Fiction Friday: Beyond Dinocalypse – Chapter 24

Beyond Dinocalypse

It’s Fiction Friday!

Our current novel is BEYOND DINOCALYPSE by powerhouse author Chuck Wendig. We’ll be posting a new installment every Friday until you’ve got the whole book — but if you’re feeling impatient, use the FICTIONFRIDAY coupon code when checking out on our online store to get our fiction titles at 25% OFF.

Interested in catching up? Beyond Dinocalypse starts here, and you can find all our Fiction Friday posts using this tag.

PART THREE: Fight for the Future!

Chapter Twenty-Four

The rubber mallet slipped; instead of hammering the sheet of tin into shape, it smacked Jet’s thumb. He winced and shook the hand like he was trying to get a crab to stop pinching his fingers and chucked the mallet to the ground.

“You okay?” Amelia asked. She was better at this than he was. Amelia took to things the way a duck waddled on ground, waded into water, and flew up into the sky. She was competent and didn’t complain.

All around them stood the makeshift jet-wings.

Two dozen of them, so far. Others worked at the margins of the workshop chamber, fitting in portable engines and boosters, attaching the collapsible wings. These devices wouldn’t be as capable or as complex as the one Jet himself wore, but it gave them an opportunity to claim supremacy over the skies: one area where the psychosaurs had found only marginal dominance.

“I’m fine,” Jet said. “Just… clumsy is all. Once upon a time I had to open up the spouts at the grain elevator with a rubber mallet and sure enough I used to bash myself in the hands then, too.”

“I didn’t mean about that.”

He gave her a look. He knew what she was talking about but he didn’t want to admit it. Hence, the look. That was a small act of duplicitousness that Jet wasn’t sure he would’ve been comfortable with a month ago when he first arrived here out of the time portal, but already this place had started to eat away at him.

“Jet. I’m talking about Sally.”

“Sally’s good. Fine. She’s leading this group best as she can.”

Even he could hear the concern in his voice, though. He thought after the daring escape and retreat from the Empire State Building that things would be different. That the pendulum would swing the other way. And that look Sally gave him, that little smirk… And things really were on an uptick, at least in terms of strategy and capability. But the mood around here had darkened.

“Jet, she’s not the Sally you remember. Time hasn’t been kind to her. This whole world hasn’t been kind to anybody—”

“Oh, no,” Jet said, standing up. He snatched the mallet and shook it at her—not a threat or a warning, but a gesture of dismissal. “We’re not talking about this.”

“Khan said—”

“I don’t care what Khan said.”

“We may have a chance. Just talk to him.”

“I’m not gonna talk to him, I’ve got work to do.”

“We’re almost done here.”

He scowled. “But then we have tests and—”

“Not much time for tests. Sally wants them ready in five days.”

“Five days!” He scoffed and stammered. “Five. Days? Just because they’re built doesn’t mean they’re, they’re… safe to use. I haven’t even tested the fix we’ve done to mine! If she thinks…” If she thinks what? His voice trailed off.

Amelia stepped over to him. Held him with both hands. “Sally should be in here. She should be leading this charge. The workshop is her home. And all this time the most she does is… creep in here, arms folded over like she might catch some kind of disease. Can you even think of Sally without a wrench in her hand?”

He couldn’t. Even when thinking of this Sally, the one with the eyepatch and the razor boomerang, he couldn’t envision her without a wrench hanging at her hip. And yet, that’s who this Sally was. No wrench. No time in a workshop.

So much anger.

“I don’t want to talk about this,” he said, returning to his overturned bucket and resuming the hammering of tin.

“Go see Khan.”

“I’m not seeing Khan.”

Khan looked at himself in the cracked shard of a mirror he’d taped to the wall in his bunk. He licked his fingers, ran them across his eyebrows. He picked lint and dirt off his tweed suit, smoothed out his kilt.

He was dirty. And looked older. No way around that. They had working showers, but you only got one every week and the shower water was so hot it almost charred the hair off his body.

He’d never heard himself yelp like that before.

Still. Today he had to look good. Clean. Presentable.

At the door, Steve—Khan thought of him more properly as Steven—the psychosaur watched.

“Chess!” Steven said.

“Not today, Steven,” Khan said, “I have things to do.”

“More drawings?” the saurian asked, pointing a claw-tipped finger toward the chalkboard on the wall, a chalkboard crammed to the edges with calculations and drawings of vortices and funnels.

“No, I think my calculations are complete.”

The creature blinked. Not like man or mammal blinked. A clear curtain of skin—a nictitating membrane—slid over his eyeball like a tongue. “Okay!”

Steven tottered off.

Then Khan exited his chambers and ran bodily into Jet Black.

The two of them looked at one another. Jet offered a smile, but it seemed strained and uncomfortable. Khan felt no such discomfort and grabbed Jet’s hand and shook it vigorously.

“Ooh ow,” Jet said, pulling his hand out of the gorilla’s grip.

“Oh my. Did I… grip too strong?”

