Chapter 11: Flight and Fight
A shadow fell over Dominic’s control
panel. A creature bent down and roared. It reminded him of the tyrannosaurus,
but it was larger — much larger. Its clawed
forearms were longer, deadly, and a row of sharp … somethings, bony spikes or
maybe tufts of feathers, ran along its back and down its long tail. It was an
old creature, a veteran of countless savage jungle battles, its body map of
violent topography. An ugly, jagged scar cut from his right eye to his jaw.
It roared and the rover shuddered.
Jack and Kim scrambled forward, terror pushing the remnants of sleep away. The creature roared again, and attacked the rover with determined fury. Jack fell with a grunt.
The monster moved, attacking from the side. That made an opening — Dominic gunned the rover.
Dominic looked back. The rover gained speed, but monster in close pursuit was more agile over the broken, rocky terrain.
Jack pulled himself up and into the seat next to Dominic’s. “What the hell is that?”
“Trouble,” Dominic muttered.
“Giganotosaurus,” said Kim. “I think so, anyway. I can check—”
“Really not an issue right now, is it?” said Dominic.
The creature struck them again — Dominic couldn’t see how exactly — rocking the rover on to two wheels and then dropping it again, hard.
“Okay,” said Jack, “next mission, we gotta make these things dinosaur-proof.”
“Yes,” said Dominic. “Funny they didn’t think of it this time ’round.”
The ridge was narrower and steeper. Dominic’s knuckles were white. There was a long, sheer drop on either side — toward the mighty, rapid river on the right, or toward the still and tranquil lake to the left. A bit of ledge that might, with imagination, be called a path led down to the left, toward the lake.
“That way!” said Kim.
“I see it,” said Dominic.
He steered the rover down the ledge. It was too narrow for the Giganotosaurus; the monster followed long the top of the ridge, snapping down at them.
The ledge straightened out; it was longer angling down. Now, it paralleled the top of the ridge. The beast could almost reach them. Almost, but not quite.
That’s good, anyway.
Then the ledge began to slope gently back upward.
Dominic heard Jack unbuckling his seatbelt. Dominic risked a glance and saw him grabbing his firearm. He part ran and part slid his way back to the left side hatch and fumbled with the lock controls.
“What the hell are you doing?” Dominic demanded.
Jack didn’t answer. He wrapped a strap around his shoulder, held on, opened the door, and leaned out. Then he fired. A thin beam of laser light hit the beast, opening a narrow, bleeding cut.
“Yeah!” said Jack. “I’ve totally got a ray gun!” Dominic shook his head.
The monster roared. It was still coming.
“Did it do any good?” asked Kim.
“I think I pissed him off,” said Jack.
“More?” said Dominic.
The giganotosaurus snapped down and rocked the rover. Despite the strap, Jack nearly fell. “Careful!” he shouted.
“Trying,” said Dominic. “Stop pissing off the sodding dinosaur!”
The rover hit a small boulder and lurched the other way, pulling Jack back in and sending a small avalanche of dirt and pebbles tumbling toward the lake. Dominic had to fight to keep the rover from tumbling off the ridge.
Jack fired again, missing the dinosaur and a cutting a scar in the rock.
Dominic checked the aft view screen. The giganotosaurus was right behind them, gaining — Dominic could see only the great, gaping maw of the monster’s mouth and its sword-like teeth, large enough, he would have sworn, to swallow the back quarter of the rover in a single gulp. He tried to urge more speed out of the rover, but it was no good. The rocky ground slowed them.
Jack kept firing, but the jarring ride made it almost impossible to aim. A few of his shots hit the pursuing dinosaur, but he was only making a crisscross pattern of shallow cuts. He couldn’t get a steady enough shot to do any real damage. Most of his shots missed the creature altogether.
Kim joined Jack at the rear hatch. She too cradled a firearm. “Try the kinetic pulse!” she cried, shouting to be heard over the roar of the wind.
Dominic looked back again. Jack changed the setting on his weapon, a motion kind of like pumping a shotgun. The barrel spun to a second setting.
Jack and Kim fired. The guns spat out pockets of kinetic force, like fast disturbances in the air, which slammed into giganotosaurus like invisible fists, pushing him back.
