Fiction Friday: Beyond Dinocalypse – Chapters 25-26

Beyond Dinocalypse

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Chapter Twenty-Five

Sally swept everything off her desk.

Map tubes rolled. An old coffee mug didn’t shatter but spun on its edge before falling and then shattering. Sally stood at the desk, chest heaving.

YOU SEEM TROUBLED.

She looked up. There stood the Walking Mind on his platform. Implacable and emotionless. Still and silent as a hat rack. A hat rack with a brain.

“You don’t need to come in here to talk to me. You can just…” She let her hands fritter in the air like the legs of a spider spinning a web.

PEOPLE FIND IT LESS JARRING IF I AM STANDING IN FRONT OF THEM, PHYSICALLY PRESENT. I WANT TO PROJECT AN AURA OF COMFORT. I WOULD NOT WANT TO… IMBALANCE YOU FURTHER.

“Don’t be condescending.”

YOU SEEM UPSET.

“Every day that passes that we don’t secure the city…” She didn’t need to say it. She just let her mind wander over the events: they mounted a very fast and frankly very effective rescue effort. The one fungal hive was lost. It was, by all reports, a huge win for them. But now she was saddled with feeding and clothing a few dozen other humans—good, yes, happy to have the refugees, but most of them did not serve the cause. They would be trained, of course, but for now…

And then, the salt in the wound? The other fungal tower was ripe for the taking. And they fled in some ungainly combination of hubris and fear, thinking, We will return another day soon and destroy the second tower and the city will be free from the oppression of the psychosaur invasion.

But the second tower changed. It sealed up. It locked down. The entire Chrysler Building was now shellacked in a thick rind of hard, glistening fungus: you couldn’t even see the building beneath it.

Worse, they seemed to be working on repairing the first tower.

No fungus, yet. No “electric spire,” or whatever that… thing was that Benjamin saw and helped Der Blitzmann destroy. (That caused her a small spike of pleasure and sadness: Blitzmann was always a thorn in their side but he was brilliant, in a way, a craftsman like she was, once.) Benjamin had been after her to talk about the spire and its ancient origins but she had little patience for that talk right now. Further, she couldn’t see the purpose: if it was old, it was old, that’s a fine howdy-do, but it still needed to be destroyed. It didn’t matter what civilization’s name was stamped on the bottom.

“We should be moving faster,” she said. “We need to attack soon.”

I UNDERSTAND THE JET-WINGS ARE NEARLY COMPLETE.

“And we haven’t even done a test yet. Or training.”

I’M SURE IT’LL BE FINE. DON’T YOU TRUST YOUR PEOPLE?

“Of… course.”

SO PUSH THEM. COMPLETE THE ARMADA. ATTACK SOON. NOT LATER. I AM EAGER TO WIN THIS BATTLE WHILE WE STILL HAVE THE ADVANTAGE. UNLESS YOU SEE SOME VALUE IN WAITING…

“No!” Her own voice surprised her. “No, I… we need to do this.”

GOOD. I AM PLEASED THAT WE ARE OF TWO MINDS.

“We are.”

IT WAS A LITTLE BIT OF A JOKE.

“Oh.” She couldn’t muster a laugh, but she gave him a weak smile.

I SUPPOSE I WILL NOT BE JOINING THE MARX BROTHERS ANYTIME SOON, HMM? IN THE MEANTIME, LET’S DISCUSS THE—

Suddenly his voice inside her head stopped.

I HAVE TO GO CHECK ON SOMETHING.

And then, the platform silently marched out of the room, leaving her alone with her regret, her anger, and the ghosts of a fallen world.


Jet walked laps around the earthen hallways, psyching himself up. Do it, do it, stop thinking about it, just do it. As he rounded the corner, finally veering back toward Sally’s office, he saw the Walking Mind coming right toward him.

DO NOT SQUEAK, LITTLE MOUSE.

The jarred brain kept walking.

Jet knew what the Walking Mind was talking about. But it wasn’t his role to take orders from the likes of Jared Brain.

He summoned his courage and stormed into Sally’s office.

She was there, standing by her desk, picking at a small bowl of deep-fried crickets. She looked up, tongue in the pocket of her cheek, and she offered the bowl to him. “They’re good. Deep fried they lose their… squishy middles.”

Jet blanched. “I’m good.”

“What is it, Jet?”

“I want to go after Mack.”

“What?” Her face darkened. “No.”

“But—”

“But nothing. He left us. He betrayed us. He could’ve been an asset but chose to be a rogue agent. You said it yourself when he left: we’re a team of heroes, not a team of individuals. He wants to act like that, then good riddance.”

“You don’t believe that.”

“I do.”

“You loved him.”

“Once. I also loved you. I no longer have the capacity for it.”

