Call Back Yesterday

Pat Ames

 

 

 

"The quizzical expression of the monkey at the zoo comes from his wondering whether he is his brother’s keeper or his keeper’s brother." -- Evan Esar

 

--------------------------------

 

 After three days of torrential rains, the sun warmed the forest. Bars of bright gold stabbed through the new leaves of spring, and birds were singing happily while they built new nests. For the three travelers heading north, the gentle breeze and bare humidity made for a comfortable walk, for a change.

 

Alan Virdon led the group. Using skills from his boyhood, he made the easiest path through the virgin woods. He’d spent hours hunting deer in the forest around his family farm. This was no different, except that they were the hunted. "Watch the ground here," he called back. "These leaves are slick."

 

A chimpanzee followed him. This was not an animal or a pet, but a thinking being with much spirit and curiosity. "Everything is damp," Galen complained.

 

"Relax," Peter Burke counseled from the rear. "It’s not like we’re asking you to swim."

 

Galen pulled aside a large bush, loaded with moisture. "I prefer my water in a bowl, thank you." He let go of the bush, and it flew back at Burke. It hit the human squarely, drenching him.

 

"Hey! That was uncalled for."

 

Virdon stopped, turned back to see Galen hoping in delight, and shook his head tolerantly. Traveling in the constant downpour had been tough, but they’d pressed on to gain a lead on the gorilla patrols that would be discouraged by the rain. It was reasonable that they needed to let off a little of the pent-up anxiety from the last few days, but they had to keep moving to keep the small advantage they’d earned. "Will you two jokers keep up."

 

Eyeing Galen warily, Burke shifted his backpack and moved on. "Ya know, Al," he said conversationally as he joined his friend, "I wasn’t meant to be the outdoors type. Concrete born and bred, that’s me."

 

Virdon was well aware of Burke’s misspent youth in the streets of Jersey City. The skills and instincts he’d used to survive had served him well as a pilot, however, the military hadn’t cured him of his wide sarcastic streak. "A little nature won’t kill you."

 

"Kill me?" Burke shot back, brushing water out of his dark hair. "I’m gonna be a prune before this is all over."

 

"Now who’s complaining about water?" Galen accused.

 

"All right," Virdon cut in. "We should be at the river soon. Once we’re across, we can find a spot and relax for a while." Assuming this was acceptable, he turned north again.

 

Burke followed. "Yeah, well, Dudley’s Tavern would be okay with me."

 

Virdon stopped again almost immediately. "Look at that," he said with a mixture of interest and concern. Without waiting for a reply, he headed off deeper into the woods.

 

Galen caught up with Burke. "What does he see?"

 

"I don’t know." Burke frowned after his friend. "But you can bet it’s not dancing girls at Radio City Music Hall. Come on."

 

Virdon as examining deep scratches gouged into the bark of a large tree. He stepped back as his companions arrived. "Bear."

 

Burke crouched down to examine a large piece of bark that had broken free. "Territory marks?"

 

"Yep." Virdon scanned the forest.

 

Galen mewed worriedly. "What do we do now?"

 

"We keep moving," Virdon decided. "And try to stay out of everybody’s way – bears and gorillas." He motioned them on.

 

Galen set off without any further hesitation. Burke stood. "How much do you know about bears?"

 

Virdon slapped his friend’s shoulder. "About as much as you do."

 

Burke tossed the bark aside. "Terrific."

 

--------------------------------

 

Later in the afternoon, they broke out of the forest and came to a river. Swollen from the recent rain, the water rushed wildly over submerged rocks and carried debris in its current. Even worse, the banks were steep and high, angling down twenty feet or more over rocky ledges of shale.

 

They pressed on northward. A farmer in the valley had told them of a bridge that trappers had erected over the river several years ago. This seemed the most reasonable way to cross the river but, when they found the bridge, it was not what they had expected.

 

"I see bridge maintenance is not a top priority here," Burke muttered, eyeing the rope expanse with suspicion. Several planks lashed to the 30 feet of bridge had fallen away or were rotten.

 

Galen peered over the embankment at the swirling white water below. "Perhaps we should search for an easier crossing."

 

"It’s not likely to be easier except downstream, and we can’t afford that kind of delay." Virdon tested the ropes anchored to their side. They were dry and had stretched, but the stakes were firm. "It should hold our weight, if we go across one at a time. Pete, you’re first."

 

"Excuse me?"

 

"You’re the lightest."

 

Burke uttered a dark sentiment under his breath and turned back to the bridge. He studied the path more closely, then placed both hands on the rope and stepped out onto the first plank. The bridge creaked in complaint, but it held.

 

Burke took another tentative step, easing his full weight forward.

 

"Surely, you can’t be afraid of heights," Virdon urged.

 

"Funny," Burke responded. He glanced over the edge. The perspective of churning water directly below could easily cause vertigo. "Everyone’s a comedian," he told himself, then swallowed and returned his concentration to the bridge.

 

Burke moved on at a slow but steady pace. He tested each plank before actually stepping on it. About the middle of the bridge, he had to stretch over a hole where one plank was missing. He landed harder than intended on the next, and the wood snapped angrily. Automatically, he gripped the rope tighter, but the whole bridge shifted with his sudden change in weight. There was nowhere for him to go except backwards, so he pushed off and landed flat on his stomach as the plank broke loose and plunged into the water below.

 

"Pete?"

 

Burke looked up at his two friends. They had moved to the edge of the bridge, virtually helpless to aid him if the structure collapsed. He gave them was he hoped was his most disarming grin. "I’m okay." He looked at the palms of his hands, then displayed them for the others to see. "Just a few splinters."

 

Virdon was not amused. "Try keeping your center of gravity lower. I don’t like the slack in these ropes."

 

"Now you tell me." Rolling onto his back, Burke took a deep breath and prepared to start again.

 

It took a long time, or seemed to. Finally, his feet touched the solid ground on the other side, and Burke dropped to his knees. He released the air he’d been holding and shrugged out of his backpack.

 

Seeing that Burke was safe, Virdon turned to their simian friend. "You’re next, Galen."

 

Galen closed his eyes against the thought of venturing out onto a bridge that had barely supported Burke’s weight.

 

Virdon took Galen’s elbow and directed him to the edge. "Does Urko need to ride up for you to get the proper motivation?"

 

"Come on, Galen," Burke urged. "It’s a cake walk."

 

Galen opened his eyes and saw Burke sitting at the other end of the bridge. Smiling broadly, he urged the chimpanzee forward with small waves of his hands.

 

Still hesitant, Galen turned to Virdon. "Cake walk?"

 

Their language often confounded Galen. Cultural idioms and vocabulary from 2,000 years in the past had been of constant interest to him during their time together. It was not uncommon for him to request an explanation, but Virdon recognized that this was more a stall tactic than real curiosity. He nodded toward Burke. "Pete will explain, on the other side."

 

Galen sighed. His lot had been cast the day he’d met these two extraordinary humans, and he was now condemned to share their flight and persecution. Although he’d learned to trust them, their proclivity toward danger was often unnerving. This risk, balanced against the possibility of being caught, wasn’t to his mind worth taking, except that being caught meant also being dead.

 

He stepped stiffly toward Burke. A few feet onto the bridge, it began a slow swing. Galen froze, listening to the ominous creaks in the ropes and wood.

 

Burke came up into a crouch in alarm. "Easy, Galen. I thought monkeys were supposed to be good at stuff like this."

 

"Insulting me won’t get me across any faster," Galen snapped out.

 

Slowly, the swinging subsided. Galen started again, even slower. He moved cautiously until the last few feet when he bolted toward Burke. They collided; Burke gripped the chimp to support him, and Galen collapsed to the ground, shaking.

 

"Is he all right?" Virdon called. Burke gave him an okay sign.

 

Virdon started across the bridge.

 

"That wasn’t so bad, was it?" Burke murmured comfortingly to Galen.

 

 The chimpanzee stared up at his friend in disgust. He snorted rudely. "You are a human of uncommon understatement."

 

"Well," Burke declared, wide-eyed. "I guess one good insult deserves another."

 

A loud snap brought their attention back to the bridge. They came to the edge just as a plank buckled and the whole structure bucked in response. Virdon was crouched low, fighting for some stability.

 

Then one of the anchor ropes gave way. One side of the bridge collapsed immediately. Virdon lost his balance; he slid off the planks but caught the end of an aged lashing.

