He held up a clenched fist, ordering the team to hold position, and slipped ahead, alone. He gripped the wet rock and proceeded on all fours, rifle slung over his back. The tunnel angled upward sharply and opened up into a vast chamber, from which came a sickening green glow. Thrax crawled behind a jagged rock and peeked over. The cavern was vast, illuminated by a bioluminescent slime.
It also reeked of bird shit.
The cavern floor below was uneven, split by a fast flowing underground river that ran east to west. On the south side, hundreds of raptors were gathered around an arena pit. They wore garments of tendon and bone bits. A platform had been constructed on the far side. Larger raptors, adorned in gold jewelry and elaborate feathered head dresses, strutted over it, performing a herky-jerky dance that Thrax thought looked silly.
Within the pit, Thrax could see bones of mighty beasts embedded in the rock. Other bones emerged out of sandy sections in the floor. More were in the cavern walls. Some were huge. Thigh bones as big as Thrax was tall. Taller, even.
It was some kind of dino graveyard. What Kal had been interested in, thought Thrax. Crazy bastard. Always keen on nerd stuff. That was likely the death of him.
The raptors had set up torches to better show off the fossils.
Thrax leaned forward.
A shout from below froze him in place. It was guttural, harsh and clipped, but English nevertheless.
“This,” barked the largest and most impressive raptor, spreading clawed forearms, “is holy place, where ancestors lie. Proof we were first, before man! The Before Time was Eden. Then man came and ruin everything! Pave Eden. Drive us to extinction! Then man blow self up, because man stupid! Now we back! We rule again! God send Big Jesus to help eat their cheeks! Rejoice, Eden be restored!”
The raptor mob roared assent.
“Word of God book say we dinosaur inherit earth. It tell all! Soon no more two-legged rat-mammals. They just food that talk; we no talk to food!”
The mob went wild, hooting and slashing at the air with their forearms.
The leader motioned for silence. He looked kinda majestic in his red plumage, thought Thrax. Like a sinister, man-eating big bird pimp. He decided to label the leader raptors by the colour of their headdresses: red, blue, green, white, and black.
Red motioned to the side. “Bring forth sacrifice! After, you all be baptized as Rexutherans!”
A group of half-naked humanoids were herded brusquely onto the platform, and over to a rickety lift.
Thrax gasped: at the front of the mob was a gangly fellow with red hair and a neatly trimmed beard: Kal!
Alive after all!
Thrax felt a flood of relief, then sudden apprehension: he’d arrived just in time for his friend’s execution.
CRACK! The boulder before him shifted. It popped and snapped and shifted as… what Thrax could only describe as limbs broke away from the central mass. A section crumpled inward, creating a gaping maw. “Hue-man,” it rumbled very slowly. “Do… not… fear.”
Thrax was too shocked to feel fear. His jaw dropped. A rock was talking to him. It wasn't normal, even in the general weirdness of the Post-Apocalypse. What does one say? “Sup?” It was the best he could think of.
“Tooth-claw-creatures… took…,” said the rock very, very slowly.
Thrax started to grow disinterested. “Uh-huh,” he said, and checked his scanner. “Took what?”
“Yeah, yeah… uh-huh. Hey, look. There’s a frien–”
“And…” continued the rock, “…ours.”
Thrax waited. Was it done this time? Hard to tell. He waited more, not wanting to interrupt. He watched the rock maw. There were no vocal chords he could see. He thought about how the rock didn’t seem to have any eyes or ears or nose, either, yet obviously knew he was there.
How’d it do that?
Eventually it dawned on him that the rock was waiting. For him. He shook his head. “How? You’re rocks. How could raptors hurt you?”
“Eggs,” replied the rock. “Creatures took… eggs.” A limb popped out, crackling as it pointed down towards the river, where glittering smooth spheres were suspended above the underground river in a silver mesh net.
“Threaten… drown. Work… us. Mine… holy bones. Bad… bad… creatures.”
While Thrax considered this, something touched him on the back. He whirled about, his hunting knife out and poised to strike.
It was Miss Jade.