“No,” Jet said, shaking his head, “I just hit my darn fool hand with a mallet.”

“Nothing’s broken.”

“No. Just smarts is all.”

“Jet, it’s been a while since we talked—”

“I have work to do, we’re on a tight schedule.”

“I feel like you’re mad at me, somehow.”

“Not mad, Professor, just… really busy.” But the look on Jet’s face betrayed that statement.

“I’d like to talk. About what you and Mack were discussing that day in the tunnel. I’ve done some calculations and—”

Jet tried to juke left and right, but Khan stood in the way. “Not now, Khan.”

“Oh. Okay.” The erudite ape paused. “Still nobody’s heard from Mack.”

“…I know.”

“Sally never sent anyone, Jet.”

“It was his decision to leave like that. Can’t afford to waste the manpower—the lives of people—just to go find that cowardly fox.”

Khan felt himself bristle. “Now you sound like her.”

“Get out of my way, Professor.” Jet squeezed past with a shove.

And then was gone.

The Professor drew a deep breath. Tried to center himself. Today wasn’t supposed to go like this. It was already a complex and upsetting day and…

He straightened his back. Dusted off his jacket one last time.

It was time to visit the Conqueror.

Benjamin wandered with Mary Elise through the maze-like chambers of the subterranean Century Club chapter house. If it could even be called that. A chapter house used to be a thing of some elegance: recovered artifacts and beautiful art, libraries packed with books from all eras of man. This was like a war bunker. A twisting, labyrinthine bunker.

He didn’t feel very much at home here.

They had no Atlantean symbols that required deciphering. No items of antiquity that needed to be disarmed or deweaponized or reweaponized. No mysteries of translation, no murders where the dead bodies had strange symbols freshly tattooed on every inch of the corpse’s skin.

Nothing. Nada. He wasn’t a man without a country so much as he was a man without any purpose at all. He knew when the time came he’d be out there on the front lines—someone had found him not a rapier, but a nicked-and-chipped scimitar and that would have to serve him. But for now, he felt like a moo-cow idly wandering the pasture, wondering which patch of clover to munch on next.

Mary Elise helped all that.

She locked her arm in his. “You seem troubled.”

“I’m fine,” he said, offering a stiff smile that melted as soon as he saw her own. He was hesitant to say that he was in love. He’d been in love before. Or thought he was. This was better, somehow. Different. Deeper. Stranger. It wasn’t even that they were romantic—though they were—but that he felt like a man out of time, and she felt like a woman out of time and together…

Well, once in a while he came across an artifact that had two pieces. Dangerous occult statuaries, for example, were often separated into two pieces with each half taken around the world so that they couldn’t be used as the weapons they were. And when you brought those two halves together, it clicked. And frequently glowed. And sometimes killed everybody in the room.

This wasn’t like that, obviously—nobody was dead. But the clicking and the glowing—? Yes. This was that.

Maybe this is love, he thought suddenly.

Time to change the subject.

As they wandered past the mess hall and deeper into the chapter house, he asked her: “So, how are the other survivors doing?”

“Happy to be here,” she said. “Some of them are already working on the jet-wings. You know, they’re all hungry and tired and more than a little scared but… they were inside their bodies all that time. They saw some people not make it. They—we know how lucky we are. Well, you understand.”

He did. He was a captive mind in a stolen body, too.

“Though I wasn’t captive as long as you,” he said.

He clasped her hand and gave it a squeeze.

Suddenly, before he even realized it, they were at their destination. Well. Not their destination. But his.

There. Down a crooked hallway. A pair of guards. Gregory Smythe and Delbert Jameson now. Next shift: Anita Nix and George Malmon.

A constantly guarded door.

The only constantly guarded door in this place.

He realized then that Mary Elise was speaking to him: “…and so I thought maybe we could… pretty up the place a little, it’s so drab down here, all the rock and stone, dripping and damp. Metal and rust and… well, one of the others was a ticket-taker at Coney Island but she’s also handy with murals and… you’re not exactly listening to me.”

“I am,” he said. “I’m sorry. I’m just… lost in thought.”

“It’s okay,” she said, but he wondered if she was a bit stung.

Still, he asked: “What do you think is through that door?”

“I don’t know,” she said. A mischievous smile emerged like a mouse creeping from a bolthole. “Something secret.”

“I don’t like secrets,” he said, quite serious, no smile.


“No, it’s just…” He turned to her. “The Century Club doesn’t do well with secrets kept from one another. Our chapter houses have always been open places. Once in a while it happens—or, happened—that someone kept a secret from another. An affair. A stolen artifact kept close. A betrayal, however small.” He paused to consider his words. “Secrets are like seeds. They grow twisting trees and darken those beneath them. Trees with heavy branches and hungry roots that will tear everything apart. That’s why I don’t like secrets.”

What he did not say was that the other day he saw one of the guards leave the post, go get a meal from the mess hall, and carry it back through that door.

A meal. As if someone were on the other side.

