Fiction Friday: Dinocalypse Forever – Chapters 20 & 21

Dinocalypse Forever

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CHAPTER TWENTY

Doctor Methuselah—in the guise of Gerald Spears—was treating himself to a nice glass of wine and a plate of cheese when the Walking Mind finally appeared at the door of his hut. The domicile wasn’t much to look at—mud and wattle walls, dirt floor, and woven rushes on the roof. If not for the aura of mathemagic hanging over the place, Jared Brain wouldn’t have found it at all. As it was, his Tyrannosaurus rex had stomped past it. Twice.

But now he had made it. He’d brought his mount to a stop in front of the door. Allowed it to let out a roar of challenge. Nothing happened. So he permitted it to stomp its feet, a teeth-rattling impact—if he’d had teeth to rattle. As it was, it was more jar-sloshing than anything else.

When Methuselah had failed to appear, he’d gone through the arduous process of getting One Eye to put him down. It was more difficult than he liked. One Eye was strong and intimidating, the ultimate muscle. No one would attempt to mess with him when the T-rex was around, which was rather a pity. He would have liked to see what happened when it was loosed. But that would have to wait.

The tradeoff for all of this power was a significant lack of mobility. His only options for travel at the moment were to ride in its mouth or clutched in its very insufficient paws. But once he got up there, it was nigh impossible to get down. The T-rex couldn’t reach the ground, and he didn’t really fancy the idea of being thrown. So it took a lot of Tyrannosaurus contortion to get him safely to earth, and then he had to expend a psychic grunt of effort before he managed to lift the jar off the ground and steady himself while One Eye pushed him forward with its snout. He couldn’t wait to replace his missing teleconductive fluid. It could not, in fact, happen soon enough.

So by the time he reached the door to the hut and saw Methuselah/Gerald sitting back with his feet up and enjoying a nice slice of brie, he was more than a little annoyed.

“Ah, there you are, old chap,” said Gerald Spears, his British accent annoyingly jaunty. “I’d offer you a sip and a chew, but obviously that isn’t going to do you much good. Still, have a seat! Tell me about your trip.”

He turned, gave the dinged and much abused jar a bemused glance, and raised an impeccably arched brow.

“My my!” he exclaimed. “Now I really do want to hear about the trip. I was merely being polite before, but this looks to be a tale worth hearing.”

I’M HERE. HOW I GOT HERE ISN’T PARTICULARLY IMPORTANT AT THE MOMENT.

“It may not be important, but it looks to be highly amusing.” Methuselah-as-Spears popped a piece of cheese into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully, tapping his fingers on the rickety table before him. He looked more than a little out of place in the dingy surroundings with his plate of fine china and his suit of neat white linen. He looked ready for a little jaunt to the country club, not a trip through prehistory side-by-side with an ape and some dinosaurs.

DO YOU HAVE A SPARE JAR? THIS ONE IS…

“Covered in the digestive juices of a large creature, as far as I can tell. I’m sure we can conjure up something, my friend. If you ask nicely.”

DON’T BE RIDICULOUS. JUST GIVE ME THE JAR SO WE CAN GET TO WORK.

“Oh, you’re no fun,” complained Spears. But he stood up anyway, and brushed the crumbs off his pants. Downed the last of his wine. “Very well,” he said. “We’ll fashion you a more suitable vessel. Running rather low in the volume department, are we?”

IT HASN’T BEEN THE MOST PLEASANT TRIP.

At this, Spears threw his head back and laughed. The sound made Jared Brain even more annoyed than before, and if the cause had been anyone but Methuselah, he would have lashed out with everything he had. But even at full strength, he wouldn’t have risked it. Doctor Methuselah was not the sort of person you stabbed in the back regardless of what skin he wore, unless you had a death wish.

Jared Brain had nothing of the sort.

So he restrained his anger with effort. But he became aware of an agitated growl outside, a low rumble like thunder and the roar of a jet engine all rolled up together in one loud package. The hut suddenly, inexplicably lurched. Bits of dried grass rained down upon them, dirtying the single china plate.

Spears stopped laughing. Peered at the door. Let out a bemused snort.

