Fiction Friday: Dinocalypse Forever – Chapters 22 & 23

Dinocalypse Forever

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CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

The Atlanteans were both gracious and grateful, and Jet really appreciated all the attention. But eventually, it got more than a little overwhelming. He was just a farm boy from Illinois at the heart of it all. He was happiest in the air…or sitting on a milk crate in the corner of Sally Slick’s workshop. He wasn’t the guy who hogged the limelight and charmed the reporters. That was Mack Silver’s job.

You betcha, kid, said Imaginary Mack.

Oh, stuff it, Mack, added Dream Sally.

Under different circumstances, Jet would have worried that he was losing his marbles, two steps away from the looney bin, completely off his rocker. But he knew where those voices were coming from, and it wasn’t insanity. It was homesickness through and through. And as nice as these Atlanteans were, as jaw-dropping as the domed city might be, they still weren’t his people and this still wasn’t his home.

He was ready to go.

And when the idea hit him, it made him grin ear to ear—

Suddenly, he knew how to get back to where he belonged.

And he knew just the ape to get them there.

Up onto his tiptoes he went, scanning the crowd for the hard-to-miss figure of Professor Khan. There! The ape had found a glittery Atlantean robe somewhere, and the thing actually fit him, although a ragged hem at the bottom suggested some hasty alterations.

The Professor was exchanging halting words with an Atlantean woman who, by the looks of things, had just barged right into him. Contrary to the rest of her nearly transparent kin, this Atlantean had tumbles of shocking red hair, all wild curls, like she’d been bred from the union of a garden-variety Atlantean and some wild jungle creature. She seemed to have the spirit to go with the hair, because she was throwing her arms all around and gesticulating wildly as she talked, in stark contradiction with the reserve of the other Atlanteans. Jet noticed that her kinsmen gave her a wide berth.

The Professor didn’t seem to know what to make of her. He just stood there, stuttering and tripping over the unfamiliar syllables. Poor guy. Jet had plenty of experience with hotheaded women—not that kind of experience, but he’d developed a knack for calming Sally down during her wild moments. It was all in the listening.

He would have given just about anything to listen to one of her silly rants right now.

She’d probably be ranting about all the lollygagging he was doing. Jet! she would say. Did you leave that noggin of yours up in the clouds last time you flew, or did it come back with you? And then she’d give him that grin that softened those words right up. The one that accepted even as it teased. Somewhere along the way, they’d lost that easy banter. In all the duty, all the work…

All the stress over Mack.

And really, he’d let it happen. Because he hadn’t spoken up. All these years, he’d done just that for underdogs who couldn’t or wouldn’t speak up for themselves. He’d been their voice. Their backbone. Their fists, if it was needed. But had he ever done the same for himself?

The answer, sadly, was no.

It was time to start speaking up on his own behalf. That didn’t mean abandoning his duty to others—not in the least—but didn’t he deserve the same as everyone else? Of course he did.

He squared his thin shoulders and began pushing his way through the crowd. But this wasn’t a Mack Silver push, all hands and apologetic grins. This was the Jet Black version, a deft maneuver through the tumult, squeezing between people who never even knew he was there. His thin build worked to his advantage here, just as it did during aerial maneuvers. He couldn’t believe he’d never realized how he could carry so many of those skills to the ground.

He’d spent so much time thinking he was only useful in the air. How had he been so blind?

By the time he got to the Professor and the red-headed Atlantean, he was grinning ear to ear. The Professor shot him a pleading look over the shoulder of the girl, who was still gesticulating wildly as she spoke.

She babbled out a long string of Atlantean words, and Jet quirked an eyebrow at the Professor. The ape’s face was wrinkled with concentration.

“I fear my skills with the Atlantean language are not equal to this test,” he said to Jet. “She is asking me a question—I am certain of that—but its meaning escapes me entirely.”

“I’m no use here,” said Jet, holding his hands out wide in a helpless shrug. “I can’t speak a lick of it.”

“More’s the pity,” said the Professor. “One moment, if you please.”

The erudite ape turned to the flame-haired young Atlantean, his gravelly voice tripping over an awkward apology. But the meaning got through. Her face fell. She spoke again, slower and with careful enunciation, and the Professor gave it his all, but the attempt at communication remained unsuccessful. Both parties were clearly disappointed.

“Perhaps I should fetch Benjamin Hu,” murmured Professor Khan. “He might be able to assist. Or those delightful twins in the fancy robes. They spoke lovely English.”

“We will in a while,” said Jet. “But right now, I need your help.”