 

Several loose pieces of wood and Virdon’s backpack tumbled into the water. What was left of the bridge continued to jump wildly, but Virdon managed to maintain a tenuous hold.

 

"Alan!" Burke shouted. "Hold on." He searched for any way to help and only saw one possibility. One rope was still in place across the expanse. "I’ll come out to you."

 

"No, Pete –"

 

A plank swung around, broke free from its bindings, and cracked Virdon firmly above one eye. In response, Virdon lost his grip and fell.

 

"No!" Burke watched his friend hit the water. Then he was scuttling over the bank.

 

Galen’s strong grip around his waist kept him from going more than a foot. "You can’t climb down that, Pete," he implored. "You’ll be killed."

 

"We can’t just let him go –"

 

"There." Galen pointed down stream. Virdon had surfaced and was being carried away from them.

 

"Alan." Burke bolted to his feet, yanking Galen up as well. "Come on!"

 

--------------------------------

 

He was stunned by the plank. His vision went black, until he hit the water. He landed on his side, forcing the wind out of his lungs. Briefly, pain stabbed his back, then his whole body tingled from contact with the chilly water. Then he felt air on his face, and he sucked in badly needed oxygen. That caused so much pain that his vision darkened again.

He was barely aware of motion. The swift current dragged him along, yanked him under at intervals, slammed him against jagged edges. Automatically, he fought it, but that destroyed his flagging strength.  The river jumbled him over a wild and relentless course. He had no control, no release from the constant pounding.

Then his hand touched a branch caught in the rocks.  He held on for a moment as the water rushed over him.
Then something else washing downstream hit him, and he was lost in the current once again.

When his knees racked the shallows, it was only instinct that guided him to claw for a handhold and angle for the bank. Thinking only of the next breath, the next tiny movement, he forced himself forward until he touched something dry.

Then he could go no further.

 

--------------------------------


Andon had just turned 13. For a young chimpanzee, this was supposed to be a wonderful time of life, full of exploration and new sensations. Unfortunately, Andon was moodier and more withdrawn today than usual, so Mobik, his tutor, decided to take the youth into the forest for the day’s lesson. Andon loved the woods, and Mobik hoped a trip there would help bring him out of his shell.

 

"Nature is ever changing," the elderly orangutan announced with a tone of great knowing. "Yet constantly in flux. Take this great tree for example." Mobik waved his walking cane at an oak that had stood on Andon’s father’s estate for as long as anyone could remember. "It remains here, timeless, and each year new leaves spring forth with consistency." He motioned the youth closer to a branch. "But new sprouts erupt as well, changing the face of our friendly tree in subtle ways."

 

Andon studied the sprout, uninterested. "It’s my birthday," he abruptly changed the subject. "Can’t we do something fun?"

 

"Of course not." Mobik chuckled at his own joke. "Perhaps we could discuss this tomorrow." He squinted at the lowering sun. "It is almost time for food. Perhaps we should leave the forest for today."

 

"Can we go by way of the river?”

 

Mobik examined the youth with patient consideration. "I think you might want to add to your collection of strange rocks."

 

"Please?"

 

With a warm smile, Mobik wrapped an arm around Andon and started in the direction of the river. "I also think you are taking advantage of an old orangutan because it is your birthday. We should be doing math."

 

"One plus one equals two," Andon began reciting his very first lesson to a melody that his mother had sung to him since his birth. "One plus two equals three. do you know what I’d like for my birthday, more than anything else?"

 

"What is that?"

 

"Guess."

 

Mobik sighed. "You give me too much credit. I couldn’t guess."

 

"Well," Andon started hesitantly, "I’d like my mother to come home for my birthday."

 

Frowning, Mobik leaned heavily on his ever-present stick. Andon hadn’t mentioned his mother in a long time. This was unexpected, and troubling. "Have you discussed that with your father?"

 

Andon shrugged as though he didn’t really care. "Father’s too busy."

 

"As Prefect of one of the largest districts outside Central City, your father has many responsibilities. He works very hard."

 

"I know. Race you to the river." Andon broke free from his teacher as the river came into view and disappeared ahead into the brush.

 

Moments later, he was calling frantically.

 

Mobik rushed through the thickets, concerned for his charge, ad found Andon kneeling over an animal who was half in the water and half on the bank.

 

"It’s a human," Andon told the elder. "I think he’s still alive."

 

Mobik approached cautiously, laid his stick aside, then helped Andon pull the human out of the water. This human male was fair and large, stronger than most humans. It was clear that he’d had a rough journey down the river. "He’s badly wounded." Blood had dried around his face and legs. It was a wonder he was alive at all.

 

"Can I keep him?" Andon asked suddenly. He placed a paw on the human’s chest. "I can feel his heart. I can keep him."

 

He looked up. "I found him." Mobik frowned at the terrible bruises about the human’s right eye. "If he lives, your father will decide. But he will surely die if left here in the wilderness. Run back to the barn and have the blacksmith bring a wagon and some of the human workers to help."

 

Andon hopped up. "I can keep him," he asserted, then vanished at a run toward his home.

 

--------------------------------

 

There was a frenzied panic about Burke’s movements. Galen had never seen either of his friends like this, and it worried him. It worried him almost as much as he worried about what had happened to Virdon.

 

Burke disappeared into the underbrush that lined the river. Galen followed, but he simply could not keep up. He had neither the endurance nor the speed of humans. Burke continued relentlessly, calling Alan’s name and searching the edges of the water.

 

Then he heard horses.

 

His own hearing was more acute than the humans’, and it was probable that Burke had not heard yet. The chimpanzee pressed on after his friend because horses meant apes, and that meant trouble. Right now, they had enough trouble.

 

He found Burke breathing hard and bent over, supporting himself against his knees. Galen, not particularly aggressive by nature, pulled him back into a small grove of trees without explanation. They had just disappeared from sight when a group of three gorillas appeared and walked their horses to the edge of the river.

 

The gorilla troopers sat up in their saddles and surveyed the area. Apes had the same vision as humans, color and depth and similar variety in acuity. One trooper squinted as though slightly near-sighted, then grunted. "You’re sure, Omus."

 

Another trooper prodded his horse in a little circle, scanning the ground. "I’m sure I heard something, Sergeant. There are signs that someone has been here. A human."

 

The sergeant pulled out his rifle and slung it across his saddle. "Well, there’s nothing here now. Let’s move on, but keep your eyes open." He urged his horse into the woods. One trooper followed but Omus held back, touring the area a second time before following the sergeant as well.

 

Galen wiped a thin sheen of sweat away from his muzzle. He slid to the ground, back against a tree, and realized gloomily that he was both exhausted and hungry. Burke knelt next to him, ready to spring onward to continue their search.

 

"We can’t keep on like this, Pete."

 

Burke turned dark and angry eyes to Galen. "We can’t stop looking. Alan could be injured."

 

"Don’t over-react." Galen gripped his friend’s forearm tightly. "Alan is an excellent swimmer. You know that better than I."

 

"In white water?" Burke countered. "After being clobbered by that bridge and a fall? The fact that he’s not likely to panic is more valuable than his skill in the water." He looked off toward the river. "We have to find him, Galen."

 

The tinge of despair that haunted Burke’s voice affected Galen’s emotions, reinforcing the vague possibility that Virdon was dead. When they had to face that reality, Galen would mourn, but until then he did not want to lose Burke as well because of his own drive and impatience. "Listen to me, Pete. It’s getting dark, and there are troopers roaming the woods. If you keep blundering on like this, you’ll kill yourself. That won’t help Virdon."

 

Denying that anything could limit him, Burke shook his head and stood.

 

Galen caught Burke’s forearm and was pulled to his feet. "Pete –"

 

"No." Burke pulled away from him, took two steps and stopped. He stood in silence for a moment, one hand on his waist and the other pulling at the muscles of his neck. Finally, he turned back. "We can’t stop. If Alan’s dead, I need to see that. If he’s not, he’ll need help."

 

Galen went to his friend, searching the complex emotions displayed on Burke’s face. He had known both his human companions to go to extraordinary lengths to keep each other alive; they’d even risked their own lives and safety for him, a depth of loyalty that Galen had spent many months comprehending. They often worried over each other, but this was different. There was a trace of fear in Burke’s eyes. The not knowing, the denial, the grief were all mixed into his fierceness. But that hint of fear was new and frightening. In that moment, Galen understood that Burke would not rest if there was the remotest possibility that Virdon was alive, because he could not face the alternative.

