Fiction Friday: Dinocalypse Forever – Chapter 11

Dinocalypse Forever

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CHAPTER ELEVEN

Benjamin would not wake up, and Amelia was at her wit’s end. What was she supposed to do now? He was the only one who could communicate in Atlantean, and she worried that relying on Aeron’s halting English was only going to get them into trouble.

The Atlantean guard showed concern as he watched her desperate movements over the arcane detective’s inert body, but he made no move toward them. Should she ask for help, or would they refuse her? And what if Aeron didn’t understand? What was she supposed to do, charades?

She sat back on her haunches, wishing that her battlefield medical training had been a little more extensive. She couldn’t find anything wrong with Benjamin, nothing that would suggest why he’d fallen unconscious and couldn’t be woken. Sure, his arm was cracked, and he’d gotten bruised and battered from their adventures, but that was a matter of course for Centurions such as they were. And yes, he was exhausted and dehydrated and hungry. But none of those things accounted for her inability to wake him.

It worried her, and few things worried Amelia Stone.

Merde. This was a bad situation.

So she put her fears and her pride aside and fixed her dark eyes on Aeron. “Please,” she whispered. “Please help him.”

Aeron hesitated, his long fingers twitching with what seemed to her like nervousness, but she couldn’t be sure. He let out a string of Atlantean—which of course she failed to understand, no matter how hard she tried. It twisted in her grip, the meaning of the words just out of reach.

“Help,” she repeated, hoping that the simple monosyllabic word might get through to him.

His face flickered with uncertainty, and then she realized—

It wasn’t that he didn’t understand her.

He was afraid of what might happen if he did as she asked, and there was no way for her to reassure him. He didn’t speak enough of the language to understand anything she might say.

If only he’d been a true telepath, they could have communicated. But all of Benjamin’s attempts in that arena seemed to have fallen short. So what was that psychic touch she’d felt before? She might lack Benjamin’s skill with puzzles, but she’d have to figure this one out. His survival depended upon it.

What had she felt before? Not thoughts—feelings. Emotions. A deeper, more primal connection.

And then she knew. He was an empath. Atlanteans weren’t telepaths—they didn’t send and receive thoughts—but they could pick up on feelings. She’d seen such a thing before, once, in her long adventures.

So she opened her heart to him. Desperation. Hope. Determination. She had to convince him that they were worth saving, regardless of his fears. She felt it all leave her like a wave. Felt tears rising to her eyes. Blinked them away.

They stared at each other for a moment, and then he held his hands open, empty, in a universal gesture of helplessness. She echoed it. Then, tentatively, he reached out to rest the tips of his fingers on Benjamin’s shoulder—

Amelia wasn’t sure what she expected, but this was certainly anticlimactic. Benjamin didn’t move. Aeron didn’t demonstrate any magical healing abilities or levitate the detective off the floor or anything of the sort.

Maybe the gangly Atlantean had also thought something strange would happen, because he lifted his fingers and stared at them a moment like he expected them to be blistered by the contact. Then he turned a somewhat sheepish gaze on Amelia.

She snorted. What did he think—the mere touch of a human would obliterate him?

He seemed to make up his mind then, gesturing a clear follow me and picking Benjamin up with less effort than she would have expected from such a slight figure. For a moment, she debated snatching her unconscious friend away and toting him herself. She was strong enough, and it was her duty to watch over him while he was incapacitated. He would do the same for her, after all.

But to do so would be a gesture of mistrust toward Aeron, and right now, she had to trust him.

She had no other choice.

Aeron led the way out of the cell, Benjamin hanging limply in his arms.

Amelia Stone followed them, alert and ready for anything.

* * *

Under different circumstances, Amelia might have paused in their winding trek through the halls of Atlantis to marvel at its beauty. The floor was sparkling crystal perfection. The walls glowed from within. Impeccably carved sculptures sat in the corners, flanked by blooms the size of melons with thorns to match. It was the kind of place she’d always longed for during those long months spent nursing her mother in their tiny Paris apartment. But her enjoyment of it was truncated by her worry for Benjamin.

Hanging limp in Aeron’s arms.

As if dead.

Amelia knew it wasn’t true, but the urge was still there to rip his inert body from Aeron’s arms and shake him until he woke. Not the most effective of medical treatments, but tempting nonetheless.