The Professor patted the girl on the shoulder and held up a finger. She watched, impatience written clearly on her face.

“Of course,” said the Professor. “How may I assist you? Is there an arcane puzzle in need of unravelling? A test of logic and wits? I yearn to pit myself against such a test.”

“Well…not quite. But it’s a good idea. I really think it is, and I need your opinion.”

“Very well. Tell me.”

The ape put on his best listening face, but it was quickly replaced by shock at Jet’s next words.

“I think we need to steal some dinosaurs,” said Jet, pride on his face. “Flying ones. To use as mounts. It’s our only hope of making it through that portal, don’t you think?”

“I…you know, I hadn’t thought of it before this moment, but that might work. If we were airborne, we might be able to get close enough to sneak through the portal. It just might work, Young Master Black.”

“We’d just need to watch out for spears. That’s all.”

Professor Khan’s face filled with shame at this observation, but Jet was too excited by his idea to notice. He was going home.

“Come on, Professor. We need to find Chirrang.”

The gorilla gave the Atlantean girl an apologetic shrug and followed Jet as he hurried off. Koa’s eyes followed them, narrowing in thought.

Or suspicion.

* * *

“Yes, I could lead you to the Ptero egg clutches,” said Chirrang. They had finally located him at the buffet table set up in the palace. It appeared that he didn’t like the excited crowd of Atlanteans any more than they liked him. He seemed happy enough to see Jet, but eyed Professor Khan with apparent distaste. “Why do you want to see them?”

“I haven’t had a chance to tell you what happened to me before you all dragged me out of the river,” said Jet. He quickly filled the two primates in on his adventures and particularly his connection with Comet. “But here’s the thing: Comet wasn’t psychic like those lizard men. So how did I bond with him so easily? I think he linked with me right out of the egg, thinking I was his parent. That’s definitely the feeling I got. It’s not as blatant as a psychic connection, but I think we could use it.”

“And if we manage to collect some eggs and hatch them ourselves,” mused the Professor, “then the eggs will be in the hands of Atlantean empaths who could potentially deepen the bond. Perhaps they could create an even closer link than you were able to.”

“Giving us an air defense while weakening Khan’s troops at the same time!” exclaimed Jet. Then he cleared his throat. “Er…the other Khan, I mean.”

The Professor waved it away, deep in thought. “You know, I think it could work. What do you think, Chirrang?”

Chirrang glowered at him.

The Professor’s eyes fell before the other ape’s anger. “Yes, I suppose I owe you an apology first, don’t I? You were right, you know. I am Son-of-Khan, but I have never accepted that legacy. Never wanted it. When your men came upon me, I had just fallen out of the sky, and my first instinct was to protect myself. I created the character of Jochi, and it…took on a life of its own.” He shifted uncomfortably. “I didn’t mean to step between you and my father, or to somehow take your place. You must believe me when I say that is the last thing I have ever wanted, for a variety of reasons.”

“Hmph.” Chirrang let out a non-committal grunt and turned back to Jet. “So you want me to take you to the nests and help you liberate some of the Pterosaurs, yes?”

Jet’s eyes flicked between the two apes, finally picking up on the simmering tension between them. “Well…yes. If you think it would be a good idea.”

“Oh, I think it’s a fabulous idea.” Chirrang’s grin was frightening, all pointy incisors and aggressive glee. “Let’s do it.”

* * *

As he followed Professor Khan, who was following Captain Chirrang down the bright jungle trail, Jet began to fiddle worriedly with his borrowed Atlantean headband. It had been easy so far—the Atlantean guards probably would have carried them through the force field if he’d asked. Gave them the force field-negating jewelry readily.

But it was obvious that Chirrang was harboring a deep desire to punch the Professor in the face. And when you combined that with the fact that he’d been the enemy for all intents and purposes up until yesterday, it made him difficult to trust. It was impossible to tell where the ape was leading them. To the promised nests? Straight into the arms of Gorilla Khan? There was nothing to do but trust.

Still, Jet was extra vigilant as they walked. Whatever happened, he would be prepared for it.

That’s why he was the first to spot their pursuer.

When they turned a corner, heading into the deep, dark canopy of the trees, he glanced over his shoulder and saw a flash of movement. Just an animal, he thought. Nothing too big to threaten them.

But then, it happened again. A flash of movement. A glint of red in the trees—

But when he looked, he saw nothing.

Now he was sure they were being followed. And when the Professor paused to give him a questioning look over one hairy shoulder, Jet leaned in close.

“Someone’s behind us,” he whispered. “Look sharp.”

