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Jet Black fell.
He did not fall through open air. He did not plunge deep into water.
He tumbled through time and space. Everything was light and dark at the same time—bright flashes pulsing and long shadows stretching like cooling tar. It felt like he was falling through an endless tunnel, a pit-like perforation in the cosmic continuum.
All around him rose the voices and sounds of history: cannon-fire, erupting volcanoes, jackhammers breaking asphalt, the cheers and jeers of infinite crowds, the wailing of animals, the sobbing of children. All sounds warped, melting from one into another. A mad cacophony of noises kicking through his ear-drums and nesting deep in his mind.
It went on like this.
For a minute or a millennium, Jet could not say.
But for all the time, through all the space, one word formed crystalline in his mind, resonating like a fork tapping glass:
When last he left her, Sally was crying his name. She reached out for him across the massive underground chamber, a sculpted space beneath Atlantis, as he hung frozen and limp in the invisible grasp of not one but two Doctor Methuselahs.
She had fired a sonic blast through the funnel-tube that wound around the chamber like a golden snake, and then everything unstuck as the platform dropped suddenly toward the whirling portal below, the two Doctors going with it. Jet suddenly flew forward, slamming hard into the side of the chamber—seeing stars, his head tolling like a bell—before dropping down toward the portal with all the others.
All the others except Sally.
Sally, left behind on the elevator platform.
Reaching. Yelling. Her body damaged by Methuselah’s cruel mathemagic attack.
Jet plunged into the portal.
He didn’t fall to the ground so much as the ground fell upward to meet him. There came the vacuum pop of Jet exiting the continuum of time and space and—
There he was. Standing on wobbly legs.
A wall of humid air, hot as a bull’s breath, hit him in the face. Colors and light resolved into shape and object, and as Jet’s internal compass spun slower and slower, he saw that he stood in the middle of a wild, verdant jungle. Vines thick as his thigh hung between twisted jungle trees, trees whose roots lay exposed, whose trunks were bulbous and bottle-shaped. The ground lay spongy beneath his feet. Everything felt wet. The air, heavy. Thick like in a cloud of steam.
A dragonfly flitted before him, herkily-jerkily darting left, then right, then up, then up again. Its eyes were like golden marbles. Its body, a knitting needle of sapphires.
And it was easily as big as Jet’s hand. Hell, it was easily as big as Professor Khan’s massive primate mitt.
Huge trees. Leaves so big you could use one as a parachute. Dragonflies large enough to carry away a newborn kitten.
Jet had no idea where he was.
But he damn sure knew when:
I’ve gone back in time.
Perhaps to the very beginning.
A moment of panic washed over him like a cold rush of water, turning his sweat icy. Again her name drifted across the surface of his mind: Sally. But no. This was not the time to dwell on the hopelessness of the situation. Hope was part of who they were, part of what they did. Without hope, any attempts at heroism would be dead in the water.
The dragonfly darted off to heights unseen.
The dragonfly, he decided, had the right idea.
Time to fly, he thought. Get a view of the forest—er, jungle—for the trees.
Jet kicked the air-booster on his jet-wing, launched himself straight up.
He flew ten feet. The jet-wing’s air booster stuttered. The wing tilted. Jet’s body corkscrewed suddenly, and before he knew it, he flew sideways into a tree whose trunk seemed a braid of several smaller trees.
Jet Black fell.
Only about twenty feet or so.
Just the same, it was enough to horse-kick the air out of his lungs.
Then, a roar came, echoing across the jungle.
An all-too-familiar roar. The roar of a gorilla.
In the canopy above, big colorful birds took flight.
“Professor,” Jet gasped, wincing as he hurried to his feet. His jet-wing may have been broken, but he was who he was, and one of his fellow Centurions was in danger.
Professor Khan struck out with a fist, but his fist froze in mid-air. He grunted, snarled, tried to pull away—but it was held fast by an invisible hand.
Their powers are different here, he thought. Stronger. Not just telepathic, but telekinetic.
The psychosaurs—no longer sporting the illusion of human faces—came sweeping out of the jungle riding ostrich-sized dinosaurs (leading Khan to believe they were some manner of Ornithomimus). The psychic saurians hissed and gnashed their flat razor teeth. Three psychosaurs to the front of Khan, then three to the rear.
They held reins of golden fungus, strung up around the necks of their dinosaur mounts.
One of the mounts darted toward him with an open mouth—that’s when Khan took a swing, but found his fist trapped suddenly. Khan reached for his one fist with his other, but found that hand pinned by invisible forces, too. Both arms wrenched suddenly backward, his arms burning at the shoulders with twin lightning bolts of pain.
The psychosaur ahead of him reached out a clawed hand, palm down.
As the psychosaur raised its hand, Khan also rose off the ground. Like a puppet.
Khan thrashed, and roared.
