Fiction Friday: Beyond Dinocalypse – Chapters 27-28

Beyond Dinocalypse

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Chapter Twenty-Seven

The erudite ape felt nervous. Odd, that. After all the things he’d faced recently, here he was feeling nervous just drawing on a blackboard and trying to teach Jet Black the theories he’d learned. He’d never gotten particularly nervous when teaching at Oxford, but this was different. Khan knew so much was riding on this. Further, this was Jet. Relations between the two of them had been strained, and he worried that if he pushed too hard, the young Centurion would again throw up all his walls and walk away.

“It’s like this,” Khan said. “If we found a way back in time—a big if, I realize, since we know that the gates are all closed—and we were able to change things from the very beginning, the question then becomes, what happens to this reality? Will this future fail to manifest? It must, yes? If we counteract it at the start it’s like salting the earth so that a tree may never grow. Ah, but—”

He circled a diagram on the chalkboard that looked like the root system of a tree. He began to erase the larger root bundle, leaving all the smaller, fringed bits drawn on the black.

“Think of it like the map of a building. Just because we block the entrance does not mean the hallways disappear. Time in this regard is written. If we are to accept endless quantum universes and an infinite host of possibilities, we can still assume that this reality will not merely disappear or even die on the vine.
It will be unmoored from the timeline we choose to create with our actions—but it will still remain. This timeline won’t just… disappear. Those in it will not perish.”

He saw the look of consternation on Jet’s face.

“I don’t know, Professor. That might almost be worse.”

“How so?”

“Because… because then we really are abandoning a fight. It’s like… we had a barn-fire once when I was a kid, right? We had two barns, one with the stable in it, the other connected to the grain silo, and when the one burned we didn’t just abandon it for the other barn, or for some… future barn we were gonna build. We had to save the animals inside that one.”

“The question,” Khan said, “is whether this… barn is worth saving at all.”

Jet swallowed hard. “Sally…”

“Is not the Sally you remember.”

“She is. She’s in there somewhere. You’d be changed too if you went through what she went through.”

“Be that as it may, she’s drifting, Jet. Drifting away from us. They say it can happen, you know. That some Centurions… toward the end of their times, they refuse to let go. Time darkens them. They slowly twist and become Shadows. Perhaps that’s what happened to Methuselah. Perhaps once, long ago, he was a Centurion like us. And perhaps he did not want to let his century pass—and he with it.”

“Those are just hypotheticals. This is real. Sally or no Sally, this world’s still in danger and the people—I mean, jeez, Khan, we just saved a few dozen. I know that’s just an ant on top of a mountain but it’s real.”

Khan held up a finger. “Now imagine that we save them all. Imagine that we go back in time and those who were lost can be reclaimed—Jet, they’d never be taken at all.”

“In that timeline. But in this one…”

A sudden knock on the door to Khan’s bunk chamber. An assertive, even angry, pounding.

The Professor shot Jet a quizzical look.

Jet stood, reached for the door, gently opened it.

Amelia and Benjamin stood there.

They did not look happy.

“We need to talk,” Amelia growled.


As Amelia and Ben spoke, Jet felt tension gnawing away at his middle, like rats gnawing at a cable. Eventually they got to the part where Benjamin explained that the symbols on the wall were not there to trap Methuselah—

But rather, they were there to help him. How, Benjamin didn’t know for sure, but he thought that the old mastermind was trying to relearn the mathematical magic that had been wrenched from his grip.

Jet couldn’t hold it in any longer.

“I knew about all of it.” He corrected himself: “Most of it. I didn’t know what the symbols were for, I—”

Amelia stared bullets through him. “You knew?”

Khan echoed the question: “Jet. You… were aware of this? All along?”

“I was. Mack showed me. He wanted to figure out how we would manage to get back in time and Methuselah had a way—”

“We’re not trusting him,” Amelia hissed.

“Wait,” Benjamin said, holding up a hand. “Hear him out.”

