Fiction Friday: Dinocalypse Forever – Chapters 24 & 25

Dinocalypse Forever

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CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

It was a tense walk back to Atlantis. Chirrang led the way, his shoulders held tight and his grip on the egg sacks taut with anger. Jet took the middle just to keep the two primates off each other. At least that was the plan. He might just as easily end up as the meat in a gorilla sandwich, which wasn’t a fate he’d have chosen for himself. But if they started fighting, he would do his best to end it. He had to get back to Sally. If he knew her as well as he thought he did, she was probably beating herself up pretty good right about now. She’d never handled it well when her inventions went sour. Always blamed herself.

He couldn’t imagine what she was doing to herself now.

Then get back to me and set me straight, flyboy, Dream Sally said in his head.

Quit calling me that, he admonished the voice in his head, feeling more than a little sheepish.

A rustle of movement to his left drew his attention. Chirrang was too angry to notice, the Professor too pensive. The erudite ape had been quiet since his confrontation with the captain, drawn up in his own internal struggle. So only Jet noticed the movement: it was up to him to take action.

Another rustle. This time Jet was watching carefully. Had Chirrang tensed in acknowledgement of the noise, or had he just tripped over that root protruding from the ground? It was impossible to tell, but Jet was becoming more and more convinced that Chirrang was a traitor. That he was leading them into a trap.

They never should have trusted him. But that was Jet’s problem, wasn’t it? Mack had always said so. Too naïve. Too trusting. Too childish.

He had to man up if he was going to make it home. But he wasn’t going to be stupid. No man was an island, and he wasn’t going to go it alone. That meant snapping the Professor out of the funk he was in, and fast.

Jet dropped back to walk next to his friend, bracken crunching underfoot. Leaned close to whisper in an ear. Careful not to be overheard by the traitor in the front—

“We’re definitely being followed. Be ready.”

The Professor started, looking wildly around as if he expected apes with spears to start pouring out of the trees at any moment. Jet put a hand on his shoulder, shaking his head. At that moment, Chirrang turned his head to glance back at them. His brows drew down in suspicion.

“Are you plotting to betray me again, Jochi?” the Siamang asked, puffing up his chest. “I am that big of a threat to you, dishonored as I am?”

“Dishonored?” asked the Professor, understanding dawning on his flat simian face. “So that’s the rub, is it?”

“Don’t avoid the question,” snarled Chirrang.

“I’m not. And if it’s Khan’s respect you want, you’re welcome to it. I just want to survive. I want my friends to survive. I want to be left alone. I’m not sure how many other ways I can say it, Chirrang. If I could change my blood, I would, just to live in peace.”

The Professor fixed his eyes on Chirrang, and his face was so open and honest that Jet felt the captain would understand. He had to. It was impossible to look at the Professor and think he was telling anything but the truth.

“Even if I believed you,” said Chirrang harshly, “which I don’t, it wouldn’t matter. The Mighty Khan believes in you. No matter what name you wear, I will never live up to it regardless of how loyal the service I offer him.”

“Then you have made the right choice in joining us,” said the Professor gently. “We treasure loyalty, and we give it back, measure for measure.”

Chirrang scoffed audibly. Backed away a few steps. Jet became instantly alert once again. If the ape was trying to retreat, something was going to happen. He would be ready.

“If that was true, then why were you both plotting against me?” asked Chirrang. “I am neither deaf nor dumb. I know what you are doing.”

Jet couldn’t contain himself.

“That’s because we saw your shadows in the trees,” he said, pointing an accusing finger at the captain. Stepping forward. Ready to fight. “What kind of trap are you laying for us? And how can you accuse us of treachery when you have come to Atlantis with the intent to betray the city from within? Do you deny it?”

He saw the battle clear on Chirrang’s face. The desire to trust in the Centurions warred with the need to return to the only home—the only father figure—he had ever known. And Jet doubted then, because it seemed as if Chirrang had not made up his mind yet which side he was on. And if that was true, if their shadow was not working with Chirrang, then who was it? Suddenly, the surrounding jungle seemed ominous in its silence. He looked carefully for any sign of movement but found none.