That rocked him.

He stood, feeling like he’d been both hugged and sucker-punched at the same time. He tilted back on his heels. “Ahh. Uhh.”

“Are we done?”

“Hardly,” he said, hearing an unexpected edge to his voice. “I also want to tell the others. At least some of them. About Methuselah.”

“Absolutely not.”

“We don’t keep secrets like that. Not of that magnitude. It’s burning a hole in me. The others should know! Maybe we can use Methuselah in some way—”

“He’s already handled. I control the information here. For now his presence remains a secret.”

“Sally, you’re not giving me much room here—”

“Are we done now?”

“No!” he yelled. “No, we’re not. You’re pushing us all too far. I don’t know if I trust where you’re taking us. The timeline for the jet-wings is too tight, I haven’t even tested one or trained anybody and it’s not like you’ve been down in the workshop doing anything more than a… a cursory walkthrough—”

She came up on him fast. She moved nose to nose. He expected anger, for her to strike him, but all she did was begin to talk in a quiet voice:

“Every time I touch a wrench, or a hammer, or… any tool at all, my hand starts to shake. Not a little. A lot. I can’t even get a wrench around a lugnut. I live with nightmares, sometimes when I sleep, sometimes when I wake, and I remember that day. For you it was a month ago. For me it was a lifetime. And it marked me. I made a choice. I used the Atlantean tool and I sent everyone away from me and I was left in a world bent on destruction. But the worst thing was that I lost you that day. I lost someone who trusted me. Who loved me.”

She bent forward and gave him a small kiss. Her lips were cold but they warmed fast. Then she leaned toward his ear and whispered:

“Please, I need you to trust me now.”

“I…”

“Will you trust me?”

He nodded.

Then: a throat clear.

There stood Professor Khan. Teeth bared. Jet had never seen him look like that. He looked…

Well, he looked angry.

You,” he said, thrusting a finger toward—well, toward who, Jet didn’t know at first because he stood so close to Sally, but as she backed away and tried to compose herself, the ape’s eyes followed her. “You’re torturing him.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” she said.

“The… the Conqueror!” He snarled: “You know damn well who I mean! You’re starving him.”

“We’re feeding him.”

“Scraps! You’re feeding him… scraps of bread and water. He’s wasting away in that cage—”

Jet watched Sally’s own anger match Khan’s—she crossed the room and poked her finger into his chest.

“What would you have us do?” she asked, punctuating each word with a jab of her finger. “Give him the run of the place? Throw him a jet-wing and let him go? Need I remind you that it was Khan and the Doctor who plotted this all to begin with? That it was his conquest of our world that began this? He won’t yield critical information to us. That does little to encourage kindness from me.”

“But that’s not who we are,” Jet said. “We don’t… torture.”

She wheeled on him. “I told you to trust me and that’s what I need, Jet. Trust. Trust that I know what I’m doing. Trust that I have been leading this charge for a number of decades equal to more than twice your age on this Earth.”

“Sally—”

Suddenly, she pulled up the eyepatch, revealing a pucker of scar tissue where the eye once was. It called to mind a pair of pursed, burned lips. “You want to know how I lost this eye? We were still fighting some of Khan’s forces—pockets of primate resistance in the lava tubes not far from the chapter house on Kauai. They swarmed us. So possessed were they by his spirit, so convinced that he would come back and lead them, they fought with a willingness to die in his name. One of them had a spear and stabbed it toward my face—I narrowly moved my head, but they hit the wall with such force a chip of stone, a little piece of obsidian, broke from the wall and embedded in my eye. I killed that ape with my bare hands. We won the day, but I lost my eye.”

“Miss Slick,” the Professor said, gruff but quieter, “I’m… sorry.”

“Sorry doesn’t put my eye back in my head. Sorry doesn’t change the fact that your… genetic template, your father for all intents and purposes, is a dangerous and charismatic murderer. You really want to throw in with him?”

The steam robbed from his engine, Khan took a step back. He said nothing, but shook his head. Jet suddenly felt for the big lug. He’d been avoiding him, but…

Khan bowed his head, then said, “I should go.”

“Yes,” Sally agreed. “I have planning to do.”

“I’ll get out of your hair, too,” Jet said.

She grabbed his shoulder. “Trust me,” she said.

He nodded, and followed Khan out.


Twenty steps later, Jet said in a low voice to Khan:

“I don’t trust her.”

Khan, now more sad than angry, shook his head.

Jet drew a deep breath.

“I want to know more about time travel,” he said. “And there’s something you really need to know.”


Chapter Twenty-Six

The two guards slumped together, heads conking like two coconuts. Mary Elise gasped.

“I…” she said, seemingly struggling to find words.

