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Through The Gate
It was the same, but different. Benjamin felt like he’d felt when he leapt into the Atlantean gate before but this time could not see the scope of the seven tunnels twisting to a single point—further, he had no sense of time here, only movement. His body was gone but his soul and mind were present and tangible. Near to him he felt another presence: Amelia, he hoped. The energy of the ley lines was warm and electric; he thought for a moment about giving in to it, about becoming part of it now and forever. He’d long appreciated the mystical wherewithal of the planet and mused on how perfect and pure it would be to merge with that, to become not merely an outsider but a participant in the fundamental make-up of the cosmos.
But then he remembered—they had work to do. They were not part of the cosmos; they were outside of it. As heroes must be.
Benjamin sought out the minds of other Centurions, heroes who were by all reports captive on the airship Blackspire.
He sought out the minds of those he knew—
The Cerulean Devil.
He looked for the minds of those he’d never met—
The Gray Mantis.
And he could find none of them. It was like reaching up from inside a pit and searching out handholds and finding nothing there but a smooth wall. He felt Amelia beside him casting out her own psychic feelers—and yet she remained.
All the heroes were gone. Their minds, lost.
In here, despair felt like a real thing—it weighed upon him, dragged him down deeper into the mystical trench. Benjamin embraced the warmth. Wondered if perhaps it was best to get lost after all. The channel of bright light had stripped away part of who he was and it was eroding more of him away, bite by bite, until he no longer tried to reach out at all.
But then, one mind shot through the empty energized space like a perpendicular bolt of lightning. A mind and a face and a soul.
It made no sense, this face; it had no right to be here. It felt like a crass intrusion, a violation of the mystical order. It was a face known for violating the mystical order.
Benjamin grabbed out, found Amelia, held her there.
Then he reached for that face, that mind, and pulled himself toward it with all his psychic might.
“Was this what you were looking for?” came the voice.
Benjamin sat on his knees, doubled over, trying not to retch—and, more importantly, trying not to black out. He tilted his head, saw Amelia on her side next to him, eyelids fluttering.
And behind her, a wall of compartments. Like space age coffins, all aluminum curves and bulging rivets. In each, a Lucite porthole, and through each porthole, the face of a Centurion. Benjamin searched those faces, saw many he did not recognize, but just as many that he did.
Passive. Empty. Like embalmed corpses. And if his gut spoke true…
All of them, without their minds. Without any flicker of consciousness.
“Centurions in repose,” came the voice again. Benjamin lifted his head. Saw Gerard Spears standing there in his white suit coat and white pants, fingers twisting the pink rose in his lapel. “It has a beauty to it, don’t you think?”
“If I had my blade…”
“If you had your blade you’d what? Cut me to little bits? Oh. That’s not nice. You play at being refined—Benjamin Hu! Thinker and deducer!—but you’re really just a brute like the rest of them, aren’t you?” Spears twiddled his thumbs. “Anyway, your lovely rapier is probably somewhere in New York. I gave it to the ape but if it’s not a bunch of bananas he doesn’t know what to do with it.”
Next to Benjamin came Amelia’s voice—she spoke while still laying curled up on her side. “Does your boss Khan know you talk about him like that?”
“He’s never been a particularly good boss,” Spears said. “I think it’s time for a regime change, don’t you?”
“You don’t have what it takes,” Benjamin said, managing finally to stand—though the way his vision swam and dipped he didn’t know how long he had. “And you don’t have an ape army. Or a gaggle of psychosaurs. Or dinosaurs. So good luck with that, my old nemesis.”
“Oh but I do have all those things. I’m the one holding Khan’s leash, after all. And he’s the one holding all the other leashes.” Gerard leaned in, spoke sotto voce: “Though let’s admit, that makes me all a bit lazy, doesn’t it? What an opportunistic slugabed I turned out to be!”
Benjamin moved fast. He lurched forward, onto his feet, his one hand drawing the Atlantean dagger from the back hem of his pants—
He drew the blade. Threw it.
The sapphire dagger spun through the air.
And stopped about six inches in front of Spears’ nose.
“Sorry, that’s not part of the equation,” Spears said. He snapped his fingers and Benjamin saw a burst of bright light that spit strange symbols onto the wall, written there as if in molten lava (before once again fading away). The dagger was gone.