Dominic looked forward again. The ledge was coming to an end.
Just ahead, there was a sort of … well, notch. Dominic could climb back up, but that would take them closer to the giganotosaurus.
He spotted another ledge, angling down, just below. If he jumped the rover, he could make it. Probably.
“Hold on!” said Dominic.
He turned, and the rover leapt to the lower ledge, landing hard enough to rattle bones. Two wheels spun off, nearly dropping them into the lake. Dominic jerked the controls and steered, somehow, back onto the narrow path. Another rain of stones fell, disturbing the still water below again.
Dominic heard Jack muttering. “And he calls me the crazy one—”
The giganotosaurus snapped down, almost catching the rover. He was closer. Jack and Kim fired again, forcing the beast back.
Dominic steered closer to the lake. If they could just reach the shore, they’d be out of the giganotosaurus’s reach. They were lower. Maybe they could risk a jump? Twenty meters would be a jolt, but the rover was tough. It should survive. Maybe—
Below, the water stirred. A narrow head broke the surface, mouth open, teeth long and sharp like spears, and threw itself at the rover like a deadly arrow launched from a giant bow.
Kim screamed. “Look out!”
“I see him!” Dominic jerked the controls, turning away from the creature rising from the lake — but back toward the giganotosaurus. It snapped down again, nearly forcing them off the ledge.
Below, the creature from the lake launched itself at the rover again. The amphibious creature was big — thirty meters high, if Dominic had to guess — larger even than the giganotosaurus. Most of its body was gray-green, although its face and back were deep, blood red. A great spiked fan rose from its back like a sail. It was chasing after them from below, its predator’s instincts awake, and it moved fast.
“Spinosaurus,” said Kim.
“Still not helping,” said Dominic.
“It’s very dangerous,” said Kim.
“I’d pieced that together, thanks,” Dominic shouted back.
The spinosaurus struck again with the top of its head, knocking the rover and sending it tumbling. Kim nearly fell through the hatch, but Jack grabbed her by the neck of her jacket. She took advantage of the position to open fire on the spinosaurus.
“Eat that, go niang yang de!”
The spinosaurus staggered back, reeling, angry.
Dominic regained control and sped back toward the top of the ridge. He glanced down at his console. Red lights were flashing all over his control panels. The rover was badly damaged — it was barely limping along. “We’re not going to take much more,” he called back.
The rover shot to the top of the ridge, missing the crushing jaws of the giganotosaurus by an eyelash. The ridge climbed higher again as they left the lake behind. Now, there was a field of jagged boulders below.
Can’t go that way.
On the other side, the river was rushing faster, deeper. The only path was straight ahead, along the top of the narrowing ridge.
Both dinosaurs were close behind, gaining.
Dominic gunned the rover. The rover lurched, fell, and jumped. The landing was hard enough to knock Dominic’s teeth together painfully.
Behind him, Jack and Kim fired their kinetic pulses, pushing the giganotosaurus back and disturbing the rocks at its feet. The giganotosaurus fell, tumbling toward the bank of the river.
The spinosaurus was still behind them, close, closer still, and closing fast.
At that moment, Dominic saw that he was nearing the end of the ridge — a severe drop waited just a few dozen meters ahead, straight down, too far too survive.
Okay. Can’t go left, can’t go straight ahead.
Dominic hit the brakes and swerved to the right — and found himself staring into the waiting jaws of the scarred giganotosaurus.
Behind them, the spinosaurus charged with reckless speed, head down, its great jaws wide, knowing its prey was trapped, ready for the kill.
Behind him, Jack shifted his gun again, switching back to laser, and fired again. The beam caught the scarred giganotosaurus directly in the mouth. It screamed in rage and pain and lowered its head.
Dominic saw his chance. It was crazy, even by Jack’s standards, but it was the only option he could see.
He gritted his teeth, opened the throttle, and gunned it. The rover leapt and crested the ridge, and landed directly on the beast’s head. He slid the rover down its body like a log down a flume, toward the rapids of the river.
The spinosaurus, unable to stop its charge, tumbled over the cliff with a final roar. They heard a sickening sound like a bursting melon, and then the creature was gone.