“I think someone is worried about you,” he said. “That’s rather adorable, I must say.”

Jared swiveled in his jar. Looked out with his psychic eyes. One Eye shoved its snout against the door again, shifting the hut further off its moors. Branches cracked and snapped, and the whole structure began to teeter precariously.

“What, pray tell, is the creature’s problem?” asked Spears.

The Walking Mind reached out psychically and immediately regretted it. He was overcome by a wave of maternal love so potent it made him feel vaguely sick.

In One Eye’s tiny saurian brain, things fell into one of three categories—objects to smash, objects to eat, and offspring to protect. After ingesting a large amount of teleconductive fluid, it no longer wanted to smash or eat Jared Brain, which meant he must by default fall into the latter category. As a result, it had developed quite a parental protectiveness over him, and when it sensed his barely suppressed anger, it became quite agitated. Something was threatening its strange, glass-encased baby, and it had to protect him.

With that agitation came relief, because finally it was going to get to smash something. It had been a while since it had gotten to indulge in a good smashing, and it was starting to get a little twitchy.

Plus, its eye hurt, which didn’t help its disposition.

But first, it had to get its baby boy out of there, and it was going to make that happen if it meant drilling a hole through the wall.

The creature shook its massive head, slowly widening the door to the hut. And if Jared didn’t do something fast, he was going to get snatched up in its mouth, and then it was going to step on his business partner. Not that he was worried about Doctor Methuselah, who had faced more dire situations than this and likely would again, maybe even in the next day or so. But it would really be tiresome if he had to find another mount and get swallowed again. He was running way too low on teleconductive fluid to want to do that.

So first, he tried logic.

STOP! THIS IS MY FRIEND.

The only reply he got was a stream of nearly incoherent babble: come, baby, come! Mama protect. Mama smash and smash and smash.

And this, Jared thought, explained why the dinosaurs went extinct. Because they were complete idiots. It was one thing to know that their brains were small. Another one entirely to see it in action.

The T-rex took another bite out of the hut. At this point, Gerald Spears was beginning to look annoyed.

“If it devours my china,” he said, frowning slightly, “I will be quite put out.”

I’LL HANDLE IT.

With effort, Jared maneuvered his jar closer to the door. Waited until One Eye darted forward to try at the door again. Hit the jar at just the right moment. Tipped…

Bopped it right on the end of its sensitive snout.

The single eye blinked. The T-rex’s head snapped back.

STOP RIGHT NOW. THIS IS MY FRIEND. IF YOU EAT HIS HOME, I WILL…

But what could he do? How could he threaten a Tyrannosaurus, as weakened as he was? At full strength, at the height of his abilities, he could have made good on any number of threats. But here and now, without the benefits of technology to sustain him? Here he was weakened, and he needed every bit of power that remained to keep up with Spears. If he was to avoid getting stabbed in the proverbial back.

That was a worrisome thought. Could he really trust Spears, especially since the so-called adventurer knew he was in a weakened state? He had to show here and now that he was no one to be trifled with.

He had to prove that he was still more valuable as an ally than an enemy.

Surprisingly, One Eye gave him the answer. In a meek, weak voice completely at odds with its massive physical presence, it said, Mama hurt friend, baby leaves?

I WILL LEAVE YOU. I WILL NEVER COME BACK.

Mama protect friend?

And here was Jared’s opportunity. Up until this point, he’d been trying to shield this conversation from Spears. It was rather embarrassing, after all. He wasn’t sure how successful this enterprise was, but Spears hadn’t burst out into laughter and was in fact giving him an impatient look, so it was probably working. But now, he broadcast in the clear as a demonstration of the power he still held.

YES. PROTECT GERALD SPEARS, ONE EYE. THIS I COMMAND YOU. FOR AS LONG AS I LIVE, HE IS OFF LIMITS.

One Eye telegraphed assent, but it was grudging. With hanging head and limp, dejected tail, the massive head withdrew. The dinosaur sat back on its haunches outside the mangled hut, scanning the jungle. All was still and silent in the presence of the massive predator.

SORRY ABOUT YOUR HUT. I’M STILL TRAINING IT.

