Fiction Friday: Dinocalypse Forever – Chapters 33-35

Dinocalypse Forever

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CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

In the wake of the portal’s explosion, everyone seemed to be at a loss. The Centurions encountered some slight opposition from both apes and dinosaurs, but it was all haphazard and lacking organization. Without their leaders, the wild creatures were already returning to their natural behaviors.

But that was a small consolation. The Centurions walked aimlessly, slump-shouldered.

The walk of people with no place to go.

“We could return to Atlantis,” offered Aeron. “They would welcome your skills. I realize it isn’t home, but perhaps with time we could devise a time portal of our own.”

The Centurions exchanged wary looks. It was worth a try, but none of them could bear to hope. Hope hurt too much in the wake of such a terrible loss.

“That would be very kind,” said Amelia. “We would be pleased to accept.”

“We must hurry,” said Koa, her chin tilted toward the sky. Her voice throbbed with urgency. “I think that’s the meteor.”

She pointed to a long white contrail in the sky, growing in size as it made its way across the immaculate and empty blueness. This was no aeroplane performing tricks at a county fair. The sight of the giant meteor lit a fire underneath the Centurions.

“Let’s go!” yelled Benjamin. “We haven’t much time.”

They crashed through the underbrush at a good pace, but before they had covered even half of the ground, before the dome was fully visible through the trees, they heard a crackle. A crunch.

BOOM!

The ground shook as the dome rose from its moorings, carrying the city of Atlantis along with it. The shimmering sphere rose higher and higher into the air. Buildings, people, land—all were suspended within its glistening surround. And with more speed than expected, the whole thing began to float toward the distant water.

“No!” yelled Koa, waving her arms. “Come back! We’re down here!”

“They won’t hear us. Run!” ordered Aeron, urging her down the path.

They all ran. Desperately. Despite knowing that they could not, would not make it in time. Huffing and puffing. Scrambling over trees and rocks. Breathless with exertion and fear.

The domed city moved all too quickly. It reached the distant water. Dipped down to touch it delicately, like a maiden dipping a toe before plunging into the still waters of a secluded lake. Slowly, inexorably submerged.

“I don’t believe it,” said Jet, his shoulders slumping. “This wasn’t how it was supposed to turn out.”

The Centurions stood, shoulder to shoulder, and watched their last means of escape sink into the ocean.

CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

Sally Slick threw her wrench across the workshop with a clatter. It wasn’t like it mattered anyway. This wasn’t her wrench; it was some cheap rusted thing she’d scavenged out of the junk. This wasn’t her workshop. And even if it was, she wasn’t an inventor anyway. A real inventor would have solved the problem with the portal. A real inventor would have brought her friends home.

She had to face the facts. She’d failed. All those dreams she’d had, ever since the days of that first racing tractor she’d built with her own hands? They were all for nothing.

“I won’t ever pick up a wrench again,” she vowed, squeezing her hands so tight that her nails made half moons in the skin of her palms. “I won’t do it.”

She wanted to punch something. That was all she was good for, anyway. Mack had been right all along; it was time to fight these creatures. If not out of hope, out of vengeance. Vengeance for Jet.

Then she heard Mack’s voice, as if thinking of him had miraculously summoned him to her door.

“Sally?” he said, strangely hesitant.

“Have you gone on that raid yet?” she demanded. “I want to go.”

“I don’t think that’s such a good idea, sweetheart.”

“Who are you calling—”

She whirled on him and fell silent, mouth hanging open in shock. Mack stood in her doorway with an honest-to-heaven dinosaur at his side. It was one of the winged beasts, all long limbs and a thick beak, sharp enough to cut. One of the wings was torn, mottled flesh only just beginning to heal itself.

Around its neck was Jet’s scarf.

“Is that…?” She took a step forward, trying not to look the creature in the eye. It tilted its head to get a better look at her, and she saw something familiar there. Something she couldn’t put a name to.

“I don’t think it ate him,” said Mack, hurriedly. “It seems…friendly. It took me for a spin and everything. I don’t think I’ve moved that fast since before I lost Lucy.” His voice caught, and he cleared his throat, trying to hide the swell of emotion on his face. “Poor thing’s hurt though.”

Sally patted his shoulder, trying to deny the lump in her own throat. Suddenly, she saw him clearly. All the things he’d lost, just as she had. The wisecracks he mouthed to distract him from the fear. They were a lot alike, she and Mack. Too much alike, probably.

From the look on his face, he knew it too. Probably had for a long time.

She ducked her head, trying to shrug off the sudden awkward feeling she had. Returned to her examination of the creature standing before them. Hesitantly, she put a hand to its head. Stroked it over the smooth ridges of its scales.