“The… ‘doctor’ said he had an Arctic base where one of his gates would surely still be open—it wasn’t a gate linked to the others so it wouldn’t have closed when they did. And since it’s in the Arctic, the reptile army wouldn’t be able to follow us because… reptiles.”

“Cold-blooded,” Khan said, shaking his head like he’d just put a piece of the puzzle in place. “Of course. Cold would kill them. Or at least make them so slow they couldn’t operate. I’m so foolish. I’ve been so occupied with all this I didn’t even see that piece right in front of me.”

“The problem,” Jet continued, “was that we had no idea where the base was. Still don’t. Mack thought we’d just… fly around until we found it, which proves just how drunk he was because, gosh, the entire Arctic Circle is millions of square miles. That meant we’d have to ask Methuselah, and Sally and the Walking Mind already caught us once and…” He rubbed his eyes. “I’m sorry I never said anything. I should’ve, but I thought that would put you all in danger. And… I trusted Sally knew what she was doing. But I don’t anymore.”

Amelia scowled. “You should’ve told us.”

Benjamin held a steadying hand on her shoulder. “Give his rope some slack. Jet didn’t know. We’re all a little topsy-turvy.”

“That still leaves us without foreknowledge of Methuselah’s base,” Khan said. “And no way to get there.”

“I bet I know,” Benjamin said. He half-laughed. “Those symbols, they were Hyperborean.”

Jet gave him a questioning look. Khan took the lead:

Khan said, “Neither by ship nor by foot would you find the marvelous road to the Hyperborean assemblage. That, from Pindar, the poet from Thebes. The Greeks spoke of them, the Hyperboreans.”

“Yes,” Benjamin said. “That’s right. The Hyperboreans were a race of people from the distant north. The Children of the North Wind. They arose along with the Atlanteans, the Meruvians, the Thulians, the Lemurians. The other so-called ‘root races’ of our world, if you believe the theory. Here’s the thing: the Hyperboreans were said to have been the ones to seed mankind with an understanding of mathematics as they themselves held to an understanding paralleled perhaps only by our own, today.”

“Like Methuselah’s ‘mathemagic’?” Jet asked.

“Maybe. A cohort of mine—an archaeologist by the name of Xian Chu—had a theory that Hyperborea’s capital was on an island called Magiya Island in the East Siberian Sea—a place hidden on an ice field and concealed by such thick fog that Xian could never herself make the trip. It would make sense that Methuselah would make that his home, wouldn’t it? Studying the secrets of the Hyperboreans? It’s even possible that’s where he began to learn his mathemagic so many years before.”

“It’s a long shot,” Jet said.

“An informed long shot,” Khan corrected.

Amelia added: “And the only shot.”

“How do we get there?” Benjamin asked.

“If only Mack had stayed,” Jet said. “He might’ve known a way.”

“We’ll have to fly,” Khan said. “I believe the Pindar poem told it true. You will not get to Hyperborea via ship or on foot. The sky is the only way.”

“The jet-wings,” Amelia said.

Benjamin nodded. “We take the jet-wings.”

“They’re not even tested,” Jet said.

“They’re what we have.”

“No!” Jet protested. “I… can’t. It’s already bad enough we’re talking about abandoning this world for our own—I can’t then take their only meaningful weapon. Before we do anything, I want the jet-wings working. I want them operational and capable. And I want Sally and the others to use them as they were intended. We have to find another way. We’re not using the jet-wings.”

The others shared a look.

“Of course,” Khan said.

“We’ll find another way,” Amelia agreed.

“We find another way,” the others said.


Chapter Twenty-Eight

We don’t have another way, Jet thought, as he strapped on his hopefully repaired jet-wing and adjusted the harness that held Steve the psychosaur to his chest. It was the next morning and he stood below the massive carved-out channel below the fake-lake of Central Park, a lake whose presence was part “smoke and mirrors” illusion from the Great Carlini, part psychic veil put in place by the Walking Mind.

