Fiction Friday: Dinocalypse Forever – Chapters 15 & 16

Dinocalypse Forever

It’s Fiction Friday!

Our current novel is DINOCALYPSE FOREVER by our very own Carrie Harris. We’ll be posting a new installment every Friday until you’ve got the whole book — but if you’re feeling impatient, use the FICTIONFRIDAY coupon code when checking out on our online store to get our fiction titles at 25% OFF.

Interested in catching up? Dinocalypse Forever starts here, and you can find all our Fiction Friday posts using this tag.


CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Chirrang, captain of Gorilla Khan’s forces, former right hand to the Conqueror Ape, could not believe what he was seeing.

When Jochi went to his knee in front of the Mighty Khan, Chirrang expected the upstart to have his head struck from his shoulders. Jochi was so clearly trying to manipulate Khan, and Khan was smart enough to see that. He was smart enough to escape his maker—Doctor Methuselah—and retreat to the wilds of prehistory. Smart enough to plan the perfect invasion without the help of magic. With nothing but his wits.

He would not fall for the sweet words of an ape clearly trying to worm his way into his good graces.

But he did.

Gorilla Khan clapped Jochi on the shoulder. Took his hand. Raised him to his feet.

Turned away from Chirrang as if he’d forgotten his most loyal subject.

“Come, young Jochi,” said Gorilla Khan. “Let us retire to my command center. Have a bit of a meal, and then I shall show you my battle plans. You should take charge of some of my forces. Have you ever flown before? Perhaps you can lead the aerial troops.”

Jochi looked rather gobsmacked. Chirrang could empathize.

The impostor struggled for words, but finally came out with, “No, sire. But I am willing to learn if that is what you wish me to do.”

“Exactly!” boomed Gorilla Khan. “Whatever I say, you do. That’s exactly right. I trust you as I have no other before. As I was telling Chirrang, you are the son I should have had. You should have been Son-of-Khan,” the great ape said, clapping Jochi on the shoulder.

Chirrang, watching closely, caught Jochi’s blanch. Echoed it himself. The Great Khan, lost in his own oratory, did not.

This was a travesty. Chirrang had to stop it. Had to prove his worth. And suddenly, he saw his opportunity—

“Look!” he exclaimed. “In the sky. A spy, sire.”

He pointed. Silhouetted against the sun was the figure of an undergrown Pterosaur, all long spindly wings and narrow beak. Clutched in its claws was a figure. Humanoid or Atlantean? It was difficult to tell at this distance with the light in his eyes. But regardless, that figure could only be up to no good. He would bring them down. He would show Khan his worth.

Chirrang snatched a spear from the hands of a startled guard and flung it into the air.

It whizzed up into the sky—

He held his breath in anticipation—

It missed.

The Great Khan snorted. Cuffed him upside the head. Sent him reeling.

“Fire, you fools!” he exclaimed. “Don’t let the foul sneak escape!”

The guards wasted no time, chucking their spears into the air with wild swings. The air filled with weaponry. The Professor watched, stricken, until he felt Chirrang’s suspicious eyes upon him. Then, reluctantly, he yanked a spear out of the hands of a nearby ape. Threw it wildly. Missed, thank the heavens. But the relief was short lived. As the Pterosaur darted and twisted, one of the missiles finally found its mark. They watched as the creature tumbled to the distant firmament.

“Perhaps we should seek it out,” mumbled Gorilla Khan. “Make sure it’s dead—”

“I will, sire,” offered Chirrang, but once again his words went unheard.

“—but it probably isn’t worth the bother,” continued the leader of the ape hordes. “The spy is certainly dead by now, yes?”

“Of course,” said Jochi with an eagerness he didn’t quite manage to suppress. “Your troops are unmatched in this time and place. In any time and place. Even if it did survive the fall, it would not survive long.”

Gorilla Khan gave a mighty grin of satisfaction. “And the world will soon know the truth of that statement, young Jochi. Come!” continued the Conqueror Ape. “Let us go!”

Chirrang watched his master’s retreating back. If only the Conqueror Ape would turn and call for him, Chirrang would gladly follow. Take the opportunity to prove his loyalty as he had done every day in the Conqueror Ape’s service. Unmask young Jochi once and for all as the traitor he surely was.

But Gorilla Khan seemed to have forgotten him entirely.

So he stood there as the two gorillas left the fungal fields. Bared his teeth at any guard who dared come too close. Debated taking his anger out on one of the Atlantean slaves as the weak, hairless thing staggered past. But even that was denied to him. Even that would be construed as an attack on the Great Khan, when all Chirrang had ever offered was loyalty.

And Khan had never seen it.

Never truly saw him.

Never cared.