The rover crashed on its side. The giganotosaurus swiped the wreck with its tail, slamming it into rocks at the base of the ridge.
Dominic moaned. He didn’t have to look at his status panel to know — the rover wasn’t going to move again.
The left side hatch was now where the roof should be. Jack and Kim popped from the wreckage.
The giganotosaurus charged. Jack and Kim fired their kinetic blasts, hitting the dinosaur and the rocky ground at its feet.
“Aim for the ground!” Jack shouted.
Dominic shook his head, confused, and then he realized what Jack had seen. The creature was running toward them along a rocky ledge a few meters above the rapids of the river. The rocky ground was loose; likely there had been a landslide there recently.
Jack’s plan worked. The ground crumbled and more of the rocks began to slide. The dinosaur stumbled. Jack and Kim kept firing. Just as the giganotosaurus reached them, their shots created a small landslide, sending the creature, roaring, into the churning whitewater of the river. A huge wave splashed over the ruined rover, soaking Jack and Kim.
In seconds, the fierce current had swept the still roaring giganotosaurus away.
Jack pumped his fist. “Yeah! Yeah! Take that, Scarface!”
Dominic unbuckled his safety harness. Everything hurt. Slowly, carefully, he emerged. “Nice shooting, you two. Er, sorry about the rover.”
Jack turned and glared at him. “Yeah, I don’t want to hear another word about the frickin’ lander.”
Kim sighed and shook her head. “We better see what we can salvage. We can’t stay here.”
“Let’s, uh, hold off on that for a sec,” said Jack.
He pointed. Twelve … creatures, mounted on great beasts that resembled bridled tyrannosaurus rexes and wearing bronze armor that gleamed in the sun, crested the ridge.
“What the hell are those?” said Jack.
The creatures drew bronze swords that flashed in the sunlight.
“This probably isn’t the best time to mention this,” said Dominic, “but I think I just figured out what the Sons of Sobek are.”
# # #
Kim stood still, paralyzed, and watched the creatures approach. They, too, looked like dinosaurs, like velociraptors, maybe, the rational part of her brain said. Hyper-evolved velociraptors, anyway — they had larger craniums and extended, prehensile fingers. “Think they’re friendly?” was all she could manage to say aloud.
One of the creatures fired a ranged weapon, something like a bolt from a crossbow. It came close enough to cut the fabric on Jack’s flight jacket as he spun out of the way, barely in time. They dove for cover.
Jack looked up from the ground. “I’m gonna go with no,” he answered her.
Another bolt flew and splintered against the boulder where Kim was hiding. She closed her eyes as tightly as she could and turned her head aside. She heard more bolts whizzing by like bullets.
Kim didn’t scream. That was something. By everything holy, that was something.
One of the creatures gave a great shout, a terrible sound that reminded Kim both of the growl of a lion and the cry of some great bird of prey, and the host of them charged, their terrible mounts roaring, deadly blades lowered and ready.
Kim didn’t scream.
“Fire!” Jack cried. “Kim! Your gun! Kim!”
Later, Kim found the battle almost impossible to describe. When she brushed away the fog of terror, she remembered mostly heat, flashes of searing light, dust, and a pervasive, terrible stink. The astronauts raised their weapons and sent violent fists of kinetic energy at the charging beasts. Two fell, dismounted. Kim’s shots were wild, random. She tried to force herself to breathe, to calm herself, and to tyen-sah aim.
Her next shot was better; one of the mounts spun around, stunned. The rider fought to keep his seat and bring his beast under control. Her next shot impacted on the side of the cliff, sending bits of rock flying like shrapnel. One of the fragments grazed Kim’s face, just below the left eye. She felt hot blood on her cheek. She raised her weapon and shot again, and again after that.
They kept firing, but the raptors on their t-rex mounts were relentless. Another of the creatures fell — Jack’s shot caught the rider in the throat — but it wasn’t enough.
The wind and the tumult raised a cloud of dust. Kim was coughing, and she couldn’t see. She listened for the roars; she tried to focus on the noise and the motion. She fired.
And then, one of the mounts stood over her, its great shadow turning the world to night. It roared. In the next instant, it would strike with its terrible jaws, crushing her to pulp with a single bite.
