Fiction Friday: Dinocalypse Forever – Chapters 28-30

Dinocalypse Forever

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CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

The central operational hub of Gorilla Khan’s outpost was chaotic at the best of times. It was, after all, located in a jungle and constructed by primates with more interest in eating and fighting than in organizational efficiency. They’d plopped the buildings down wherever there was space and built them as quickly as possible so they could get back to all the eating and fighting.

The exteriors of most of the buildings were mud colored—having been plastered in the stuff—and shaped vaguely like pieces of dung. On the inside, they ranged from the bare basics of the barracks—one room with woven mats on the floor for sleeping—to the actual construction in Gorilla Khan’s command center. It had real doors and rooms and everything.

As far as bases went, it wasn’t the most orderly, but that suited the troops just fine. They weren’t thin-limbed, weak-necked humans. They didn’t need straight lines and rigid rules of order to force them into a cohesive fighting unit. They were dangerous in their independence, always posturing among themselves for dominance. An hour without a fight was unheard of. Those that survived were the best. The strongest. The ones who deserved it.

It made for a tumultuous kind of place. The noise had sometimes gotten to Captain Chirrang, if the truth be told.

His work required concentration. Foresight. Planning. Gorilla Khan might dream up the battle plans, but it was Chirrang’s careful and quiet support that made them happen. That ensured the warriors were armed and fed and in the right places at the right times. Chirrang was the one who gave the slaves enough food to keep them moving but not so much that they had the energy for revolt. The one who calculated the precise hatching times of each dinosaur species to make certain that the saurian troops would be ready to march when the portal opened…but wouldn’t have time to start fights among themselves first.

It was indispensable work, but often thankless. He was used to the Great Khan’s casual reliance. Sometimes it seemed like his leader expected the universe to sort itself out to suit his whims. He never seemed to realize how much work Chirrang put into it—but if you looked at it the right way, that meant that Chirrang was rather good at his job. If he made it look easy, that was a triumph in and of itself.

And with him gone, things had fallen apart.

It was rather gratifying, to say the least. Chirrang took one step through the front gates and couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry. Within less than a day, the facility had become nigh uninhabitable. The gates themselves were unmanned—probably some error in the guard schedule which no one had thought to correct. The gate stood open to any creature that might want to walk inside. And the smell! A rotten stench assailed his nostrils, and a quick look around confirmed its source. Piles of rubbish littered the outsides of the buildings, decaying in the hot jungle sun. A guard in a stained surcoat lay sprawled on one of them, snoring out boozy fumes, an empty flask still clutched in his hand.

He could hear singing from inside one of the barracks. Although the term “singing” was rather kind. It was more like shouting to music. It seemed to be going rather well until there was a particularly loud bellow of anger—

Silence.

Then: a chimpanzee flew through the wall.

Dried mud flew everywhere, along with splinters of wood and a piece of woven matting. The whole mess rolled to a stop at Chirrang’s feet, chimp included. The primate in question didn’t appear to be particularly damaged. The barracks, on the other hand, was already sagging. The soldiers within stared out through the chimp-shaped hole in the wall with looks of shock that turned to panic as the whole structure began to sag.

They ran for safety.

Some of them even made it.

Chirrang leaned over, grabbed the chimp by the scruff of the neck, and hauled it to its feet. The smaller primate stood with woozy good cheer. It smelled quite strongly of the fermented alcohol favored by the troops. They called it Khan Juice.

It also worked as armor polish in a pinch.

The soldiers who had managed to escape hovered uncertainly nearby, unsure of what to do. Should they help their fallen comrades who were audibly moaning in the pile of rubble that had been their barracks? Should they run rather than face Chirrang’s wrath? Should they pretend innocence?

The captain raked them with scathing eyes. This was what happened when leadership and guidance were lost. Jochi could not have brought these ingrates to order. Gorilla Khan could not have organized them. But he, Captain Chirrang, was exactly what was needed. And if no one else was going to pull off this invasion, he would do it. And he would get his due.

“General Chirrang,” he murmured. “I like the sound of that.”

“Sir?” squeaked the chimp, its voice hoarse.

He released his grip, scowling, and the chimp straightened himself up as best he could.

“You!” Chirrang thundered, pointing at the chimp. “Find Gorilla Khan for me. The rest of you clean up this mess, and clean it up now. If I’m not happy with your work, you’ll do it again…with your tongues!”

As he watched, a few of the soldiers in the back began to edge away as if to flee. He froze them with a look.

“Deserters will be dealt with,” he said ominously. “I’m in a terrible mood, so I beg one of you to flee. It would satisfy me mightily to have to hunt you down and bring you to justice.”