It ping-ponged around Benjamin’s head like a ricocheting bullet.
What Spears did was plainly magic. And yet spoke of math as in—
Spears. Spears. It was a ruse. A dread and deadly ruse!
“Doctor Methuselah,” Benjamin said.
The man-called-Spears grinned his too-white teeth. “Figured it out, did we?”
Methuselah. It meant man of the spear. Referring to the oldest man in the Bible—this man was not that man, no, but this one stole that one’s name as rumors said he was far older than any Centurion or Shadow could ever be. He was the worst among the Shadows, the most powerful and confounding, harnessing some heretical combination of magic and math that he called the “mathemagical equation.” He often borrowed puzzles and ciphers to cloak his schemes and yet, by purposefully putting those ciphers out there he was teasing the heroes, goading them into finding him. Egomaniacal. No—megalomaniacal.
Amelia groaned, and Benjamin helped her stand.
“Spears,” Benjamin said. “Man of the spear. The clue was there all along.”
“Among others,” the Doctor teased.
Benjamin’s mind worked through it—like flipping through a hundred books at once, he radiated out from what he already knew. Spears. Man of the Spear. Methuselah. Mentioned only one time in the Bible—Genesis. Extra-Biblically, where? Book of Enoch. Book of Jubilees. Book of…
“Edwin Jasher,” Benjamin said, his heart sinking in his chest.
The man-who-was-Spears clapped his hands together and did a fancy twirl, laughing. “Yes! Yes, yes, yes. Edwin Jasher. Protégé to your Professor Khan who is himself an almost replica of my own creation, Mighty Khan. Good show, Benjamin.”
“Who is he? One of your cronies?”
“He is me.”
“I broke off a piece of my persona years ago. Implanted it in the thief you know as Gerard Spears and the witless twit known as Edwin Jasher. To what end, I did not know—but I learned fairly recently that for all the pieces of the equation I can see, there exist just as many variables I cannot. I learned to let go, Benjamin. To let chaos be chaos and let the dominoes fall as they may, only nudging here and adjusting there. And now…”
A trio of psychosaurs stepped in behind Benjamin and Amelia. And a trio stepped in behind the Doctor, as well.
“I think you’ll find they have a hard time controlling us,” Amelia said, her face plastered with a defiant grin.
Not-Spears shrugged. “Oh, your minds are not to be cast away, not yet. The others were not part of the equation, so I sent their minds back in time, back to the start of all this. But that’s a story for another time. You know what else is a story for another time? Where I’ve been hiding your old friend, the Green-Eyed Monster, all this time.”
Amelia snarled, tried to bolt forward.
Not-Spears snapped his fingers again and she tripped forward, turning just in time to land on her shoulder and not her head. Benjamin raced to her side.
“No, I need the both of you around. You’re still dominoes that have yet to topple, I think. So in the meantime—” He moved his finger as if he were drawing symbols in the air and then, nearby, the doors to two of the coffin-like containment units popped open. “Will you please secure yourselves for the remainder of the trip?”
Benjamin helped Amelia up. He tried to see his way past this. Best vulnerability was behind them—
“Stop looking for a way out,” Not-Spears grumbled, and then with another gesticulation Benjamin and Amelia found their Sally Slick circlets pulled suddenly off their heads and crumpled up like a wad of tinfoil. “Now if you will take your place? The final act is about to begin as we transition to the lost islands of Atlantis.”
Benjamin helped Amelia into one of the pods.
“We won’t let you destroy the world,” she said.
“Oh, my dear Amelia,” Not-Spears said. “I don’t want to destroy the world. I want to destroy all of time itself.”
Even the closed doors of the pods could not stifle the sound of his laughter.
Atlantis: The Crystal Dome
They dropped out of the energy channel and into a magnificent city on an island encased in a massive crystal dome—moonlight shone through the facets of the crystal, multiplying moonbeams and throwing over everything a soft light, luminous and eerie.
And all around was like a smaller, far stranger version of a human city—tall buildings made of crystal or sculpted gems; massive brass gears turning mysterious machines; canals of iridescent water shimmering as if topped with chips of perfect glass; twisted conduits that pulsed and hummed and thrummed; no stars above but rather an orrery of little mirrors redirecting what light came through the crystal dome.
The ground beneath them seemed to throb with energy.
It was beautiful.
