Fiction Friday: Dinocalypse Forever – Chapter 14

Dinocalypse Forever

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The guards escorted Benjamin and Amelia to the edge of the city. The dome was thin here, a wavering line that hung in the air and sank into the ground without so much as a ripple. It looked like cellophane but was as hard as crystal. Benjamin put a hand to it and smiled in wonder. His obvious delight was almost enough to make Amelia stop being so angry at him. But not quite.

“How do we get through?” she asked, hitching her pack a little higher on her shoulder. It wasn’t heavy. She’d already relieved it of two sandwiches containing an unknown meat and a sweet, hard fleshed fruit that smelled inexplicably floral. The meal had improved her temperament, but not by much.

Aeron cleared his throat awkwardly, still trying to get used to the idea of speaking English. His vocabulary wasn’t bad, but his accent sounded like a Texan with a hangover.

“Here,” he said. He offered them each a headband with a glowing gem set at each temple and gestured for the two Centurions to put them on.

“What do they do?” asked Amelia, curious despite herself. “How do they work?”

Aeron looked a little overwhelmed by all the questions. “Empath,” he said, gesturing to himself. “Not-empath,” he said, gesturing to them.

Amelia arched a brow.

“I think I understand,” said Benjamin. “I’ve been thinking quite a lot about this. I theorize that the dome must respond to psychic orders to let the Atlantean pass through. If one can’t transmit the signal, one can’t pass through the dome or use the road or whathaveyou. The Atlanteans are energy manipulators. Empathy is just the surface of what they can do.”

“Is that right, Aeron?” asked Amelia.

The guard flushed as he worked over what they had said, aided by a few quick words in Atlantean from Benjamin. “Yes,” he said, smiling gratefully.

Amelia carefully placed the band over her head, fluffing out her hair. “Well then, I’ll take care of it.”

Now Aeron looked uncomfortable, and Benjamin interjected quietly, “I doubt they’ll let us keep them, Amelia. We don’t get to waltz in and out of Atlantis just yet. Not until they’re sure they can trust us.”

Mon dieu!” exclaimed Amelia, in a voice that seemed very loud in the quiet. “We haven’t done anything that isn’t trustworthy, and we got clapped in a cell for our trouble. And it’s not like we’ll let the apes in. So why shouldn’t we?”

Benjamin leaned toward her. “Think, Miss Stone. This is a city under siege. Look around. We should see children playing. Laughing. People on the streets. Instead, all is silent. Fearful. I did not agree to bring their prisoners back because they threatened us. I agreed because it’s the right thing to do.” He stretched, removing his arm from his sling. “Also because it appears that Zebulon healed my arm without quite needing to, and that was a kindness given his exhaustion.”

Amelia frowned thoughtfully, shooting a glance at Aeron. The guard looked sad, but she couldn’t tell why. Was he mourning the fate of his city, or did he regret the treatment that his regents had given them? Or was he just unhappy that he couldn’t understand English? Whatever the case, this Atlantean been rather kind to them even if his regents were less than welcoming, and she couldn’t imagine taking her anger out on him. It wouldn’t be right. Or fun. No, she’d save her punches for those who deserved them.

“Very well,” she said. “I still think someone should show them a lesson in manners, but like you said, that doesn’t mean the job isn’t worth doing. Let’s get on with it, then.”

Benjamin gave her an approving squeeze of the arm and stepped toward the force field. Its light glinted off his face, giving it a strange, fey cast. A deep breath. A step. A crackle of energy in the air—

He was through.

It looked easy, but that didn’t lessen the butterflies in Amelia’s stomach as she stepped forward. Checked the clasp of the band around her head. Twice. Tried to quell her nervousness without much luck. It was hard to ignore the fear. Hard to ignore the images she had in her mind of what might happen if her talisman slipped at just the right (wrong?) moment. Would she evaporate entirely? Be cloven in two? None of the possibilities were pretty.

Aeron stepped up next to her and took her hand. His was dry and long-fingered, wrapping completely closed over hers. Surprised, she looked at him, half-expecting to find some kind of leer or smirk, something that said he looked down on her for her weakness and was just trying to move things along so he could get back to his drinking and carousing or whatever Atlantean men did to pass the time. Maybe they went dinosaur tipping. Anything was possible.

But she saw none of those things. Instead, she felt the same camaraderie she felt when going shoulder to shoulder with a Centurion. The feeling that no matter what came for them, they would stand for each other. Not back down. Never give up. There was a certain feeling of instant recognition and security from the moment she met a new member of the Century Club. They might not know each other. They might not even like each other. But if the call came, they would stand side by side, and they would not back down. Together.

