Fiction Friday: Beyond Dinocalypse – Chapters 10 & 11

Beyond Dinocalypse

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Chapter Ten

Atok stifled a cry. He dared not bleat in weakness with this human woman at his side. It would do no good to have her see him like a mournful child, but that was suddenly how he felt: like a child whose parents were taken away, whose world was ripped asunder.

He stared out over the wreckage of his world.

The city above their heads, the one called New York and now claimed by the lizard people, was where Atok had staged the Neanderthal invasion of the Upland. The membrane here was thin between the human world and the civilization of his warrior-people, and so climbing down through tunnels and boltholes took only the better part of a day.

He expected to return home, to be greeted by a pair of guards at one of the tunnels, guards armed with tusk-maces or saw-tooth swords. But the passage was empty and unguarded. Cobwebs fluttered in the breath of the underground, and a few fat millipedes scurried into crevices.

They descended further and now, before them…

Empty homes, the stone walls scratched with claw marks. Bones of Neanderthals, the skeletons hidden beneath the desiccated leather of what was once the flesh of the body. Everything, empty. And silent. No children playing. No warriors practicing battle. Just death and doom and stillness.

They had a myth that says a Neanderthal’s death is just him losing a battle against the Ghost Beast—a creature that’s part bear, part tiger, but with the heart of a Neanderthal warrior beating in its chest. All succumb to the Beast eventually—one can never truly defeat the specter. But to have so many fall to the Beast—and, in this case, a literal beast with claws and fangs in plenty—struck Atok in the heart like an arrow. He had no vision of the battle, but to die at the hands of these atrocities was honorless and crass.

The human, Amelia, said nothing. She wandered off, perhaps to explore, perhaps to give him a moment.

In the time he was alone, Atok felt his rage bubble over.

He grabbed a rock and smashed it into a wall. He snarled and stormed about, gnashing his teeth and pounding his chest.

He wailed for a time, and then, with no eyes on him, he wept.

Some time later, Amelia returned to him. She placed a steadying hand on his shoulder as he sat, crouched, his head low, his greasy hair in front of his face.

“I found something,” she said.


It was a map. Carved into the wall of a Neanderthal temple. She drew Atok past the pillars, past the paintings on the wall of men and women like him hunting monstrous prey: giant insects, hairless albino tigers, stags thrice as tall as a man. At the back, though, what stood carved was, to her mind, a map.

Atok hurried over to it. Studied it. Said, “This is our kingdom. Part of it.” He began pointing out locations on the map. “This us. Temple of Krong the Hunter. Here, the White River. This testing ground of Night Cricket assassins. Down here, unspeakable place. Rift in earth where Gods of the Dark hide.”

“Yeah,” she said. “But what’s this?”

At the top of the map was what looked to be a new carving. Different from the rest. Atok frowned. “Someone defile map.”

The addition looked like an offshoot—a smaller passage that led… well, that was the question, wasn’t it? Right now it seemed to lead nowhere. In the space beyond someone had carved a strange symbol like a broken axe.

“The symbol—” Amelia was about to ask, but Atok stiffened.

“Retreat,” he said. “Means place of retreat.”

“That’s good news, isn’t it?”

He cast his eyes downward. “Retreat is never good news.”


Atok reeled. They exited the temple, a place devoted to one of the first among them, the ancient worm-hunter, Krong.

Some of his people may yet be alive.

But that news sat sour in his gut. Because that meant they did not fight to the last. It meant they gave up.

It meant they fled like sick dogs. It wasn’t just that they fled, either—they abandoned their home. They left this, their ancestral place below the surface world of the Uplanders, to wither and rot.

The joy that came with knowing some may yet live was then tempered by the thought of them… retreating. Surrendering. It was worse than rolling over and letting the Beast take you; it was sidestepping your duty to die well in the face of one’s enemy.

He drew a deep breath. Smelled the mineral air of the Hollow Earth. Amelia looked to him: “They may be alive. That’s good news. Why so grim?”

Atok wanted to say, Because that means they are no longer my people, but he could not find the proper words in her guttural human tongue. He was about to say something, anything to cease her inquiry, but then—

A roar split the air, echoing through the underground chambers. From somewhere beyond their city. But not far. Not far at all.

Then came by a second bellow. And a third. Then a whole cacophony.

“Attack,” Atok hissed, and hurried forward, teeth bared.


Chapter Eleven

Jet sat at a table made from an old carnival prize wheel, the chair beneath him a half of a barrel turned upside down. Before him sat a chipped china dinner plate (mismatched to all the other plates he saw around the room on similar cobbled-together tables), and on that dinner plate, an odd mix: a gray kind of gruel paste, but then also: some sliced banana, a cut up mango, a little kindling of charred carrots and mushrooms.

All around the room, a rag-tag mish-mash of heroes and workers, each belonging to the other like an unmatched left sock. A man sipped from a coffee mug with a normal hand while a fist ten times the size rested next to him, giving his table a little lean. A tall woman with a domino mask sat writing in a little book that hung from a chain around her neck. A fancy fella in a black cape and with a crumpled top hat entertained a small crew of onlookers by juggling what looked to be metal playing cards—the cards flipping up and around and behind his back before he finally dispatched them all like throwing knives into the shaft of a broomhandle leaning against the wall thirty feet away.

