Fiction Friday: Dinocalypse Forever – Chapters 26 & 27

Dinocalypse Forever

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CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

Benjamin Hu had faced down an army of Cibollan fire warriors hungry for his blood. He’d walked the Arctic Steppes, standing tall and firm against the ice beasts that protect their homeland with frozen talons sharp enough to slice the air. He’d braved the arcane traps of the Mayan Catacombs while Gerald Spears’s goons nipped at his heels. Those things had scared him, sure. Only a moron would face them down without fear. But it was nothing compared to the worry that gripped him now. Worry for his friends. For their safety.

It just wasn’t like Jet and the Professor to go off on their own like that. It wasn’t that they were cowards—far from it. But they tended to follow where others led. Jet had plenty of field experience, but almost all of it had been directed by Sally or Mack, and they weren’t here to lead him. As for the Professor, he’d barely been in the field at all. And he was definitely a follower. He probably didn’t have a leadership bone in his body. Not an insult, just how they worked.

When you added it all up, it spelled trouble.

Benjamin kept that worry buried down deep, because in his line of work, showing fear was almost always a mistake. It left an opening for the evils of the world to get their hooks into you. Left you vulnerable. But the fear kept trying to bubble up to the surface, show itself on his face. He could see it written on Amelia Stone’s visage as plain as day. Aeron wore his worry all through the rigid lines of his body and the red heat of his cheeks. But this was one case where sharing the sentiment only made it worse. Not better.

The one advantage was that it drove them all to speed. They sent word to Zebulon and Marelon that they were heading out to search for their missing companions just in case the others found their way back. And then out they went through the electric zap of the force field.

Out into the jungle.

“Where do we start?” asked Amelia, subjecting the foliage to intense scrutiny. As if it might be shielding their lost companions from view.

Both Aeron and Amelia looked to the mystical detective for directions. And certainly, this fell into his area of expertise. There was a mystery to be solved. A puzzle to unravel. Benjamin pursed his lips thoughtfully.

“The most likely possibilities include all of the locations we’ve previously visited,” he said. “I would start with the fungal fields. Perhaps they left something there and have only gone to retrieve it. And if they’ve been captured, they might have been put to work there. We could possibly find some ape warriors to question on that account.”

“So we need to leave them alive and conscious,” said Amelia grimly, shooting a warning glance at Aeron. “Got it.”

The tall Atlantean made a moue of disgust but nodded. “Very well,” he said. “But I can’t promise what will happen after the questions are asked and answered. Especially if something has happened to Koa.”

“If something has happened to Koa,” said Benjamin, his long face drawn tight, “I will join you in your vengeance. It is never right to harm innocents, and I won’t stand for it.”

“Me either.” Amelia squeezed Aeron’s arm. “But she’ll be okay. They’re all fine. I can feel it in my bones.”

Try as he might, Benjamin couldn’t feel the same. Perhaps his bones were faulty.

* * *

The terrain was rough but they covered it quickly, spurred on by worry and a sense of urgency. Benjamin’s steps would flag, and then he’d be overcome by the certainty that they were too late, and he’d find within him the strength to speed up again. It was strange how this situation had ruffled him. Perhaps it was the collective strain of all of the obstacles they’d had to overcome.

Usually, he could take time on his adventures. Ponder the best way to approach an adversary. Study the clues; learn the cyphers. Read, if reading was necessary.

Usually, he was prepared. That was the secret key, the one that kept him one step ahead of everyone else. He could think on his feet, of course, but that was because he had spent night after sleepless night thinking through every possibility. Plotting every move through the end of the game, like a chess master at the board. Then, when the unthinkable happened—

He’d already thought of it.

But there had been no planning on this adventure. No time to read or reflect. No sleepless nights with the luxury of protracted thought. Just running and fighting and the deep dreamless sleep of exhaustion. Always reacting instead of being proactive.

It gave him the twitches.

Made him more than a little paranoid, even.

That paranoia saved his life. Pulled him up short just as he turned the corner toward the fungal fields, his adrenalin-heightened senses warning him of a presence on the path before his eyes had so much as blinked. He was rolling, driven by pure instinct.

Amelia leapt overhead. Struck the ape on the path with pointed fingers. Jabbed it in the neck, downing it with one precise strike to the bundle of nerves gathered there.