They all immediately froze in place as if they’d never contemplated such a crazy thing. He gave a satisfied nod.

“Get to work,” he ordered.

* * *

The work detail was going quite well. Chirrang was a keen observer, and he made sure to give the most troublesome of the troops the most disgusting of the jobs. They smelled like the inside of a sewer by the time he was done with them, and all their cronies they’d been leading astray suddenly realized that their idols were no longer quite as attractive as they had been.

He was feeling pretty good about it all when the chimp reappeared, swinging down from the viney trees to stand beside him. It curled one of its long arms in a crisp salute.

“Sir,” it said, visibly trembling. “I am sorry to inform you of this, but…”

Its voice failed.

“Come out with it already,” said Chirrang. “I don’t have all day.”

“I can’t find Gorilla Khan anywhere. His ape servant says that the Mighty Khan left in a hurry earlier today and hasn’t been seen since. He met with a human in a white suit and a…” The chimp gulped. “A brain in a jar.”

“Yes, yes.” Chirrang waved him on. “I’m familiar with the being of which you speak. Go on.”

The chimp seemed visibly relieved not to be called a liar. “Well, they came for a visit, and then Gorilla Khan ran out, leaving them in his command center. Then, after he was gone, the ape servant said the human and the brain had him pack up all of the fungus from the storage silo into sacks. They said they were supposed to take it with them to meet the master. And then…”

“Yeees?” said Chirrang.

“Then they vanished, sir. Into thin air, sir. With all the fungus.”

Chirrang blanched. “So the silo is empty.”

“Yes sir. I saw it with my own eyes, sir,” said the chimp. “I can take you there if you’d like to see yourself, sir.”

Chirrang waved the offer away. “I trust your eyes well enough. Unless you think bursting through that wall may have affected your vision?”

The chimp flushed. “No, sir.”

“Well, then…”

The captain began to pace thoughtfully. This changed things, quite dramatically. He’d met Jared Brain before and didn’t trust him any further than he could throw him telepathically. And he’d met Gerald Spears many times before. Gorilla Khan had always seemed to have the utmost confidence and respect in the man, but Chirrang had never trusted him. It had always seemed as if he was hiding something. As if he was playacting.

Just like Jochi.

But the Great and Mighty Khan had brushed his concerns off like a nagging fly. Dismissed him again. As he looked back on it, it seemed as if he had always been taken for granted. Always been ignored. Never gotten his due.

It was time to remedy that.

Clearly, the plans for the invasion had changed. The original plan involved going to the fields as the new dinosaurs hatched. Gorilla Khan would dominate the psychosaurs, which were due to birth first. Then, the psychosaurs would collar all of the other saurians, establishing the psychic bond necessary to control their movements. Then all would go through the portal and wreak havoc on the humans.

But that wasn’t due to happen until first thing in the morning. Chirrang looked up at the slowly darkening sky and realized that the removal of the fungus meant one of two things. Either the portal was going to open early and potentially leave him stranded here in the jungle with only these liquor-addled irregulars for company, or—

Or Gorilla Khan’s co-conspirators intended to sweep the rug out from under him.

Either way, the outcome wasn’t good for Chirrang. He had to move, and he had to move fast and light. Regardless of what happened, he wasn’t going to return to this place. He would attach himself to whichever side was willing to have him. And to treat him well.

“Gather the troops. Collect your weapons,” he ordered, keeping his voice calm with effort. “We move out in five, and anyone left here risks being left behind.”

The chimp’s eyes went wide, and he dashed off toward the others as fast as his stunted legs would carry him. Chirrang’s face wrinkled up in a smile. All would be well. He had returned home for answers, and answers he had found.

Now, he was his own ape, and no one would take him for granted ever again.

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

The compound in the jungle where Gorilla Khan had spent the past few months sat quiet and still. It had never been quiet. In the entire history of its existence, it had perhaps achieved complete silence for about a millisecond, but that had been a fluke. It was a place inhabited by loud, aggressive primates, after all, and Khan liked them as loud and aggressive as possible. It weeded out the weak.

He had no time for them.

So when he approached at a run, body swinging, knuckles pounding the dirt, he had expected to be greeted by a curious yet respectful guard. To be questioned. Saluted. Offered a drink or a piece of fruit or something.

But instead, all was quiet.

His heart thumped as he made his way through the unmanned gate, fully expecting to see the bodies of his soldiers stacked between the mud and wattle buildings like so much firewood. Assumed that only an attack could have caused such abject stillness. But there was nothing. The place had the look of a ghost town, if such a thing happened in the jungle.