“I see that.”

Spears seemed mollified, though, and much happier to see Jared than he’d previously been. Perhaps that demonstration of power was exactly what had been called for.

I HAVE NEWS. NEWS ABOUT THE FUTURE.

Now Spears’ face broke out into a wide grin. He clapped his hands together. Rubbed the palms together as if about to dig into a gourmet meal.

“I cannot wait to hear it. Come! Sit! Let us discuss our takeover of the world.”

WE NEED A CHANGE IN PLANS. GORILLA KHAN WILL FAIL YOU.

The smile slid off Spears’ face like grease off a hot pan. He leaned forward, elbows on the rickety table. The sleeves of his pristine linen suit were instantly smeared with grime, but he failed to notice.

“Tell me,” he said.

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

This time, when the Centurions returned to Atlantis, they were greeted with celebrations and cheers. Willowy Atlantean townspeople flooded the streets, blocking off all chance of passage. Thin, haunted faces filled with hope once again for the first time in a long time. They patted Amelia on the shoulder or hugged her with desperate, clutching arms. Practically carried the heroes to the palace, where Marelon and Zebulon awaited on the front steps, faces stretched into wide smiles.

Amelia hadn’t realized they had so many teeth. They were actually quite friendly looking when they weren’t glaring at a person and threatening to clap them in chains.

All in all, it was much better than being locked in a cell.

And they’d managed to retrieve the Professor too! What a stroke of luck that he had stumbled upon them when he had, just in time to free them all from the clutches of the psychosaurs.

As for the psychosaurs in question, they’d vanished into the brush, hopefully following the Professor’s instructions to decimate the clutches of eggs dotting the landscape. One minute they were there, all predatory slink and pointy teeth. The next, Amelia looked over and they were gone. Without making a single noise. It was awfully creepy the way they seemed to glide over the uneven land in silence.

Amelia spent the rest of the walk looking over her shoulder, half expecting the creatures to attack again even though she knew that to do so would be silly. The psychosaurs knew now that the heroes were protected by Professor Khan and Captain Chirrang. She didn’t want to contemplate how different that encounter would have been had the primates not been with them. They would have to be more cautious in the jungle now that they knew the eggs were beginning to hatch. But perhaps Khan and Chirrang could recruit more of them. Send them off on a ravenous rampage. Maybe even supply them with frying pans and some nice soft churned butter.

Excited by the prospect, she made her way through the eager crowd, pausing to smile and nod and exchange hand clasps with various Atlanteans desperate to express their gratitude, and sidled up next to Aeron, who was beaming and watching the crowd. She tugged on his sleeve, pulled his ear down to her mouth.

“Can you take me to the library?” she asked, pitching her voice low. “I want to see what Benjamin dug up.”

He nodded promptly, clearly eager to get back to work. “Should we get your friends?”

She considered and then shook her head. “Let them enjoy the accolades.” She looked down the steps to where a happy Jet introduced a bashful Professor Khan to the twin rulers of Atlantis. “We can bring them up to speed quite easily. I know the Professor will find his way to the library soon enough.”

“Very well,” said Aeron, offering his arm with a flourish she hadn’t expected. “Milady.”

Startled, she let out a laugh. “You’d fit in well at home, you know.”

Now he looked just as surprised as she.

“Really?” he asked as he began to lead her away. “That’s…interesting.”

* * *

The library was a fascinating structure in a city full of fascinating structures. Its translucent blue walls rose up from the ground in a crystalline pattern that seemed both random and geometric at the same time, like frost growing on a windowpane…or blood spattered on the ground. It seemed less like it had been built and more like it grew from the ground and the city formed around it. All in all, it was delightful to look at, and Amelia paused a moment to admire it.

“Beautiful, no?” asked Aeron, a touch of wistfulness on his face.

“It reminds me somehow of the Eiffel Tower—a famous structure of my home city. Taken individually, its parts are unremarkable, but all together, they form something that is unmistakably beautiful.” She swallowed against a sudden wave of homesickness. Would she ever see Paris again? “I love it,” she said in a husky voice.

He took her hand. Squeezed it briefly. Seemed to understand.

