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Professor Khan threw open the bottom drawer of his desk, lifted the false bottom (with a finger hole cut out for one of his massive ape digits) and withdrew the Televisor Talk Box, a bulging bubble screen with a fat black dial underneath and a series of aluminum conduits forming a metal labyrinth (as if for a very tiny mouse) behind it.
Khan drew the box, extended the antenna, and spun the hand-crank.
The screen flared to life.
A blurry black-and-white image showed a library not unlike his own—but upon further inspection one would see this looked equal parts “war room.” The table in the back lined with a single map and a series of tiny flags gave it away, as did the many weapons—sabers and scimitars and blunderbusses—hanging on the visible walls.
The Century Club. Chapter house, London.
And it was empty.
It was never empty. Not once, not ever. Someone always manned the Televisor—necessary to monitor communications, to keep track of emergencies, to send messages between the chapter houses across the world, from Philadelphia to Mumbai to Paris and back again.
“Sir?” Edwin squeaked.
“What is it, boy?”
“What’s that I’m looking at, Professor?”
But Khan didn’t have time to explain. He turned the dial to one of the 12 tic-mark positions—the image warped like melting candle wax and was, for a moment, supplanted by a series of horizontal lines chasing each other.
Then a new image resolved:
The Philadelphia chapter house.
This one, different: less a library and more a Colonial workshop space, which was apt given that it once belonged to Benjamin Franklin. Franklin’s second secret illegitimate son, Barnard, served the Century Club as a hero known only as “The Key.”
What wasn’t different was that it, too, was empty.
Khan turned the dial again.
Shanghai, with its giant fish tank walls and foo dog statues: empty.
Paris, with its mirrors and the back window view of the Eiffel Tower: empty.
So too with Mumbai, Havana, Moscow, Sao Paolo.
And then he turned to Los Angeles.
The Los Angeles chapter house—austere with a Spanish mission vibe—was not empty, and for just a moment, Khan’s massive ape heart leapt light and free in his chest.
But then a hard knot formed in his throat.
“That’s the Projector,” Khan said. Mouth dry.
On screen, a small man with a massive helmet on his head, a helmet that to Khan looked a little like a kitchen colander with a series of wires sprouting from the top like worms or weeds, backed into the back corner of the room. Hand to the helmet. Projecting his psychic waves as he was wont to do.
Three other men advanced on him. Three eerily similar men—same build, same dark suit, same black glasses. Reaching. Smiling.
Their faces flickered. As if they were themselves projections—images inside images, a screen within a screen where the horizontal hold went kablooey. In the skipping stuttering facial flickers, Khan saw their heads replaced with monstrous reptilian ones—soulless eyes, gnashing knife-like teeth, the flesh forming ridges and scales.
“Projector!” Khan barked into the device—and with that, the small man with the big helmet turned toward the screen.
“Khan!” the Projector struggled to say. “The Century Club…”
The trio of saurian malefactors advanced upon the Projector.
Hissing. Tongues licking the air.
“…is under attack!”
“Run!” Khan said. “Run!”
The Projector suddenly tensed his whole body, shrinking even smaller, elbows tucked to his side, knees bent, as if he were ready to spring forward like a tensed-up jackrabbit. But it was not a physical release he sought—
A psychic blast radiated out from his helmet, an opaque ripple that knocked the three men back and, soon as it struck the Televisor on that end—
It destroyed the signal.
A loud squelch of noise drove deep into Khan’s head like a pin puncturing his eardrum and then the visual was lost, replaced with static.
Edwin staggered back, holding his ears.
“Professor, what’s going on?”
Khan pinched the bridge of his simian nose.
The jungle drums—subtle, quiet, but there just the same—thumped in between his heartbeats. Boom ba ba boom ba ba boom ba ba boom.
He pinched hard enough so that they stopped short.
“The Century Club is under attack,” Khan said, repeating the Projector’s dire warning.
“The Century Club? Those people. The ones you—you sometimes help.” Again Edwin hovered. A bundle of nervous energy in a knee-length sleep-shirt.
“I’m just a Professor,” Khan said, rebuffing a statement that was never made.
“I don’t understand.”