He straightened to see Chirrang giving them a keen look.

“Is there a problem?” asked the captain, eyeing them suspiciously.

“No, none at all,” said Jet, trying for casual.

Onward they walked. Jet could feel the tension in his shoulders as he waited for whomever it was to make their move. It seemed ever more likely that Chirrang was leading them into a trap, but the best thing to do was wait, be ready, and take them by surprise when they made their move.

But it didn’t come.

They reached the nests first.

Jet was so surprised to see a familiar ovoid shape in the long grass that he let out a little chirp of surprise. It was quickly shushed by Chirrang, who gestured them forward silently. They moved through the field, around egg after egg. Jet lost count around 24.

“Over here,” whispered Chirrang, gesturing. “These are smaller. We could carry a few.”

“Why are we whispering?” asked Professor Khan, also sotto voce.

“If you’d like to announce to all the dinosaur mothers that we’re stealing their babies, go ahead.” Chirrang glowered. “But leave me out of it.”

“Oh.”

The Professor looked chastened, but Chirrang didn’t even give him a second look. He led the way through the field to a smaller batch of eggs, glistening white in the warmth of the sun.

“Here,” he said, handing out a few canvas sacks. “Fill them.”

Jet managed to fit two in his sack, hefted it onto his back, and nearly doubled over from the weight. He was feeling proud of the accomplishment until he saw the Professor, bent down under the weight of four sacks, with two more dangling from his fists. The Professor gave him a sheepish grin, shifting the sacks into a more comfortable arrangement. Chirrang joined them, similarly laden.

Their mission of thievery completed, Jet surveyed the field. Out of the 20 or so nests that dotted the area, over half of them were empty of eggs. A few others sported a single lone egg still in their grassy cradles. It didn’t seem like much in terms of volume, but every little bit helped. And these eggs wouldn’t be the end of the Atlantean raids—they would be the beginning. And they would get Jet and his friends home, if it all worked out as it should.

“This was way too easy,” said Jet, grinning.

“Agreed,” rumbled the Professor. “I mistrust the ease of it. We should go before something happens.”

“Why?” Chirrang took offense at this. “Do you expect that I will betray you? Trust me, Jochi, I would have done so already if I was planning it.”

The Professor faced the smaller ape, regret etched across his face. “I know. And I am not saying that I mistrust you. You have been nothing but helpful to us. I mistrust the situation; that is all.”

But Chirrang was anything but mollified. His wrinkled, wizened face was drawn together in a scowl, and he puffed his chest out, communicating his scorn just as clearly as if he had said the words out loud.

In a swift, deliberate movement, he spat on the ground at Professor Khan’s feet.

Jet’s heart sank to his toes. Clearly, there was bad blood here, the source of which was a mystery to him, and Chirrang at least was determined to come to blows over it. And from the red that suffused the Professor’s face, he was beyond reasoning too.

Under different circumstances, Jet might have tried to soothe things over. Or maybe even just let them work it out between them. But that wasn’t an option here. Whatever creature had laid these—something smaller than a Pterosaur, certainly—wasn’t going to be happy when they returned and found their babies missing. And the longer they stayed, the more likely it was to happen. Assuming that their stalker didn’t strike first. Jet still felt a prickle at the back of his neck that told him they weren’t alone.

The Professor squared his shoulders and cracked his broad knuckles. “Listen here, you—”

Before he could finish the sentence, Jet Black stepped between the two primates, set his jaw, and smacked Professor Khan right across the jowls.

There was a shocked silence—

Then Chirrang snorted in amusement.

Jet wasn’t so amused. He shook a finger at the ape and said, “The only reason I didn’t smack you first was because he was closer.”

It wasn’t entirely true, but it shut Chirrang up, and that was Jet’s goal. He suddenly realized that he was the focus of attention for two angry primates who could easily decide to take said anger out on him. So he quickly launched into his explanation, hoping it would keep him from getting pounded into mush.

“If we don’t get out of here right now,” he said, “those dinos might come back. And then instead of fighting each other, you’ll be fighting a bunch of angry mamas with teeth, claws, and wings. I faced one of them earlier, and let me tell you—I’m lucky to be alive. If you want to kill each other when we get back to Atlantis, we all know I can’t stop you. But let’s at least get there first. Okay?”

Chirrang growled, low in his throat. Showed his teeth. Brushed off Jet’s words as you would a pesky fly.

But Professor Khan came back to his senses quickly. His eyes fell to the ground in shame, and he set his sacks on the ground. Offered a hand to Jet.