 

Galen touched Burke’s chest with the knuckles of one paw. "All right, we continue. But –" He raised one stern finger. "With caution. Alive or dead, Alan would never forgive me if I let something happen to you as well."

 

Burke nodded in agreement. "Okay, great voice of reason. You lead." He waved an open hand toward the river.

 

Galen stared at his friend for another brief moment, then vocalized a sound of agreement before continuing. He knew that tone of voice. Burke’s sarcastic streak had returned. That was a good sign.

 

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Andon and Mobik rode in the wagon with the human because it was not proper for them to walk, and because Andon was reluctant to let his latest birthday present out of his sight. Mobik watched with interest as Andon tried to get the stray to take some water. Unfortunately, the human’s periods of consciousness were tenuous and brief.

 

The movement of the wagon was difficult for the injured male. His breathing was short, ragged gasps, probably due to the large bruise on his back among the ribs. Mobik had inventoried the human’s wounds at the river and had wondered again why he was alive. He had been struck in the head, several times. His body was covered with bruises, and his legs were a mass of bloody lacerations. Most of the bleeding had stopped, but the human was pale. He shuddered, violently at times, from the dampness and growing chill as darkness approached.

 

Mobik had counseled the young Andon not to become attached to this one, but the youth had already decided that the human was his and demanding that he live was enough. The teacher sighed. Only a thirteen-year-old could be so innocent and arrogant at the same time. There was a lesson here as well. One way or the other, the chimp would learn about death or the value of property. Nothing more could come of this effort.

 

They had no vet on the estate. The blacksmith’s elderly mother often cared for the sick and injured humans owned by the Prefect, so they carted the stray to her hut. Gleanna tied her long gray hair back as she climbed into the wagon. Her clear, ancient eyes examined the wounded human, then she cradled his head in her lap for a moment, whispering softly into one ear. Finally, she nodded to her son, and the blacksmith organized three males to help carry him into the hut.

 

"He will live," Andon demanded of the old woman.

 

Gleanna nodded to her master’s son. "If you insist, little master."

 

Because missing dinner would have infuriated his father, Andon joined his family for a meal. He rushed through his food, frantically relating bits of his new adventure between wedges of fruit and fresh bread. No one could get a word or question in, so they listened until Andon bolted from the table without permission and ran the whole way to the human encampment.

 

He burst into Gleanna’s hut and found her carefully wrapping the stray’s legs with strips of cloth. She said nothing as Andon approached and knelt.

 

He lay on a clean pallet, naked except for the dressings Gleanna had already applied. Andon marveled at the strength, apparent even beneath the angry bruises and welts, of the thing he had found. Gleanna finished in silence, then pulled a thin blanket over her patient. Only then did Andon address her.

 

"Has he been awake at all?"

 

Patiently, she nodded toward the human’s face. "It seems he has waited for the little master."

 

Thrilled, Andon scootched closer and watched as the male’s eyes fluttered open. They were blue, a vibrant and interesting color, but they didn’t focus. "I’m Andon," the youth announced. "I found you, by the river."

 

A touch of clarity settled over the human and he blinked at the chimp. Weakly, he raised a hand and tapped his knuckles lightly against Andon’s chest. Then his eyes drifted closed.

 

The show of affection, commonly limited to apes, went unnoticed by Gleanna, but not by Andon. He clutched the human’s limp and bony fingers in his small hands and felt a failing grip in return.

 

"I found you," Andon muttered. "You’re mine, and I command you to heal."

 

The moon as high and the stars many and bright when Mobik came looking for his young student. He found Andon in Gleanna’s hut, huddled near the stray, wrapped in a blanket of his own, and fast asleep.

 

--------------------------------

 

It began as flashes of color, then a jumble of images. Pain. Cold. Movement. Time –that was a strange thing, both important and not. It was all frightening and confusing, so he retreated, lost himself in a black void.

 

He found peace in the void. 

 

Then he heard a command.

 

Something was different. The pain remained, but he was warm and still. Curious, he ventured from the void. He recognized the touch of gentle hands. If he was dying, then someone was making the path a comfortable one. He saw a form that he did not understand. He was not afraid, even though part of his mind suggested that he should be. Something. Someone.

 

It was too much. Exhausted from the struggle, he retreated once more into the blackness.

 

--------------------------------

 

It was dawn when they found the place where they believed Virdon had left the river.  The water’s course had slowed and widened, becoming shallow. The banks sloped gently away from the edges. Galen was acutely aware of the irony; this would have been an ideal place to cross the river.

Burke found wagon tracks. They followed the tracks to a narrow road where they became a jumble of dirt and horse prints. Neither had Virdon’s or a gorilla’s skill at tracking. Human and chimpanzee could only shuffle in utter impotence.

 

"Damn," Burke breathed, frustrated.

 

"It’s reasonable to assume Alan is alive," Galen said quickly, hoping to offer Burke some comfort. "No one would have moved him otherwise."

 

Burke stood in the middle of the road, his arms stretched out in both directions. "Yeah? But who found him? And where did they go?"

 

This constant helplessness and worry was taking its toll on Burke, who had lost his defensive sense of humor again. Galen tugged him off the road and back to the river. "Anyone who found him would have taken him to a vet. We can check the villages along the road." He pointed at the soft grass. "But not until you’ve had some rest."

 

Stubbornly, Burke stood with his arms crossed. "We aren’t going over old ground, are we?"

 

"Our deal," Galen reminded him. "Caution. You can be dangerously unpredictable at your best. Without sleep, I’ve known you to be reckless. Go on, deny it."

 

Burke stared at Galen, amazed that someone could understand the hidden man he guarded so jealously. Virdon was the only other person who knew him so well, but spending months elbow to knee in a space capsule could do that. Burke found that he did not object to Virdon’s friendship. Despite their differences they shared many things: a military career, piloting skills, a journey into the unknown, and now a unique past. That seemed to make it all right.

 

But he shared something with Galen too, the constant struggle to remain free and alive.

 

Burke slammed his backpack to the ground and sat in the grass. "Okay, you win." He rolled onto his back, fingers laced behind his neck in a makeshift pillow. "Virdon is rubbing off on you too much. This dominant male crap is really starting to annoy me."

 

Galen did not respond. He climbed a tree and settled comfortably into the branches. He did not sleep. He kept watch.

 

A few minutes later, Burke was fast asleep. Galen began a search for food in the bark, comforted by the knowledge that he had been right.

 

--------------------------------

 

Two days passed. Andon was kept busy with his studies, but he still managed to check several times on his new possession. Most of the time, the human slept, sometimes fitfully. Andon talked to him and, when he was sure no one would see, occasionally pressed a cool cloth against his face. After a day, Andon was delighted when Gleanna observed that it was the presence of the little master that seemed to calm the stray. Once, very late, the blond human had opened his wonderful eyes, and Andon had told him again, in great detail, about the great adventure of finding him. This seemed to amuse the human, but he only ever uttered two weak words, “Thank you.”

 

His father had the vet from town come to the estate. The vet, a thin chimpanzee with thick spectacles, examined the stray and gave Gleanna some instructions. Andon listened intently as the vet reported. The stray was free of disease and would probably survive, given the quick action by his son.

 

“However,” the vet added, “he knows nothing about himself. He could not even tell me his name.”

 

The Prefect shrugged. “Perhaps he is an idiot.”

 

I’m not sure of that.” The vet closed his bag and reached for his riding crop. “In terms of intelligence, he is quite bright, for a human. I’ve seen this before. He may be trying to forget what happened to him, but more likely it’s the head injury. He may remember, some day.” The vet removed his spectacles and held them up to the light. “Then again, he may not.” He left with orders to exercise the human when he could stand without pain. He would return in a week.

 

“I can keep him, can’t I, father?” Andon asked for the thousandth time, hands clasped together in hope.

 

“I’ve reported him as a stray,” the Prefect answered with a tolerant sigh. “If no one claims him, then I suppose –“

 

“Oh, thank you, father.”

 

“He’s not a puppy, son,” the Prefect cautioned. “Humans are laborers and servants. There will be training and responsibilities –“

 

Andon was hopping about the common room in glee. “Oh, I’ll be responsible, father. You’ll see.” “And you can not neglect your lessons.”

 

Andon jumped down from a table and reluctantly shuffled off to find his tutor.