“This isn’t me. This isn’t my place. I’m just—I work behind the scenes. Don’t you see that?” Khan stood up suddenly, the chair beneath him rocketing backwards. “I’m just an intellectual. A thinker. That’s my job, you understand: to think.”
Boom ba ba boom ba ba boom.
“Professor, you seem to be rambling—”
Khan paced, and Edwin trailed after like a frittering terrier.
“So think,” Khan exhorted himself, rapping his ape knuckles against his brow. “Think! What did we see? We saw men who were not men. Whose faces were masks—but no! Not masks. Not in the traditional sense. Projections.”
“They looked like lizards—”
“Lizards. Indeed. Reptilian. Saurian. And what was it we saw outside? Pterosaurs. Flying reptiles. Dinosaurs—ancient, extinct—”
“They didn’t look extinct.”
“No, they did not. But the connection is clear just the same—saurian agents and flying dinosaurs. And all the chapter houses, empty save one. Why the Projector?”
“He has a rather spiffy helmet?”
“No.” Khan snapped his fingers—crack. “But also: yes. It’s not the helmet, it’s what the helmet does—it amplifies. It projects. And what does it project?”
“His voice? Nightlights? Talking pictures?”
“His mind powers. His psychic mind powers. That’s why he was the last Centurion left. Because he was battling them on their own turf.”
“Psychosaurs,” Khan corrected, as if that had always been the term.
“Ohhh. That’s really quite clever!” Edwin smiled a smile of teeth so crooked it looked like a picket fence blown down in a bad wind. “You are a clever man.”
“Man.” Khan tasted that word. He felt the call of the jungle inside, but quickly tamped it down. “I am a man. Aren’t I, Edwin?”
“That’s what I said, Professor.”
“I am not a beast. It is not the body that makes us but rather the mind—is it not?”
Khan took a deep breath. He knew his words sounded confident but he only wished what he felt inside radiated that same measure of authority.
Khan moved back to the desk, pulled out another item from within the drawer’s secret space. This time: a tube. Opened and unrolled: a map. “We are being invaded, Edwin. First the Centurions are sidelined why? Because they’re the only ones who can stop this cataclysmic intrusion. Take out the guardians and the door becomes unguarded, does it not?”
Khan tapped the map. His finger thumped a location in the Pacific, crinkling against the time-worn blue of a cartographed ocean.
His finger revealed a series of small islands. A chain of them. Midway between the California coast and Asia. Edwin leaned over and squinted at it through the thick lenses of his glasses.
“The… Hawaiian islands?”
“Indeed, indeed. Location of the Century Club’s most secret chapter house. A fallback position of last resort.”
“How do you know about it?”
Then came a twinkle in Khan’s eye, a gleam of lion’s pride. “Because I helped them choose the location and design it.”
Edwin blinked in apparent awe.
Professor Khan continued: “I’ve never been there, you know? But I think it’s time to change that. Edwin Jasher, do you care to accompany me on an adventure?”
“You heard me, boy.”
Edwin’s face melted into a beacon of unrestrained joy. He said nothing: the look in his eyes was all the answer the erudite ape required.
Khan, meanwhile, felt his own flurry of joy, his own giddy rush—the call to adventure was sounded. But not with a horn, no.
Jungle drums. This call came from the thumping of jungle drums.
New York City
It was bad enough being in the crowd above. It was bad enough having to set foot on the streets of the city and feel anchored to the earth in unspectacular fashion. It was bad enough to have to climb down into the city’s secret bowels through a series of doorways and boltholes.
All of that paled in comparison to being chased through those aforementioned bowels by a shrieking albino hell-a-saur bent on ripping them to shreds.
Mack was not happy.
As his footfalls echoed through the tunnel, he couldn’t help but think of flying over some tropical isle, gazing down at waterfalls and crashing surf—in his mind’s eye he imagined the soft leather of Lucy’s controls in his hand, all her buttons and gauges splayed out before him. It’s why he named his plane with a woman’s name—beyond it being the convention, of course; it was nice to have a woman in his hands who did everything he asked. Predictable as the tickity-tock of a Swiss clock.
Unlike, say, Sally Slick.
The three of them were running together, the beast snapping at their heels—when suddenly she and the light she carried were gone, snuffed out in the darkness. As Mack and Jet barely managed to squeeze into a side tunnel, they found themselves without their third.