Steve craned his eerie reptile head over his shoulder and hissed a greeting at Jet. “Hello, Jet.”

Jet cinched the belts tighter over Steve’s chest. “I’ve been here the whole time, Steve.”

“I know! Just wanted to say hi.”

“Hello, Steve.”

“Hello.”

Sally stood nearby. Looking up. “If it doesn’t work?”

“Then I fall.”

Others milled around behind her. Colin, Tara, Carlini in his cape. Behind them stood the original Centurions: Amelia, Benjamin, and of course, Khan.

Off to the side, the Walking Mind stood silent, implacable.

Jet looked to the others and gave them a tense smile.

A booming voice in his mind: IF YOU FALL I WILL CATCH YOU.

That sent a chill up Jet’s spine. He looked to Sally. When he fell, she was usually the one that caught him. But perhaps times really had changed.

He advised Steve to tuck his legs.

Jet crouched.

He reached back, slapped the button behind him—

The jet-wings snapped open—

A pulse of air punched out of the back—

And by the time he caught his breath, he was already up over Central Park.

Voosh.


From up here, the city opened up to him. It was the same as before—mist worming between crumbling skyscraper canyons, buildings cracked and shattered by the slow-moving hands of vines and roots, and in the distance, the Chrysler Building—now an orange spire, the building itself lost beneath the pulsing fungal carpet. Pterosaurs circled in the distance but Jet didn’t feel threatened. Not yet. Besides, Steve gave him the protection he needed from the psychosaurs’ telepathic feelers. As long as he stayed away, he was good.

For just a moment, he let himself fly. Up on heat vectors—then down, a corkscrew, a fake fall, before once more slinging back up and gliding.

It felt good. Liberating. Like all the world’s problems were gone forever. No worries over timelines or villains or psychic dinosaurs or starving ape-lords.

Wind in his teeth. Goggles comfortable around his eyes. The feeling of being one with the sky.

Steve seemed to like it, too. A big, toothy smile sat plastered on his face.

Eventually, though, reality crept in—a cold damp, deep in the marrow.

Something had to be done. Sally wanted to use the jet-wings. A suicide mission? Jet didn’t know. Her plan seemed sound: jet-wings to the top of the spire, attach to the fungus, cut holes through the myco-layer, destroy the electrostatic obelisk from within and diminish the psychosaur grip on the city.

But the psychosaurs numbered in the thousands.

They had less than a hundred to send into battle. And only two dozen jet-wings to claim some kind of sky superiority.

Then there was the plan—steal away to Hyperborea, find a time gate, go back in time to the very beginning, unwrite the mistakes they made…

They would need the jet-wings for that. They had no plane. Mack was gone—probably dead. His mind pored over the problem, unable to find any niches or cubby-holes in which to get a proper grip on it—

Beneath him, water. And coming up, the Brooklyn Bridge.

A sudden memory snapped back into his mind:

Sally’s map. Her pointing to it.

The Brooklyn Bridge is a nesting ground for Pterosaurs.

The towers and cables of the bridge were only 100 feet below him. Already he saw the massive nests molded between towers, held to the towers and above the cables with bundles of roots and sticks and crude thatch.

The nests squirmed.

Baby Pterosaurs. And eggs.

And all the parents, too.

Suddenly, a cacophony of shrieking punctuated by the sound of leathery wings catching air—

A flock of Pterosaurs took flight beneath him.

Ten. Then twenty. Then too many to count.

They were coming for him.

“Uh-oh!” Steve said cheerfully.

“Uh-oh is right,” Jet said, and gave the jet-wing a hard boost just as a tornado of Pterosaurs rose beneath him.


“They’re not back yet,” Sally said. Worry sat heavy in her belly as claws of tension gripped her shoulders. Not an unfamiliar feeling, but magnified this time. She told herself it was because everything counted on this jet-wing test. That little voice inside of her just said one name: Jet.

