "the most cold-blooded and brutal killer to have
stalked Canada's prairies since Tyrannosaurus rex . . . "
From behind a stand of dawn redwoods about ten meters away, a
second tyrannosaur appeared. Cohen suspected tyrannosaurs might
be fiercely territorial, since each animal would require huge
amounts of meat. He wondered if the beast he was in would attack
the other individual.
His dinosaur tilted its head to look at the second rex, which was
standing in profile. But as it did so, almost all of the dino's
mental picture dissolved into a white void, as if when
concentrating on details the beast's tiny brain simply lost track
of the big picture.
At first Cohen thought his rex was looking at the other
dinosaur's head, but soon the top of other's skull, the tip of
its muzzle and the back of its powerful neck faded away into
snowy nothingness. All that was left was a picture of the
throat. Good, thought Cohen. One shearing bite there could kill
The skin of the other's throat appeared gray-green and the throat
itself was smooth. Maddeningly, Cohen's rex did not attack.
Rather, it simply swiveled its head and looked out at the horizon
In a flash of insight, Cohen realized what had happened. Other
kids in his neighborhood had had pet dogs or cats. He'd had
lizards and snakes cold-blooded carnivores, a fact to which
expert psychological witnesses had attached great weight. Some
kinds of male lizards had dewlap sacks hanging from their necks.
The rex he was in a male, the Tyrrell paleontologists had
believed had looked at this other one and seen that she was
smooth-throated and therefore a female. Something to be mated
with, perhaps, rather than to attack.
Perhaps they would mate soon. Cohen had never orgasmed except
during the act of killing. He wondered what it would feel like.
"We spent a billion dollars developing time travel, and now you
tell me the system is useless?"
"That is what you're saying, isn't it, professor? That
chronotransference has no practical applications?"
"Not exactly, Minister. The system does work. We can
project a human being's consciousness back in time, superimposing
his or her mind overtop of that of someone who lived in the
"With no way to sever the link. Wonderful."
"That's not true. The link severs automatically."
"Right. When the historical person you've transferred
consciousness into dies, the link is broken."
"And then the person from our time whose consciousness you've
transferred back dies as well."
"I admit that's an unfortunate consequence of linking two brains
"So I'm right! This whole damn chronotransference thing is
"Oh, not at all, Minister. In fact, I think I've got the perfect
application for it."
The rex marched along. Although Cohen's attention had first been
arrested by the beast's vision, he slowly became aware of its
other senses, too. He could hear the sounds of the rex's
footfalls, of twigs and vegetation being crushed, of birds or
pterosaurs singing, and, underneath it all, the relentless drone
of insects. Still, all the sounds were dull and low; the rex's
simple ears were incapable of picking up high-pitched noises, and
what sounds they did detect were discerned without richness.
Cohen knew the late Cretaceous must have been a symphony of
varied tone, but it was as if he was listening to it through
The rex continued along, still searching. Cohen became aware of
several more impressions of the world both inside and out,
including hot afternoon sun beating down on him and a hungry
gnawing in the beast's belly.
It was the closest thing to a coherent thought that he'd yet
detected from the animal, a mental picture of bolts of meat going
down its gullet.
The Social Services Preservation Act of 2022: Canada is built
upon the principle of the Social Safety Net, a series of
entitlements and programs designed to ensure a high standard of
living for every citizen. However, ever-increasing life
expectancies coupled with constant lowering of the mandatory
retirement age have placed an untenable burden on our
social-welfare system and, in particular, its cornerstone program
of universal health care. With most taxpayers ceasing to work at
the age of 45, and with average Canadians living to be 94 (males)
or 97 (females), the system is in danger of complete collapse.
Accordingly, all social programs will henceforth be available
only to those below the age of 60, with one exception: all
Canadians, regardless of age, may take advantage, at no charge to
themselves, of government-sponsored euthanasia through
There! Up ahead! Something moving! Big, whatever it was: an
indistinct outline only intermittently visible behind a small
knot of fir trees.
A quadruped of some sort, its back to him/it/them.
Ah, there. Turning now. Peripheral vision dissolving into
albino nothingness as the rex concentrated on the head.