 

After the evening meal, Andon was free to make his customary visit to Gleanna’s hut. As usual, he entered unannounced, and found his human standing. The chimp turned angrily to Gleanna. “You let him up!”

 

“It’s not her fault,” the man said quickly, breathing in short, shallow huffs. “I wanted to surprise you.” He took two faltering steps to a bowl of fruit and picked up an apple. “Care for some catch?” He tossed the apple gently into the air.

 

 Andon caught the apple, then smiled.

 

“That’s enough for tonight.” Gleanna pointed at the pallet. “The little master has come to make sure you follow orders."”

 

The man bowed slightly, then touched his back in pain. “She’s right,” he gasped.

 

Gleanna turned her back, and Andon sneaked over to help his human back to bed. The stray eased onto his back and laced his fingers together on his stomach, but said nothing. It would not be seemly for an ape to help a human.

 

Andon sat for several moments with his knees up to his chin. The human snapped his fingers twice. “You have a very serious look tonight.”

 

“They say you don’t know your name,” Andon said quietly.

 

The human’s face changed dramatically, going slack. He stared overhead. “I can’t seem to remember much.”

 

“Well, we have to call you something,” Andon insisted. The man gave him a crooked grin, so the chimp continued. “I’ve been thinking about a name for you. A name is a very important thing, since it will be with you always.”

 

“That’s true,” the human agreed. “What do you have in mind?”

 

“I think I’ll call you Ovid.”

 

“Ovid,” the man repeated. He raised a bleached eyebrow. “Why that name in particular?”

 

Ovid is the name of a human in a story my mother told me years and years ago.”

 

“When you were young?”

 

Andon nodded. “Oh, yes. Ovid was a human who searched and searched for his master.”

 

“I like Ovid,” Gleanna declared. She walked around the pallet and knelt opposite Andon. “The vet expects you to drink this.” She handed the man a clay cup.

 

He took the cup hesitantly. With resignation, he toasted Andon with the cup. “Ovid it is, then.” Then he drank the contents in two easy swallows.

 

Ovid squinted his eyes shut and pushed the cup back into Gleanna’s hands with such an expression of distaste that the elderly woman began to chuckle. Andon leaned forward in concern. Ovid opened one eye, and Andon lurched back, then fell into a roll, laughing with both the humans.

 

--------------------------------

 

After a week, Burke was almost impossible to live with.

 

They had searched for Virdon in three villages with no leads. Galen had told his story about losing a servant in the river, a blond human male in his prime, so many times that he was sure every ape in the territory knew of his plight and sympathized over the loss of valuable property. Yet not a soul could offer a shred of hope.

 

Burke had openly lost his temper twice, once in front of a chimpanzee vet, and once at a gorilla trooper. The only way to get out of that without someone, namely Burke, being beaten to death, was for Burke to spend a night in the local human jail. This barely cooled him off. He hadn’t slept and had hardly eaten, yet he had enough energy for three humans. Galen worried that Burke would injure himself, and he also worried that they were attracting too much attention to themselves. It would only take one ape who recognized them, and Urko would have bullets in both their backs.

 

They pressed on to the fourth and final village, their last hope. As they reached the outskirts of the province center, Galen found himself wishing for Burke’s easy-going calm that often made a difficult situation easier to handle. Burke often faced danger to himself with a casualness that Galen actually disliked. These few days, he was even encouraging danger.

 

They found the vet’s offices and, with yet another warning to Burke to keep his mouth shut, Galen talked them past the human orderly and the young orangutan nurse. Galen saw Burke tense in disgust as they were led through a treatment room and into a lab. He mentally crossed his fingers that his human friend would keep quiet.

 

The nurse pointed at a chimpanzee working at a bench in the lab. Galen thanked her, waved Burke to a corner, and approached the studious ape.

 

“Uh hem. You are the local veterinarian?”

 

“Yes,” the chimpanzee drawled. He glanced up at Galen, saw Burke in the background, then went back to his writings. “Your human is injured?”

 

“No. I’m looking for a human. One of my servants who fell into the river. I was wondering if you’ve treated such an animal,” Galen pressed on, hoping this would be the last time he would have to tell this dreadful story. “He is a large male, light-haired, in excellent condition, except that I’m sure he was injured in the fall ….”

 

The vet stopped his work, looked up at Galen, and removed his thick spectacles. “Would you say that he is somewhat intelligent, for a human?”

 

--------------------------------

 

The Prefect stood on the porch of his family home. Off in the distance, he could see his son tossing a round object. It hit the ground and rolled. The stray; everyone called him Ovid now, at Andon’s insistence; wandered after it. Retrieving it stiffly, he tossed it back.

 

“I hate to tell Andon about this,” the Prefect said to the gorilla trooper who stood on the porch with him. “The vet is sure, Omus?”

 

“According to the vet, this chimpanzee claims his human fell from the bridge that crosses the gorge. His description matches the stray. The garrison sergeant sent me out here at once to report to you.”

 

The Prefect nodded, still watching his son with the new human. Ovid had been on his feet for three days now. He was healing well, slowly, and Andon had taken on the responsibility of exercising him and overseeing him, undaunted by the extra time and effort it required. To his vague surprise, Mobik reported that Andon did not neglect his studies. And, the estate foreman had reported that Ovid was assisting in the human encampment with work that suited his condition.

 

If the stray is the property of this chimpanzee … What did you say his name was?”

 

 Zuma.”

 

The Prefect snorted. “Zuma.” He shook his head. Undoubtedly, Ovid had a positive influence on his son, and Andon had taken to this human with uncommon determination. While a bond like that, with a human, troubled the Prefect, he was a more concerned about crushing his son with this news. They should have expected it; a human like that would be valuable property. Yet, if there was any way ...

 

“I’d like to be sure,” he said to the trooper. “We’ve spent much effort making the right contacts in Central City. Use them. Check on this … Zuma.”

 

 “Yes, sir.”

 

Can you delay the chimpanzee until you get news?” the Prefect asked, moving to the rail of the porch.

 

“He was told you were unavailable until tomorrow.”

 

“Good. Thank you, Omus. That will be all.”

 

The trooper left the porch and went to his horse. As he rode away, the Prefect leaned on the rail and watched his son again. He stood there for several moments, considering the possibilities. The last thing he wanted was to make his young son unhappy. In a world where there were many responsibilities and hard decisions to make, youth evaporated far too quickly. Andon was entitled to these few moments of happiness, and his father was strongly motivated to protect those moments.

 

Perhaps this wasn’t Zuma’s lost human. Even if he was, there were other options. The Prefect turned into the homestead, considering many things.

 

--------------------------------

 

Andon held the ball in front of both hands. He eyed the spot where he wanted the ball to go. He then stepped back on his right foot, pulling the ball back in his right hand while lifting his left leg and keeping his left arm in front of his face. Slamming his left foot down, he put his whole upper body into the throw.

 

Ovid watched the youth, critically analyzing his style, yet flashes of another ball field intruded. A heavily trodden square path amid a manicured lawn, with many human boys. A crowd of human adults watched and cheered. They seemed to know him, and he had a sudden and strong sense that he knew some of them.

 

His legs weakened, and he closed his eyes against the troubling visions that were now causing a constant throbbing headache. His nightmares and these debilitating flashes were memories.

 

He suspected that his battered mind was trying to catch up with his healing body, but these glimpses into his past were strange and perplexing. Many of them were at complete odds with the life he knew now, a life of labor in the service of the apes. It was almost as if he had someone else’s memories. The sensations passed quickly. He opened his eyes and saw the ball traveling toward him. It hit the ground and rolled.

 

Andon jumped happily, then ran to his human.

 

“Very good,” Ovid told him, retrieving the ball. “But you should snap your wrist when he release the ball, like so.” He demonstrated briefly, then tossed the ball back to the youth.

 

Andon caught the round, canvas-covered object. Ovid had made it the first day he was able to stand, and they’d practically worn it out since. “I’ve never thrown so far. Where did you learn to throw like that?”

 

Ovid thought for a moment, his eyes unfocused. “I don’t know.” He hesitated, seeing for a moment a sandy-haired boy about Andon’s age. He blinked the ghostly image away. “It doesn’t matter.” He smiled down at Andon. “It just feels right.”

 

Andon studied his human, then gazed at the estate house where people had been coming and going all day to see his father. He thoughtlessly tossed the ball in one hand several times.