Soon, Aeron and their phalanx of whip-thin guards led her to what she immediately knew was a throne room. Bright rays from the skylight above danced about the room, dazzling her. Two simple crystal thrones dominated one side of the room, massive and glistening, no less impressive for their lack of ornament. A small cluster of Atlanteans stood silently in the corner, looking askance at the newcomers. They didn’t speak, but Amelia wouldn’t have understood anyway. They could have insulted her grievously, and she wouldn’t have known the difference. But even if she was fluent in Atlantean, she would have borne any insult if it meant Benjamin would be saved.

Two Atlanteans detached themselves from the group and drifted toward them. Their walk was ethereal. Gliding. Inhuman. They were like night and day: the man with white blond hair setting off perfect translucent skin, white robes, almost colorless grey eyes; the woman with hair like midnight on a new moon, robes like a bruised plum, and eyes to match.

Aeron went down on one knee before them, laying Benjamin’s inert form at their feet, but Amelia didn’t need that hint to tell her that she was in the presence of royalty. They carried themselves with a certain imperious assurance.

After a moment’s hesitation, she took a knee herself. Couldn’t hurt to butter them up. That didn’t mean she couldn’t punch them later if that was what it took to get the job done.

She bowed her head. Took the opportunity to study her friend as he lay on the ground. His chest rose and fell with the slightest of hitching breaths.

Good. Very good indeed.

“What brings you to Atlantis?”

The high-pitched, thready voice took her by surprise, and she started, looking up at the female Atlantean in shock. Had she truly spoken aloud—in English no less—or was Amelia so far gone that she was now hallucinating?

The woman watched her expectantly, the corner of her mouth turning down in a displeased frown. Amelia quickly gathered about her all of the courtly manners she could muster and took a chance on speech.

“Majesty,” she said in the low, gentle tones her maman used when soothing her during a bout of the flu. “I beg your assistance on behalf of my friend, wounded in a fight against the allies of Gorilla Khan and his shadow conspirators. He was trying to communicate this to your troops when he was struck down by I know not what. Please help him. We will stand with you against the psychosaurs and the Conqueror Ape if only you will help him.”

The Atlantean woman studied Benjamin’s slight body with cool, detached distance. Didn’t even bother to kneel down to get a better look. Amelia suppressed a wave of anger, yet still hoped for a positive outcome. Readied herself to strike—once, at the neck—if it didn’t happen.

“Pretty words,” observed the Atlantean ruler. “But I fail to see how your assistance could benefit us. You are mere humans, and not much use for anything at all.”

Amelia gaped. How could they say such a thing, after all the Centurions had done?! All they would do. She leapt to her feet, heedless of the shocked interest of the courtiers and the restraining hands of the guards.

“But…you don’t understand! That’s Benjamin Hu. He has knowledge in his head the likes of which you have never even dreamt of. We have come here from the future, with knowledge of the Conqueror Ape’s plans. We will stop him, with or without your help.”

Now the dark ruler’s eyes grew narrow with speculation. She gave Benjamin a closer look. “We have heard of this Benjamin Hu through the words of our post-ancestors, speaking to us from beyond time. He has long been a scholar of our works, has he not?”

She turned to the pale male standing silently beside her. He was so motionless he might have been chiseled from crystal. He took a long moment to respond, unused to speaking English, perhaps.

“He can tell us nothing,” he said. “And we dare not risk the Khan’s wrath. We have lost too much to his troops already. End them.”

Amelia snarled, crouched over Benjamin’s inert body, ready to defend it to the death.

But the guards paused, looking to the dark lady as if for confirmation of the order. The whole room sat breathless, poised on the brink of battle. The next words spoken would decide if blood was to be shed.

The dark lady tsked low in her throat. “Zebulon, when did you become so bloodthirsty? That has always been my domain.”

He lifted his chin proudly, eyes glittering. “I am not weak, my sister.”

“I never said such.”

The two rulers locked eyes, engaged in a battle of wills, and Amelia found herself more than a little dumbfounded. Clearly, something was amiss here, but what? If only Benjamin were awake, he would know it instantly. Would solve the mystery with ease. But the mystical detective was out for the count, and it was up to Amelia to intercede before it was too late.

But she didn’t know what to do.

It was maddening.

She had to do something. Anything was better than this passive waiting for others to decide her future.