Jet didn’t see the Professor anywhere. Where did Khan go?

Across from him, Mack sat, empty plate in front of him. He fished in his jacket, withdrew a dinged-up flask. His thumb spun the top and he took a pull.

He offered it to Jet. “You drinking yet?”

“We just saw each other yesterday.”

“Oh. Right, right.” He took another quaff. His face twisted up into a wince that turned fast into a toothy smile. “Hey, listen, kid, I wanna talk to you about—”

Suddenly, Mack’s eyes flitted over Jet’s shoulder and he interrupted himself to shout and bellow and laugh.

“Hey! You guys, get the heck on over here, c’mon, c’mon,” he said, waving his hands, his laugh dissolving into a throaty chuckle. He coughed into his hand and Jet found himself surrounded by a handful of familiar faces.

Here, then, stood the ghost girl with the freckles and the wild tangle of hair. Next to her was the redhead with the mountaineering axe. And coming up behind, the Australian with the Enfield slung over his shoulder and a plate of steaming gruel in his hands. Mack started the introductions.

“The sometimes see-through girl is Lily-Belle Atkins. The strapping lad is Colin, the Aussie Digger. And this saucy minx—” He reached to pat the redhead’s hip. With a fast motion she tilted the pick-axe hanging at her belt forward so the very tip of the front-facing blade bit Mack on the back of the hand. He yelped and withdrew his mitt. “Ehhh. That’s Shepersky.”

“Tara,” she said, and offered her hand. Her voice was strong and lyrical. Jet took the hand and gave it a shake.

“Good to meet you, mate,” the Digger said, eschewing a hand-shake and instead clapping Jet hard on the back.

Lily-Belle just said: “Hope I didn’t scare you too much back there.” And before Jet could summon up a proper answer (because, actually, she did scare him), she drifted up through the rocky ceiling like it was naught but a layer of fog.

The other two headed off to sit down across the room.

“Good people,” Mack said, still rubbing the back of his hand.

Jet frowned at him. “You’re married to Sally.”

“Hm?” Mack sucked down another sip of whatever was in the flask. “Yeah. Yes. That’s true, kiddo. See, and now I can call you kiddo for real because I’ve got about… sixty-some years on you. I am officially your elder.”

“Then act like it.”

“What?”

“Clean yourself up. And flirting with that lady? Tara? You’re married.”

“Our marriage is…” His words drifted off and suddenly his eyes narrowed in anger. He thrust a finger up under Jet’s chin. “You listen to me, you little bumblebee. You don’t know what went on. You don’t know what we’ve seen. You punks popped out of our reality like folks leaving a party, leaving us around to handle all the damn clean-up. I’m tired. I hurt. My leg’s about as worthless as a short-sleeved straitjacket. So you best not judge.”

“I’m allowed to judge. You’re a Centurion and so am I. You’re better than this.”

“Better.” Mack leaned back, snorted. “See, kid, there comes this moment in every person’s life that they realize their parents aren’t as smart or as adult as they figured—your parents are supposed to be the ones with the brains. But they’re not. They’re not our heroes. They’re just dum-dums like the rest of us. Just humans. Stupid, broken humans. Fumbling their way through life. That’s the thing about the Centurions. We’re imperfect, too. We’re not heroes. Not really.” His voice went quiet all of a sudden. “If we were heroes, we would’ve saved the world.”

“Mack—”

Mack launched himself onto his feet into a wobbly stance. “C’mon, kid, let’s go talk somewhere private.”

Jet stood as Mack started to hobble off. “Mack, wait—”

“I said, c’mon.”


The Professor crept down the rocky corridor where he saw the guards take his fath… progenitor. His heart thudded dully in his chest: lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub, fast turning into those jungle drums that sometimes plagued him now during times of duress: ba-doom, ba-doom, ba-doom.

There. A room shaped like a teardrop. At the far end, a cage like you’d use for a wild animal at the zoo: iron bars fixed to the rock above and below. A door welded together and locked with several loops of chain and a handful of die-cast padlocks. In the darkness beyond the bars, a pair of gleaming eyes.

A breathy nostril snort broke the silence.

“Son.”

“Don’t,” the Professor warned. “I’m not your son.”

“Would you rather that I remind you that you are actually me?”

“Were that true, then I would be like you. But I am not.” Khan stammered as he continued: “I’m… an Oxford professor. And a hero of the Century Club. Whatever is inside you is not inside me. We are most certainly not the same.”

A rheumy, rumbling laugh. “You are like me. That’s why you’re here right now. You want to ask about your wild heart. About the drumbeat you hear.”

Lub-dub, lub-dub.

“I wanted to gaze upon a false Conqueror,” the younger Khan bit back. “A fallen idol whose sense of self-importance defeated him in the end. A classic story, isn’t it? Phaethon thinking he could control his father’s solar chariot. Narcissus falling so in love with his own image that he couldn’t look away from his watery reflection. If we recall our Proverbs, Pride goeth—”

“‘Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before the fall.’” The Conqueror grinned. “See? I read.”

