Fiction Friday: Dinocalypse Forever – Chapter 17

Dinocalypse Forever

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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

“I’ve done it!”

Sally Slick burst into the main room of their makeshift chapter house—a room about the size of a horse stall at her childhood farm—and found it was already occupied by a couple of people. Namely Mack and some redhead. Sally didn’t like that redhead—Shepersky was her name—but she wasn’t about to say so. Especially not now. Shepersky was sharpening a knife, and she wore an aura of danger like a cloak even without a blade in her hand.

She didn’t pause, either, when the overalled figure busted in.

Shick. Shick. Shick.

At least Mack reacted. At least he understood what was at stake here. His face split in a toothy grin, and he clapped his hands together. As if relishing the return of their friends. Assuming without question that she could do it. In that moment, he looked more alive, more awake than he had since she’d found him injured. Splinted his leg. Tried to pretend that everything was going to be okay.

But now she wasn’t pretending. Now she could look at his grimy, stubbled face. At his mangled leg. Now she could say that everything was going to be okay, because Sally Slick was going to bring their fellow Centurions home, and they were going to stick it to those overgrown lizards.

“Right-o, captain,” said Mack smartly. “So when do we bring them back? I’m thinking that Flyboy could talk you into our airfield raid if anybody can. You always listened to him.”

His grin turned rueful, but Sally was too high on inventing to care. Ever since she’d accidentally sent the others hurtling through time, she’d been worried that maybe she didn’t have what it took to be a Centurion. After all, inventions were her thing, and if she failed at those, what did she bring to the table? How could she possibly say that she belonged there?

But now, she’d solved the problem. Reconstructed a miniature portal right there in that tiny postage stamp of a workshop. It would only allow one person through at a time, but that wouldn’t matter. It wasn’t like she was trying to import an entire army of psychosaurs. Just a handful of very important heroes.

If necessary, just Jet.

“I’m ready to turn it on,” she said. “Now. There’s not much room, but I wondered if anyone would like to come and watch.”

“Sure. You coming, Shepersky?”

Mack unfolded himself from the dingy chair he’d been occupying. Leaned on his walking stick. Grunted once as weight settled on his broken leg. Sally knew how much it was hurting him, even though he tried not to show it. Even though he still insisted that he could, in his words, “sock it to those overgrown snakes with legs.”

Many of the others seemed to share his optimism despite the evidence that the fight was futile. Shepersky, for example. She reminded Sally a lot of Amelia Stone—more suited for action than for waiting. Ready to solve a problem with fists and blades, even if that wasn’t what was called for. They all knew what was happening on the surface—they’d all seen the hordes of psychosaurs roaming the streets. Heard the crash of buildings being torn down. Saw the wretched lines of human slaves trudging down the street with sacks on their backs. One had fallen right outside the hidden entrance to the bomb shelter. Dead. An old man, grey and balding, dressed in a business suit, his tie long gone. The sack contained what looked like seeds. Completely inedible. Rancid smelling.

Weird.

Sally was of the firm opinion that leaving the bomb shelter before they had a solid plan, before they were at full strength, would be suicide. A raid on the airfield wasn’t such a bad idea, but then what? The moment they were spotted—in a plane or out of it—the psychosaurs would crush their minds. They needed the combined knowledge of Benjamin Hu and Professor Khan. They needed the fists of Amelia Stone. They needed the can-do optimism of Jet Black. That most of all.

They needed hope.

Sally was sure that if Jet was here, she wouldn’t feel so uncertain. It wouldn’t have taken her so long to build this portal. He always knew what to say, how to keep her moving. How to build her up. With Jet, she felt safe. At home.

Mack did his best, of course, but he was a firm reminder of everything she’d ever done wrong. Everything she wanted to forget. Everything that made her question. Usually loudly.

But she was certain that as soon as she brought back the others, it would all go back to normal. It had to.

“Come on,” she said. “The portal’s back here, and I’m itching to start it up.”

She led the way back to the workshop, weaving around bits of junk and boxes of supplies. They’d had to scrounge to set up the base; still had to. It was a dangerous job, going aboveground for supplies. One of their scavengers, Wills, left four days ago and hadn’t come back. He must have died, because otherwise, the psychosaurs would have scraped the location of the base out of his head, and they’d already be goners. It was a sad thing, to be relieved that someone had died.