That above all was the worst thing. Of course Chirrang had enjoyed his status. Enjoyed the respect that came with it. But it was Gorilla Khan’s respect that meant the most. That made him walk tall. The most powerful ape in the world trusted his judgment. Left things in his capable hands. He was the one who took all the grandiose plans and made them reality. Took care of the things that no one else wanted to deal with, but upon which the backbone of the invasion rested. He made them possible. That was something to be proud of.

But no longer.

He stood there as the shadows grew and stretched over the fungal fields. One of the slaves fell and did not get up again. But Chirrang did not move. Did not speak.

He was too busy plotting his next steps. Warring with himself. Vengeance was not in his nature, not normally, but these new developments had shaken him to the core. He would prove his worth to the Great Khan and then see what happened next. Decide whether or not to return to his side, or to seek out another master. One that would value him as he deserved.

And when he spotted the hairless, spying faces in the underbrush, he saw his chance.

* * *

It was easy to sneak up on the heroes. For the first time, Chirrang was happy he’d removed his armor, because its clanking and clinking did not betray him to them. Then he was atop them and it was too late.

He dropped among them in silence.

There were three familiar Centurions. The dark skinned female pugilist. The mystical detective in his sweat-stained hat. The sunburnt flyboy. And with them an Atlantean, tall and willowy, who raised his hand to strike, anger clear on his face.

Chirrang sidestepped. Hissed.

“Wait,” he said, holding up his hands in a gesture of peace. “I have come to help you.”

They froze, confusion on their faces. The identical expressions were comical, but Chirrang was in no mood for laughing. He was still reeling with the sting of rejection.

“Come again?” asked the detective, looking completely flummoxed.

“If I wanted to hurt you, I’d have signaled the guards. Yes?” Chirrang explained patiently.

“I suppose.” The woman looked skeptical. “What do you want?”

Chirrang bared his teeth in a maniacal grin. “I want to topple Gorilla Khan. Shall we free these slaves for starters? He’s depending on this harvest in more ways than you know.”

“Oh, we know all right,” said the detective. Benjamin was his name. A silly name, if you asked Chirrang.

But of course he didn’t say that. Instead, he said, “Follow me. We strike fast and hard, or they will call for reinforcements.”

He leapt out of the trees onto the shoulders of one of the guards, snatching his opponent’s spear with a feral snarl. Cracked the shaft over the chimp’s head. Reversed the weapon in a swift whirling motion to knock the inert body from his path.

The others weren’t far behind him. The woman flung herself onto another guard, fists flying in a lightning storm of strikes. Legs whipping out with lightning speed. Teeth bared in a feral grin.

The detective was more cautious, snagging a downed spear from the ground and wielding it like a rapier, darting out of the strikes of his opponent with liquid grace. Harrying him with feints and jabs. When an orangutan attempted to flank him, the flyboy leapt onto the animal’s back with little heed for his own safety, snatching great handfuls of orange hair and riding the primate like a bronco bull.

But the Atlantean was the biggest surprise. Chirrang had fought them before, on the first slave run at the side of Gorilla Khan himself. The Atlanteans fought as if battle had rules, seemed surprised when their opponents did not engage one on one or attacked from behind. And the slightest show of dominance sent them to their bellies, unable to deal with the waves of aggression thrown at them. But this Atlantean did not yield so easily. He went red with battle rage, shouting a challenge. One of the chimps swung at him.

The Atlantean caught the punch—

Threw the chimp backwards into the trees—

Crash!

Without wasting a moment, the Atlantean went on to his next opponent, his face filled with the wild glee of combat.

Chirrang gave a savage bellow. This was what he wanted. Gorilla Khan would see the results of his rejection. He would know his mistake. He would regret. Never again would he take Chirrang, captain of his guard, for granted.

He spotted one of the guards fleeing for help. That wouldn’t do. Chirrang took to the trees, leaving the fight in what he now knew were the capable hands of the heroes. Arm over arm he went, grasping glowing green tendrils of mucosal growth and using them to rocket his squat body across the field. A spear flew past his face, but it did not bring him pause. His world had narrowed.

It was only him and his prey.

He would not be outrun.

Then his hands slipped on the slimy mucal surface of the fungus. He toppled from his high place. Scrambled madly in midair. Twisted. Slung out one long arm—

Grabbed the fleeing guard by an ankle.

They slammed to the ground and lay stunned for the briefest of moments. Then Chirrang clamored atop the still recovering guard. Beat the consciousness out of his head. Gave him an extra shake or two. Dropped him. Left him behind.

Scanned the field.

Nothing but cowering slaves, unconscious guards, and triumphant heroes.

Chirrang raised his arms over his head and let out a howl of triumph.

Jochi couldn’t have accomplished this. He would have been too busy licking the bottom of Gorilla Khan’s feet. As Chirrang had done all those years.