Ba-doom, ba-doom.

“As they say, the Devil can quote scripture.”

“Let me also remind you that the story of Phaethon is the story of a child who thought he could equal the father.”

BA-DOOM.

The Professor raced up against the cage, teeth bared, fists pounding on the bars: “I am not your son! Say it again and I’ll tear you apart.”

His ape fists curled around the bars. His chest rose and fell like a great surging tide. His heart calmed. The blood river in his ears dulled its roar.

The Conqueror applauded. A slow-clap of ape mitts.

“The wildness within wants to come out,” the elder Khan said. “You had best let it. It wants to dominate. It wants to take ownership of this world. These people around you are not your friends. They are fools who would die for imaginary ideas—false notions of heroism and other pap. Be the conqueror. Take control. Leash them and own them. Let me out of this cage and together—”

“We can rule the world?” the Professor asked.

“Yes! Yes.”

“I don’t want that.”

The Professor pulled away, sure he meant those words. But a tiny part of him thought how glorious it would be: away from the books, from the classroom, no longer wearing a suit jacket or a pair of little eyeglasses made to pinch his flaring gorilla’s nose. Out there. In the world. Decked in armor. Or in nothing at all. Roaring and charging and crushing anything that stood in his way.

No.

That was not him. That was just this old foolish ape showing his true colors: the Conqueror was no gorilla, but rather a worm. A worm crawling inside the Professor’s mind. The younger Khan turned and began to walk out of the room.

“You’ll be back.”

“I won’t.”

“You’ll need me. I know things. You said it yourself. About the psychosaurs. I can help you. Together we can—”

“Together, we do nothing.” A pause. “Alone you can rot.”

And with that, Khan hurried out of the chamber.


Jared Brain stalked the subterranean passageway ahead of them, the mannequin arms forming the herky-jerky legs that carried him forward. No mechanism was necessary to animate them: his telekinetic powers handled it fine.

Jet and Mack pushed ahead.

Inside Jet’s mind:

HELLO, LITTLE MOUSE. OR IS IT, LITTLE FLY?

Jet scowled at the brain floating beneath the giant bell jar. Mack pulled Jet down a side-passage.

“I don’t like that guy,” Jet whispered.

I CAN HEAR YOU.

“He can hear you,” Mack said, a half-second too late.

Mack spun Jet around, pushed him into a small enclave, then sat down on a rusted cabinet that rattled.

“She wants to take the city back,” Mack said.

“Sally.”

“Yeah, Sally. Who you think we’re talking about? Mother Goose?” He popped the cap on his flask, took another pull.

“I know Sally wants to do that. She told us as much.”

“She wants your help in doing it.”

“I know.”

“And how do you feel about that?”

“I…” Jet stopped. Tried not to think about it. “I’m tired. It’s been a helluva day. I just need to stop, get my head around everything—”

“We’ll get you to your bunk soon enough. But don’t lie to me, kid. I saw that… twitch. That little moment of hesitation. Chase that spark. Capture that firefly. I want to know. How do you feel about reclaiming the city?”

He didn’t want to say it but—

“I feel like it’s too late,” Jet said.

There. Those words. The sting of pessimism. Rare for Jet Black. He was always the go-get-em type, the one who even in the face of a thousand enemies thought he had a way forward. A way to thread the needle. But he couldn’t summon that kind of spirit now. It felt… forbidden. It felt final.

“Thought so,” Mack said. His face, crestfallen rather than relishing in it. “The optimistic one doesn’t even think it’s a good idea.”

Another pull of the flask—back, back, back until it was empty.

“Mack, it’s not like that—”

“It is like that. And I agree with you. This isn’t worth saving. None of it.”

“But you and Sally—”

“Should’ve never gotten together. You were right back then, kid. She and I, we don’t mix. She’s a puddle of jet fuel and I’m a spark from the engine and—” He clapped his hands together. “Voosh. It was always you and her, kid. Always.”

Jet didn’t know what to say.

His body knew what it wanted to do, though.

He threw a fist. Punched Mack Silver right in the jaw.

The flask dropped to the floor with a rattle.

Mack’s tongue snaked out, tasted a bead of blood rising up on his split lip.

“I deserve that,” Mack said.

“All this time,” Jet seethed. “And you don’t even love her.”

“Jet,” Mack said, suddenly sounding tired and drunk and, strangest of all, sad. “I love her. I do. But I don’t think she loves me. And love ain’t enough. All the storybooks say it is but it’s more than that. Love’ll get you through the first ten years but the next ten, twenty, fifty years… you gotta have bigger logs on that fire to keep it crackling. Sally needs you. And not this Sally. But the Sally from back then. You see what I’m saying?”

“We can’t go backward. We’re here. Now.”

“Kid, you’re only here because you time traveled here.”

“Well. Yeah. Okay, fine, but those time gates are all closed—”

“I say we find a way to open them again.”

“And how do you propose that?”

“I don’t know. I don’t have much going on up here.” He tapped his head. “But I know someone who does. C’mon.”


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