Kim raised her weapon and fired, again and again, forcing the monster back until it fell and the river took it, sweeping it away in less than a blink.
The creatures were coming. They weren’t stopping. There were too many, and they hunted as a pack. Closer, closer….
Just as the great mass of the creatures and their dinosaur mounts reached the astronauts, a great sound broke the air and thrilled the blood in her veins, the call of a horn that echoed though the cliffs and rises, and carried even over the mighty din of the river.
Another horn sounded, and another, joining the call, loud even over the roars of the dinosaurs.
The creatures reined their mounts, and turned, waiting, tense, ready.
Kim gaped, unable to move. She was beyond shock, beyond terror, in some new place, cold and numb.
She didn’t scream. She didn’t scream. That was something.
Four mounted warriors wearing strange armor charged. Kim gaped and shook her head. They were human. Human! On horses!
The creatures turned to meet them. They slashed with cruel, bladed claws and spiked tails, but the humans were deft and their horses nimble. Their bronze swords were sharp and true. Kim couldn’t tell what was happening; everything moved so horribly fast. It was a swift, brutal fight, all light and motion and terrible commotion.
Kim stood still, staring, unable to fire, unable to move. She couldn’t think. Her training failed her utterly. There was no room for data, hypothesis, or math. Not here, not now. The world turned red and gold — sun flashing on blade and armor, sprays of splattering blood.
“Shoot! Dominic cried. “Kim for God’s sake, shoot!”
Jack fired — using his laser. Kim raised her weapon and fired again, still on kinetics, wildly.
One of the creatures angled behind one of the human warriors, ready to slice with the terrible blades on its gauntlet. The rider didn’t see.
Kim took a breath and aimed. She fired and the invisible fist of kinetic force hit creature square in the chest. It fell from its mount and lay still, hurt and moaning, an awful sound like the scream of a wounded eagle. Kim’s next shot caught the mount in the face, sending it reeling in mad, animal terror.
Another appeared to take its place, slashing with the blood-splattered bronze spike on its fast and agile tail, but the rider angled away and swung her sword.
Kim fired, but her shot was wide, impacting harmlessly on the stone face of a rise. Kim turned her face to avoid another spray of dust and rocky shrapnel.
She tried to pray, but the words weren’t there. She couldn’t think; she couldn’t open her mind or heart. She could only hope, desperately, that the creative cosmic whose fingerprints shaped the universe would hear and understand her panicked, inarticulate need.
She closed her eyes. She didn’t scream.
She opened her eyes and fired again. A rider fell.
And suddenly, it was over. Kim shook her head. She had missed the important moment, somehow, the split second among the chaos and tumult when the battle had changed. She fell to her knees, panting. She wanted to throw up.
The remaining creatures fled. The one Kim had just dropped ran, following its bolting mount.
The four mounted humans came together, rallying between the astronauts and the fleeing creatures. One of them was bleeding.
The leader, a woman, called orders, speaking quickly in a language Kim couldn’t understand. She handed her reins to one of the others and dismounted.
The remaining riders spread out and rode, pursuing the creatures. The leader’s mount followed them. Kim forced herself to stand.
The leader approached them slowly. She wore armor of bronze and leather decorated with elaborate patterns, an aesthetic that reminded Kim of both Celtic and Mayan design. The leader removed her helmet, freeing a river of dark hair. Her eyes flashed like suns. She was, Kim had to admit, quite astonishingly beautiful.
Jack turned back to Kim and raised his eyebrows. “Slime mold, huh?”
Kim stared back at him, blankly, blinking.
“I don’t think she’s Egyptian,” said Dominic.
Kim could only gape. Speech escaped her.
The woman spoke again.
Dominic looked back over his shoulder to Kim. “Can you translate?”
Kim found her voice at last. “Yes,” she snapped, far more sharply than she’d intended. “If I had a few days to record samples and analyze—”
The woman interrupted her. “You speak like the English?”
“Okay,” said Jack. “Totally didn’t see that coming.”
“Come with me,” said the woman. “Quickly!”
Dominic approached her slowly, carefully, his hand out. “Who—?”
“My name is Skye Nayal. Hurry. Those creatures will be back. We must reach the Fallen City!”
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