The second psychosaur to the right reached down to the side of its mount and uncoiled a long lash—this, too, made of the thumb-thick glowing fungus. The psychosaur whipped the lash forward, and Khan felt the fungus snake around his neck. It tightened there, as if pulled taut by psychic hands. He felt his head pounding. Darkness bled at the edges of his vision.
His body weakened.
At first, he thought he was hallucinating. To his right, the air rippled like pondwater hit by a thrown stone, and then a body appeared out of nowhere—
Father, the Professor thought, the word a betrayal of his own mind. No! He is not your father, you daft ape! The Conqueror lay still on the jungle floor, a shaft of sunlight illuminating his nose—the Professor saw the gorilla’s prodigious nostrils flaring, revealing that he was not dead but unconscious.
The sound of swift footsteps.
A shape darted out of the jungle.
The monster tumbled off the Ornithomimus, and the Professor saw a familiar flying suit: Jet Black had come to save him.
Just because his jet-wing wouldn’t take him high didn’t mean it couldn’t still offer some advantage. Jet burst through the jungle into the clearing and hit his air booster just as he took a running leap—the momentum carried him forward like a clumsy bullet tumbling end over end, and he crashed into the psychosaur holding the glowing whip.
The two of them thudded hard into the side of the next mount, causing that dinosaur to stagger suddenly, its rider tumbling over the side and on top of Jet.
Now Jet found himself beneath two hissing, writhing psychosaurs.
He brought a knee up, then lashed out with an elbow. Both found purchase and the two psychosaurs toppled off of him. “Offa me, you big palookas!”
Jet managed to stand. He hurried toward the Professor—
Then found his body jerked sharply backward. He was lifted into the air. Blood rushed to his temples, thrummed in his ears.
The invisible hands threw him.
Hard. And far.
He hurtled sideways high in the air, flung like a child’s raggedy doll. Through the trees. Crashing through vines.
Jet landed hard against something that broke against his body.
Dizzy, he tried yet again to stand—planting a hand on a curved concrete shape to his right. A shape which had a match to his left. Between them (and beneath Jet): shattered planks of wood, once painted green, the paint mostly flaked away.
Jet pulled his palm away, found a small hunk of black asphalt beneath it.
He pulled himself up, looked beyond it all—
Through the trees, he saw great canyons of stone pillars rising up. Pillars thick with moss. Choked by creeping green.
Except these were no stone pillars.
They were buildings.
A nearby street sign leaned crooked up against a tree, vines pulling it into a tangled embrace. The sign read: 6th Ave.
“We’re in New York,” Jet said, breathless. This isn’t the past. This is the future.
Behind him: a branch snap.
Jet wheeled. Two psychosaurs. Whether they were the ones he just knocked off their mounts or not, he couldn’t know—they all looked the same. Suddenly, their faces flickered: human guises appeared and disappeared, and he felt their greasy unseen hands prying along the edges of his psyche. He felt at his temples, found the brass headband still in place—
But it no longer mattered.
Pressure closed around his throat. Invisible hands lifted him up. He felt the psychic barrier protecting his mind start to break apart like clods of desert-dry dirt between rubbing fingers. Fingers that then sunk deep into his consciousness—
The assault began anew.
You are weak.
YOU ARE WEAK.
YOU ARE WEAK!
Then, a sound—like something cutting air. A glinty flash caught a beam of sunlight and something whipped around in front of Jet, toward the psychosaurs. Both assailants shuddered.
Then the flashing shape was gone again.
Jet felt the psychic assault cease lickity-split. He fell to the ground on his tailbone.
The first psychosaur’s head casually, as if pushed by the gentlest prod, fell off its shoulders and fwudded against the soft jungle earth below. Then the other’s chin dipped forward, and the head left its mooring, too. The second decapitated head rolled into the first.
Both saurian stumps burbled black blood over the scaled necks and shoulders. Then the bodies fell in opposite directions.
And nearly wet himself when a hand grabbed his shoulder.
“Get up,” came a voice. A familiar voice.
He leapt to his feet, his heart leaping right along with him—
Another chill. Another bath of icy sweat.
This was… Sally?
She was older. Not old, but… time had changed her, worn her down, drawn a few lines around her eyes and her mouth, framing the scowl that sat plastered on her face. One eye lay hidden behind an octagonal black eye-patch. She wore a red jumpsuit whose material seemed as scaled and organic as the skin of the psychosaurs themselves.
In her hand, a bladed boomerang gleamed. She slid it into a holster hanging at her toolbelt, and there hung other implements of war: a cattle-prod, a hooked knife, an Atlantean sonic blaster.
But no wrench.
Jet said as much: “Sally. Your wrench.”
She sniffed. A momentary sadness crossed the dark of her eye like a ship traversing a black ocean. “I lost it years ago.”
“When are we?” he asked.