“My apologies,” he said. “To both of you. Jet’s right. We should go now, while we still can. But I would be happy to discuss it with you later, captain, if you would like.”

Chirrang hesitated, and for a long moment, Jet watched as the ape wavered between what he wanted to do and what he knew he should do. The aviator fully expected to see the ape turn and bound off into the trees. Leaving them. Taking the eggs back to Gorilla Khan. Telling him all about their plans.

But it didn’t happen. Chirrang tightened his grip on the sacks. Turned away. Muttered, “Let’s go.” Started back down the path that would return them to Atlantis.

Surprised, Jet and the Professor exchanged glances. That hadn’t gone at all like Jet had expected, but he was willing to take it. They followed Chirrang down the path, careful of their precious cargo.

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

“I think Jet and the Professor have been kidnapped,” Amelia reported grimly.

Benjamin and Aeron looked up from the star map, confusion written on each of their faces. They’d been checking over their work one last time before taking it to Marelon and Zebulon. It would be incredibly embarrassing to predict a meteor strike that never came, and neither of them was willing to take the chance.

Benjamin looked up, blinking owlishly. “Beg pardon?”

“I think they’ve been kidnapped. I went looking for them while you two were mapping things with slide rules, because I figured they’d want to hear whether or not a meteor was in fact going to fall on us. But I couldn’t find them, and no one at the palace seems to know where they went.”

“We were not using slide rules,” said Aeron gravely in his stilted English.

“Fine, but it doesn’t change the fact that they’ve been taken. Maybe by Gorilla Khan’s soldiers,” said Amelia, her face creased with worry.

“Well, that’s a bit of a hasty conclusion, don’t you think? Unless you checked every building in Atlantis?” asked Benjamin, a smile playing on his lips.

“You know I didn’t. Quit messing around. My gut says there’s a problem, and I’ve learned to trust it. You got a problem with that?”

“No, I can’t argue with gut instinct. But let’s approach this logically and see if we can’t deduce their whereabouts by process of elimination. Where all did you look?”

Amelia recounted her search for the two Centurions briefly and then summed it all up with, “I have to believe that a primate—two if you count Chirrang—could not walk around this city unnoticed. So if they’re not in the library, and they’re not in the palace, and no one seems to have noticed them anywhere else, where could they be?”

Benjamin muttered something under his breath. Amelia didn’t catch the exact words, but it didn’t sound happy. Before he could comment further, the door swung open, letting in a greying Atlantean male, spectacles teetering precariously on the end of his nose.

“I say,” he said in the stilted English of someone who has learned the language through reading alone, “have you seen my daughter, Aeron?”

Until this point, the Atlantean guard had been listening quietly to the two Centurions as they bantered, but now he rose from his seat at the star maps with an alarmed expression.

“She left here long ago, after delivering the maps. An hour at the least. Didn’t she return home?” he asked.

“I haven’t seen her since this morning,” said the man, sighing. “She was supposed to help me transcribe my notes. My handwriting is so poor, you know. But I assume she found something better to do. She was always a bit flighty, that girl. If you see her, will you send her to me?”

But Aeron seemed less likely to dismiss it. His jaw tightened. “Sir, of course I will.”

“What—” began Amelia, but a quick head shake from Aeron silenced her.

“Thanks, my boy. Now if only we could get you two wedded, I could rest in peace. Are you sure you won’t reconsider?”

The old man blinked owlishly at the younger Atlantean.

“I won’t bring her to my home until I have one worthy of her, sir. A barracks is no place for Koa,” declared Aeron.

Benjamin shook his head sadly but said nothing until the old man had left. “So Koa is missing too? Does this happen often, Aeron?”

The tall guard shook his head and then seemed to reconsider. “Well, it does, but she’s usually with me. For her to disappear on her own is…worrisome. Especially in light of the fact that the others are gone too. I wonder…” He gulped and stopped there.

“Yes…?” Amelia probed gently. “What do you wonder?”

“I wonder if there’s been another abduction. Gorilla Khan claiming slaves to replace the ones that we rescued.”

“So…” Amelia groped for words, fear rising in her belly. “That means they can get through the dome, does it not? I still don’t understand how they managed that without those headbands.”

“Unless they had someone on the inside. Someone who could let them in,” added Benjamin grimly.

“Chirrang,” said Amelia, clenching her fists.

“We’ve got to bring them back,” Aeron declared. “Come on.”

He led the way out the door, and after a moment’s hesitation, the two Centurions followed, leaving the star maps on the table, forgotten for the moment.


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