“They threatened me,” Benjamin said. “Over whatever is in this room.” And it was true. They had threatened him. Threatened to knock him out, take him to Sally. They had no idea who they were talking to. Benjamin stepped forward, the one threw a punch—Benjamin got under it, lifted the man’s arm and rabbit-punched twice in his kidneys.

Instant knock-out—the kidneys were one of the most poorly protected organs in the body. A harder punch could’ve killed him.

As the one guard dropped, Benjamin slipped the grasp of the other. Not to get away but to get closer. He darted inside the man’s reach, threw a hard punch up—the man’s teeth clacked together and it was lights out for him, too.

Benjamin stepped over them and opened the door.


“Hello, Mister Hu,” Methuselah said over the warring phonographs.

The old mathemagician chuckled and coughed as he hung there.

It was only a matter of time before Benjamin found him. The mystical detective was like a dog trained to sniff out secrets—and he was obsessed enough he could not let things lie.

An unpleasant setback, but worth it perhaps for the look on Hu’s face. Anger. Confusion. He spun around like a girl in a dress in a meadow. Taking it all in. He realized it now, didn’t he?

A girl stumbled in after him. Quite pretty, this one. Eyes shining like little dimes. Now she would have to be dealt with, too.

“Methuselah,” Benjamin said. Barely containing the fear and anger.

“Benjamin, so nice to see you again.”

“These symbols—”

“You recognize them.”

“Hyperborean.”

“Yes. You’re smarter than anyone gives you credit for, you know that?” Methuselah coughed again. “Now, what do they mean?”

Benjamin paused. Thought. The old man saw the young detective’s jaw tighten. “They’re an equation. The Hyperboreans were gifted mathematicians. This is like a… mathematic mantra.”

“Mathemagic mantra.”

“You’re training. Training your mathemagic skills. Trying to relearn the equations. Trying to regain lost magic. You did lose it, didn’t you?”

The old man scowled. “I did.”

Benjamin had part of it right. He had lost his magic—for the most part. But there remained a glimmer. And that was all he needed in this timeline. These equations on the walls were not to train him but to give him a tiny opening, a small glimpse into the larger equation. It was like a window, and through this window he could see dominoes falling in endless permutations, different actions leading to different outcomes. A gift he’d always possessed internally but now, one that was woefully external. He looked up now, stared at the symbols until—

Until he saw one such permutation. A new one he had not considered.

Just then: The Walking Mind entered the room.

Benjamin suddenly stiffened, limbs going rigid as Jared Brain’s psychic tendrils lashed about, invisible coils rooting the detective to the spot.

Methuselah sent out the loudest psychic shout he could imagine:

Stop!

Jared did not stop. Methuselah was not fond of a follower whose obeisance was imperfect. Still, again he shouted telepathically—

I said stop!

Elasticity and control returned to the detective’s limbs.

WHY? WHAT WE FEARED HAS COME TRUE.

But I see a new permutation. One as yet unconsidered. His discovery of the symbols is our strength.

HE WILL REVOLT. THE OTHERS WILL REVOLT.

And isn’t that what we want? They have not yet come to me to learn the truth. They do not seek directions and think they can do this on their own. But now our detective has a clue—a clue he’ll take, a clue he’ll use.

YOU PLAY A DANGEROUS GAME, OLD MAN.

And you should listen to your betters, Jared.

Benjamin, meanwhile, reached over and pulled Mary Elise close, drawing the scimitar that hung in a scabbard at his belt.

“You’re working together,” he said.

Methuselah laughed. “If only.”

Benjamin began to half-circle around the Walking Mind, and Methuselah heard Jared’s transmission to Hu’s psyche:

I STOPPED YOU BECAUSE YOU ENTERED UNAUTHORIZED SPACE AND YOU HURT THE GUARDS, MISTER HU.

As Jared’s platform tromped into the room, Benjamin kept his scimitar slicing invisible symbols in the air as a warning.

“Whatever’s going on here,” Benjamin said, “I promise to find out.”

“Of course,” Methuselah said. “If you must play detective…”

The man darted out of the room, sending the woman ahead of him.

Such chivalry.

Shame, in a way. Methuselah would’ve liked her as a plaything. Make her dance, make her sing, make her wet his lips with a soggy sponge.

THIS COULD BACKFIRE ON US.

I have seen the infinite futures and these dominoes fall in our favor.

YOU FAILED TO GUESS HOW THE DOMINOES WOULD FALL LAST TIME.

A spike of rage inside his belly. He hoped Jared Brain felt it—hot like forge-hammered iron. I made a fundamental error at the very beginning of that particular equation which is an error we both hope to correct, yes?

…YES

Then shut up and trust me.

The Walking Mind said nothing. For once.


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