 

Ovid observed but said nothing. Except for the elderly Mobik, Andon was isolated on the estate from peers and from a busy father. Talk of his mother was virtually nonexistent. Ovid did not understand that, but he knew from the humans in the encampment that the subject was taboo. He did understand that thirteen was a trouble time for anyone.

 

Abruptly, Andon turned toward the forest. “Come on,” he ordered.

 

“Where are we going?”

 

“You’ll see.”

 

Andon led the way, moving through the woods at a comfortable, confident pace. Ovid followed because it was expected that he would follow his little master without question, but that wasn’t really the strength of their bond. Finding him had somehow made Andon responsible for him. Andon had latched onto that responsibility as though he desperately needed it.

 

Besides, the youth had a streak of compassion that Ovid approved of, and he could be wildly curious at times. That reminded Ovid vaguely of someone else …

 

An adult chimp stood in front of him for a moment.

 

 Ovid stopped and leaned one hand against a tree. Touching his throbbing head, he felt the bandages still covering the wounds around his eye. He tried to even out his breathing. If remembering meant such effort, he wasn’t sure he wanted to.

 

What’s the matter?”

 

Ovid opened his eyes and saw Andon standing in front of him, his eyes both curious and worried. Ovid forced a smile. “It’s nothing.”

 

A trace of anger came on Andon’s features. “Don’t lie to me.”

 

“All right.” Still unsteady, Ovid leaned his back against the tree. “I’m seeing things, in my head. Memories, I think, of my life.” He frowned down at the new growth at his feet. “But they don’t make sense, and some of them are … frightening.”

 

I have memories that make me sad,” Andon said sympathetically.

 

Ovid eyed the young chimp.

 

“So I don’t remember,” Andon concluded simply. He pointed ahead. “We’re almost there.” He reached out and tugged firmly on Ovid’s sleeve. “Come on. I want to show you something.”

 

Ovid nodded his consent, which really wasn’t necessary, and followed his little master deeper into the woods.

 

Neither saw the deep scratches in the bark of the tree Ovid had been leaning against.

 

--------------------------------

 

“This is it,” Andon announced proudly.

 

An ancient willow tree commanded a small rise in the forest. Around it, patches of tiny yellow flowers sprung from soft grass. It was a lovely, peaceful place.

 

“I used to come here when I was younger,” Andon explained. Excitedly, he pulled Ovid through the rope-thin branches. “No one else knows about this place.”

 

Beneath the domed canopy, the air was cooler and scented. Andon climbed into the lower branches of the tree and scuttled to a comfortable fork.

 

A special place, for a youth that had little else. “It is a wonderful place to play and think.”

 

Andon agreed. “Well, I had a lot to think about when my mother left.” He leaned back and searched for the top. “A family of squirrels used to live in the uppermost branches. I used to pretend I was their master and had to take care of them.”

 

Weary from the long walk, Ovid squatted at the base of the tree. He didn’t quite trust his healing injuries to a climb just yet, but that wasn’t uppermost in his mind. Andon had unexpectedly broached a subject that he kept well guarded. Intuitively, Ovid sensed that meant the youth was ready, and willing, to discuss it. “Your mother left?”

 

“That’s what my father said.” He bolted up. “My father says I can keep you.”

 

Ovid raised his eyebrows at the sudden change of topic. “He does?”

 

“If no one claims you,” Andon amended reluctantly. “I hope no one does. I want you to teach me things like how to throw.”

 

“You have a teacher,” Ovid reminded him.

 

Andon screwed up his face. “Mobik teaches me things like math and philosophy. That’s no fun.”

 

Ovid picked up a stick and poked at the bare dirt. “Math and philosophy are important things for a young chimpanzee to learn.”

 

“I know,” Andon sighed. “But there’s so much else. I’d like to travel, see things. There’s so much … I’d like to go out and discover things myself, not have Mobik tell me about them.”

 

Ovid smiled at the wonder and excitement in the youth’s voice. He was familiar with those feelings, understood the strong urge to explore. It was very typical for his age, but sometimes, an individual did not outgrow that driving curiosity.

 

Andon,” Ovid said after a few minutes of silence. “I’ve meant to ask you about my name. Will you tell me the story about Ovid?”

 

Andon gazed down at his human and considered the request. “I’ll tell you,” he agreed. “But only if you tell me a story. You do know a story, don’t you?”

 

Ovid searched the fragments of his memory. “I think so. I seem to remember something about a young chimp who tricked a wicked giant.”

 

 Andon’s eyes grew wide. “Really?”

 

--------------------------------

 

Ovid was a large male human who was completely loyal to his beloved master.  They traveled together, experiencing many adventures, and there was nothing that Ovid would not do for his master.

 

One day, traveling in the great woods, they were attacked by a magical bear. The bear was jealous of the way Ovid valiantly protected his master, so the bear used his considerable magic and tossed the human far away into the wasted Forbidden Zone. Then he attacked the master, leaving him for dead.

 

Gorilla trappers found the master, took him to their village, and treated him. As he recovered, he wondered about his loyal servant, but the human was nowhere to be found in the forests. The day finally came when the master could travel again, and sadly he did so, alone.

 

Ovid was lost in the Forbidden Zone for many years. He endured many great hardships, but his only thoughts were of his master. He traveled rivers, climbed mountains, even fought the magical bear, but remained a lost soul because he had not found his master.

 

Then, one day, quite unexpectedly, Ovid fell into a bear trap.

 

At the bottom, a nest of deadly serpents had made their home, and Ovid was certain that he would die. Just then, a hand reached down and helped him out of the trap. It was Ovid’s master.

 

--------------------------------

 

Galen was beginning to think that he was deliberately being delayed. The day after they’d seen the vet, who had explained that a stray matching Virdon’s description was on the Prefect’s estate, the Prefect came into the District Center about noon. Galen, in his guise as Zuma, was to see him immediately, but several other issues requiring the Prefect’s immediate attention intervened. The vet saw the Prefect, several locals with grievances were ushered through the offices, and trappers traipsed in to report a bear attack. Galen and Burke were patiently but firmly told to wait.

 

“We should just go and get him,” Burke said, impatiently pacing around a tree in front of the administrative offices where they had decided to wait.

 

If it is Virdon,” Galen responded. He sat comfortably under the tree eating an apple, but never took his eyes off the main door. “There is a protocol in a case like this. If we follow it, the Prefect should not become suspicious.”

 

“Should?”

 

Galen tossed away the apple core. “How many times have you and Alan told me that there are no guarantees? Wait-“

 

A human servant was hurrying toward them. “Are you Zuma, sir?”

 

Galen stood. “Yes.”

 

“The Prefect will see you now.”

 

The Prefect listened to Galen’s story and confirmed that they had pulled a stray from the river. He then invited Galen out to his estate to see for himself, and Galen graciously accepted the invitation.

 

It was very late when they all left the District Center.

 

--------------------------------

 

The canopy of stars was an amazing thing to behold. Andon sat on a stump staring in wonder at the rich blackness and the stunning points of light. Ovid sat in the cool grass next to him in comfortable companionship. Both were content.

 

“See the three stars in a row?” Ovid guided the youth’s gaze.

 

“Yes,” Andon breathed. He’d always thought of the stars as random light in the sky. Now he was beginning to appreciate patterns as well.

 

“Follow the line straight up. You’ll see a single star, a light brighter –“

 

“I see it!” Andon interrupted excitedly.

 

“That’s a very important star,” Ovid said with a smile. “It will always remain in that spot, no matter what else happens in the sky.”

 

“But I thought –“ The chimp stopped suddenly, tilting his head to listen. “Someone is coming.” He stood and turned toward the encampment. A strange human was jogging toward them. “Who is it? What do you want?”

 

The human slowed, holding up his hands. “Easy. My name is Pete. The Prefect gave me permission to find you.”

 

Ovid stood and placed a protective hand on the chimp’s shoulder. Andon looked up at his human and saw him staring at the stranger, his lips drawn in a distressed, thin line.

 

The newcomer took another step toward them. “Alan?”

 

Andon suddenly realized what was happening. “No,” he shouted in blind rage and rushed at the stranger. He collided with the human, pounding at his body. The wild blows were ineffective, easily deflected by the human. That only made Andon madder. Then he felt Ovid’s firm hands on his arms, pulling him away.

 

“Stop, Andon,” Ovid whispered in his ear. “We knew this might happen.”

 

Heartbroken, Andon broke away from his human and companion. His human. He bolted away, hot tears springing from his eyes.