The Pterosaur let out a low trill of delight, pushing against her hand like an impatient kitten.

“Where did it come from?” she asked.

“Out of one of them portals, I think,” said Mack. “We were…uh…scavenging. You know, for supplies.”

The lie was written clearly on his face. Probably they’d been making a run on that airfield despite the fact that he could barely walk. But she couldn’t bring herself to chastise him for it. She understood now what it was like to hit rock bottom. The kind of desperate things it could drive you to do.

“And it was wearing Jet’s scarf when you first saw it?”

Sally fingered the smooth weave of the scarf. The cream colored fabric had been a gift from her mother when she and Jet left for the city. Ma was always handy with a needle. Sally hadn’t really inherited that skill, although she could manage a button if you didn’t much care how straight it was when it was done. This scarf had always been special to Jet, who’d spent a lot of time at the Slick household when they were young. He rarely took it off.

Sally had pictured the moment when Jet fell through the portal time and time again. Tormented herself with it. And she knew one thing, without a doubt—

Jet was wearing that scarf when he went through the portal.

That meant—

“It’s our link to them!” she gasped, grabbing Mack by the shoulders and shaking him in her excitement. “Don’t you get it, Mack?”

“Get what, Sal?”

“I can bring them back!”

Hands shaking, Sally Slick urged the Pterosaur forward. Unearthed her mini portal from underneath the junk she’d heaped upon it in disgust. Began to set everything up just so. It wouldn’t do to make a mistake, not now when she was so very close.

“Are you sure, Sally?” asked Mack reluctantly. “Don’t get too overworked here now.”

“Don’t you see?” she said. “This is our link to the time and place they landed. They must have gone back to the time right before the portal was opened.”

“And he came right to us…” Mack mused, petting the Pterosaur’s long wings. “Almost like this was home.”

“Don’t be silly. Jet’s never been here.”

“I wasn’t talking about the place, sugar lips. I was talking about the people. Person, to be precise.”

Sally flushed, suddenly realizing what he was saying. “Mack…” she said, unsure of what to say.

“Sal, you know I love you,” he said before she could get there. “But we’d kill each other.”

She let out a startled laugh. “I can’t argue with that.”

“Well, good.” He chucked her on the chin and then fixed her with a stern look. “So that’s done now. It’s for the best. But if he hurts you, I can’t make any promises, eh?”

“Yeah, well, neither can I,” she said, tossing her hair.

Their eyes met. Once. Briefly, they held each other in a level gaze.

Then: it was over.

Both of them knew it. Both let out breaths they hadn’t realized they were holding.

“That thing ready?” he said, tilting his chin toward the portal.

She placed a few electrodes, carefully attaching them to the Pterosaur. The creature stood there calmly, trust in its liquid eyes. Then she checked the whole contraption over. Twice.

“It’s ready,” she said.

“Let’s do it together.”

They put their fingers to the switch. Locked eyes again. This would work. It had to work.

“One…two…three.”

* * *

Time swelled and expanded. Contracted. Overlapped and doubled over on itself. As the portal opened, colors became sound. Sally smelled the blares of trumpets and heard yellow. She heard the hiss and crackle of growing plants. Felt the heartbeat of the earth. The weight of all things that ever were or would be.

The portal opened.

The universe stopped. All light went out. All motion ceased.

Then everything lurched. Stuttered. Restarted anew.

CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

For another Sally, in another universe, such a ramshackle device wouldn’t have been worth her time, but that was another Sally. A Sally that no longer existed. A Sally that could have been but never would.

In this moment, Sally and Mack stood side by side at the door of an abandoned bomb shelter. It looked like it hadn’t been used in some time. Bits of junk littered the ground, and Sally shook her head, trying to clear the cobwebs from her mind. What had they been doing? Everything felt hazy and dreamlike. Not quite real. Maybe once she got her wits about her, she could look through the piles and see if there was something she could use for her inventions. They had to fight the psychosaurs…

“Sally!”

Jet’s voice brought her out of her reverie. She lifted her head. Saw him emerge from the confines of the cracked outline of a portal set in the corner of the room. He was filthy and smelly and grinning ear to ear. She let out a wordless sound of happiness and flung her arms wide. Everything felt right again, like she was waking from a bad dream. Jet launched himself across the room and into her arms. They hugged for a moment before it turned awkward. Separated. Blushed.

“Aw, kiss already and get it over with,” said Mack, winking at Amelia, who had emerged behind Mack. “And who’s the tall fellow?”

Amelia and Benjamin introduced Mack to the Atlanteans with hand clasps all around, while Sally and Jet stood there staring at each other for a long moment.

“I knew you’d bring us back,” said Jet. “When the portal opened, I knew it. I knew you’d done it. How?”