Sally only had a few moments to take it in before the wave of nausea and dizziness washed over her like a tide, drawing away any strength she had in her legs.
Next to her, the Professor and Edwin were suffering the same effects. Edwin was flat on his back, moaning and whimpering. Khan did not seem quite as affected—his massive head hung low as if he needed a breather, but he still stood mostly upright.
“We have…” he said between breaths, “… company.”
Sally lifted her head and saw that, indeed they did.
They were surrounded by warrior-apes. Not just gorillas, as comprised Khan’s army out there, but others, too—a long limbed orangutan with a crystal breastplate and codpiece, a rangy gibbon with his head beneath a crystal helmet, a chimpanzee ducking behind a brass shield. All of them held weapons—jeweled knives, strange wide-mouthed pistols, swords that looked carved from the same crystal that formed the dome above.
Behind, the apes milled.
“The Atlanteans,” Khan said, and Sally heard in his voice great reverence. They were frail humanoid slips, tall and wispy, so pale their skin was almost blue—and Sally realized suddenly that their flesh was nearly translucent. All their features seemed exaggerated, too: cheekbones and fingers and chins, all longer and quite pronounced.
They stayed in the background, many emerging from the crystalline structures or peering out from windows high above. Just watching.
Sally couldn’t tell if what she saw on their faces was placidity or a fear with which they’d simply grown comfortable.
Above their heads, above even the crystal dome, Sally saw something floating up there in front of the moon—but she could not make out what, as the facets of the dome distorted it wildly. Still, she was fairly certain it was some kind of face.
“You have invaded the Dome City,” ooked one ape—a massive Siamang ape whose neck bladder puffed up with every word he spoke through puckered lips. He seemed different than the others—decked out in a full suit of crystal armor, the helmet on his head sporting the plumage of some strange and forgotten bird. “I am Captain Chirrang. Identify yourselves, criminals, or be executed and chum the waters around Atlantis.”
Sally tried to find her footing, but still fell to one knee. She tossed a look toward Khan. “We’re in a bit of a pickle here, Professor.”
Khan nodded. He turned toward Chirrang and spoke.
“I am Professor Khan. Also known as, Son-of-Khan.” The gorilla took a deep breath. “I am here at my father’s request to serve by his side. So turn your weapons away and do not threaten me again unless you hope to invoke his wrath.”
Wow, Sally thought. And when the apes pulled back and began to confer with one another in a series of mutters, gibbers, and shrugs, she thought, Double-wow. Even more amazing was how completely the Professor assumed that role.
A tiny thought wondered whether she needed to worry about that.
The apes did not put away their weapons, but at Chirrang’s urging they did stop pointing them directly. Chirrang frowned, waved them on. “Mighty Khan, King of Atlantis, is not here. But I can take you to his chambers. There you can meet with Vizier Hooben.”
A phalanx of apes formed behind them and in front of them and suddenly, like that, they were walking (or in Sally’s case, slowly shuffling until her brain and body properly reconnected itself) through the streets of a civilization mankind had long forgotten.
Atok threw Jet headlong into the radio room. The flare gun spun away as Jet crashed into the receiver and then tumbled over it, into the chair and table beyond. Everything went woozy, but Atok wasn’t done. The caveman moved with purpose, walking in slow strides that seemed somehow inevitable, as if he would not be stopped by any means found in Heaven and Earth and Jet thought, Well, maybe I should just lie down and have a nap.
Atok had other ideas, it seemed.
The Neanderthal warrior hoisted Jet up and shook him.
“Show me honorless dog!” Atok demanded.
“He’s… not… urk… available right now,” Jet said.
Atok hurled Jet out of the radio room and into a set of lockers.
Jet scrambled to open one of the lockers as Atok stormed forth again. His fingers felt numb, his arm almost detached from the body—
He got the locker open—
Atok’s hand clapped down hard on his shoulder—
In the locker hung the jet-wing.
Jet hit the booster ignition and rolled to the side as the air-boosters blasted a cannon’s breath of air that hit Atok in the chest like the fist of an invisible giant.
The caveman bowled backward.
Jet ran, dove, grabbed the flare gun.
He stood. As did Atok. The two, dizzied but not down, circled one another like a pair of predatory cats. Or, rather, Atok seemed like a panther. Jet felt…
…well, mostly like a housecat.