“Hi!” shouted a voice, and a figure launched out of the trees at them.

There was instant chaos. Jet scrambled to set his precious sack of eggs on the ground and draw his spear, but the weapon snagged in its bindings and would not draw. The Professor froze for a moment, and then darted behind a tree. Chirrang—

Chirrang dropped his sacks and launched himself into the trees, swinging easily from branch to branch on long arms roped with muscle. He let out a single derisive screech. And then—

Then he was gone.

Which left Jet Black to fight this new assailant. He ripped the spear free. Swung around, weapon at the ready. Prepared to strike—

At the Atlantean girl from the palace steps, the one with the red hair and wild personality. The loud one.

He lowered the spear instantly.

“What are you doing here?” he asked, completely confused by her sudden appearance. Had she been captured? Maybe slavers had been following them, and she’d escaped from them? It really didn’t make a whole lot of sense no matter how you sliced it.

But of course she didn’t understand. She said, “Hi,” again. And then grinned like this was all good fun. Then pointed a thumb at herself and said, “Koa.”

“You’re lucky you didn’t get killed,” muttered Jet, rubbing his forehead wearily.

The girl held up a finger, then placed a metallic band over her riotous hair. Tightened it carefully. Reset its jewels in a more comfortable position. It was a ridiculous move—doing her hair in the middle of a jungle—and the Centurion stared gape mouthed as she did it.

But then—

She let out a string of Atlantean babble that somehow resolved itself into English in their heads. The words twisting like snakes. It was an eerie feeling.

“I’m Koa, remember?” she said. Grinned as if her appearance was a good thing. “I wanted to ask you a question, but you didn’t understand me, so I had to dig this translator out from the archives. There’s all kinds of weird technology in there. I don’t even know what half of it does! Do you need help carrying those?”

Jet shook his head numbly. “So…you followed us all the way here to ask us a question. Using…a translator disguised as a headband.”

“Why did you keep staring into the trees? I thought you’d spotted me a few times, but you didn’t say anything, so I never came out. And then you all started arguing, and it seemed like you were worried that I was a feral ape or something…”

The Professor picked that moment to pop his head out from behind the tree, shamefaced and worried. Koa let out a startled shriek and then clapped a hand over her mouth.

“Is it clear?” asked the gorilla.

“All clear.” Jet sighed, picking up his sack. “Our shadow was only Koa. She speaks English now, thanks to her fancy hairpiece. Chirrang fled the moment she showed her face.”

The Professor peered off into the trees. Offered hesitatingly, “I could climb up and see if I can spot him.”

“It’s probably for the best,” said Jet. “You two would have come to blows if he’d stayed. Whether you wanted to or not.”

The Professor nodded sadly, then turned his attention to Koa. “Why are you following us?” he demanded, stress making his demeanor stern and intimidating without his intending it. “What do you want?”

“I…” The girl faltered under the primal glare. “I heard that you were leaving. Back to your own time through a portal? Is that true?”

Jet and the Professor exchanged a look. “Yes,” Jet said cautiously.

“Well, I want you to take Aeron and me with you, and I was worried you’d try to leave without us. So I followed you.” The girl padded closer, tentatively. “We’d help, of course. I’m pretty smart, you know. And Aeron is the best warrior Atlantis has ever known. In all history, there’s never been a warrior as good as him.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” rumbled the Professor. “No offense meant, young lady.”

Jet could see pride and love written clearly in her eyes, but that didn’t mean she was wrong. After all, he felt the same way about Sally. It didn’t change the fact that she was a brilliant inventor. It just gave him an opportunity to brag more.

“I don’t know, Professor. He seems to have Amelia’s respect,” he said. “I’d trust her judgment, wouldn’t you? And besides, if they want to come with us, they might be able to help in the battle against the psychosaurs. Those empathic abilities might give them some kind of resistance to their mind powers.”