Amelia straightened from her battle-ready crouch, shook off the grasping hands of the guards, marched straight up to the two rulers, and prepared to give them a piece of her mind. Possibly followed by an up close view of her fist.

The guards, of course, didn’t like this course of action at all, and she heard the reverberating shing of weapons being unsheathed. In moments she would be impaled or lassoed or something of the sort.

There wasn’t much time to act, but her keen eyes had spotted something. A faint greenish glow emanating from the collar of Zebulon’s white robes.

Lightning quick, Amelia reached for his throat. The Atlantean ruler recoiled, but not fast enough to escape her deft hands. Her long fingers closed on the rope of fungus tied around his neck. Yanked it free. Flung it to the ground.

Four Atlantean guards piled atop Amelia, throwing her to the floor. She struggled against them, but to no avail. She found herself pinned. At their mercy.

“Wait,” said Zebulon, his voice strangled.

“Brother?” asked the woman. “Are you quite all right?”

“I feel…as if a cloud has been removed from my mind. How curious…” His voice petered off, wonder evident in its tone. “Let her up, guards. I wish to hear what she has to say about this.”

The guards hauled Amelia to her feet without grace. Keeping a firm grip on her biceps, turned her to face the twin rulers of Atlantis.

Zebulon studied her, his face a touch more animated than it had been just moments ago. “Speak, human,” he said. “What is the meaning of all of this?”

“That necklace is made of the same materials that Gorilla Khan uses to control his dinosaur troops,” replied Amelia. “Where did you get it?”

Zebulon turned horrified eyes upon his sister. “Marelon, is this true? Please tell me she speaks false.”

Marelon shrank before her brother’s gaze. “If it is true, I swear I did not know. Gorilla Khan presented it to me, in an attempt to buy my approval. I accepted it lest he take his displeasure out on our people. But it is too brightly colored for my tastes, so I gave it to you. All as I spoke before.” She glowered at Amelia. “Besides, how do we know that what this human says is true? Perhaps she is lying to save her own skin.”

“If that were true,” said Amelia, “then how do you account for the change in your brother? He has not been himself lately; you observed so yourself.”

Marelon’s beautiful face pursed with thought, and she did not reply.

“While this may be as you speak, we remain at an impasse,” said Zebulon. “We can neither prove nor disprove what you have said to us, and we teeter on the brink of destruction as it is. The ape-men subjugate our people, and most of our population has been killed or enslaved. All our efforts to parley with them in their own language, which we have learned, have to date failed. And even now, they seek to dig their claws deeper into the domed city to such an extent that we may never recover from the occupation. Perhaps you tell the truth, but I cannot spare the time to bring the true facts to light. As regretful as it is, I must consign you back to your cell until such time as we can explore your accusations further.”

“No!”

Amelia jerked free of her restraints and once again made ready to defend herself. She would not go down without a fight. Would not submit. It wasn’t in her nature and never had been.

But then she paused, looking down at Benjamin. What would it mean for him if she attacked? He’d have stood beside her gladly, but could she doom them both to death without giving him a voice in the decision? If he was awake, what would he do?

Logic. He would think his way out.

“Wait,” she said as the guards began to close in on her. Aeron put a hand out, signaling his men to stop. “I know how to clear this up. Wake Benjamin and ask him about the fungus. He can corroborate my story. If I’m lying, he’ll tell you something else. There’s no way he would know what lies I told while he was unconscious, right?”

To her surprise, Marelon leapt in to back her up. Perhaps the ruler was simply desperate to cover her own hide, but Amelia didn’t really care what the reason was so long as the outcome was a positive one.

“This is worth a try, brother,” said Marelon, putting a white hand on Zebulon’s shoulder. “Benjamin Hu may be of some use to us in the resistance. As may be this warrior woman.”

“Amelia Stone, at your service,” said the Centurion, dipping her head.
“I would be very pleased to help free your people if we could clear this up, majesties. I am certain that Benjamin would feel the same as well. Perhaps we can help you determine what Gorilla Khan hoped to gain by gifting you this necklace. That is just the kind of mystery that our detective excels at.”

Zebulon let out a sigh, more fatigued than exasperated. “Very well. I admit I should like very much not to mistrust my own kin, and we can no longer afford pride. We must avail ourselves of any assistance in protecting our subjects. But the effort shall take much out of me. If you will give me a moment, please.”

