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To celebrate, we’re releasing another preview chapter from Dinocalypse Now.
The drums, the drums, the jungle drums. Screaming monkeys, a cacophony in the canopy above. River waters churned. Birds screeched overhead. The drums thumped and pounded faster and faster, a thunderous hoof-rumble of blood pulsing through the ape’s heart and rattling the brain inside his primate cranium—
The churning river sounds faded. The screeches of monkeys and the hammering drum-beat were suddenly cut short.
The ape blinked.
He was standing at the lectern.
A class of college-age women in gray sweaters and collared shirts stared at him from a half-moon of seats. One of the students—Maggie Gilroy—had her hand to her mouth.
It was she that spoke.
“Are you all right, Professor?”
Maggie. One of the few women comfortable speaking to him. The rest sat timid, as if he might one day pound the lectern to splinters, vault over the rail, and come at them.
“I’m… fine,” he said in crisp accented English. Each word short, but contained within the guttural growl like rocks tumbling in the deep of his throat. “What was I saying?”
“You were saying how dinosaurs could not have gone extinct and left no descendents in the world. You were noting the research of a Doctor Rudolph Ostarhyde—”
“Yes, yes. I remember now.” He adjusted his houndstooth jacket, and continued the lecture. But all the while, he felt the lectern vibrating with the heart-thudding drums.
* * *
“You’re troubled,” Edwin said.
The boy—that’s how the Professor thought of him, even though he was 19 years old, old enough to fight in wars and have a pint and sire children—tended to hover.
And right now, he was hovering. Like a skittish dragonfly over a pond’s surface.
“I’m troubled by the way you perch on my shoulder like a bird,” Khan said.
“Sorry! Sorry.” Edwin took a step to the side, quickly shuffling around to the other side of the table. All around them were shelves upon shelves of books, dusty and bound in tattered leather, some off shelves and in display beneath glass. This was Khan’s space—not an office, not really. Some derisively referred to it as his “lair.” He let that slide, though he felt the term more than a bit crass. “But something else seems to, ahh, be bothering you.”
“It isn’t. Everything is perfectly normal.” A lie.
“One of the girls, ahh, Maggie, she came to me after class and said—”
“That I stopped speaking.”
“You had another episode.”
“I was just collecting my thoughts, Master Edwin. The university and the women’s college has been good enough to let me push past the classical teachings and begin to instruct the students with a proper, more modern education. This is unfamiliar territory and so sometimes I choose to…” Choose to fugue out and become lost in the drums and the jungle sounds, sounds that appear out of nowhere and draw you in the way a honey cup draws flies. “…sometimes I choose to take time to consider my words. Your human language presents occasional difficulty.”
Another lie. Human language was all he knew. He could not communicate as an ape. He’d met gorillas before. Their chuffs and chest thumps, their grunts and snorts—it was to him just mammalian posturing, animalistic gobbledygook.
Thing was, he and Edwin shared a problem. Not that he’d ever tell the gawky tow-headed boy that, ogling at him from behind that pair of prodigious spectacles.
But Edwin was a child of privilege and shelter. He’d come from a cloistered academic family and was expected to remain in Oxford’s vaunted halls. They assigned Edwin as his assistant. The world to the boy was a place not experienced but rather read about in books.
That, too, was Professor Khan’s problem.
He was a highly intelligent ape. Not just the most intelligent ape in the world, but frankly more intelligent and better read than the majority of humans.
But all of it was theoretical. Learned, not experienced.
It was a problem Chaucer struggled with—the Canterbury Tales author reportedly warred with himself. Was it better to live a sheltered life and write of greater things, or was it wiser instead to experience things yourself?
Khan had little choice in the matter. The world didn’t trust him. They saw what he was and imagined him a beast and a brute: yes, yes, he cleaned up quite nice and was very polite and as erudite as any man, but all the same they suspected it to be a ruse.
Once in a while, heroes from the Century Club would come to him. They would consult. It was them, after all, who brought him here, who gave him a place—and in repayment, he helped plan their missions, helped offer academic support whenever called upon.
But then they always left, didn’t they? Armed with the knowledge he’d given them, they’d go back out into the world to battle whatever threat presented itself: time-traveling pirates or the spiderlings from the recently-discovered Pluto or the clanking robot-men of the Steam-Kaiser. Every time, Khan wished he were out there. Throwing fists. Roaring at the enemy.
Grunting. Chuffing. Screaming the ape language rather than the human one.
That, he felt, was what the drumbeat was trying to tell him.
And he feared what happened when he opened his heart to it.
Soon, he imagined, he might not have much choice.
“I’m glad you’re all right,” Edwin said. Smiling nervously, as he was wont to do.
* * *
Again: screeching. Inside the hollow of his mind.
Professor Khan stirred, lifting his massive head from its pillow—which was, in fact, not a pillow at all but rather a book on Tibetan cryptozoology.
But the dream—and with it, the sound of screeching—did not fade.
Distant, yes. But it did not soften.
Stranger still: it did not seem to be inside his head this time.
He cleared his throat, stood up at his desk, brushed the scone crumbs from his tartan kilt (it was much easier wearing a kilt than trying to shove his gorilla body into a pair of human trousers), and took off his reading glasses.
Then: footsteps. Plodding, clumsy footsteps racing down steps to here, his “lair”—even before the door flung open and he came tumbling in like an open closet of loose broomsticks, Khan already knew the sound belonged to Edwin.
Edwin. Wearing a long gray nightshirt and sleeping cap. Carrying a small oil lamp; Khan wished the university allowed him to experiment with the “free energy” discovered by Nikola Tesla only just last year. Carrying a lamp with a proper bulb that lit up without any connection to the power source was, to some, like magic: but to Khan, it was proper science.
“Professor,” Edwin said, gulping great heaves of breath. “Professor!”
“Spit it out, lad. It’s late.”
“You must come… you must see.”
The boy’s face wore a mask of horror.
Fine. He seemed shaken—probably found a rat under his bed or a bat above it. Khan urged the boy to lead the way, and the massive gorilla trundled after.
It was a surprise then when Edwin took to the stairs but at the top did not head right toward the dormitory. Instead, he turned left.
To the exit. To the courtyard.
Outside, the springtime air of Oxford had teeth, but it didn’t bother the Professor, what with his body being covered in a heavy coat of ape-fur.
Above: a screech.
Khan tilted his head skyward, saw a shadow pass over the moon. A shadow shaped like a bird but much, much larger. Narrow head with backward skull crest. Wings more like that of a bat stretched wide.
“Oh my,” Khan said, breathless.
It was a pterosaur. But much bigger than any of the fossils that had since been discovered. Bigger than pterodactylus, to be sure.
And it was not alone. As one shadow passed, so did another, and another.
Then a dirigible drifted into view, hazy running lamps diffuse in the night.
As Khan’s eyes adjusted, he saw the shadows: dozens of them, some were pterosaurs flying, others great dirigibles drifting.
An invasion force.
Heading toward London.
“Inside boy,” Khan chuffed, grabbing the boy’s bony matchstick arm in his epic primate’s grip. “We must discover the truth of this thing. And quickly.”
In his mind, he heard the drums begin anew.