Then, he added, nodding toward that door: “That’s why I don’t like this secret. Stay here. I’m going to have a look.”

Atok crashed into another Neanderthal, a young bull named Gorak—shoulders meeting shoulders, foreheads smashing together, teeth bared in the way of the tiger. Atok snarled: “You will not take my scepter.”

Gorak was all corded rope and hard bone with a head as hard as an uncracked geode. He was slippery. Every grapple, he contorted his body and escaped. His hands found the scepter. Held it tight with both hands.

The young Gorak stared at it and smiled.

And his want would be his downfall. Atok was able to flick the scepter forward as Gorak stared at it—

The tip of the scepter bashed Gorak in the nose. He staggered backward, pawing at his face, eyes welling with tears.

Atok pulled the scepter away, set it on the ground, and shoved Gorak over.

The scepter was an old chair leg topped with a tin-can held fast by a bundle of rusty wire. It was, of course, no scepter at all. But this was one of the old games they played to train: Atok knew that battle was coming and he had to help these surviving Neanderthals harness their warrior instincts and fight with him.

Gorak looked stung.

“You will do better next time,” Atok said. “Maybe one day you will take the scepter from me.” His mouth twisted into a smile. “But probably not.”

The smile faded quickly. Atok felt restless. Agitated. He wanted to fight. Not… sit here and train and practice. He was a war leader. He was Atok the Horrible. He was already battle-hardened even if his companions were not.

The one called “Sally” told him that she mirrored his eagerness but the time was not now. It was coming. That’s what she told him. She said others of his kind were taken and enslaved much the same way hers were and that one day very soon they would go to war and she would need him to be ready.

But he was ready now, by the deepest gods.

“My god,” the Professor said.

“Gaze upon me in my glory,” the Conqueror croaked.

The warrior-ape was a pale shade of what he once was. His muscles had atrophied. His face sagged. His eyes were jaundiced and shot through with dark, spidery veins. He shuffled to the fore of the cage, pressed his nose through the bars and took a long sniff, baring his teeth after.

“What have they done to you?”

The Conqueror did not answer the question. Instead he said: “What is it you call me? When you to speak about me to others, how do you refer to me? Khan? But you are Khan. Conqueror? You wouldn’t dare to speak of me with such deference unless you said it with a glib curl of the lip. Father? Hah. Not likely. I’d sooner believe that time-traveling pigs had taken over the world.”

“I don’t call you anything. I just refer to you as… him. Or, ‘the other ape.’”

“Ah. Barely deeming to recognize me at all. Sensible.” His voice was rheumy and wet. “They have Chirrang bring me what few meals they allow me. It’s salt in the wound. That’s what this is all about, you see. Punishment. Not just for what I did but also because I won’t tell them what they want to know.”

“What do you mean?”

“They thought to pluck my thoughts from my brain but the Walking Mind is only so gifted. I long ago learned techniques to keep people out of my head. Methuselah. The psychosaurs. Jared Brain. The drums you and I hear? I let them play. Glorious, pounding drums. None can get past them when I allow them control. My mind stays my own.

“So, they cannot take what they want and I will not give it and so they punish me. I waste away. I’m a shadow of the Conqueror.” He snorted. “I can barely ‘conquer’ my own waste bucket.”

“I’m… sorry.”

“Do not apologize.” That, a snarl, but a weak one. As if his heart just wasn’t in it. “Apologizing is an act of weakness. You are Khan. You are strong.”

The Professor bit his tongue. No argument would do any good.

“What is it they wanted to know?”

“They want to know what the relationship is between the strange fungus and the race of dinosaurs. They want to know how I did it. How I made them my own. They want to know how I keep them out of my head. And I won’t tell them.”

He laughed, then. The laugh of a madman: a warbling cackle.

“Just… tell them,” the Professor said. “Why hold it back?”

“Because it’s all I have left!” the Conqueror spat. “I have nothing else. I give that away and they either murder me in my cage with a spear through the heart or they give me a place at the table, and I want neither of those things.” He let his fingers dance in the air. “So I fade away. Conquering silence, if nothing else.”

“I have to go.”

“Yes. Go. Pretend you didn’t see me. Do you know why I’m here?”

“They captured you—”

“Don’t be an ass. You’re smarter than that. I didn’t even have to come through the portal. I was coming for you. I wanted my son by my side. It’s why I came here. Why I let them take me. For you. All for you.”

“I can’t be… I can’t be responsible for that. The burden isn’t mine.”

“No, you’re right. It’s mine. Because I was wrong, son. Wrong all along. Wrong that you were like me. You aren’t. Ultimately, you’re weak. You are neither villain, nor hero. You’re a primped professor, a proper whipping boy stuffed with the hay of academia. A villain would’ve joined me. A hero would’ve saved me. You do neither. You stand back. You merely… abide.”

Khan fled the room. The Conqueror’s cackles faded, but he could still hear them in the hollows of his heart.

Jump back to the top to learn more about Fiction Friday — and a special discount offer on our fiction books!