Glorious! Cohen had spent hours as a boy pouring over books
about dinosaurs, looking for scenes of carnage. No battles were
better than those in which Tyrannosaurus rex squared off
against Triceratops, a four-footed Mesozoic tank with a
trio of horns projecting from its face and a shield of bone
rising from the back of its skull to protect the neck.
And yet, the rex marched on.
No, thought Cohen. Turn, damn you! Turn and attack!
Cohen remembered when it had all begun, that fateful day so many
years ago, so many years from now. It should have been a routine
operation. The patient had supposedly been prepped properly.
Cohen brought his scalpel down toward the abdomen, then, with a
steady hand, sliced into the skin. The patient gasped. It had
been a wonderful sound, a beautiful sound.
Not enough gas. The anesthetist hurried to make an adjustment.
Cohen knew he had to hear that sound again. He had to.
The tyrannosaur continued forward. Cohen couldn't see its legs,
but he could feel them moving. Left, right, up, down.
Attack, you bastard!
Go after it!
Go after the Triceratops.
The beast hesitated, its left leg still in the air, balancing
briefly on one foot.
And then, at last, the rex changed course. The ceratopsian
appeared in the three-dimensional central part of the
tyrannosaur's field of view, like a target at the end of a gun
"Welcome to the Chronotransference Institute. If I can just see
your government benefits card, please? Yup, there's always a
last time for everything, heh heh. Now, I'm sure you want an
exciting death. The problem is finding somebody interesting who
hasn't been used yet. See, we can only ever superimpose one mind
onto a given historical personage. All the really obvious ones
have been done already, I'm afraid. We still get about a dozen
calls a week asking for Jack Kennedy, but he was one of the first
to go, so to speak. If I may make a suggestion, though, we've
got thousands of Roman legion officers cataloged. Those tend to
be very satisfying deaths. How about a nice something from the
The Triceratops looked up, its giant head lifting from the
wide flat gunnera leaves it had been chewing on. Now that the
rex had focussed on the plant-eater, it seemed to commit itself.
The tyrannosaur charged.
The hornface was sideways to the rex. It began to turn, to bring
its armored head to bear.
The horizon bounced wildly as the rex ran. Cohen could hear the
thing's heart thundering loudly, rapidly, a barrage of muscular
The Triceratops, still completing its turn, opened its
parrot-like beak, but no sound came out.
Giant strides closed the distance between the two animals. Cohen
felt the rex's jaws opening wide, wider still, mandibles popping
from their sockets.
The jaws slammed shut on the hornface's back, over the shoulders.
Cohen saw two of the rex's own teeth fly into view, knocked out
by the impact.
The taste of hot blood, surging out of the wound . . .
The rex pulled back for another bite.
The Triceratops finally got its head swung around. It
surged forward, the long spear over its left eye piercing into
the rex's leg . . .
Pain. Exquisite, beautiful pain.
The rex roared. Cohen heard it twice, once reverberating within
the animal's own skull, a second time echoing back from distant
hills. A flock of silver-furred pterosaurs took to the air.
Cohen saw them fade from view as the dinosaur's simple mind shut
them out of the display. Irrelevant distractions.
The Triceratops pulled back, the horn withdrawing from the
Blood, Cohen was delighted to see, still looked red.
"If Judge Hoskins had ordered the electric chair," said Axworthy,
Cohen's lawyer, "we could have fought that on Charter grounds.
Cruel and unusual punishment, and all that. But she's authorized
full access to the chronotransference euthanasia program for
you." Axworthy paused. "She said, bluntly, that she simply
wants you dead."
"How thoughtful of her," said Cohen.
Axworthy ignored that. "I'm sure I can get you anything you
want," he said. "Who would you like to be transferred into?"
"Not who," said Cohen. "What."
"I beg your pardon?"
"That damned judge said I was the most cold-blooded killer to
stalk the Alberta landscape since Tyrannosaurus rex."
Cohen shook his head. "The idiot. Doesn't she know dinosaurs
were warm-blooded? Anyway, that's what I want. I want to be
transferred into a T. rex."
"Kidding is not my forte, John. Killing is. I want to
know which was better at it, me or the rex."
"I don't even know if they can do that kind of thing," said
"Find out, damn you. What the hell am I paying you for?"