The hair on her arms stood on end—

Could Aeron be a Centurion? Did he possess that spark that drove them to serve? To protect? To fight? She nearly blurted out the question—when is your birthday?—but then he tugged her forward and they were passing through the force field.

An electric tingle spread through her as she stepped into it. But she emerged safely enough on the other side. Released Aeron’s hand with a hint of embarrassment. Watched as the rest of the guards stepped through the erratic shimmer like it was a walk in the park.

She took the headgear off and offered it to Aeron. “Here,” she said. “Thanks.”

He took it with an easy grin. “Welcome,” he said. The words came slow and halting, but she appreciated the effort. “Leave now?”

She flicked a glance at Benjamin, who nodded almost imperceptibly. The mystical detective was already turning his attention to the jungle beyond, already calculating and planning. That was fine. Let him plan for the future. Amelia would deal with the here and now.

“Yes,” she said. Then she impulsively added, “You should come with us.”

He wrinkled his brow. Confusion and uncertainty warred for space on his face.

“You want to fight. You want to make this better. Here is your opportunity. Come with us and save your people instead of hiding behind the force field and hoping for a resolution. Be a part of the solution. We could use you, you know that.”

His eyes lit up as he considered this, but then they quickly fell. He glanced over his shoulder as if his rulers might be hovering there in their ceremonial robes. “Zebulon and Marelon…do not like it.”

Amelia snorted. “Maybe not. But they’ll like it just fine when you return with your kinsmen. And with your help, we have more of a chance of making that happen.”

Aeron thought for a moment more and then gave a swift nod. He communicated his intentions to the other guards with admirable swiftness. Shock dawned on their faces, and they stood for a moment as if expecting him to change his mind. When he didn’t, they retreated back through the force field without him and fell into an easy parade rest, standing guard on the other side.

“They will wait for our return. Allow us back through the dome,” said Aeron, through Benjamin’s translation. “Also, they think I have lost my mind.”

“Join the club,” said Benjamin.

They all cracked up.

* * *

Aeron quickly led them to the locations where the prisoners had been taken—Atlantean gardens and mines on the eastern side of the dome where much of the city’s resources were harvested.

Now they stood unattended. Wild. Overgrown. They looked as if they’d been abandoned for years, even though it must have only been a matter of weeks.

The jungle quickly reclaimed its ground.

“Ah, yes,” murmured Benjamin, his face stuck in a piece of paper. He’d been sketching what looked like a rudimentary map as they walked, pausing occasionally to peer about, then scribbling madly for a moment. Once, he’d even shimmied up a tree for a better vantage point. Whatever he was doing, the satisfied look on his face suggested it was paying off.

“Well?” asked Amelia. “Are you going to enlighten us, or do we have to beg?”

Benjamin chuckled. “My apologies, Miss Stone. I have merely deduced the likely location of the prisoners.”

“Oh, that’s all?” she said, folding her arms and pretending to be unimpressed. “Well, out with it already.”

“The prisoners are, in all likelihood, being held in that direction, no more than two klicks away. We are probably looking for a shady, sheltered area with a deep tree canopy. I’d expect it to be lowland rather than up on a hill. There will be water nearby—a river or a pond, I’d imagine.”

“River?” Aeron perked up. He pointed off into the tree line. “River.” He nodded emphatically. Added a few words in Atlantean.

“Delightful. He says it’s not far away, and well within my estimated range.” Benjamin clapped his hands, the sound loud and jarring in the jungle silence. “Let’s go.”

* * *

“You speak English rather well considering that it won’t be spoken for about a bajillion years,” Amelia observed to Aeron as they walked toward the distant sound of rushing water.

The Atlantean shrugged, speaking quickly to Benjamin. The mystical detective translated with ease. “Aeron was born into the scholar class. He learned four languages by the time he was out of small pants. But they didn’t come naturally to him. Then he says he grew overlarge and began to show aggressive tendencies not much prized in the library. He wasn’t content with theorizing the solutions. He wanted to act, to do things with his hands, and bring the solutions to fruition. So he abdicated his home and family and went to train with the town guard.”

“That must have been tough,” mused Amelia. “But still, I don’t quite understand. How did you learn modern day English? I don’t imagine many people speak it here unless they’ve come back through time. There aren’t any handy time portals around here, are there?”