She looked behind her. The others were watching her. Staring, really. She felt their judgment. Once she had envisioned them returning to this world and in those visions she imagined them all reforming the team that made the Century Club great. But time was not kind to the relationship. She’d seen things they never had. Lived through experiences they didn’t even understand. They thought things were bad back then: all the villains and fighting and constant world crises. They had no idea. And that’s why they stared. They judged her.

Let them judge.

The Walking Mind intruded upon her thoughts:

I FEEL HIS PRESENCE OUT THERE.

“So, he’s all right?”

I AM NOT SO SURE ABOUT THAT, MISS SLICK.


It was like trying to fly inside a flock of crows—except these crows were a hundred times the size and carnivorous, and oh, also, really protective of their babies. Every time he pivoted in the air, he met scratching claws or clacking beaks—he twisted his hips, rose higher, only to almost get swiped out of the air by a rushing wing. Back down, voosh, through the center of the Pterosaur tornado, only to see one of the creatures—a big one, one of the Thunderbirds from before—headed straight for him like a flying freight train.

He had nowhere to go.

The sun was blotted out by wings.

The shrieks echoed in his ringing ears.

Everything was shapes and movement and shadow.

Then: a sudden opening in the flock. Three Pterosaurs suddenly danced herky-jerky in mid-air and each dropped like a stone.

What the?

Then he heard it:

Ack-a-ack-a-ack-a!

Machine gun fire. Bullets stitched holes in dinosaur wings—their bony beaks opened to scream as they scattered or fell.

And in through the gap roared a Clipper plane—a flying boat made famous by one particular pilot, and Jet caught a glimpse of that pilot smiling through the front windshield.

Mack gave Jet a thumbs-up.

Jet couldn’t help but laugh. He quick jetted off to the side to find a name painted in drippy black paint across the side:

Lucy.

The door just under the wing hung open—right underneath one of the four whirring propellers. Jet sucked in a deep breath, hoping that the jet-wing’s mobility was as good as he hoped because this was like threading a needle—

Next thing he knew, he was faceplanting inside the Clipper.

The jet-wing still clung to his back. Steve still on his front.

And Mack calling from the fore: “Hey, kid. Meet the new Lucy!”


HE IS GONE FROM MY PSYCHIC REACH.

Sally stood for a few moments, trembling.

Then she whirled heel-to-toe and marched back toward the interior of the base. Sally pushed through those who had gathered to watch the takeoff.

“I’m going to get a jet-wing,” she said. “I’m going to find Jet.”


The new Lucy was…

Well, it was filthy. Fuzzy roots clung to a rusty bottom. Half the seats were gone, the other half were torn open, springs poking out. Spiders nested in webs in the corners. Big spiders. Spiders as big as Jet’s hand.

“You’re quiet,” Mack called from the pilot’s chair through the open cockpit door.

“I’m just… looking around.”

“The spiders, right? Yeah. They ain’t poisonous if that’s what you’re wondering. I mean, I guess they are because all spiders are poisonous but they’re not gonna kick your keister into the grave.” Mack cleared his throat. “I know she isn’t much to look at, but it’s a good start.”

For a good end, Jet thought.

Jet unsnapped his jet-wing and let Steve free, then told the psychosaur to wait there. Steve, ever compliant, smiled blankly and agreed.

As the propellers rumbled overhead and the boat-plane shuddered with pockets of warm, rising air, Jet made his way into the cockpit and sat down.

Mack grinned. He looked clear-eyed.

He had even shaved.

“Like her?”

“She’s loud,” Jet yelled over the propeller sound. “I don’t remember Lucy being this loud before!”

“Sally rigged that one up, remember? She had all kinds of… noise dampeners and stuff. Plus, this isn’t a Boeing like the other one. It’s a bit smaller—one of the original Sikorsky Clippers.”

“Oh.”

“I haven’t had a drink in a month.”

“Oh. That’s… that’s good.”

“Good? Kid, I’m clean. I’m like a… a landing strip cleared of brush. I’m a threaded needle. What I mean is, I’m ready.”

“Ready for what?”