The ruler of Atlantis knelt in front of Benjamin’s still inert figure. His robes rustled as he settled himself into place, adopting a meditative stance usually associated with remote monasteries and holy men in ceremonial robes. Amelia watched, scarcely daring to move, as Zebulon fell into a deep trance. Then, with a slow and liquid movement, he put his hands to Benjamin’s head.

There were no pyrotechnics. No bursts of magical light or claps of thunder.

Amelia shivered as if a gust of air had just passed through her. Strained to catch a distant, almost-heard whisper. Felt herself pulled toward it, and actually took a step toward Zebulon before Aeron reached out to stop her. This was not the restraining gesture of a guard, but the gentle clasp of friendship, and Amelia did not struggle against it.

She watched with relief as Benjamin Hu’s eyes fluttered once, twice, and then opened.

“Well, isn’t this interesting,” he said with his usual gift of understatement. “And is Amelia here too? Excellent.”

He began to shift his weight, and immediately Zebulon put a supporting hand on his elbow. Benjamin sat up, wobbled a bit, and then steadied. Whether that was due to a rapidly improving constitution or Zebulon’s hand on his elbow was anyone’s guess, but Benjamin smiled regardless.

He said something in Atlantean, which made Zebulon’s eyebrows rise straight up into his hairline. The two exchanged what looked like pleasantries, capped off with a handshake that once again seemed to take the Atlantean ruler aback. Only then did Benjamin turn to her.

“Are you well?” she asked, taking an involuntary step forward despite Aeron’s continued grip on her arm.

“Many thanks, Amelia. I’m quite fine now. Just a bit of a head-ache.”

Amelia opened her mouth to reply, but Marelon leapt in before she could. “Not another word, human. Not until we’ve had a chance to confirm your story.”

Benjamin arched a brow, but took the time to examine the necklace and gamely corroborate her facts about the fungus, even going so far as to add a few details. “I’m quite intrigued to find that the fungus would work on an Atlantean at all given your psychic abilities. I had extensive contact with it, and it did induce a sort of fugue state in me as a human. I was quite unable to control my own actions, although I remained in control of my mental faculties.”

“This was no fugue,” said Zebulon. “I was in full control of my thoughts, yet quite paranoid and uncommonly aggressive.”

“Quite so,” agreed Marelon. “I would theorize that the fungus affects our empathic abilities. Makes us more like…”

“More like the apes, perhaps?” Zebulon supplied. “They’re always trying to prove their dominance. Very aggressive.”

“Interesting…” said Benjamin.

“Well, that’s all very good,” Amelia interjected, “but can we at least agree that this revelation removes Benjamin and me from suspicion? If we were in cahoots with the monkeys, we certainly wouldn’t be helping you figure out what’s up with the necklace.”

The twin rulers of Atlantis exchanged a glance. They seemed almost limp with exhaustion and worry.

Zebulon sighed again. “Perhaps,” he said. “But I am still mistrustful. This is nothing personal, and I beg you not to take it as such. But we are beset on all sides, and hope seems like a luxury we cannot afford.”

“I must sadly agree with my brother,” added Marelon. “We hope you will understand.”

The two fell into another silent conversation of exchanged glances, which was thankfully concluded rapidly. Marelon nodded once, decisively, and turned to the Centurions with an expression of determination. Zebulon just looked regretful.

Amelia’s heart sank. She’d been hoping for an invitation to lunch, but by the looks of things, they weren’t even going to get that.

“We have decided,” said Zebulon, “that we require more proof that you are trustworthy. We appreciate your assistance in freeing me from the influence of the fungus, and we shall devote all of our internal resources to making sure that the rest of our city is free from this odious substance. In the meantime, you shall go off to the fungal fields. Destroy them and return our lost subjects to us. Then we shall gladly call you friend.”

“But if you fail…” said Marelon ominously.

“May we impose upon you for some provisions?” asked Benjamin mildly, as if being thrown out on their heads was a quite agreeable outcome.

Did these twin imbeciles expect them to help out for nothing, as if they were common vagabonds? Amelia could hardly believe it. She opened her mouth to protest, but the mystical detective gave her arm a restraining squeeze before she could so much as peep.

She glowered at him. He ignored it.

“Of course,” said Zebulon. “We will outfit you as well as we can.”

“Terrific,” said Benjamin. “We’d be happy to help.”

“Oh yeah.” Amelia shook free, frowning. “Thrilled.”


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