Aeron was right behind her, his teeth bared in a feral rictus grin. His hands flew in a blur, driving a barrage of punches into the solar plexus of the other guard stationed there. It choked. Wretched. Fell in a heap of pain onto the ground, writhing. Hands clutched at its belly, curled on air.

“Enough,” said a voice from the shadows.

They whirled as a group, hands poised and ready to fight off this new threat from the shadows. Whatever came out at them, they would face it together.

“Give up,” said the voice. Deep and booming. All too familiar. “You’re surrounded.”

As if on cue, ape warriors stepped out of the jungle in an irregular semicircle. Blocking off all escape. Brandishing spears. Baring sharp fangs in challenge. And directly in front of them stood Gorilla Khan.

The Conqueror Ape looked delighted. Grinned ear to ear as he loped forward on curled knuckles.

“Khan,” said Benjamin, looking everywhere but at their adversary. He knew that the gorilla would take this as a calculated insult, but it was really nothing of the sort. He was evaluating the setting, looking for weaknesses to exploit.

There wasn’t much. Not now—but that only meant they had to create one. Until that moment, he would be poised and ready to act.

“Where is my son?” asked Gorilla Khan, scanning their group and looking more than a little disappointed. “I do not see Son-of-Khan. Where have you taken him?”

“We came to ask you the very same thing,” answered Amelia. “What have you done with him?”

“He left my camp with promises to bring back Atlantean slaves. I wouldn’t trust him if I were you. He is my son, after all.”

Now Benjamin took a moment to study his adversary, drawn by his boasting words. He could see their effect on Amelia, the uncertainty written on her face. The confusion on Aeron’s. And certainly there was a nugget of truth buried in the statement, but something about the bland satisfaction on Khan’s face suggested there was more to the story than he was saying.

Benjamin snorted. “If that’s the case, why are you out here looking for him? Slipped your noose, did he? For all of your boasting, all of your power, you can’t keep hold of one gorilla? And he isn’t even a warrior. Face it, Khan. You were bested by an academic.”

Now he had him. Right where he wanted him—

Gorilla Khan’s head lowered as he glared. Lips pressed together. Flat with anger. The spearmen took an involuntary step forward, spurred on by their leader’s anger—

And stopped at his signal.

“We shall see,” said Gorilla Khan. “Any last words?”

Benjamin glanced at his two companions. They faced almost certain death with stoic expressions, hands still held at the ready. No fear on their faces despite the pounding of their hearts. This was what they did. Aeron stood shoulder to shoulder with Amelia, his eyes moving rapidly as he awaited the start of the fight. Benjamin had a moment of dawning comprehension, quickly set aside for contemplation later.

Of course. Aeron is a Centurion too. How did I not see it before?

He’d never considered the idea of an Atlantean Centurion, and it was a concept that intrigued him. He would have to speak with Aeron about this at length. It was one more reason they needed to survive. One more mystery to hold on for.

He faced down Gorilla Khan, calm assurance in his heart and on his face. He knew exactly what to do. Exactly how to proceed.

“One thing before you kill us,” he said, holding up a single finger. “There’s something I need to tell you.”

“Well, get on with it,” said Khan, impatient. “I don’t have all day.”

“You are aware that we have come here from the future, yes? Via one of the time portals.”

“Yes, I know all that. You tagged along with the Walking Mind.” Khan’s face flashed with brief amusement. “Which one of you put him through the wringer? I’d shake your hand for it if I wasn’t about to have you killed.”

“I think that was Jet,” murmured Amelia.

Khan’s keen ears picked up the comment despite its lack of volume. “Ah, too bad,” he said.

Benjamin forged on, keeping his face neutral with effort despite his growing excitement. The thrill he got from puzzling out the only possible escape from a dire situation.

“There’s something you need to know about the future, then,” he said. “Methuselah and the Walking Mind will betray you.”

Khan snorted. “Right,” he said. “And you’re just telling me out of the goodness of your heart? Thanks ever so much.”

“Actually, I have nothing to lose,” said Benjamin. “I am about to die now, aren’t I? Your loyal troops will run us through with their spears, and that will be the end of us. So what need have I to lie? The best I can hope for is that you will listen to me and foil their plans. Think about it, Khan. You have nothing to lose by listening to me, and everything to gain.”