“No time to talk,” she said. “We have psychosaurs to hunt and heroes to save. Stay behind me. Follow my lead. Don’t get us killed.”
And then she was off. Striding forward into the jungle without him.
Jet felt far more unsettled than he had when he was plummeting through the time-space tunnel—this was more than just his body going topsy-turvy. His heart and soul felt suddenly like they were spinning end over end, faster and faster, refusing to return to kilter.
“It’s… good to see you,” he said quietly, and hurried after this time-worn Sally Slick.
Saurian shrieks rose and echoed around them. Distant. But closing in.
Sally marched forth with grim determination, taking her razor-edged boomerang and using it to machete-hack her way through the jungle foliage of (and this is the part that still baked Jet’s noodle) Central Park. Up ahead stood Professor Khan, the erudite ape picking leaves and dust from his fur, a concerned wrinkle crossing the dark dome of his massive head.
“Professor, we have to go,” Sally said. Jet detected a flinty hardness in her voice he did not recall: this was new. At least, to him.
The Professor’s head jerked up and he squinted at Sally.
“Sally Slick!” The ape chuffed a laugh and hurried over, arms wide. “As I live and breathe, it is most wonderful to see—”
Sally pushed past him. And stood over the still body of the Conqueror Ape. The other Khan. The progenitor of all talking apes and one of Doctor Methuselah’s pet projects. She nudged the still body with a boot. The Conqueror moaned and shuddered but did not wake.
A look crossed her face. A flicker of question ended by the reaper’s swipe of what must have been a very unpleasant answer. Next thing Jet knew, Sally had the boomerang high over her head, except this time she wasn’t going to chop down an errant jungle vine—
She was going to bury it in the Conqueror’s skull.
Both Jet and the Professor leapt forward—Khan the intellectual hunkered down over the body of his so-called “father” while Jet stayed the hand of Sally by grabbing her wrist.
The look she gave him burned like a cigar tip pressed against his cheek.
“Let me go,” she growled through clenched teeth.
“We can’t,” Jet said. “That’s not… this isn’t how we do things.”
“You have three seconds to let go.”
“Wait!” the Professor barked. “Wait. I… have surmised, I believe correctly, that we are in some kind of far-flung future of New York City. Yes?”
“The year 2000.”
“And the psychosaurs are dominant. Is that correct?”
“It is. And I’m growing impatient.” As if on cue: more shrieks and screeches. Closer, this time. Accompanied by the sound of thrashing foliage. “Sounds like they’re getting impatient, too.”
“We can use him. The Conqueror Ape is the one who first shackled the psychosaurs in some prehistoric age. He can tell us things. He can help.”
“He is a villain of the utmost order. I don’t have time for villains.”
Jet matched her stare. Tried to find something in the dark of her one good eye, some glimmer of the old Sally Slick. “Please. Sally. Please.”
The unbroken gaze told him: She’s going to bury that thing in my head first. But then, a moment when her eyelid flickered and she looked away.
The glinting boomerang lowered.
She sighed, began prodding the Conqueror in the head with the pointed tip of her boot. “Wake up, Mighty Ape Lord.” That last, said with some sarcasm. “Wake up or you’ll find my boot in a very uncomfortable place.”
The Conqueror snuffled, sniffed, jerked awake.
His eyes first fell to the Professor. “Son.”
Khan, their Khan, said: “Do not call me that.”
“What’s happening?” the elder Khan asked. “Where are we?”
“We don’t have time for this,” Sally said. “Jet: did the others come through with you?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “No, it was just—just me. You and Mack—”
At that name, Jet watched another something cross her face. Another twitch. Another question, but this one left unanswered.
Jet was about to say something, about to ask what happened after they disappeared through the Atlantean gate (and he suddenly realized that if this was the year 2000, almost 70 years had passed since they left the timeline and reemerged), but he didn’t get the chance—
A crash of brush and crackle of branch as another pair of mounted psychosaurs shouldered forward into the clearing—already the psychic wall of noise rose up in Jet’s head, a cacophony of hateful words prying into his mind and dragging his worst fears out into the light. You’re weak, she never loved you, she’s changed, you failed the world, you’re no hero.
But the heroes—well, the heroes and one villain—still knew their roles. In the flick of an eyelash, Sally threw the boomerang as the Conqueror leapt. Jet hit the boost on his jet-wing as the Professor barreled forward.
Jet slammed hard into one of the dino-mounts, knocking it off-balance as Sally’s boomerang embedded in the rider’s skull—thwack! The rider tumbled into the other as both apes dragged the psychosaur to the ground, pummeling the blunt-nosed, needle-mouthed creature with bowling ball fists.
Sally stomped over and reclaimed her weapon from the psychosaur’s forehead by planting her boot on its neck and yanking upward. A spray of fluids flecked her cheeks.
“We have to go,” she said.
And then, without waiting for them, she stormed off into the brush.