“Absolutely!” exclaimed Koa, her eyes bright and excited. “The psychic landscape would be different, but between the two of us, Aeron and I should be able to fashion some kind of a shield to help protect you. I’m sure it would work!”

Jet shook his head. For the first time, he understood how Mack must have felt when he looked at Jet. This Atlantean was probably the same age as he was, or pretty close to it, but she seemed so young. So naïve. So hopeful. It aggravated him because she could get herself killed without even realizing she was in danger.

It shamed him because he knew he should be more like that.

It was that revelation more than anything else that made him nod his head. “Okay, Koa. Help us carry the eggs back, and we’ll see what we can do.”

“Oh, yay!” She clapped her hands together and then tried to lift one of the sacks that Chirrang had been toting with ease. It got an inch off the ground. Her face went red with strain, and then she dropped it again. “Yikes. That’s heavy.”

The two of them looked pleadingly at the already heavily laden Professor. He sighed and went to pick up the rest of the bags.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

Things were falling apart, and Gorilla Khan couldn’t understand it. The plan had been so seamless, so meticulous. A sure thing. And his part in it was so simple it was almost insulting.

His so-called partners had done the bulk of the difficult work for him. He merely had to travel back in time through a portal provided by Doctor Methuselah, use the Atlantean devices provided by Gerald Spears to claim a group of Atlantean slaves, use the Walking Mind’s serum to collect the eggs that would make up his saurian army, and harvest a teleconductive fungus that the Walking Mind had discovered. After the hatching, he would subjugate the psychosaurian hordes the same way he’d taken over the scattered simian tribes back home. That would be easy. The psychosaurs would use the fungus in turn to control the rest of the dinosaurs, creating an army with one mind behind it, capable of executing complex maneuvers in perfect unison. An army that would easily overcome the pitiful Centurions of their home time.

An army that could turn on his hated creator and finally wipe him off the face of the earth.

It was a vengeance that the Mighty Khan had looked forward to for years, the kind that made the many years of groveling and scraping at the foot of one of Methuselah’s many incarnations marginally bearable. He dreamt of it at night and awoke with a broad smile on his simian face.

And now it was falling apart.

He roared at the unfortunate courier that had just brought word of the most recent problem. The chimp cowered on the floor. Bared its belly and neck in complete subjugation. Shook visibly.

Even that failed to improve his spirits.

The door swung open behind him without so much as a knock, sparing the courier from further expressions of his wrath. Khan swung about, launching himself over the battle plans on the table with a single push of his powerful haunches. Ready to take his ire out on whomever stood on the opposite side of the door. They had forgotten to show obeisance, and now they would pay for—

Mid-air, he realized who it was. Gerald Spears. The Walking Mind by his side.

The timing was unfortunate. And now that he saw them together, he began to wonder at the wisdom of siccing Spears on the telepathic brain. The adventurer was less than loyal, more interested in fleecing his own pockets and sewing discord than he was in making life-long partnerships. How much would it take to cause him to betray the Conqueror Ape?

Gorilla Khan told himself he was being paranoid. But the words were empty.

He must show them—must remind them—that he was no one to be trifled with.

He landed on the dirt in front them instead of on their heads as he’d originally planned. Turned the intended blow into an offer of a handshake. Spears looked down at the hairy knuckles before him, smothered a laugh, and shook the proffered hand with the languid grace of a man of consequence. Wiped his palm with a clean white handkerchief. Replaced it in his pocket.

He would pay for that, someday.

But first, Khan would find out what they wanted. Gerald Spears was supposed to keep the Walking Mind busy. Away. The fact that they were at his doorstep worried him. Had they found out about the attacks? He hoped not. It would be fatal to show any weakness to Gerald Spears, to both his plans and to himself.

“What do you want?” he asked, going on the offensive immediately. Better to keep them off guard. To establish dominance. To get them out of here as quickly as possible so he could fix this mess before it spiraled out of control. “I’m busy here.”