The Conqueror Ape considered this. Moved closer. Tilted his head.

“Go on.”

“You will travel through the portal, bringing along your psychosaurs. Use them to subjugate the human population. And then, once all of the work is done, they will abandon you. Leave you to rot in a cage. I’ve seen it myself, Khan. I couldn’t help it. I pitied you.”

Gorilla Khan looked like he wanted to laugh, but he must have seen something in Benjamin’s eyes that made him pause. His dark eyes glittered with intelligence as he pored this over.

“So you want me to let you live so you can help me defeat them?” he rumbled. “That’s the sticky wicket in all of this, yes?”

Benjamin shook his head. “I’m asking nothing of you except that you stick it to Methuselah. And Jared Brain too. They are even now plotting to stab you in the back. Haven’t you figured it out yet, Khan? Haven’t you deduced the true identity of Gerald Spears?”

Khan’s mouth opened to retort and then shut as the full meaning of the mystical detective’s words washed over him. As the pieces lined up—

As he realized how deftly he’d been played.

Benjamin Hu pressed his advantage. Took a step closer. Spoke in soft, insinuating tones—

“Where are they, Khan? Do you know what they’re doing?”

Dawning horror rose on the Conqueror Ape’s face. His eyes widened; his shoulders stiffened. His mouth fell open in an exaggerated O of wonder and fear.

“I left them…” he said, trailing off. “No!”

He whirled around, launching himself down the path from whence he came. “Loyal soldiers with me!” he cried. “For the good of our people!”

The troops let loose a chorus of screeches and howls, thundering after him. Completely disregarding the continued presence of the shocked Centurions still standing on the path. Amelia shot a glance at Benjamin, her mouth curling up into a smile. She shook her head.

“Sometimes I wonder about you,” she said.

“Join the club,” replied Benjamin.

Then a call floated back through the trees. Gorilla Khan.

“Don’t think this means I’ve gone soft,” he yelled. “I’ll kill you next time!”

“We’re counting on it!” shouted Benjamin in reply. Then he turned to go back in the direction from whence they came. “Come on. Let’s see if Jet and the Professor have returned to the city yet. We’re running out of time.”

Aeron looked up at the clear blue sky. There was no sign of a meteor strike, no indication that death would fall from the sky in mere hours. But he had seen the star maps. He’d read the patterns for himself.

He nodded, following the other two heroes back to his doomed home.

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

By the time they made it back to the dome, Jet’s shoulders were throbbing. He knew the eggs were valuable. He knew they were worth the pain. But he was beginning to wonder how something so heavy was ever going to fly. If they’d stolen defective dinosaurs, he was going to be very unhappy.

Professor Khan must be feeling even worse, as laden with cargo as he was. He’d been plodding along in silence under a pile of heavy sacks, sweat beading on his brow. His fingers were white knuckled, but their hold did not falter. He seemed to be moving under sheer determination more than anything else.

A loud shout from behind them drew Jet’s attention, and he lowered the sack, hoping against hope that they weren’t about to be attacked. He was not ready to face gorilla warriors or psychic dinosaurs. What he really wanted was a nice bath. Preferably at home, in his own tub. And then maybe Sally could burn some dinner for him, you know, since he was dreaming and all.

Might as well dream big.

But it wasn’t enemies after all. As he watched, Benjamin, Amelia, and Aeron emerged from the tree line, waving gleefully. Aeron’s long strides took him quickly out in front of the group. Koa let out a delighted squeal and ran out to meet her not-quite-fiancé. As far as Jet could tell, it was one of those complicated relationships.

Jet could relate.

While the two Atlanteans were exchanging kisses and hugs and whispered greetings, Amelia marched right up to Jet, her dark eyes ablaze, and said, “I could honestly smack you. Where have you been? Merde. You frightened the dickens out of us.”

His proud smile faltered. “I’m sorry to have worried you. But look! The Professor and I went out to fetch a few eggs. Flying dinosaurs, if we’re not mistaken. They should be close to hatching, and that means we’ve weakened Gorilla Khan’s numbers as well as gotten us some air support. And we’ve got transportation to the portal when it opens. You know what that means, right?”