Behind him, his guards shifted nervously, wondering where their companions were. Who had taken them. Their fellow simians wouldn’t abandon Gorilla Khan. They all knew full well the consequences of that action. So where had they gone?

“What should we do, sir?” bleated one of the younger monkeys, too inexperienced to know the wisdom of holding his tongue. “What happened to them?”

But rather than shouting at the unfortunate creature, rather than beating him about the head for daring to ask such an impertinent question, Gorilla Khan held up a finger for silence. He was thinking.

Although he was usually a being of brute strength and deft intimidation, the Conqueror Ape was in fact a genius of the highest caliber. In this, he rather resembled his son, although neither of them had ever realized it.

He frowned thoughtfully, forehead wrinkling with the intensity of his gaze as he looked around. Clearly, someone had been here. There had been a scuffle of a sort—there was a hole in that wall. Debris littered the ground around it, suggesting that someone or something had been flung out. But there had been a vain attempt to patch it after the fact.

In short, none of it added up.

But even if he couldn’t fit the pieces together, he knew who to blame. Those pieces fit together just fine. He realized now that Spears and the Walking Mind had been manipulating him all along. They’d relied on him to do all the dirty work. All the recruitment. All the harvesting. All the egg tending. He’d been sweating it out in this ancient jungle while they sat back and watched. And now that it was time to reap the benefits of the work—his work!—they were trying to take him out of the picture. They’d gotten him out of the way with their careful mention of his son, and in his absence, they’d—

—Done something. Whatever it was, he probably wasn’t going to like it.

He’d been counting on the fact that he was indispensable all this time, trusting that it would protect him. But if they were removing him, that meant they’d figured out a way to control the psychosaurs. Suddenly, the greenish tinge to Jared Brain’s jar made sense. He must have seeded it with the fungus that Gorilla Khan had so carefully harvested. He must have found a way to blend his own innate abilities with the prehistoric telepathic link provided by the fungus. Which meant—

Jared Brain could control the psychosaurs. It was the only possibility.

So what now? He had to interfere with their plans, but how? He would not let them steal his triumph out from under him. He’d see the invasion fail before he let that happen. But he feared the consequences if he engaged in a tug of war with the Walking Mind over the psychosaurs. The creatures might slip both their grips during the struggle and turn on them.

“Sir…?” asked the monkey, impatient with the long silence. Or perhaps the surroundings were making it nervous, based on the way its eyes were darting to and fro. Like it expected a primate-eating monster to leap out at any moment.

“Shut your trap,” snapped Gorilla Khan, brow furrowed in concentration. “I’ve almost got it.”

He had to get to the psychosaurs first, that was the key. He had to collect as many of them as he could. That was his only hope of regaining control of this invasion.

“Come,” he snapped, his mind made up. “We’ve got psychosaurs to hatch.”

He stomped toward the forlorn gates, still standing open. Spears may have gotten a head start on him, but he knew the land. He knew the secret to getting the eggs to hatch, the trick to establishing instant and permanent dominance over the lizard creatures. Spears and the Walking Mind would figure it out, but that would take time. They didn’t have this process down to a science like he did. And they would pay for it.

He grinned as he loped out into the jungle toward the fields where the psychosaur eggs lay.

They would pay for it indeed.

CHAPTER THIRTY

The throne room sat as if in suspended animation, its occupants barely daring to breathe. And there were a lot of occupants. The room was filled to bursting—Marelon and Zebulon stood on the dais, surrounded by a full contingent of the house guard. Various courtiers, the hems of their robes decorated with bands of luminous color to designate their stations, stood in clusters. Their heads tilted together as if they were gossiping, although no sound was uttered. Every exit was guarded, and every guard stood with weapon already in hand, their eyes tense and watchful. And the Centurions were all present: Benjamin, Amelia, and the Professor stood gravely by, fingernails embedded in palms. Rigid with anticipation.

Jet Black alone seemed immune to the worry that gripped the rest of the room. He bounced on his toes. Elbowed the tall Atlantean standing at his side. Grinned.

“You’d think those lizard things were dangerous or something,” he joked.

Aeron failed to crack a grin. The whole of his city’s fate sat on the success of this scheme, and he couldn’t see any humor whatsoever in that situation. He shook his head slowly, not taking his eyes off the eggs that sat at the foot of the dais.

“Mack would have found it funny,” muttered Jet. For the first time in his life, he actually missed the aviator. Sometimes things were just so tense that you had to crack a joke or go mad with the pressure. He was beginning to miss Mack’s wisecracks now that they were gone.