“Yes, of course you are.” Spears sounded amused as usual, like he always knew something you didn’t. He reminded Khan of a cat with canary feathers in its mouth. Khan liked cats, especially with a nice cream sauce.

HOW ARE THE PLANS PROGRESSING?

Khan winced as Jared Brain’s voice piped right into his skull at a volume it had never managed to attain before. Finally, he spared the disembodied brain a look. On a normal day, the Conqueror Ape couldn’t much be bothered with Jared. He was all flimsy tissue and hollow speech. No brawn to back up his conquests. No muscle. No anima. If Gorilla Khan had wanted to, he could have opened that jar up, scattered its jelly-like contents onto the floor, and stomped the Walking Mind into mush.

But now? Maybe not so much. The jar that housed Jared’s brain looked like it had seen better days. It was grimy and cracked, streaked with mud and plugged with gummy lumps of what looked like pre-masticated food. But the fluid within was brighter, greener—

Glowing.

It reminded Gorilla Khan of the fungus he’d been so desperately harvesting. The one he needed to control the dinosaurs. The one that had mysteriously disappeared from the fungal fields in vast amounts, leaving him unable to field a quarter of his carefully corralled saurian troops.

Had Jared Brain stolen from him? Gorilla Khan felt his anger rise again and tamped it down with some effort. He had to know. He had to be sure. And then, if his suspicions were true?

The brain would pay. Khan would take his vengeance out on every ounce of the delicate cranial matter.

I ASKED A QUESTION, KHAN.

Gorilla Khan growled at the jar but stopped himself before he went any further. Now was not the time, he reminded himself. He must proceed very carefully.

“Yes,” he rumbled. “Come see for yourself.”

He gestured them forward to look at the map that Chirrang had so carefully constructed. The thought made him upset all over again—the captain of his troops was nowhere to be found and that never happened. All he usually had to do was shout—heck, all he had to do was think about Chirrang, and he would appear as if by magic. Always with whatever it was that Khan so desperately needed. Chirrang just knew. He anticipated. And now he was gone to who knew where. Khan suspected foul play, but who would be crazy enough to do such a thing?

Who other than the two villainous figures that stood before him?

He bared his teeth without even intending to, and then had to turn it into a limp, obsequious smile that he was certain they both saw through. But neither of them commented. Instead, they gravely approached the table, with its meticulously drawn to scale topography, the tiny carved figures representing the different dinosaur species, the piles of green sand that represented the fungal fields. And the clear open space of the staging ground, where he would pull them all together. Tomorrow.

He would make it happen, no matter what.

“Hmmm,” said Spears, peering down thoughtfully at it.

AH, I SEE THE PLANS NOW.

“Very nicely done,” added Spears.

INDEED.

“Thank you,” said Khan, a little mollified despite himself. He knew deep within him that they were setting him up for something. Some wrench. Some letdown. But still, there was a part of him that craved acceptance. That wanted to belong.

In that, he was rather like his son, although he didn’t realize it.

“Jared has brought up one problem with the plan,” said Spears, not looking up from the ornate map. “He asked me to bring him here to tell you about it in person. I trust that the interruption isn’t unwelcome.”

And here it came. Khan braced himself for the revelation in silence. Focused all of his will on remaining calm. On ensuring that they would not goad him, no matter how hard they tried. They would not topple the Great and Mighty Khan from his throne.

“Of course not,” he said in tones that made it obvious that he meant nothing of the sort. “What is it?”

THE CENTURIONS.

Khan couldn’t help it. His eyes widened in shock, and then he threw his head back and roared with laughter.

“That?” he exclaimed. “That is the big problem you’ve been working up to all this time? We will crush the Centurions beneath the minds of my psychosaurs. None of them can hope to resist. You’ve said so yourself, Jared. So what’s the big deal?”

“They’re here, Khan,” Spears said, his tone mildly chiding. “Don’t underestimate them.”

“Which ones?” asked Khan.