Perhaps it was time for a change.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Following his hated enemy about like a devoted lickspittle, Professor Khan grew increasingly uncomfortable. Was this the rest of his life? Was he doomed to forever kiss the bottom of Gorilla Khan’s feet, hoping against hope to protect his true identity? He didn’t want to believe this was his destined fate, but it was no more than he deserved.

After all, he’d thrown a spear at Jet Black, by god! And then he’d sat idly by while his former companion toppled from the sky. He should have stopped them from throwing those spears, but he’d been so afraid of being caught, so focused on freeing the slaves. And now look at him.

Number of slaves freed: Zero.

Number of friends abandoned and left to die: One.

He didn’t deserve to live. Or maybe he deserved nothing more than this hidden existence at Gorilla Khan’s right hand. What was it his father had said?

You were the son I should have had.

Maybe this was truer than the Professor wanted to believe. Maybe Gorilla Khan was right. Maybe he’d been trying to fool himself all along. Maybe he was indeed Son-of-Khan despite his every effort to deny his heritage. Maybe this was where he truly belonged.

* * *

By the time dinner was over, the Professor was well and truly conflicted. Gorilla Khan was being…well, not nice, because that wasn’t in his nature…but he kept expressing his approval of Jochi. Gave him advice. Talked over his military plans and actually explained the logic behind them instead of merely posturing and bragging. Asked Jochi some questions about what he wanted to do, what kind of command he wanted to have.

To his shock, the Professor found himself enjoying the time with his sire. He began wondering if maybe he’d been wrong. If maybe Gorilla Khan was misunderstood. If maybe once he was removed from the poisonous influence of Doctor Methuselah he might not be that evil after all.

He popped a slice of gelid pink fruit into his mouth, munched thoughtfully. Looked over the map spread out on the table. Wondered what to do. Should he talk to his father? Confess? See if they could work together for the first time in his existence? Together, they could defeat Methuselah, wipe his scourge from the world forever. It was a tempting thought, and the Professor began to carefully construct his argument in his head. It would not do to offend his father. This situation must be approached carefully, lest Gorilla Khan feel insulted. Duped.

Angry.

But Professor Khan knew how to sway an audience. If he could interest a crowd of restless undergraduates in ancient Crimean history, he could certainly sway one ape who had shown time and again that he was inclined to listen to his son.

Perhaps the Professor could even claim that title for the first time.

Son-of-Khan. I am Son-of-Khan.

It was a heady thought, one that he was careful not to show on his face. This was a delicate operation, after all, and it would not to do take the steps out of order. First, he must turn the conversation to his real self. Get the Conqueror Ape to open up to him in the guise of Jochi. Deepen the connection that he could feel growing between them, despite his every effort to fight against it.

“You mentioned a son,” he said, knuckling back to the buffet and helping himself to another piece of that pink fruit. Juice dribbled down his chin. “Should he not be here now, preparing to rule at your side?”

“He is a buffoon,” snarled Gorilla Khan. “A disgrace. A waste of my time. I regret you were not mine, Jochi. It is only right that I should have sired one such as you. I cannot believe that sniveling creature bears my genes.”

The Professor choked on the unidentified fruit. It lodged in his throat, refusing to budge. He gasped for air, clawed at his useless windpipe. Coughed weakly, but to no avail.

He was going to die without ever knowing the etiology of the fruit that led to his demise.

How humiliating.

Gorilla Khan thumped him on the back with a fist the size of a canned ham.

Whack!

A piece of fruit the size of the Professor’s fist—also canned-ham approximate—went sailing across the room. Splatted on the wall. Left a slime trail as it slid to the floor.

“You could use some better table manners though, eh?” boomed Gorilla Khan. He laughed uproariously and upended a bowl of nuts into his mouth in one fell swoop.

Apparently, table manners weren’t very high on his list of priorities.

The Professor hovered there. Torn between thanking his sire for saving his life and hiding under the desk and having himself a good cry. Tears might be a sign of weakness, but given the circumstances, he thought it was a quite reasonable course of action. It felt as if his heart had been ripped from his chest.

He should have known better than to hope, but he’d done it anyway.

Gorilla Khan crunched away on his bowl of nuts, apparently unaware of the existential crisis currently underway in his protégé.

The door swung open.

“Chirrang!” said Gorilla Khan, turning to face the newcomer. But it wasn’t Chirrang. This was a younger advisor, one that the Professor had always seen hovering in the background, never speaking. Now he looked terrified. His knees trembled. The whites of his eyes were wide and bright in his face.

“He…” The ape gulped. “Chirrang is gone, oh Great and Mighty Khan.” Then he prostrated himself on the floor before his leader.

“Gone? Well, go and get him then.”

The young ape seemed to be trying to sink through the floor. He hunched his shoulders as if awaiting a blow and said, “No, sire. He has left. With…with…”

“Well? Spit it out, man!” demanded Gorilla Khan.