The portal sat in her workshop, right next to her pallet on the floor and a small pile of clothes she’d just washed. A pair of her underthings sat out, right in plain sight. Mack waggled his eyebrows obscenely. Shepersky snorted. Sally toed them under the pallet and tried to pretend her cheeks weren’t flaming.

“So, here’s the portal,” she said, gesturing.

Shepersky gave the contraption on the ground a skeptical once-over, wrinkling her nose. It didn’t look like much—a ring etched into the stone, wires set into it at careful geometric intervals. A small handheld control box jury-rigged out of a transistor radio, wires popping out the back. Sally had to admit that it looked like something a schoolboy might create with a Young Scientists Radio Kit.

Actually, one or two of the parts might have come from one of those.

But this invention was so much more than it first appeared. The circle was built from the shattered remains of the portal stones, each piece meticulously weighted and placed to form a perfect circle. The wires were a Sally Slick special. Put some electricity through them and nothing would happen; they were built to conduct and focus the quantum energies of the time space continuum.

In short, it was more than it seemed. It didn’t seem like much. Shepersky’s face screwed up into a moue of disappointment.

“That’s it?” she asked.

“Yes,” Sally said, keeping her temper with effort. “That’s the whole shebang. I don’t exactly have a full workshop to work with here. I had to jury rig the whole thing from scratch. Do you think you could do better?”

Shepersky looked like she was itching for a good old fashioned cat fight, but a glance from Mack got her to stand down. She put her hands up. “Not me. No offense meant. I don’t know much about this invention stuff. But I can throw blades like no one else’s business.”

“I bet,” said Sally in neutral tones. “Now you two stand over here. I’m going to fire this baby up and see what she’s got.”

With a flourish, Sally pushed the big red button on the control panel. The wires began to let out a low, grating hum that made Mack clap his hands to his ears with an oath not exactly suitable for polite company. Sally squinted, looking for the first tell-tale shimmer of a hole in the fabric of reality. Hoping against hope that it would work.

The wires began to rattle. The whole contraption quaked and seemed about to fall apart at any moment.

She turned a dial, adjusted the feed…

Willed it to work.

The circle embedded in the rock started to glow. The air above it cracked, emitting swirls of light unfettered by time or gravity. She could see it peeking through.

The void.

She’d done it.

But all she allowed herself was one whoop. One clenched fist. Then it was back to work, trying to track down the signature of the other Centurions’ passing, trying to pinpoint their exact location in all the times that ever were or ever would be.

But the cracked green readout screen on her control device was blank. The signal wasn’t strong enough.

She couldn’t find them.

Desperately, she twisted all the knobs. Cranked the machine up as high as it would go, eliciting a pained whine from the overtaxed wires. One of the sturdy granite stones of the floor cracked under the strain.

“Turn it off, Slick!” shouted Mack through gritted teeth. “My eardrums are going to burst plum out of my head!”

“I have to bring them back, Mack!” she yelled back. “I can’t give up on them. I won’t!”

One of the wires popped free, and the portal went wild, colors bursting past Sally’s head with such force that it whipped her hair back. Acting purely on instinct, she flipped the failsafe, powering down before any more damage could be done to delicate, irreplaceable parts. As if that mattered.

She couldn’t find them.

They were gone.

Sally Slick sat down on the floor next to her failed invention, put her face in her hands, and began to cry.

Mack said something to Shepersky, something in low tones not meant for her ears. Normally, she would have strained to hear it. Glowered with jealousy. There was something unresolved between her and Mack, after all, and to go chasing after anybody else while that was still hanging between them was just wrong.

But that was how Mack was, wasn’t it? It was what he did. Part of what he was made of. Mack explored. Mack conquered.

Maybe it was wrong of her to expect something else. Just like she’d been wrong about the portal. And…everything.

Shepersky clucked her tongue once, murmured something to Mack, and then left. By this time, Sally’s sobs had trailed to hitching breaths and unattractive sniffles. But she still didn’t look up, because she didn’t want to see the pity on the former aviator’s face. It wasn’t really worth it anyway. Staying on this floor was pretty much what she was good for at this point. There wasn’t any other use for her.

“Hey, kid,” Mack said. It took a while for him to get down onto the floor, what with his bum leg and all. Sally blamed herself for that too. It occurred to her that she was being a bit childish, but she couldn’t stop herself. Some kind of hero she was.