“Your dinosaur friend.” Sally jerked a thumb toward the corner where the creature had stood, but the space was empty. “Wait. Where’d he go?”

“Comet?” Jet’s face lit up with delight. “He’s probably out flying. He’ll be back.”

The Professor sidled up, looking sheepish. “I squealed like a baby when we were sucked into the time vortex,” he said. “I’m not much made for fieldwork, you know. Although of course I appreciate you bringing us back. It was…” He shuddered. “Unpleasant.”

“Don’t let him fool you, Sally. He did better than he’d like to admit,” said Jet. “Even faced down his creator.”

“I would have liked to see that,” said Sally, grinning.

“Yes, well…” The Professor went to push his spectacles up onto his nose, but of course they’d been lost long ago. “I need three things. Spectacles, a kilt, and a cup of tea.”

“Try…the main room?”

Sally trailed off. This place didn’t look quite like she remembered it. She’d been living here for a long time, hadn’t she? This had been…her workshop. Yes, that was right. But none of it looked familiar. Honestly, she was starting to doubt her memory. She knew the others had been sucked into a portal after the invasion. Those details were secure in her mind. But everything else?

She honestly wasn’t sure.

“Mack?” she said. “Do you feel like your noggin has been turned to soup, or is it just me?”

He opened his mouth, a wisecrack grin on his lips, and then closed it again. “You know, Slick, I do. And I haven’t been drinking that much.”

The Professor raised a finger as if to extemporize on recent occurrences. Paused. Lowered it. “I say, it’s all rather foggy for me too.”

“Interesting,” Benjamin interjected, his narrow face focused in thought.

“Wait a second…” Sally muttered, whirling around and marching up to the doors that separated the shelter from the rest of the world.

The rest of the Centurions trailed along behind, curiously. She flung open the doors and stepped outside. Breathed clean air. Took a look around, tried to get their bearings. And there was chaos, as expected, but the skies were clear of Pterosaurs. She heard the distant roar of primates and the howl of raptors, but mingled with it was the whine of police sirens and the roar of aeroplanes in the skies. Signs of resistance that, for some reason, surprised her.

She turned around to see Mack standing behind her.

“How did you…?”

She looked down. Hadn’t his leg been crushed by…something? But he looked as he always did—handsome, hale, and hearty. Ready to carouse. The kind of man who would give you a good time, but you could never take home to mama. She punched him lightly on the shoulder and he threw his hands up.

“Women!” he exclaimed in mock exasperation. “Can’t live with ‘em…”

“Definitely can’t live without ‘em,” said Jet, taking a firm step between the two of them with a new assertion he couldn’t quite justify.

Sally smiled at Jet, leaned her head on his shoulder. But her brow furrowed as she tried to puzzle things out.

The details were growing fuzzier the longer she stood there. She could remember the invasion, and the time portals, and the invading dinosaurs, but hadn’t there been more of them? So many that the humans had been crushed before they could mount a retaliatory strike. They’d taken out the Century Club. They’d had to hide…

She scowled, unable to remember, and thumped herself on her forehead, trying to jumpstart her brain. But then Jet gently took her hand. Curled his fingers around hers.

“Don’t do that, Sally. You’ll hurt yourself,” he said.

“I’m not made of crystal, Jet,” she said, snappy out of habit.

“‘Course not,” he replied, not releasing her hand. “You’re pure boneheadedness on legs.”

“Hey, that’s not—”

He interrupted her tirade with a kiss. And sure, she had to lean down to him. And movie music didn’t swell. They were standing in the bomb shelter doorway, mussed and smudged with dirt, and it was the least romantic setting in the history of kisses.

But it was right.

“Ahem.”

Benjamin Hu’s voice interrupted them, and they pulled apart, blushing and laughing.

“This is a lovely reunion and all,” he said, “but it sounds as if our singular skills might be needed. There are Pterosaurs out there. Although it doesn’t seem as bad as I remember…”

“I remember flames,” said Amelia, shuddering. “Perhaps I exaggerated it in my memories. It was awful.”

“Or perhaps we succeeded in changing the course of history,” said the Professor thoughtfully. “Perhaps we tipped the scales just enough that the outcome will be different this time. And our minds are already beginning to adjust to this new reality. Over time, we will forget the alternate one, as if it never happened. Because we altered it. Imagine that…”

“Of course we did,” said Jet, squeezing Sally’s hand. “I just know it.”

Mack snorted. “One thing hasn’t changed, eh? Jet.”

Jet—ready to demand Mack stop calling him “kid”—changed the retort to a grin that erased everything that came before.

Before he could answer, they heard the metallic clang of steps coming quickly toward them. It was a sound that boded danger, and the heroes scattered, instinctively readying themselves against the unknown intruder.