“Don’t be a clown. To save the past. To go back in time and… do whatever the hell it is we need to do. You find out where the Arctic base is?”

Jet hesitated. “We did.”

“I knew it! I knew if I left you alone for a little while you’d get that all locked down.” Mack clapped Jet on the shoulder.

“Last we left we were… mad at each other.”

“So?”

“So then you stormed off and… I figured you were dead.”

“Eh, kid, it takes a lot to rip the stuffing out of this teddy bear, lemme tell you. We almost punched the lights out of each other, whatever. Blood under the bridge. You needed time. I needed to find a plane. And I did! Flew that autogyro—which, by the way, is like trying to fly a bucket of water the thing’s so damn unsteady—to an old Jersey airfield near the shore just as I was running out of fuel. Looks like I still got the old Mack Silver luck. No psychosaurs at the base—though more than a few wandering dinosaurs, thankfully none of them meat-eaters. And there in one of the hangars I found this old beaut.”

“How’d you know to find me?”

“Here’s where you’re gonna think I’m nuts. I woke up this morning and had a dream that today you’d be out there with your jet-wing. I’d already taken to flying patrols here and there, so… I was just flying out over the water when boom, there you were. Like in my dream.”

“That’s kind of strange, isn’t it?”

He shrugged. “Listen, kid, we’re heroes. We don’t need to question that. You start to question it, you lose something. It’s like staring too long at a picture on the wall or trying to repeat a word over and over again. Eventually, you lose all meaning. Heroes, we go from our guts. That’s how I knew you’d eventually get on board with this plan. Because you’re a smart kid—but not too smart.”

He winked.

“And what about Sally?”

Mack’s smile suddenly vanished. “I don’t wanna talk about Sally.”

Jet said, “But—”

“No. I… hope we never see one another again.”


Sally stood in the workshop, feeling foolish. Two dozen jet-wings laid out wing to wing, front to back. All around her, the tools of the shop hung on hooks drilled into the stone.

A wrench hung nearby. Shiny due to a fresh polish.

Her hands were damp. Her mouth, dry.

She told herself it was that she was a warrior now. A war-leader like Atok. She wasn’t to spend her time frittering away with nuts and bolts.

But she also knew that it went far deeper. A kind of block. A persistent fear that had only deepened over the decades. Like a bottomless well, its water black and its darkness hungry.

Still. Now she didn’t need to do anything to… fix these jet-wings. They were good enough. She crouched down, pressed her back against one and looped the straps over her shoulders.

It was time to fly.

It was time to save Jet Black.

Again.


Khan stood as Sally marched to the center of the opening. The others seemed hesitant, as did he, but he could not let this go unsaid—

As she looked up through the massive opening—a hole easily as deep as a skyscraper was tall—Khan stepped up and laid a massive but gentle hand on her shoulder. She didn’t look at him, but he spoke anyway.

“Be safe, Miss Slick,” he said.

“I will, Khan.” She offered a small smile. “I’ll be fine. I hope you trust me.”

“In this, I do.”

He couldn’t tell how she felt about that. The small smile seemed strained, somehow. Just the same, she touched his shoulder.

With that, he backed away and she shot up through the channel and was gone.


Sally, unsteady and uncertain, shot above the city.

Her first thought was: it had been a while since she flew. Whether with Mack or with Jet—it had been so long, but the memory came back fresh as the scent off a newly-washed bedsheet. The feeling of exhilaration. Wind in her face and hair. That sense of her heart and stomach left behind on the earth as her spirit escaped the flesh and flew free, for a time.

The second thought was not so pleasant: a wave of fear came over her, making her suddenly dizzy. That little voice, no longer little and now very loud, You can’t do this, you don’t fly, this isn’t your place, this is Jet and Mack’s place—and Mack left you and Jet no longer trusts you even if he says he does, mankind is on the edge of oblivion and you’re the only one who…

Can…

Blood rushed to her head. The world spun sideways.

All went black.

Sally Slick fell.


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