A sudden thought made her pause. “Is this the library where your family works? Will we see them there?”

He shook his head regretfully. “No. Only the…only the old scholars study here. My family is not old.”

“Not as prestigious?” supplied Amelia.

“Yes, right. We did come here a few times. My mother…” He trailed off. Shrugged. “It does not matter.”

“Of course it does,” she said, but he didn’t seem inclined to discuss the subject any longer, so she let it drop.

It didn’t take much work to locate Benjamin. He’d found a table in the middle of the tall, spindly stacks and covered it with books. At least ten of them stood open, and the mystical detective was standing over them thoughtfully, piecing together patterns in his mind. Rubbing his chin thoughtfully. Attracting attention despite his lack of movement.

Every single Atlantean in the library was staring at him unabashedly, their texts open and forgotten before them. Well, everyone except for the ones staring at Amelia. It was like they’d never seen a human before. Probably they hadn’t. She felt a bit like a circus lion and had to resist the urge to roar just to see how they’d react. But that wasn’t behavior befitting a Centurion, so she contented herself with a grave nod instead.

Benjamin grinned as if he knew what she was thinking, tipped his head to her. Probably would have touched the brim of his customary hat, but it sat on the table, propping up a particularly large tome at an angle better for viewing. Amelia surveyed the books, most of which were filled with spidery symbols she couldn’t identify much less read. Atlantean was the most obvious possibility, but then again the Atlanteans seemed so good with language that it wasn’t necessarily a given. She was still astounded to find so many English speakers here. Aeron was getting better every hour—a testament to his preternatural intelligence.

One of the books caught her eye—it was a star map, meticulously drawn, with hand inked constellations set atop the seemingly random patterns of the sky. She’d spent many a night in her Paris apartment, looking out through the lens of her father’s telescope. After he’d passed, it was one of the few ways she had left to feel close to him. As a result, she was familiar with the stars. They were a constant in an ever-changing world. And the stories behind the constellations were ever so amusing.

But she recognized none of the constellations on this map.

“Where is this?” she asked, tapping a fingertip on the star map. “Is this the night sky here? In this time, I mean?”

Benjamin nodded. “The most recent representation of it that I could find, yes. I have one of the scholars going to fetch a hand drawn map from their expert on the skies. I hope to find something more recent there.”

Aeron nodded, not removing his eyes from the tumult of books spread on the table. “Koa. She is an expert on the stars. She gets in much trouble for leaving the bed to look at the sky at night. Her maps are the best.”

“Ah, so you know her,” said Benjamin. “I hope her work is trustworthy?”

“Absolutely. I was going to be married to her. I should know.”

Amelia’s eyes flicked to Aeron, but he seemed to be holding on to his emotions with effort.

As she was about to put a hand on his arm—a hand of comfort and companionship—she realized his attention was drawn by something other than the thoughts of his apparently lost love. Instead, he was gazing worriedly at the pile of books, and the star map in particular.

“Ah,” he said, his brows drawing down into a worried V.

Benjamin nodded. “So you see it too? The theory took me a while to put together. I was hoping I was wrong.”

“We need Koa’s map to be sure,” said Aeron.

“Precisely.”

Amelia let out an exasperated huff that once again drew the attention of everyone in the room. The Atlanteans had finally seemed to realize that the humans weren’t going to do anything more exotic than having a conversation and therefore gone back to work. Now they were staring again, their wide eyes owlish in their pale faces.

“Sorry,” she murmured, face flushing. “But would someone please explain what you’re talking about? I don’t read chicken scratch.”

“Hey!” Aeron exclaimed. “That is not nice.”

“But not inaccurate either, mon ami.” Amelia softened the banter with a smile. If this Atlantean was going to hang around with Centurions, he was going to have to learn to take a little guff. “So what’s up?”

Before Benjamin could explain—or refuse to explain—the door to the library flew open with a crash, letting in what could only be described as a force of nature. This Atlantean was not the willowy, ethereal, fade-into-the-background type like so many of her brethren. She shared many of the same characteristics, sure—the long limbs and translucent skin and oversized eyes were all there in spades. But they were topped by a riot of unruly red curls, all shocking brightness. And instead of one of the customary flowy robes, this girl wore a pair of trousers and a smock. She marched in like she owned the place, her arms full of rolls of paper tied off with random bits of twine.

