Professor Khan loped down the Grand Hallway to the sound of Bulls- Eye’s voice. There was a tremendous crash, a splintering of wood, the sound of shattering glass.
“Here,” the professor yelled. The adrenaline pumped through him, making him feel powerful, alive. The sound of jungle drums thundered in his ears.
The great ape covered the distance quickly, his massive knuckles slamming into the marble floor like hammers, jungle blood thrumming in his ears. He doubled his efforts as he heard another crash.
He sincerely hoped Bulls-Eye was all right. The Texan was a recent addi- tion to the Century Club and seemed to have little regard for his own safety. Khan wondered sometimes if he was suicidal, but the cowboy always seemed to come out of his many scrapes with nothing but bruises.
And now it sounded as though he was in the thick of whatever was making a mess of the London chapter house.
Khan rounded a corner and skidded to a stop. Bulls-Eye, Stetson hat some- how miraculously still atop his head was riding an enormous… Khan stared, his educated brain ticking through family, genus and species. Mantidae. Mantis. M. Religiosa.
A giant praying mantis.
If anyone didn’t belong in the London chapterhouse, with its sweeping English gardens, its majestic halls and exhibits, its history of erudite learn- ing, it was Enrique “Bulls-Eye” Gutierrez. A lowly cowboy from Texas who nonetheless managed to impress the Centurion Benjamin Hu.
And when Bulls-Eye met Khan, the Texan didn’t even bat an eyelash. As though a talking gorilla with an Oxford education was something he saw every day. If nothing else, that had won Khan over to the new arrival.
“Could use a hand here, Perfesser,” Bulls-Eye yelled, riding the mantis like a bucking bronco, his hands firmly tucked in a space behind the giant insect’s head to keep from flying off. “I got my eight seconds in, but I don’t think I’m gonna hang on much longer.”
“Yes, of course,” Khan said, shaking himself out of his momentary fugue. He cinched up his kilt, straightened the lapels of his houndstooth coat and launched his 400-pound frame toward the mantis.
“Look out for the—” Bulls-Eye began, but was cut short as the giant insect heaved, swinging a foreleg that swatted Khan out of the air. Khan slammed against the wall, shaking the hallway as though it were made of balsa wood. The mantis bucked and threw Bulls-Eye into a portrait of an English hunting scene.
Khan still felt strange to find himself with the Centurions. There was a time not long back where Khan’s connection to the Century Club was as an advisor, using his immense intellect to solve the unsolvable, and plan the unplannable.
But never execute. He was always left behind in his Oxford rooms to pore over dusty tomes and moldering scrolls. Not that he didn’t enjoy that, of course. It was his life’s pursuit, his raison d’etre. He was a genius and he could no more deny the workings of his mind than he could his animal nature.
Not that he didn’t attempt to hide his animal nature, of course. Living in a world of men and trying to be one would do that to an ape. But try as he might he was still, as the saying goes, the 400-pound gorilla in the room.
It took a dinosaur invasion led by his genetic progenitor, Gorilla Khan, the Conqueror Ape, to change all that. And change it did.
Khan shook his head to clear it, the jungle drums in his mind blotting out all other sound. His rage took over. Khan let loose a mighty roar and took another leap at the mantis. He grasped a foreleg, barely avoiding the spikes dotting the massive insect’s hide, and yanked down with both hands.
A crack loud as a gunshot echoed through the hallway and the mantis screamed an unearthly shriek that shattered the nearby windows. It flailed its ruined foreleg about, its now useless claw hanging from pulpy meat that shone through the shattered chitin. He forced his rage down as the mantis shrieked. It had been a cruel move, he realized, and he immediately regretted it. Though he’d done damage, this was merely a mindless beast. Frightened
and frustrated more than angry, no doubt.