The blade stopped an inch from her pert nose.
She cringed back. “I beg your pardon, Mister Thrax! It's me, Miss Jade!” Thrax gave her a blank look. She put her glasses back on. “Don’t you recognize me?”
“Yeah, yeah, sorry,” said Thrax, slumping against the rock maw. He slipped the knife back into its leather sheath. “You scared the crap outta me. Don’t do that.”
“Oh, I’m so, so sorry, Mister Thrax. I forgot protocol in the excitement. Afraid I’m not terribly used to field work. That’s what they all say,” Jade smiled nervously and looked over his shoulder. “Is that… that is what I think it is, isn't it?”
“Yeah. Introductions later. Got more pressing problems. Those raptor creeps are gonna sacrifice Kal. And some other dudes. Utans, I think.” The Utes were an ugly breed of mutant, with big, droopy ears criss-crossed with purple veins, thick eyelashes, and slit like mouths. They could flare and shut their enormous nostrils at will and they were always snorting. The skin around their joints was leathery and wrinkled and thick. Long legs ended in big feet that splayed out, like a duck. Thrax grimaced. Evolution went in weird directions. That’s what his mom the gene-jockey always said, anyway.
Andromeda emerged out of the gloom, followed by Kitty. “We must save them, sir. It is our duty as warriors to protect the defenceless.”
“We’re just here to save Kal. And get the zinc, natch.”
“Boss, I see a thousand reasons to jet right now,” muttered Kitty, nodding at the raptor horde.
Thrax looked over at Miss Jade who was running her fingers over the rock maw.
“Hi there,” she cooed gently. “I’m so, so honoured to meet you.” Her hands began to caress it more… sensually.
“Hey! Cut it out!” hissed Thrax, batting her hands away. “Stop fondling the rock creature. Jesus!”
“They are people, too, sir,” asserted Andromeda. “Should we save them also?”
Thrax did a double take. “Seriously?” He looked at her, and she looked back at him, just as confused as he was. Then it dawned on him: “Oh, the Utans! Yeah. Barely, I guess. I thought you meant the rock creatures.” He peeked back over the rock and almost lost his shit: there, beside Kal, was his little sister, Sally.
He rubbed his eyes aggressively. Blinked. But it was to no avail: she was still there. He blinked again, harder this time. No good. She should have been safe back at the Pleasurepit, sitting on a couch watching kidvids! He rounded on Andromeda. “My little sister Sally… is down there! In the pit! With raptors! What the hell is my little sister doing down there!?!” He was upset. Now his mission was even more complex, but if he had to make a choice, the safety of his sister would be at the top of the list. The zinc didn’t matter by comparison.
“Oh, that,” said Miss Jade, feigning surprise. “Yes. We were going to mention.” She pointed down into the pit. “Has anyone else noticed they’re all brightly coloured? Typical only of male birds, which raises the unsettling question… Oh, one moment.” She pulled out a gleaming neural interface and started to attach it to the rock creature.
Thrax snatched it away. Cables sparked blue. “When?!?” demanded Thrax, beyond furious. “When and what were you going to mention? Spill it!”
“Sally? Er… now?” Miss Jade fiddled nervously with her hair and adjusted her glasses. “Kal thought it would be an educational experience for her to see Utan Oasis, the bones he’d found, so…” She bit her lip and stared at the silver interface unit. “Might I have that back?”
“No! That's it!” swore Thrax. “No more honorary uncle for him! I’m gonna save that doofus so I can kill him myself!” He started to crawl over the rock, unthinking murder in his eyes.
Andromeda roughly hauled him back into cover. “Don't be a fool… sir!”
Thrax struggled, but she was damn good at hand-to-hand, and he knew it. She was the strongest of the androids by far, too. She clamped a hand over his mouth. “Going in angry will get us all killed, sir. We need a plan. Did you bring your jets?”
For more Magnum Thrax, see the novel, Magnum Thrax and the Amusement Park of Doom.
Available on Amazon.
"Underneath this outlandish story’s brash exterior lies astute social commentary and sharp, unapologetic humor." – Kirkus Reviews