Jet held out the flare gun with one hand, wiped a line of blood from his nose with the other. “I don’t want any trouble, buddy.”
“Too bad,” Atok said.
The plane shifted a little—an altitude adjustment. Downward, not up.
“You’re getting pretty far away from your…” People didn’t seem quite like the right word, Jet thought. Instead, he went with: “Army.”
That gave Atok pause. His eyes darted to the open door. Puffs of cloud whizzed by as the sky darkened into evening.
“Cannot let honorless dog lie. Must bring back. Or Atok lose honor instead.”
“So, we’re not going to be able to figure this out, then?”
“You friend of dog. Also honorless. Also dead.”
“So be it,” Jet said.
Atok leapt, and Jet fired the flare gun.
A red phosphorus fireball punched Atok right in the chest. It hung there like the cherry on a lit cigarette, burning. Jet smelled scorched hair. Atok hit the ground, rolled over and leapt back to his feet, swatting at his chest like all he had to do was crush the bug that had landed there.
But it didn’t work. The flare kept burning. Atok growled, then his growl morphed into a scream, and as he backpedaled, Jet saw his chance. He darted forward, shoulder low, and slammed Atok hard—
Right out the subwing door.
Atok tumbled out of the plane and disappeared.
Jet collapsed, panting.
Mack’s voice came over the intercom.
“You alive, kid?”
Jet crawled his way over, pulled himself up the wall, and hit the button to speak into the com. “I’m here. He’s… not.”
“Ehh, lucky. I bet you couldn’t have taken him back at the Empire State Building, not with all those Missing Link mooks and him with that big damn—”
“This isn’t a competition,” Jet said, exasperated. “I got lucky. Now what is it?”
“I found one of those gates.”
“Hong Kong Hu was right. Block Island.”
“What’s your point?”
Jet felt the plane dip lower.
“I’m going to fly into it,” Mack said.
“I’m going to fly Lucy into the gate. Looks big enough.”
“Mack, I don’t know if that’s such a hot idea—”
“I’d buckle up, Flyboy, because I have no idea what’s gonna happen.”
Ahead, through the windshield, the darkening sky gave way to a massive shimmering gate thrusting up out past Long Island.
Mack knew that flying into the heart of that gate—with pterodactyls filling the sky and psychosaurs on the ground and god-only-knows-what in the unseen heart of the thing—was a move that was dubious at best.
But he didn’t see any other choice.
Khan was gone. Off to the Blackspire. Benjamin and Amelia were already there and—well, what he really meant was that Amelia was there, and he suddenly wasn’t sure if he actually cared about that or whether he was just thinking about Amelia to distract himself from thinking about whatever danger Sally might be in and—
Ennnh. No time to think about that, he told himself.
You’re in this to save the world, not a couple of broads.
And if Khan is out there somewhere, and he’s the head of this thing, then that head needs to be cut off. And I’m the one who’s gonna hold the hatchet.
He had no idea what was going to happen when he dropped Lucy through that portal. Maybe he didn’t need to know. It was like he told the Professor when he—regrettably, he could admit that now—got on the erudite ape’s case. Information is overrated. We go with our gut. Sometimes you gotta dive off the cliff without knowing what’s in the water below. Don’t think. Do. Sometimes, to be like us, you gotta be a little bit dumb.
The gate was coming up, now.
Mack dropped the stick.
The plane plunged.
His control wobbled—not like he was hitting pockets of air but like Lucy was resisting him, which didn’t make any sense since she wasn’t alive or anything. He tugged harder on the stick. She’d listen to him. She was the one woman that always did.
Every part of Atok’s body hurt. The air up here was cold and cut like a ghost knife slicing clean through him—he held onto a part of the iron bird (its tail, best as he could figure) as the beast dipped down toward a massive portal made of pure light. Some human trap, some foul conveyance of their crass magic called ‘science,’ Atok thought. It didn’t matter. Let them bring him to it. He would defeat it. He would defeat them all with his bare hands if he had to.
He knew he should just let go. But he had an honorless dog to punish.
And that gave him all the strength in the world, even as the pterodactyls dove screaming for the iron bird, even as the metal beast pitched suddenly downward and Atok’s guts felt like they were still a thousand feet above his head, even as the plane disappeared into the crackling light and was tossed into the continuum of space-and-time like a paper boat on a storm-tossed sea.