 

Ovid stood. “Andon.” He took a step after the youth, but the stranger caught his arm.

 

“Alan –“ The man named Pete studied Ovid’s expression. He searched Ovid’s eyes and only saw a blank, confused stare. “Do you know me?”

 

--------------------------------

 

Burke returned to the main house. He was led to the library where Galen and the Prefect were drinking hot cider. Galen stood immediately.

 

“Well?”

 

 “It’s Alan,” he confirmed, but not with the complete relief that he should be feeling. “But there’s a problem. He doesn’t know me.”

 

Galen was stunned. “Is that possible?”

 

Burke pointed at his eye but it was the Prefect that answered.

 

“He had a bad head injury. The vet says a human could withdraw from such a terrible experience or have some damage.”

 

Speechless, Galen turned to Burke for confirmation. He nodded. It was possible.

 

 “Because he could not remember his name, my son called him Ovid.”

 

Your son. Andon?”

 

The Prefect nodded to Burke.

 

 Burke shifted uncomfortably. “I saw him. He’s not very happy.”

 

Grunting, the Prefect set aside his cup. “Where is the human?”

 

“Out front.”

 

Without comment, the Prefect moved across the library and out the door. Burke and Galen started to follow.

 

“How bad is this?” Galen whispered quietly to Burke.

 

“Amnesia is tricky business,” Burke responded soberly. “He can remember everything tomorrow, or never.” He pressed one hand over his eyes and rubbed his face. “Considering what we’ve been through, what Alan has been through, I can’t say I blame him if he doesn’t want to remember.”

 

“What can we do?”

 

“I don’t know,” Burke said tightly. He looked at his simian friend. “Hope like hell.”

 

With that fragile condolence, they joined the Prefect outside.

 

Ovid was sitting on the steps. He stood as the Prefect came onto the porch. “Do you understand what’s happening?”

 

“I do.”

 

The Prefect turned to Galen. “There’s no mistake?”

 

Galen huffed, both surprised and indignant. “These two humans were raised together. And surely I would know my own property.”

 

“Yes, of course.” The Prefect took Galen’s arm. “Then we have things to discuss.” He directed Galen back toward the interior.

 

Ovid came up two steps. “Prefect.” He hesitated but was not intimidated when everyone turned to him. “I’m sorry, but I’m worried about Andon.”

 

The Prefect nodded his understanding. “We’ll see about that. For now—“

 

“Prefect!”

 

Gleanna was half-running, half-hobbling toward the house. She took the last few steps in exhaustion and nearly fell into Ovid’s arms. He held on to her as she gasped for breath. “Prefect,” she cried, tears falling freely. “It’s Andon. He destroyed the interior of my dwelling in a rage, then ran off into the woods.”

 

The Prefect stomped to the porch rail and stared at the trees. “The forest is dangerous at night. We must find him.”

 

“I’ll go,” Ovid stated firmly. He lowered Gleanna gently to the steps then broke into a run for the trees.

 

“I’ll go too,” Burke offered. “With your permission, Zuma.”

 

Galen nodded and waved him on. Burke jumped the stairs and ran after Virdon.

 

“I was afraid of something like this,” the Prefect muttered, shaking his head in despair.

 

“We’ll organize a search,” Galen told the older chimpanzee. “Don’t worry. Alan is a good tracked, and Pete has sharp eyes and determination.”

 

The Prefect watched as the two humans disappeared into the forest. “You have very strange names for your humans,” he muttered without thinking.

 

--------------------------------

 

Ovid knew exactly where to find Andon. The darkness was a hindrance, and the moon and stars provided precious little light in the forest, but Ovid knew he could trust his instincts and senses. He did not know how he knew that, but he was aware that the forest was a familiar place to him, so he pressed on toward the great willow that was Andon’s special place.

 

The presence of this other human was a distraction. Ovid tried to focus only on finding Andon, but he couldn’t totally dismiss the man. His dark, curly hair and animate features were familiar. This human knew him, was the past that Ovid had almost convinced himself that he did not want to remember.

 

“Are you okay?”

 

Ovid stopped, suddenly aware that he was breathing hard. His aching injuries were objecting strongly to this sudden, extra effort, and his head was throbbing again. Pete. This man called himself Pete. Ovid suddenly saw him in white clothes, seated among lights and strange machines …

 

“You didn’t have to come,” Ovid told him.

 

Andon is important to you,” Pete responded calmly. “Besides, I’m hoping I can think of a way to help you remember.”

 

Ovid straightened, taking a deep breath for stability. “Maybe.”

 

He didn’t want to face this right now, not while Andon was in jeopardy. “Maybe.” A shrill, terrified cry erupted from the forest. Both humans stiffened, alert. Ovid moved first. “This way.”

 

They found a large black bear tearing the willow tree apart. Andon was in the branches, slapping the bear with whip-like branches. "Go away,” he sobbed.

 

Ovid and Burke stopped at the edge of the rise. “Andon!” Ovid called.

 

The young chimpanzee recognized the voice of his human. “Help me,” he commanded desperately.

 

Ovid took a step forward, but Burke gripped his arm. “Wait a minute. That bear is not going to be intimidated by us.”

 

“We have to do something.”

 

Burke nodded. “Yeah.” He scanned the ground. “Wait a minute. I have an idea.”

 

Ovid stood helpless while Burke collected branches from the forest. The bear was raging at the tree, determined to shred it and get at the chimp.

 

“Help me,” Andon cried out again.

 

Andon,” Ovid responded. “Climb higher. As high as you can go.”

 

The bear was slamming into the tree, and the willow shuddered violently. Andon slipped. He caught himself, but the bear swiped at him and clawed his leg. Andon cried out in pain, then fell out of the tree.

 

Ovid couldn’t wait. He yanked a solid, broken branch from the ground and ran up the rise.

 

Andon fell among the litter from the willow, motionless but whimpering. Growling, the bear approached him. Without thinking too much about the consequences, Ovid swung the branch with all his strength, slugging the bear on the side of his head. Stunned, the bear staggered back a few steps.

 

This was the most Ovid could hope for. “Andon, run. Run now,” he commanded, preparing for the bear to attack again.

 

But the youth was crying in wild panic. “I can’t.”

 

The bear approached again. Ovid swung in defense, and the branch disintegrated. Losing his balance, Ovid fell backwards, landing almost on top of Andon. The chimp immediately grabbed his shoulders and buried his muzzle in Ovid’s back.

 

Undaunted, the bear shook splinters out of its fur, then stalked toward them.

 

A streak of hot light flashed across the darkness. Ovid threw up one hand for protection. The bear jumped back abruptly, then froze.

 

Burke jabbed a bunch of burning branches at the animal. “Go on, Smoky. Get lost.” The bear took a step toward them, and Burke swung the makeshift torch in a wide arch. Aggressively, the bear pawed at him, catching part of the torch. The flaming branches caught in the bear’s claws, and the torch was yanked out of Burke’s hands. Burke somersaulted away just as the lunging bear crashed to the ground.

 

Fire caught in the bear’s fur, and the animal flailed and howled. Panicked, it crashed into the willow again, then rolled and bolted for the forest. A moment later, the woods were quiet, as if nothing at all had happened.

 

Andon clutched at Ovid. The chimp continued to sob, and he shook violently. Ovid held him tightly. “It’s all right. The bear is gone,” he whispered soothingly.

 

Breathing hard, Burke crouched next to the pair and examined Andon’s leg. “We can stop this bleeding.” He stripped the cloth away from the wound and began dressing it. “It’s not too serious. He’ll be okay.”

 

 Ovid didn’t move while Burke worked, but he couldn’t help staring at the man. Finally, he had to say something.

 

“Thank you.”

 

 Burke pushed perspiration off his forehead. “Yeah, well, you’d do the same thing for me.” He tied off the bandage, then leaned back on his heels. Only then did he look directly into Ovid’s eyes. “In fact, you have.”

 

--------------------------------

 

The Prefect paced on the porch.

 

Zuma had been a great help, and now every available human and ape on the estate were engaged in an organized search for his son. He did not question how Zuma had come to have the knowledge to mount such an enterprise. He was only thankful for the chimpanzee’s skill. All he could do was worry.

 

After what seemed a great length of time, Zuma brought the Prefect a small bowl of wine. “It won’t be long. Try not to worry.”

 

The Prefect accepted the wine gratefully. “My son has become rather attached to your human,” he said abruptly. “I was hoping to buy him from you.”