“Hey, Aeron,” she said breezily in Atlantean, as if she was greeting the shopkeeper instead of her betrothed—or former betrothed. “Got your maps.”

“Koa,” said Aeron faintly. “How nice to see you.”

She dumped the armful of scrolls right atop Benjamin’s carefully constructed array of books. The impact knocked his hat out from underneath that large tome, and it fell to the table with a wham that drew looks of irritation more than curiosity this time.

It was Benjamin’s turn to apologize in the most formal Atlantean he could summon.

“Sorry. So sorry.”

He bent to pick up the book. Set it carefully on the table. Began to pick through the pile of rolled paper with an expression that bordered on annoyance. Koa folded her arms and scowled, the look incongruous on her delicate features.

“What’s the problem?” she demanded.

“Well” Benjamin rubbed his forehead and sighed. “I appreciate your thoroughness, but…” He trailed off helplessly.

It seemed as if they were at a loss, but Aeron stepped into the breach. “We need your most recent star map,” he said.

Amelia looked between the others at the table and finally gave up on contributing to the conversation in the slightest. She sat down with a huff and picked up one of the books, glaring at it. Unable to read. Unable to help. Hopefully they’d run into something that needed pummeling soon, because otherwise, she was going to start feeling like a third wheel.

But she couldn’t keep herself from watching the others, trying to pick out some meaning. Koa seemed to select one of the rolls out of the chaos at random. It looked just like all the others—fine creamy paper in a neat roll, tied off with a bit of garden variety twine. But she held it out to Benjamin with confidence evident on her face.

“Here’s what you need,” she said.

“Are you sure?” Aeron asked.

She fixed him with a look of exasperation. “Really?” she asked, and he flushed bright red all the way to the tips of his ears.

“Sorry,” he mumbled. “I forgot.”

Koa waggled the parchment to get Benjamin’s attention. “Come on. I don’t have all day.”

He took the map delicately, using only the tips of his fingers. Slipped the twine off. Paused. Asked, “Eidetic memory?”

Koa grinned. “Among other things. It makes me very intractable. Just ask Aeron.

The Atlantean in question let out a strangled gurgle. Benjamin put a hand on his arm to steady him because it looked like the tall sturdy guardsman was about to fall into a heap of jelly on the floor.

“I don’t need to,” said Benjamin, his tone mild. “Thank you for the map.”

“Sure. These are for the last few moon cycles. They’re numbered, see?”

The two of them bent their heads—one dark and neat, the other blazing and unruly—over the first map. She pointed out a few things, and they murmured quietly. Then they pulled out a second map. Benjamin’s eyes grew increasingly wider as Koa showed him the spoils, and he seemed quite dismayed with what he was seeing. He thanked her so profusely that spots of red began to bloom in her cheeks. Aeron looked less than pleased by this development, and for once Benjamin was oblivious.

“Well, let me know if you need anything else,” Koa said with a giggle.

“We will,” Aeron interjected before Benjamin could answer.

“Terrific. Gotta go! Things to do, people to pester.” Koa blew the guardsman a kiss and flounced away.

Aeron’s eyes tracked the slim figure out of the room, but Amelia was relieved to see that Benjamin’s did not. Of course, she was fairly sure that he was still secretly waiting for that girl he’d met in the future. It seemed like a doomed relationship to her, but who was she to talk?

Benjamin was running his fingers over the most current map, murmuring to himself. Then he opened another map. Scanned its contents. Tossed it aside. Two more joined it on the floor before he found what he wanted. Then—

Then Amelia was fairly sure that the mystical detective was counting on his fingers. As investigatory skills went, it did not inspire confidence.

She was just about to demand to know what was going on when Benjamin dropped the map on the floor.

“A meteor is going to hit the domed city,” he declared. “Tomorrow afternoon.”

The rest of the sentence went unsaid, but they all thought it. Anyone left on the surface when the meteor hit—Atlanteans, Centurions, or apes—would be toast.


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