The anger fell out of her face like water from a bucket with a hole in the bottom. “We could get home. That’s what you’re saying.”

“Yup!” Jet beamed.

Amelia took his face in both hands and gently placed a kiss on each cheek. “That is the best news I’ve heard all day, mon cher. It’s almost enough to make me forgive you for frightening me so badly.”

“Almost?”

“Almost.” She grinned and nodded.

Jet’s good mood faded a little when he saw Benjamin and the Professor, shoulders hunched, whispering urgently. Something in their demeanor told him instantly that this was not a good news conversation. Something was wrong. Something new.

As if they didn’t have enough to deal with already.

“What?” he asked fearfully. “What is it?”

Amelia’s face fell too. Whatever it was, it must be bad.

“There’s a meteor,” she said. “Anyone left here by tomorrow is going to die.”

Jet’s stomach plummeted to his toes. He’d never been so frightened in his life. Not when he’d faced down the psychosaurs for the first time. Not the first time he’d strapped a Sally Special engine to his back and tried to fly. Those things had been survivable, if only he did the right things. Fightable, if only he was strong enough. But a meteor? That was too big to be reasoned with. Too massive to be destroyed. Their only hope was to flee it.

But where did that leave the Atlanteans?

He frowned thoughtfully. He had to do something, but what? How could they hope to save the entire city, unless they led every single Atlantean to safety through the portal? And would that be a blessing or a curse to a people used to the solitude of their domed home? To the quiet and peace of a life full of empathic bonds?

“Uh…Jet?” said Amelia, staring down at his feet. “I think something’s happening.”

He looked down, wondering if perhaps something was wrong with his shoes. But that wasn’t it at all. One of the eggs he’d been lugging was beginning to quiver. To crack. It rolled out of the sack, its entire surface shaking violently as the baby within began to make its way out into the world.

Jet felt tears in his eyes. Dashed them away with the back of his wrist. He missed Comet. They’d had a special bond, one that would never be replaced. He’d been so busy rushing about and trying not to die that he hadn’t had time to mourn the Pterosaur’s loss, but now, watching the birth of another winged dinosaur, it all came rushing back.

Except for one small problem.

The creature that poked its head out of the crack in the egg wasn’t a long beaked, pointy headed flying dinosaur. No, its features were much more familiar: a lizard-like head. Flat, smooth scales. Razor sharp teeth in a rictus grin.

A psychosaur!

He’d wondered where they were hiding, kept expecting to see more of them here in the jungle. So many had poured out through the portal, after all. But now he understood. Gorilla Khan hadn’t been hiding them at all. Most of his troops hadn’t even hatched yet. They must grow quickly. Or perhaps Methuselah’s mathemagic would accelerate the process.

All of this flashed through Jet’s mind in an instant. But then, the psychosaur’s eyes latched onto his. His mind was instantly invaded by a barrage of light, sound, and chaos. This was not a gentle melding as it had been with Comet. This was an assault of the senses, designed to incapacitate.

It worked.

He fell, screaming, to the ground.

“Enough!” roared a voice.

The psychic attack stopped as quickly as it had begun. Jet lifted his pounding head just enough to see the Professor, eyes locked on the feral little creature. It kicked its way free of the remains of the egg without breaking eye contact.

The Professor narrowed his eyes. Glowered even harder.

The psychosaur dropped its head, looking at the ground. Shoulders hunched.

Defeated.

“Stop immediately. You will not hurt any of my people,” grumbled the Professor, still glaring. “Or I’ll turn you into boots.”

Amelia reached down to lift Jet up from the ground. Her hands sure and firm, but gentle. He groaned, staggered, and finally managed to right himself.

“Thanks,” he said. “And thank you, Professor. That’s not what I expected at all. I’m…I’m sorry. I just led us on a wild goose chase. These things won’t do us a bit of good. We can’t bring them into the dome; they’ll just try to kill everybody.”

“I-I could…” The Professor stuttered, hesitant. “I pretended this one was a student who had forgotten to write a paper and thought she could charm me into leniency. She made me angry. Perhaps I could do that with the others?”

But help came from an unexpected quarter.