 

Zuma stepped to the rail. He remained silent for several moments. “Let’s consider that when your son is home safe,” he said finally.

 

“You’re right, of course.”

 

Some time later, a trooper rode up to the house. Omus climbed off his horse and strode directly to the Prefect. “I must speak to you immediately.”

 

“Not now.” The Prefect wandered about the porch, lost in his own thoughts.

 

Omus glared at Zuma. “It’s very important, Prefect.” He stopped the Prefect and grunted. “Very important.”

 

The Prefect blinked, then nodded. “Very well. Come inside.”

 

But they had only taken a few steps when Zuma saw something. “Prefect, look!” he shouted excitedly, pointed to the forest.

 

Burke came jogging up to the house. The Prefect lunged to the rail. “My son?”

 

Breathing hard, Burke nodded. “We found him,” he said breathlessly. “He was injured by a bear, but he’s okay.”

 

Ovid wasn’t far behind, carrying the chimp. The Prefect came off the porch and took his son from the human. He held the youth tightly in his arms and spirited him quickly into the house.

 

Everyone was left outside, forgotten. Omus spent several silent moments studying the chimpanzee and two humans. It was an uncomfortable gaze: both Burke and Galen tensed, expecting something to happen. Finally, the gorilla snorted and turned into the house.

 

Burke collapsed onto the steps. “What was that all about?”

 

Galen crouched down at the edge of the porch next to him. “I don’t know,” he admitted, troubled by the gorilla’s previous conversation with the Prefect. “I think we should move on quickly.”

 

“You’ll get no argument from me,” Burke sighed out.

 

“Who are you?”

 

The question was so demanding and fierce that both Burke and Galen looked up at the human standing before them. Galen looked to Burke. The man shook his head, signaling that he’d had no luck with Virdon’s memory.

 

“Answer me. Who are you?”

 

Galen stood. He was conscious of being very tired. Days of searching had affected him too, and now this. He came down the steps and stood directly in front of the man he thought he might never see again.

“Alan, we’re your friends.”

 

Ovid glared at both of them, critically. A host of emotions passed over his face, then he shook his head and turned away.

 

--------------------------------

 

A few hours later, Galen was following Burke toward the human encampment on the Prefect’s estate.

 

“This won’t wait,” Burke was saying. After hearing about Andon’s condition, he had decided to take command of the situation. Typically short on patience, he had elected for direct action. “That gorilla gives me the willies. I don’t want to wait around to find out what his problem is.”

 

Galen trudged along, miserably tired by the events of the past few days and anxious about the potential for confrontation in the near future. He had thought a great deal about what the Prefect had said. Then he’d witnessed Virdon’s complete denial that either of his companions had been part of a previous life, seen how quickly and completely he’d embraced life on the Prefect’s estate. Burke seemed to think there was only one solution – drag Virdon along and hope that his memory returned. Galen wasn’t so sure about that.

 

He’d considered every possible way to broach the subject. Nothing was diplomatic or rational enough, so he just said it. “Maybe we should do as the Prefect suggests.”

 

Burke came to a complete stop. He swung around and stooped slightly so that he was face to face with Galen. “You’d sell Alan?”

 

Galen almost wished he hadn’t told Burke about that conversation, but he had taken a silent oath of honesty when he’d befriended – or was befriended by – these humans. While most of the time that honesty was a pleasant and liberating change from the life he’d known in Central City, he was discovering there were consequences that accompanied such freedom.

 

“Not in the way you mean,” Galen said quietly. He hesitated a moment. “But it may be the best way, for everyone.”

 

“No,” Burke said flatly. So final was that statement that he turned and began walking again.

 

Galen sighed in exasperation. “Pete.” He caught up but had to jog to stay with Burke’s long strides. “What if that gorilla suspects? He tells the Prefect, we’re jailed, sent back to Central City, killed. All of us. But if I actually agree to sell Virdon, that gives credence to my claim of ownership.” He huffed, winded. “We’re … all … safe.”

 

“Then what?” Burke glanced at Galen but did not alter his speed or direction. “We take off and leave Alan here? No way.”

 

“It may be best.”

 

Burke stopped again, so abruptly that Galen took two more steps before he was aware that he was well ahead of his friend. He stopped too and waited.

 

“I don’t believe I’m hearing this.”

 

Galen shuffled back to Burke. “We can travel freely because Urko is searching for three fugitives. And Alan –“

“Yeah?” Burke demanded.

 

“Well, he has a place here.” Galen waved at the encampment. “I’ve seen the humans here. The Prefect treats them well. He’ll be safe.”

 

“It’s still a prison,” Burke gritted out.

 

Galen shrugged. He’d expected resistance, but not stupidity, not from this man. He had one more thing to say, and it would be the most difficult. “Pete, you saw him. He doesn’t know us. We’ve survived because we can depend on each other –“

 

Burke lifted an angry fist. “You’re saying he’s no good to us.”

 

“Your words, not mine.” Galen sighed, trying to keep control of his own emotions. “You know that what I’m saying makes sense. If Alan can’t remember, or doesn’t want to, then it could be even more dangerous to take him with us.”

 

Burke thought about that for a few seconds, then shook his head. “Then I’ll have to make him remember.”

 

“Pete –“

 

“Galen, I can’t argue with you.” Burke waved his hands helplessly. “But I know Alan, and this is not what he’d want.”

 

Galen thought that he had come to understand his friends, but this virtually desperate attempt to cling to Virdon wasn’t making much sense. “It’s irrational, Pete.”

 

“I’m human,” he threw back. He turned toward the collection of huts on the edge of the forest. “It goes with the territory.”

 

--------------------------------

 

Ovid helped Gleanna pick up the mess Andon had made in her hut. Ovid was disturbed by the extent of the damage – broken furniture, shredded fabric, brutally thrown food and dishes. Much pain had been released in this small dwelling, pain that had been hidden for a long time.

 

They returned order to the interior in silence, both absorbed by their concern for Andon’s condition. But Ovid’s thoughts strayed often to the chimpanzee and the human who insisted that they knew him. Pete … Pete … who?

 

He saw this dark-haired human standing in front of a large machine. He was in a uniform with a hat tucked neatly under one arm. Ovid recognized the machine, the uniform, and the carefree grin on the man’s face …

 

The image was so strong and sudden that Ovid shuddered and knocked over a chair, breathless for a moment. He leaned his full weight on a wobbly table. The momentary sensation of instability made him nauseous. He closed his eyes against it.

When he opened his eyes, he saw Gleanna standing next to him. “These newcomers,” she said in her aged and gritty voice. “They know you.”

 

“So they say.” Ovid slid into a chair. He was spent by the emotional and physical events of the night. Outside, dawn was approaching and, in a few hours, a new day would begin.

 

Gleanna touched his arm with her fingertips. “You belong with them.” Her wise eyes stared at him without accusation or insistence, only acceptance.

 

She believed, that was apparent, but Ovid wasn’t so sure.

 

“Anybody home?”

 

They looked up and saw Burke poke his head around the fabric hanging in the doorway. He grinned hesitantly and entered slowly. “I, uh, came down from the house to let you know that Andon will be okay. He’ll be in bed for a couple days, and the leg will be sore, but he’ll recover just fine.”

 

Gleanna’s fingers tightened on Ovid’s arm. “Thank you,” she whispered.

 

“Yes,” Ovid added abruptly, intentionally missing Gleanna’s meaning. “Thank you for coming to tell us.”

 

Burke nodded absently. He shuffled around the little room for several moments, examining it, reluctant to leave. Finally, he looked squarely at Ovid. “We have to talk.”

 

Gleanna understood. She picked up a basket filled with blankets, fruit, and the ball Ovid had made for Andon, and started toward the door. “I will take these to the house for our little master. They will help make him better.”

 

Burke eyed the basket, particularly the ball, as Gleanna walked past him. After she’d left, it was a moment before he faced his friend. “Listen, Al—“

 

“My name is Ovid.”

 

Burke’s eyes narrowed, ramming his eyebrows together. “No, your name is Alan. Alan Virdon. Colonel Virdon, US Air Force. You’re a pilot, an astronaut, and so am I.” He sat down opposite Ovid. “I know this is going to sound crazy, but … Well, we took off from Earth and had some weird accident in space. Next thing we know, we land back on Earth but in the future. Now we’re fugitives, running to stay alive.”

 

Ovid pushed away from the table. “Fantasy,” he muttered.