And, stranger still, no monster.
“Sally,” Jet said, breathless. Then he called out: “Sally!”
“Shhh!” Mack said, clamping a hand over Jet’s fool mouth. He hissed: “You want to draw that thing’s attention?”
Jet wriggled free. “It’s probably chasing her, you dolt.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I’m sure they each just went their separate ways.”
Mack felt sure the kid was rolling his eyes. He couldn’t see him in the dark, but a gesture like that, you could hear in a person’s words. “Don’t you roll your eyes at me.”
“I don’t know what she sees in you.”
“Wait. What? Sally sees something in me?”
“No. What? Nothing!”
“No, hold on one second, you just said—”
Their conversation was quickly cut short.
Just behind the two of them, the beast roared. With it came the scent of rotten food in its maw, the belching breath of blood and meat and fur. Its tongue slapping against teeth.
Mack did the only thing Mack knew to do in a situation like this:
He winced and cocked a fist.
A fist he never had to throw.
There came a sound of groaning metal, and a shadow moving to the right of the beast—suddenly, a great gout of white steam bloomed in the air, blasting the creature’s head.
The beast screamed—a horrible sound that cut clean to Mack’s marrow. But then it reared its head and wriggled swiftly backward, twisting its body in such a way so that it managed to turn itself around and flee.
As it did, Mack saw something.
At the back of the creature’s head, Mack caught sight of a tiny glowing spot—soft, diffuse, an eerie icy blue something pulsing against the creature’s leathery flesh. And then Mack could no longer see it, for the beast was fast escaping. He tucked that information away, not sure what it was that clung to the creature…
Or what it meant.
Flame erupted—the light from a hand-held torch illuminating Sally’s face. In her hand she held a wrench, and dangling beside her was the pipe breathing great gouts of steam.
“Boys,” she said over the steam-hiss.
In this light, Mack suddenly found her—
—with her brow slick from the steam and almost glowing, really—
No, no, couldn’t be. This wasn’t—
He liked women like Lucy. Soft, comfortable, putty in his hands.
Jet laughed. “Nice moves, Sally.”
“Don’t I know it.” She gave Mack’s shoulder a little punch and the touch sent a thrill grappling up his arms. A thrill that quickly got the kibosh. “What’s wrong, Silver? You look like you saw a ghost.”
“I almost just lost my arm in a dinosaur’s mouth. Pardon me for being rattled.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t try to punch angry dinosaurs,” Jet said.
Sally waved them both ahead. “Hush up and come on. That monster is gone now, but it won’t be for long. That blast of steam wasn’t much more than a whack of a rolled-up newspaper on the nose for a monster like that.”
Mack found himself seeing Sally in a new light as he wrestled with new feelings and…
Well. Mack would’ve rather been wrestling with the monster, instead.
The door rattled on its hinges against Sally’s boot. Rust whispered from old hinges, hinges made that way from their proximity to the water. A second kick, and a third, and finally the door swung open.
The gray light of a day moving from afternoon into evening hit them like a blinding tide, but it wasn’t long before their eyes adjusted…
And they saw just how much trouble they were really in.
The door opened out of a small marine shed and overlooked the Hudson River. The sinking sun was caught in pools of liquid light, plainly and perfectly highlighting Mack’s heavily-modified Boeing-314 clipper—a “boat plane” that needed no runway as long as it had a good stretch of water. One problem, though:
The boat was guarded by the enemy. A dozen saurian agents—once again projecting their smiling human faces—clustered together like an arrangement of humanoid bowling pins by the end of the floating dock, blocking anybody hoping to get close to Lucy.
They didn’t move. They didn’t even stare at one another.
They just… stood there.
Stock still. Staring forward. Fake reptile smile.
“They got Lucy,” Mack growled.
Jet sighed. “We’re going to need to find another way.”
“They got Lucy.”
“We heard you—”
“Nobody stands in the way of me and my plane.”
Mack started taking off his boots.
“You think that water’s cold?” he asked.
“Frigid,” Sally said.
“Good. I could use a little wake-me-up. I hope you two can swim.”
And with that, Mack ducked low and bolted toward the water.