CENTURIONS! I AM LOOKING FOR THE ONE CALLED SLICK! I MEAN NO HARM. I KNOW YOU ARE HIDING NEARBY; COME OUT AND PARLEY WITH ME.

The familiar voice of the Walking Mind invaded their brains like an ice pick to the ear. Racketed down their auditory canal and punched them right in the brain stem.

Jet stood up, facing down the glass-encased brain on its tripod of robotic legs. Alone.

“What are you doing?” hissed Sally. “He could smash your cerebellum into slop with his brain powers.”

“I’m not afraid of him any more, Sal.” He looked down at her. Shrugged. “Can’t pin down why. I’m just not.”

LITTLE SQUIRREL. WHERE IS THE ONE CALLED SALLY SLICK? I WISH TO RETAIN HER SERVICES. IT HAS TAKEN ME LONG DAYS OF SEARCHING TO FIND HER.

Sally stood up and looked at Jared. Tented her hand over her eyes against the glare off the spotless surface of the jar.

“What do you want?” she asked. “I’m assuming you want something since we’re talking and not fighting.”

METHUSELAH HAS BETRAYED ME. HE GAVE ME A PORTAL TO PREHISTORY THAT WILL NOT OPERATE. I WISH YOU TO FIX IT SO THAT I MIGHT TRAVEL BACK IN TIME AND CLEAN HIS CLOCK.

“But…you were…” Jet’s forehead wrinkled as he thought as hard as he could. “I thought I saw you in the jungle…”

“Yeah…” added Benjamin vaguely, standing up from his hiding place behind a garbage barrel.

“Well, that would explain it, then,” added Sally, standing up next to Jet. “You can’t travel to a time stream that you’re already in. So if Past You already went there, then Future You can’t go there too. Or is it Future You that’s there, and you’re Past You?”

“My brain pan is melting,” said Mack, knuckling his eye socket. “Stop, before it all goes to mush.”

SO YOU ARE SAYING THAT MY PORTAL IS UNFIXABLE?

“That’s right, rabbit,” said Sally with a confidence she hadn’t felt in a while.

I FAIL TO BELIEVE YOU. YOU WILL AT LEAST TRY.

“Look, bub,” said Sally. “If I had a choice, I’d send you back to the jungle and let you and Methuselah duke it out between you, and good riddance to you both. But I’m saying it can’t be done.”

THEN AN ALLIANCE BETWEEN US WILL NOT BRING ME THE VENGEANCE I SEEK.

“That’s right,” said Sally.

THEN WE ARE ENEMIES ONCE MORE.

With that flat statement, the Walking Mind unleashed a whip crack of psychic energy that brought them all to their knees, clutching their heads in agony. Rolling on the ground. Helpless as newborn babes. Easy pickings for the robot arms of the Walking Mind.

All of them, that is, except for the Atlanteans.

“No!” yelled Koa, spreading her arms wide as if to protect the staggering, vulnerable heroes. “Aeron, make him stop!”

“My pleasure!” replied the lanky Atlantean, leaping into the air with a barrage of punches. He went straight for the vulnerable joints in the legs, but the Walking Mind reacted with swiftness, dodging the blows. Searching for a weakness in the attack. Backing away, watching for just the right moment to retaliate.

Aeron slipped. Went down to one knee.

I HAVE YOU NOW.

But the villain’s glee was short lived. As he lifted a leg, ready to stomp his opponent into jelly, Aeron grabbed his standing leg and heaved with mighty strength. His metallic body overbalanced. Fell to the ground. He heard a loud cracking sound. Felt an ominous rumble.

The sewer grate beneath him gave way with a screech of tortured metal, and down he went.

The Walking Mind was falling. It was becoming a habit.

Splash!

Distantly, they could hear Jared’s mind speech, howling as he was carried away by the swift currents of the sewer.

I’LL GET YOU!

“Poor fellow,” said Mack, not sounding sympathetic at all. “He sounds a little down in the dumps.”

Amelia punched him in the shoulder this time.

“Ow!” he exclaimed. “What is it with women punching me all the time?”

Jet rolled his eyes. “Well, what are we waiting for? People are in need of saving,” he said.

“Right,” said Sally, grasping her wrench with a dirty faced grin. “It’s about time we socked it to those overgrown lizards.”

“Darn right,” said Mack. “You all want to help me get to the airfield? I need a new plane to replace Lucy.”

“I’m in,” said Amelia. The rest quickly followed suit.

“Great,” said Mack. “I’m thinking about naming the new plane Slick. That would be a good name for a wily mistress, doncha think?”

Sally punched him in the arm, and off they went in search of adventure, to fight the good fight.

Together.

THE END


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