The rex danced to the side, moving with surprising agility for a
creature of its bulk, and once again it brought its terrible jaws
down on the ceratopsian's shoulder. The plant-eater was
hemorrhaging at an incredible rate, as though a thousand
sacrifices had been performed on the altar of its back.
The Triceratops tried to lunge forward, but it was
weakening quickly. The tyrannosaur, crafty in its own way
despite its trifling intellect, simply retreated a dozen giant
paces. The hornface took one tentative step toward it, and then
another, and, with great and ponderous effort, one more. But
then the dinosaurian tank teetered and, eyelids slowly closing,
collapsed on its side. Cohen was briefly startled, then
thrilled, to hear it fall to the ground with a splash
he hadn't realized just how much blood had poured out of the
great rent the rex had made in the beast's back.
The tyrannosaur moved in, lifting its left leg up and then
smashing it down on the Triceratops's belly, the three
sharp toe claws tearing open the thing's abdomen, entrails
spilling out into the harsh sunlight. Cohen thought the rex
would let out a victorious roar, but it didn't. It simply dipped
its muzzle into the body cavity, and methodically began yanking
out chunks of flesh.
Cohen was disappointed. The battle of the dinosaurs had been
fun, the killing had been well engineered, and there had
certainly been enough blood, but there was no terror. No
sense that the Triceratops had been quivering with fear,
no begging for mercy. No feeling of power, of control. Just
dumb, mindless brutes moving in ways preprogrammed by their
It wasn't enough. Not nearly enough.
Judge Hoskins looked across the desk in her chambers at the
"A Tyrannosaurus, Mr. Axworthy? I was speaking
"I understand that, my lady, but it was an appropriate
observation, don't you think? I've contacted the
Chronotransference people, who say they can do it, if they have a
rex specimen to work from. They have to back-propagate from
actual physical material in order to get a temporal fix."
Judge Hoskins was as unimpressed by scientific babble as she was
by legal jargon. "Make your point, Mr. Axworthy."
"I called the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Drumheller
and asked them about the Tyrannosaurus fossils available
worldwide. Turns out there's only a handful of complete
skeletons, but they were able to provide me with an annotated
list, giving as much information as they could about the
individual probable causes of death." He slid a thin plastic
printout sheet across the judge's wide desk.
"Leave this with me, counsel. I'll get back to you."
Axworthy left, and Hoskins scanned the brief list. She then
leaned back in her leather chair and began to read the
needlepoint on her wall for the thousandth time:
My object all sublime
I shall achieve in time
She read that line again, her lips moving slightly as she
subvocalized the words: "I shall achieve in time . . . "
The judge turned back to the list of tyrannosaur finds. Ah, that
one. Yes, that would be perfect. She pushed a button on her
phone. "David, see if you can find Mr. Axworthy for me."
There had been a very unusual aspect to the Triceratops
kill an aspect that intrigued Cohen. Chronotransference had
been performed countless times; it was one of the most popular
forms of euthanasia. Sometimes the transferee's original body
would give an ongoing commentary about what was going on, as if
talking during sleep. It was clear from what they said that
transferees couldn't exert any control over the bodies they were
Indeed, the physicists had claimed any control was impossible.
Chronotransference worked precisely because the transferee could
exert no influence, and therefore was simply observing things
that had already been observed. Since no new observations were
being made, no quantum-mechanical distortions occurred. After
all, said the physicists, if one could exert control, one could
change the past. And that was impossible.
And yet, when Cohen had willed the rex to alter its course, it
eventually had done so.
Could it be that the rex had so little brains that Cohen's
thoughts could control the beast?
Madness. The ramifications were incredible.
Still . . .
He had to know if it was true. The rex was torpid, flopped on
its belly, gorged on ceratopsian meat. It seemed prepared to lie
here for a long time to come, enjoying the early evening breeze.
Get up, thought Cohen. Get up, damn you!
Nothing. No response.
The rex's lower jaw was resting on the ground. Its upper jaw was
lifted high, its mouth wide open. Tiny pterosaurs were flitting
in and out of the open maw, their long needle-like beaks
apparently yanking gobbets of hornface flesh from between the
rex's curved teeth.
Get up, thought Cohen again. Get up!
The rex stirred.
The tyrannosaur used its tiny forelimbs to keep its torso from
sliding forward as it pushed with its powerful legs until it was
Forward, thought Cohen. Forward!