THE FLYING MONKEY, THE GIRL WARRIOR, THE MYSTICAL DETECTIVE…

Khan easily filled in the names. Jet Black. Amelia Stone. Benjamin Hu. Was it his imagination, or did Jared sound a little disgruntled at the Centurions? Perhaps that was why they were warning him? Jared Brain had gotten his nose bloodied by one of the Centurions. His jar cracked by their blows, hence his ramshackle appearance. Which one? Amelia? He would lay his bets on her.

Oh, what he would have given to see it!

“Ah, well,” he said, as carefree as possible, “I don’t see what the problem is. It’s not like any of us are vulnerable to them. They have no resources. No Century Club. No jet wings or aeroplanes or any of that nonsense. In the jungle, I am king. They couldn’t possibly hope to harm us, eh, Jared?”

Somehow, the disembodied brain managed to communicate the sound of a disgusted snort. Khan grinned and grinned and grinned. What had he been so worried about? This was rather fun. And it got his mind off of the fungus problem. As well as the missing eggs that had all his saurian breeders up in arms despite their increased serum dosage. And the whereabouts of Chirrang. None of it seemed quite so bad now. For once, his creator had done him a favor.

“Oh,” said Spears, finally turning around to face his creation full in the face, “I forgot one. Your son is here, Khan. Didn’t you know?”

“My…? Son-of-Khan is here?” Khan’s limbs went numb with shock. But somehow, deep in his belly, he’d felt the presence of his son and heir. Known down deep that he was near. “That is a surprise,” he managed to say.

“Is it?” Spears lifted a brow in shock, so perfectly blatant that it must be feigned. “But I thought you knew. He was here in your camp, was he not? What name did he use again, Jared?”

Khan knew the name before Jared Brain said it. Knew with a deep and terrible certainty how very wrong he had been.

JOCHI.

And there it was. The reason behind all of his problems. He had pulled Jochi—no, his son—into his confidence. Refused to see the obvious explanation for their resemblance. Shown him the details of the plan. Had all but given him directions on how to best disrupt the invasion before it even started. And now—

Now all of the seemingly disparate problems he’d been facing made sense. They all generated from one source. From one mind.

From Son-of-Khan.

Gorilla Khan couldn’t decide whether he was angry or proud. He gravitated toward the former but couldn’t help feeling the latter. Perhaps his son was not as soft as he’d come to believe. Perhaps there was a little bit of his father in him after all. Otherwise, he couldn’t have portrayed Jochi half as well as he had. Could not have been as brutal. As cunning as he’d been.

“I must…” he started, but then let the declaration fade off into nothingness. What must he do? Hunt his son down and defeat him? Or finally, at last, bring him to see eye to eye? They did, after all, share a common goal—to defeat Doctor Methuselah’s plans to subjugate the world. Why couldn’t they work together?

But his collaborators must not suspect. He must bury his true intentions down deep. He knew from past experience that Jared Brain struggled to read simian minds, but the telepath could sometimes pick up the occasional stray thought, especially if it was backed by a strong emotion. Khan had to play his cards close to his chest. He had to convince them of his anger and his continued ability to lead the invasion.

Not like they could stand to lose him. They couldn’t control the psychosaurs. But it was still better to be safe.

So he screwed his face up into an expression of fury and bellowed.

“Betrayed!” he shouted. “I knew something was strange about Jochi! That is why I only gave him misinformation, why I sent him off to chase Atlantean slaves while the real work happened. But I did not guess at his true identity. You must believe me.”

“Oh, we do, master,” said Spears, the narrowing of his eyes at odds with his words.

CERTAINLY.

“I will prove it,” said Khan. “I will capture him myself. Bring him to you. Lay him at your feet. You will see; I will prove it to you.”

“Please, by all means, don’t let us stop you,” said Spears.

So Gorilla Khan lumbered toward the door, shouting for guards to bring him his weapons, hoping against hope that they were buying this charade.

If not, he was in a lot of trouble.


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