“We just received word,” said the young ape, voice trembling. “Chirrang…subdued the guards. Freed all the slaves from the fungal fields and took most of the harvest with him. They’re…they’re gone, sir.”

The Professor wasn’t sure whether to celebrate. On the surface, this seemed like a positive development, but he had seen the look of abject jealousy on Chirrang’s face. A jealousy that—he was fairly sure—was aimed at him. What did the captain have up his sleeve? Professor Khan wasn’t sure. And he himself felt a surge of jealousy that his enemy had managed to succeed in doing good where he could not.

The world had gone belly up, and he couldn’t keep track.

One thing he felt fairly sure of, however, was that this young ape was very unfortunate to be the bearer of bad news. He quickly began to think up distraction techniques, hoping to save the young officer from the Conqueror Ape’s wrath.

But Gorilla Khan surprised him once again. Laughed uproariously.

“He did all that by himself? How many guards were stationed there? Fifteen? Twenty?” The Conqueror Ape rubbed his massive chin. “Impressive, Chirrang. Very impressive. Quite a nice way to get my attention. I imagine he’ll be here within moments, returning my things to me. Chirrang has always been loyal to a fault.”

“Sir…?” asked the officer, hope dawning in his eyes. A hope that he might just survive this day yet. “He wasn’t alone.”

“No?” Gorilla Khan tilted his head quizzically. “How so?”

“A few of the guards are able to talk, sir.” Now that he hadn’t been pummeled, the officer’s voice was gaining in strength and confidence. “They report that they were attacked by a group of five. Chirrang. An Atlantean. A dark skinned human woman. A human man of Asian descent. And a human man with a youthful face and a sunburn. When the guards awoke, all of them were gone, along with the slaves.”

Now Gorilla Khan’s face darkened. His hands clenched into fists, his chest heaved with quick, angry breath.

“What?” he thundered. “Describe them again.”

Professor Khan listened with dawning hope even as Gorilla Khan grew increasingly agitated. The woman had to be Amelia Stone, the Asian man Benjamin Hu. And the young man? There was only one Centurion who fit that description. One that he had just watched get blown out of the sky. One that he thought he’d allowed to be killed.

Jet Black was alive.

Alive! Thank the heavens!

And they needed his help. His determination was rekindled by this revelation, which allowed him to stand by mildly while the Conqueror Ape raged and railed and vented his spleen on the poor officer, who seemed quite shocked by the turn the conversation had taken. He’d thought he was going to get away scot-free, the poor chap, and now the Mighty Khan was angry for reasons he didn’t understand.

“Tear them to pieces!” shouted Khan. “I’ll have them fed to the Velociraptors! I’ll break the dome and bury them in the rubble! I’ll stomp them to rubble under the feet of a Tyrannosaurus! How dare Chirrang betray me? I am Gorilla Khan, and I demand obedience!”

This was Professor Khan’s opportunity, and he took it. Tried to ignore the nervousness building anew in his belly. Once again, he had something to lose. Maintaining the ruse was easier when he felt alone in this world. Now, he felt the weight of responsibility once again, familiar but heavy nonetheless.

“I am at your command, Mighty Khan,” he rumbled, trying to sound tough. He still heard the quaver in his voice, felt like the ruse was too thin to be believable. But his sire bought it, too blinded by anger to see clearly what stood right in front of him. “What shall I do? May I hunt down these traitors for you and bring them to your feet for justice?”

The Mighty Khan paused mid-rant. Lowered his hands. Squinted at his protégé.

Professor Khan barely dared to breathe. Barely dared to hope that this would work. That against all odds he would make his escape and return to his home. To civilization. Where he knew he truly belonged.

Gorilla Khan nodded slowly.

“Yes,” he said in slow, dangerous tones. “Bring them to me. All five of them. We will make an example for all to see. We will show the world what happens to those who defy the Conqueror Ape.”

“Your wish is my command,” said the Professor, bowing his head.

“It had better be. Do not fail me in this, Jochi. Or I will crush you along with the rest of them. But if you succeed, I will make a place for you at my side. Together, we will make the humans bow down at our feet and grovel for scraps.” He turned to look out at the jungle, green and wild and overgrown. “I tire of this place. It is not enough for me.”

“Me either,” said Professor Khan. He left before he was tempted to say too much.

He tried to tell himself that he was making the smart move. Leaving while Gorilla Khan was distracted. Taking the opportunity as it presented itself.

But deep down, he knew he was running away. Gorilla Khan brought out things in him that he wished to keep buried.

There would be no more jungle drums. Not until he could be sure that listening to them would not make him into another Gorilla Khan.


Jump back to the top to learn more about Fiction Friday — and a special discount offer on our fiction books!