“Go away,” she said.

“Yeah, that’s gonna happen.” She expected him to launch right into one of those annoying pep talks, the kind that doesn’t really have any basis in reality because what the person is promising you clearly isn’t true. And never will be either. It was a Mack kind of thing—he never knew how to accept defeat. Before all of this had happened, that trait had been…well, maddening and alluring at the same time. But in this postapocalyptic psychosaur world, it felt useless. Ridiculous.

Just like she was.

But Mack didn’t do that. Maybe this world was changing him too, because all he did was sling an arm over her shoulder. Then he just sat there. No ridiculous plans. No empty promises. Not even a lewd joke. He just sat there, calm and steady. Like a rock she could stand on. Someone dependable.

She wiped her tears away with the back of a hand. Looked down at the grime on her arms. After almost a week of non-stop work, hiding underground, she must look a mess. And smell it too. But he didn’t seem to mind. He rubbed the cap of her shoulder. Smiled at her.

“Seems pretty overwhelming, doesn’t it, Slick?” he said, a sad smile the likes of which she’d never seen on his face before. “But we’ll figure it out if we stick together. It’s a bum rap, that portal not working. I’m plumb amazed you got anything to work down here in this god-forsaken bunker.”

“Yeah, well, it didn’t work well enough.”

“So you’ll try again.”

“What…” Her voice failed her, and it took her a moment to find it again. “What if I can’t do it?”

“Then those lazybones will just have to find their own way back to us,” declared Mack. “They can’t expect Sally Slick to pull their behinds out of the fire every single time, can they? Otherwise they don’t deserve to stand with you. Don’t take all of this on yourself, okay, sweetness?”

“Don’t call me that,” she said automatically. Then she kissed him.

It was the kind of kiss that reminds you that you’re alive, long and sweet, and they fell back onto Sally’s pallet. It felt like things were right again. Like she was waking up from a bad dream in which everything had turned out wrong despite the fact that she knew in her bones how the story would end.

She’d known it so well that she took it for granted.

But not anymore.

“Jet…” she murmured.

Mack pulled back from her, his eyes wide. Hurt, a little, but mostly surprised. Amused. After a moment, he threw his head back and laughed so hard he started coughing. She had to thump him on the back.

“You know, Slick?” he finally managed to spit out. “I’ve called a lot of women by a lot of names, but you’re the first one to turn the tables on me.”

She blinked. Smacked herself on the forehead. “I’m sorry, Mack. I don’t know what came over me.”

He fixed her with an exasperated stare. “Come on now. Of course you do. And I can’t say that I’m not sad, because you’re a fine woman. But that’s the problem, isn’t it? You’re not the kind of woman you leave behind the next morning when you set off for lands uncharted, and that’s the kind of man I am. I might want you, and you might want me some too, but neither of us is what the other one needs.”

“But…” Now that he was pulling away, she found herself wanting to fight for him. “You’re here. I’m here. What’s wrong with giving things a try?”

“I’ll tell you what,” he said. “Let’s cool our jets for a few days. Get it? Jets?” He grinned. “If you still want me then, you come to me and we’ll see where this goes. But if you don’t, we go back to the way things were. No harm, no foul. Friends, see? But take some time first. Make sure that I’m the one you want. Make sure…I’m not just a replacement. Right?”

She hung her head. “Right. You really are the best, Mack.”

“That’s what she said,” said Mack, chucking her on the shoulder. “Now help me up. Dang blasted leg is all frozen stiff after rolling around on the floor. Could ya make this makeshift bed any less comfortable, do you think?”

“Probably,” she said, smirking. “Do you want me to try?”

“See, that’s the problem around here. You don’t give me the respect I deserve, Slick. You didn’t even offer me a cuppa or the paper when I came in. Is that any way to treat a man?”

“I’ll show you how I treat a man,” said Sally, balling her fist up and grinning. Now they were back on comfortable footing. She’d forgotten how fun it was to bicker all the time instead of that awkward purgatory they’d been in for so long. “I’ll show you right in the kisser.”

“No need for that, ma’am,” he said, backing up with a smirk. “I’ll just show myself out and let you get back to work.”

“You do that.”

Mack stumped out, and Sally picked up her wrench. A familiar weight fell back into its spot at the pit of her stomach, but she ignored it as best she could. She was going to solve this problem, and she was going to bring them all home if it killed her.


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