“Actually, I think maybe we can help,” said Aeron. “There’s…there’s a primitive intelligence here. Given some time, I believe I could form a psychic bond with it. What do you think, Koa?”

Koa’s pixie-like face screwed up in concentration. “Do you really think…oh, yes! I see. It’s just confused; that’s all. It’s okay, baby,” she purred, reaching out a hand. “You’re safe now.”

Benjamin’s hand darted forward, seizing hers before she could make contact with the vicious little creature. She scowled at him.

“Get out of the way,” she said. “I know what I’m doing.”

“But…” Benjamin trailed off. The psychosaur was letting out a low trill in the back of its throat. It sounded like—

“Is that thing purring?” asked Jet. “I can’t decide if it’s adorable or frightening.”

“He’s cute,” said Koa defensively. She pulled away from Benjamin and ran a hand over the crest along the back of the psychosaur’s head. It trilled in delight. “It’s a natural predator, of course, but he’s not going to attack you unless he thinks you’re a threat.”

“Or unless my sire forces him to do so,” said the Professor glumly.

Benjamin nodded. “This means that our plan is clear, ladies and gentlemen. Tonight, we raid for eggs. All night, as many as we can. And then we hand them over to the Atlanteans for imprinting. Gorilla Khan’s troops will be severely weakened when they pass through the portal. Hopefully that will be enough of a difference to save our home time and to protect the Atlanteans once we are gone.”

“But what about Atlantis?” asked Amelia. “We can’t just leave them here to be destroyed.”

Jet felt the stirring of an idea at the back of his mind. He fumbled for it. Tried to keep hold of it, but it kept slipping through his fingers. He growled aloud in frustration.

“What’s wrong?” asked Aeron, concerned.

“Quiet!” said Jet. “Please. I’m trying to think.”

But it kept eluding him, no matter how hard he tried. He could just see Sally, standing there and tapping her foot in barely restrained impatience. Maybe even clapping her wrench into her open hand as if it were a threat she would ever make good on. He thought about the freckles dotting her nose and the way she was always smeared with a bit of grease on her face. Like she carried a bit of her workshop along with her everywhere she went.

If Sally was here, she wouldn’t press him—impatient though she may be. She wouldn’t doubt. She’d just wait, full of certainty that Jet would come through for her. Because he always had. Because she loved him, even if she didn’t realize it yet. Because he was—above all else—the one who came through when the chips were down and the odds seemed impossible. He was the underdog, and that was exactly what was needed in this moment where defeat seemed certain.

“Hey, Aeron. Didn’t you say that the city used to fly?” he asked, haltingly. Not quite sure where he was going but feeling his way on instinct.

Aeron blinked but answered promptly. “Yes, but it’s stuck now.”

“The dome is magnetically attracted to the mines, and we’ve been unable to generate enough force to counteract it,” added Koa.

“What if…” Jet trailed off, thinking quickly. “We need a lot of eggs, and a lot of Atlanteans to imprint with the psychosaurs. You all use your empathic abilities to form the deepest bond possible. The psychosaurs are telekinetic, you see. You could work together to lift the city free of the ground. That could work, couldn’t it?”

Koa nodded, her eyes bright. “I think it could. It’s worth a try.”

“We’ll get started right away,” added Aeron.

The tall Atlantean made to dash off through the dome, but Benjamin caught his arm before he could get very far.

“Wait,” said the mystical detective, regret in his voice. “Don’t get me wrong; it’s a great idea. But there’s just one problem. The air will fill with debris when the meteor strikes. It won’t be any safer up there than it will be down here.”

The group of heroes fell silent, their hopes deflated. Shoulders slumped. Wracking their brains for a solution where none existed. But then—

The Professor spoke into the silence.

“That dome doesn’t float, does it?” He looked at the Atlanteans, who shrugged. “I think that’s the answer. We all know—in our time, Atlantis is a domed city beneath the sea. Right, Benjamin?”

Benjamin shrugged. “Everyone knows that.”

“That’s it, then,” said the Professor. “Atlantis is under the sea because we put it there. We can’t save the city by floating it. We have to sink it. Only then will it survive the meteor strike.”

They stood, frozen by the enormity of what they were about to undertake. But the erudite ape was right. It was their only choice. Their only hope.

“Let’s do this!” said Jet, raising a fist.


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