She was only half-joking. And more than a little disappointed when he let out a quiet chuckle and spoke rapidly to Benjamin, who sighed before he said, “Get this: he learned it from his post-ancestors.”

“I don’t understand.”

Benjamin translated: “While the Atlanteans lack the ability to open a portal and travel through time, they are able to communicate across the continuum. They can speak to the ancestors of the past and their post-ancestors of the future. It was through his many times great granddaughter that he learned English. He learned it—as did Marelon and Zebulon—hoping to parley with the apes. A vain attempt. He also speaks Sumerian, Martian, and Mikluk, although he’s better at reading than conversing.”

“Mikluk? What’s that?”

“Beyond your time,” Benjamin answered without even bothering to ask. “I wouldn’t worry about it. Besides, it’s a great deal of hocking and spitting. Not the most attractive language to speak.”

Amelia chuckled. “Well, we wouldn’t want me speaking an unattractive language.”

“Of course we wouldn’t,” Benjamin said with a grin. “Now, if we’re done chatting,” he said, not unkindly, “perhaps one of you would care to help me climb down this slope? I believe our river should be at the bottom, should it not?”

“Oh, yes,” Aeron flushed. “Right down there.”

“Terrific. Then you can go back to the banter. I can continue to translate if you like, although I think you should try speaking English, Aeron. You’re better at it than you realize.”

Benjamin grinned, tipping his hat to them. Amelia resisted the urge to knock that hat off his head. Barely.

Still, she might have actually done it if she hadn’t spied a figure crumpled at the bottom of the slope and half obscured by leaves.

Her stomach lurched—

She pointed wordlessly—

Benjamin let out an oath that belonged in the mouth of a barroom brawler and took off down the slope at a dead run. Branches and bracken crunched beneath his feet.

Aeron and Amelia followed. Within a few steps, the gangly Atlantean easily overtook the detective, his long loping strides leaping fallen timber in various stages of decay. He knelt beside the still, sodden figure. Turned it over—

“Jet!” Amelia gasped, worried and breathless.

“Is he breathing?” asked Benjamin.

Aeron bent over the pale face, turned his ear to blue lips. Shook his head, face mournful.

Amelia moaned. Began praying in rapid-fire French. Then paused—

“Can you heal him as Zebulon did?” she demanded.

The Atlantean shook his head, his expression unchanging. “No. No energy healing. No…” He spread his hands helplessly. “No skill.”

“Let me at him,” said Benjamin, shoving Aeron away. With practiced movements, he pressed the distended stomach. Pushed and released until water flowed from the open mouth. Wrung out the flying ace like a damp dishtowel. Listened for breath—

“Damn,” he said, looking up at Aeron. “Is he still in there?”

Aeron blinked, as if he’d forgotten all his psychic powers after a short time in the presence of humans. Composed his face. Stared hard at the inert body of Jet Black.

“Yes,” he said. Then added a string of Atlantean that Amelia strained—but failed—to understand.

Benjamin nodded. Gave the map to Amelia. “His soul is hanging by a thread. I think I can—” He shook his head. “I’m going in after him. You’ll need this if I don’t come back.”

“But how—?” she asked, taking the map with numb hands.

He pulled Zebulon’s necklace out of his pocket. She didn’t remember seeing him grab it when they were in the throne room. Before she could so much as protest, he put his head to Jet’s. Wrapped the necklace around them both.

Closed his eyes—

As Amelia watched, Benjamin’s face went pale. His eyelids fluttered.

His face went slack.

She spared a glance for Aeron and was not reassured by his expression. He looked like a man in attendance upon a deathbed.

She couldn’t stand there and do nothing while her companions died.

Amelia Stone leaned over and whispered fiercely in Jet’s face: “We need you. Sally needs you. If you love her, you’ll come back right now and get to work. Otherwise, you’ve seen where she ends up. Now open your eyes before I pop you one!”

Miraculously, his eyes fluttered. Opened.

He coughed right in her face, spraying her with spittle.

“Ugh,” she said, unable to keep from grinning as Benjamin also began to stir.

Jet tried to sit up. Couldn’t. Reached up to the glowing fungus tethering him to the mystical detective.

“Do I want to ask?” he said weakly.

“Probably not,” Amelia answered. “I’m glad you’re back.”

“Tell me about it,” he said. “Now, what were you saying about Sally?”

“Never mind,” she said. “Let’s get you boys unleashed and get to work.”

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