The beast's body felt different. Its belly was full to bursting.
With ponderous steps, the rex began to march.
It was wonderful. To be in control again! Cohen felt the old
thrill of the hunt.
And he knew exactly what he was looking for.
"Judge Hoskins says okay," said Axworthy. "She's authorized for
you to be transferred into that new T. rex they've got
right here in Alberta at the Tyrrell. It's a young adult, they
say. Judging by the way the skeleton was found, the rex died
falling, probably into a fissure. Both legs and the back were
broken, but the skeleton remained almost completely articulated,
suggesting that scavengers couldn't get at it. Unfortunately,
the chronotransference people say that back-propagating that far
into the past they can only plug you in a few hours before the
accident occurred. But you'll get your wish: you're going to
die as a tyrannosaur. Oh, and here are the books you asked for:
a complete library on Cretaceous flora and fauna. You should
have time to get through it all; the chronotransference people
will need a couple of weeks to set up."
As the prehistoric evening turned to night, Cohen found what he
had been looking for, cowering in some underbrush: large brown
eyes, long, drawn-out face, and a lithe body covered in fur that,
to the tyrannosaur's eyes, looked blue-brown.
A mammal. But not just any mammal. Purgatorius, the very
first primate, known from Montana and Alberta from right at the
end of the Cretaceous. A little guy, only about ten centimeters
long, excluding its ratlike tail. Rare creatures, these days.
Only a precious few.
The little furball could run quickly for its size, but a single
step by the tyrannosaur equaled more than a hundred of the
mammal's. There was no way it could escape.
The rex leaned in close, and Cohen saw the furball's face, the
nearest thing there would be to a human face for another sixty
million years. The animal's eyes went wide in terror.
Naked, raw fear.
Cohen saw the creature scream.
Heard it scream.
It was beautiful.
The rex moved its gaping jaws in toward the little mammal,
drawing in breath with such force that it sucked the creature
into its maw. Normally the rex would swallow its meals whole,
but Cohen prevented the beast from doing that. Instead, he
simply had it stand still, with the little primate running
around, terrified, inside the great cavern of the dinosaur's
mouth, banging into the giant teeth and great fleshy walls, and
skittering over the massive, dry tongue.
Cohen savored the terrified squealing. He wallowed in the
sensation of the animal, mad with fear, moving inside that living
And at last, with a great, glorious release, Cohen put the animal
out of its misery, allowing the rex to swallow it, the furball
tickling as it slid down the giant's throat.
It was just like old times.
Just like hunting humans.
And then a wonderful thought occurred to Cohen. Why, if he
killed enough of these little screaming balls of fur, they
wouldn't have any descendants. There wouldn't ever be any
Homo sapiens. In a very real sense, Cohen realized he
was hunting humans every single human being who would
Of course, a few hours wouldn't be enough time to kill many of
them. Judge Hoskins no doubt thought it was wonderfully poetic
justice, or she wouldn't have allowed the transfer: sending him
back to fall into the pit, damned.
Stupid judge. Why, now that he could control the beast, there
was no way he was going to let it die young. He'd just
There it was. The fissure, a long gash in the earth, with a
crumbling edge. Damn, it was hard to see. The shadows
cast by neighboring trees made a confusing gridwork on the ground
that obscured the ragged opening. No wonder the dull-witted rex
had missed seeing it until it was too late.
But not this time.
Turn left, thought Cohen.
His rex obeyed.
He'd avoid this particular area in future, just to be on the safe
side. Besides, there was plenty of territory to cover.
Fortunately, this was a young rex a juvenile. There would be
decades in which to continue his very special hunt. Cohen was
sure that Axworthy knew his stuff: once it became apparent that
the link had lasted longer than a few hours, he'd keep any
attempt to pull the plug tied up in the courts for years.
Cohen felt the old pressure building in himself, and in the rex.
The tyrannosaur marched on.
This was better than old times, he thought. Much better.
Hunting all of humanity.
The release would be wonderful.
He watched intently for any sign of movement in the underbrush.
• The End •
If you enjoyed this short story by Hugo and Nebula Award-winning
science-fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer, how about giving one of his
bestselling novels a try? The opening chapters of each of them are
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