He turned his attention back to the pile of eggs clustered on the glistening tile. Said eggs weren’t doing anything interesting. In fact, they weren’t doing anything at all. And it was Jet’s firm opinion that if they were going to save Atlantis, save the future, and get back home in time for supper, they’d better get their jets on.

In a manner of speaking.

So he marched forward, pushing through a cluster of Atlantean scientists who were busily scribbling notes on long rolls of paper they held awkwardly over one arm. Ignored their shocked and startled glances. Gave the twin rulers a nod.

“Majesties,” he said, “mind if I try to hurry things along? Time’s a-wasting, if you get my drift.”

“Please.” Marelon inclined her head, showing her sharp teeth in a smile. “We would be very grateful for your assistance.”

“Righteo,” said Jet, nodding. “Let me see what I can do.”

He knelt down next to the eggs. They were different than Comet’s had been—much smaller and speckled all over with grey blotches where Comet’s egg had been smooth and white. But there couldn’t be too much of a difference, right? An egg was an egg, and while Jet wasn’t much of a cook himself, he knew how to handle an egg. It just needed cracking.

He ran his fingers over the surface, searching for just the right place to push— There!

A small patch of shell right near the top felt spongy. Gave under his touch. It felt warm and alive and waiting to be opened. He pushed a little and felt it give.

Something inside pushed back.

He jerked his fingers away as if they’d been bitten, hissing in fear. The collected audience took a step back, expecting the worst. But he shot them a sheepish grin. Shrugged as if to say how silly he felt. Answered Amelia’s inquiring look with a confident nod. He could do this. He needed to do this. But how?

Think back to what happened right before Comet hatched, Dream Sally suggested. He felt like if he turned fast enough, he might just catch a glimpse of her hovering over his shoulder. Arms folded. Brow arched in impatience. He hatched for a reason, Jet. What was it?

It came to him in a flash of inspiration. Noise. Light. He needed to attract the hatchling’s attention, get the creature to poke its head out. Assuming it was ready to hatch. If this one didn’t work, he’d move on to the next. But he had to believe that if the invasion was tomorrow, they’d all be hatching soon. Otherwise, where would all the invading dinosaurs come from?

He reached forward and tapped a quick rat-a-tat-tat on the shell—

The response was instantaneous.

The egg lurched. Wobbled. Fell over. The Atlanteans took a step back from it, except for Marelon, who took a step forward. Her thin face was alight with excitement.

“I will claim the first psychosaur as is my right as ruler!” she exclaimed.

Jet’s gaze flicked to Zebulon, but he seemed more than happy to step aside and let his sister take the glory—and the risk. Jet stepped back as the dark Atlantean approached the egg, which was spinning lazily, hairline cracks spreading in a spider web pattern across its dappled surface.

A claw poked out—

A whole foot—

A leg—

Marelon grew impatient. She reached down and jerked the creature free of the imprisoning shell. It flopped weakly in her arms, still too rubber-limbed to attack its aggressor. But its sharp little teeth closed reflexively on air, mere inches from the lady’s long, delicate arm.

The guards took a step forward. Hands tightened on weapons, ready to charge.

“Stand back!” she declared, her eyes fixed on the creature’s wide, alien ones. “I will see if I can establish a bond.”

Seconds ticked by, excruciatingly slow.

“Lift them,” she ordered the creature. “Levitate them, if you can.”

Nothing happened.

But then: the other eggs began to wobble. They rose into the air, slowly, hesitantly. They rose to hover at eye height, then gently lowered themselves to the ground. Marelon smiled, holding the now quiescent baby psychosaur close to her. It rubbed its scaly head against her, then opened its mouth in a hungry squeal.

“Huzzah!” cheered Jet, unable to restrain himself. “You did it!”

“If they are anything like this one, they will be hungry when they are born, and they will need all the strength they can muster if we are to work together to lift the city free of the ground and sink it in the sea,” she declared. “Bring meat, and quickly. We must bring the rest of them into the world. Our salvation is at hand!”

The crowd raised their hands as if to cheer, but made no noise. Probably sending out empathic signals that negated the need for speech.

But the Centurions let out loud whoops of joy, quickly stifled with embarrassed chuckles.

“Sorry,” said Amelia. “We can’t help ourselves.”

But Zebulon laughed too. “There is reason to celebrate aloud, Miss Stone. We feel it too, and we are grateful to you. Now let us get to work, so that we may save our home and get you to the time portal before it is too late.”

“Amen,” said Jet, already moving toward the pile of eggs. “Here. Let me show you what to do. It’s really easy.”

They all moved as one, urgency driving their steps.


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