 

Burke placed his hand flat on the table and sighed. “Look, I’ve known you for ten years. You grew up on a farm. You have a wife and a son—“

 

Frowning, Ovid stood from the table and turned toward the back of the hut.

 

“You have an engineering degree,” Burke pressed on relentlessly. “You and Galen and I have been running for the better part of a year.” He stood and grabbed Ovid frantically. “You can’t tell me you don’t remember any of that!”

 

Ovid’s anger flared. All the painful visions he’d had in the past few days, all the confusion and fear suddenly had a focus. “I remember a young chimpanzee who tore this hut apart and was nearly killed by a bear.” He grabbed Burke’s shirt and pushed him back into the table. “You are the cause of this. Your presence here endangered the people who saved my life!” He shook Burke. “Whatever I was to you, I don’t want any part of it.”

 

Burke showed no fear. In fact, he seemed more in control in the face of Ovid’s rage. “Alan,” he said calmly, “you don’t belong here. Galen and I need you.”

 

Ovid thrust Burke away from him. That was the last straw. He didn’t want to hear it any more. “Get out.”

 

Defeated, Burke wandered to the doorway. He touched the fabric but hesitated. “Ya know, Al,” he said. “You’ve got a nice little family here, and you might think that’s what you need, but it won’t be good enough.”

 

Ovid took a deep breath. “I said get out.”

 

Burke opened his mouth to continue the argument, reluctant to let go so easily. Then he saw the determination and anger in his friend’s eyes. Sadly, he turned away and walked out.

 

Alone, adrenaline still pumping through his body, Ovid felt his muscles quivering. Then the visions started. Their power crippled him, a swirling mass of memories that resembled some of the things this man had told him. Machines that resolved into familiar objects – jets and space craft. People he knew. All lost to him. That’s what he was afraid of, the pain of remembering. Everything, everyone he’d known and valued was gone.

 

Damn them for making him remember.

 

His head ached. He pressed the heel of his hands against his temples. A gorilla – Urko – he wanted them dead. Panic flooded over him. The apes, watch out for the apes. Except one, his friend, a chimpanzee … Galen. And Pete ….. Pete – He’d smuggled a bottle of champagne aboard the shuttle.

 

//How the hell did you get that on board with the weight limit?

 

I left a piece of valuable scientific equipment behind …//

 

Pete had carried him to safety after being shot. They had fought together for freedom. He knew this man. Pete … Peter … Burke.

 

He remembered.

 

A gunshot resolved everything into crystal clarity. Virdon brought his head up, his honed survival instincts kicking in automatically. Only apes had weapons, and that shot had been outside. Close.

 

He ran outside. The dawn sun was just peaking through the eastern forest, and the estate was slowly awakening. Other humans were emerging from their homes to investigate the sound. Virdon saw a chimpanzee staggering toward him. The simian was not hurt, Virdon judged, but something was terribly wrong.

 

He caught the chimpanzee and supported him. “Galen, what’s happening?”

 

The chimpanzee looked up at him in surprise. “Alan? You know me!”

 

“Of course I do,” Virdon said impatiently. “I heard a gunshot. Where’s Pete?”

 

Galen pointed at the trees. “He led that gorilla into the forest.” He gripped Virdon tightly. “They’ve recognized us. We have to run—“

 

“Stop!”

 

They both froze. Omus resolved in the pale light. The gorilla trooper lifted his pistol. “That other human may have gotten away, for now, but not you.” He waved the pistol toward the main house. “Now move. The Prefect wants to see you.”

 

--------------------------------

 

They waited in the library. Galen paced in a small circle. Virdon stood at ease, watching him. Omus stood at attention near the door. He held his pistol on them, ready for anything.

 

The Prefect entered, finally. He gazed at Galen and Virdon with an unhappy frown. “Where is the other human?”

 

“He ran off into the forest,” Omus growled in response.

 

The Prefect continued to frown. Slowly, he walked past Galen and Virdon without a word. Sitting at his desk, he tented his fingers in front of his face and studied his dark fingernails.

 

“You may go, Omus.”

 

The gorilla was startled and confused by the Prefect’s order. “But, sir—“

 

“You’ve done your duty.” The Prefect raised his head but did not other wise change his posture. “I have your report. I will now assess the truth of this matter and make an appropriate decision.” He tapped his fingertips together twice. “You are dismissed and may return to your duties in town.”

 

“But what about the escaped human?”

 

The Prefect shrugged. “I’m not too concerned about him at the moment. You have your orders.”

 

The trooper bristled but, eventually, he gave a small bow. “Yes, Prefect.” Without much attempt to hide his disapproval, Omus barged out of the library.

 

The Prefect went back to studying his paws.

 

Galen and Virdon remained silent. Galen had stopped pacing and was obviously as confused as Omus had been. He looked to Virdon for some explanation, even a tiny shred of understanding. Virdon motioned with one hand that they should wait.

 

Eventually, the Prefect placed his hands in his lap. “You are the fugitives, aren’t you?”

 

“That’s absurd,” Galen blurted out.

 

The Prefect sighed. “Oh, what a terrible, unexpected turn of events.” He fingered the top of his desk, then leaned back in his huge, wooden chair. “No matter. This is what I’ve decided to do, for my son’s sake.” He stood. “I will buy this human from you … Zuma, then you will be free to go.” He went to a window and saw the humans on his estate beginning the work of the day. “I can arrange the paperwork properly. No one will suspect the truth.”

 

Galen shifted uncomfortably. “And what about Pete?”

 

“I suspect Omus will organize a hunt for him.” The Prefect folded his hands behind his back. “I’m afraid that’s nothing I can do about that. He is, by definition, a runaway.”

 

“It won’t work.”

 

Both Galen and the Prefect were stunned by Virdon’s words and the casual way he spoke them.

 

“It won’t work, because I remember who I am,” Virdon explained. “And I’m not Ovid.”

 

The Prefect stepped back to the desk. “How dare you. I’m prepared to perjure myself, to risk everything to offer you a way out because my son is fond of you. It would crush him to have you taken away or see you shot.”

 

Virdon moved to the desk and stood opposite the Prefect. “I am very grateful to your son for saving my life, and I am fond of him, but I’m not Ovid, and I’m not what he needs.”

 

Aggravated, the Prefect looked to Galen. “What is he saying?”

 

Galen could only shrug. It wasn’t the first time he’d been at a complete loss to explain one of his friend’s actions, and he was fairly certain it wouldn’t be the last time either.

 

Andon needs his father,” Virdon continued. “And he needs to know what happened to his mother.” He picked up a piece of fruit from a bowl in the desk and tossed it in one hand. “I know because I had a son too. He was about Andon’s age and, when I left, I had to prepare him for the possibility that I wouldn’t come home.” He returned the fruit to the bowl. “I didn’t return, not in his lifetime.”

 

The Prefect slapped the desktop, livid. “How dare you tell me how to raise my—“

 

“Father?”

 

They all turned to the doorway and saw Andon standing there, gripping his new ball. Bleary-eyed, the youth blinked at them.

 

Andon! What are you doing? You should be in bed.”

 

Sleepily, Andon hobbled in, greatly favoring his injured leg. “But I thought I heard Ovid.”

 

Virdon met him halfway. Lifting the chimp into a chair, he then knelt so they were at eye level. “Your father is right. You should be asleep.”

 

Andon scanned the room, taking in the expressions on Galen and the Prefect and recognizing the tension. He finally settled on Virdon’s open face. “Are you staying?”

 

Virdon considered his answer carefully. “Andon, do you remember the other human that helped me find you in the forest? The one that drove the bear away with fire?” Andon nodded soberly. “Well, we are alive because he did that. Now, he’s lost in the forest somewhere, and I can’t leave him out there, alone. I must try to find him, just like I had to find you.” He touched the ball in Andon’s lap. “Just like Ovid had to find his master. Do you understand?”

 

“I guess so,” Andon said warily. “But … will you come back?”

 

“I can’t,” Virdon answered gently. “I don’t belong here. I think you know that.”

 

Andon blinked back tears. “But … but-- You can’t leave me too.”

 

Virdon frowned. This conversation was starting to hit too close to home. “Your father’s here, and he has some things to tell you. You may not understand, right now, but it will make a difference.” He pressed the chimp’s hands around the ball. “And maybe you could teach your father how to throw.”

 

“And show him the star?” Andon suggested hopefully.

 

“Yes.” Virdon grinned. “Show him the star, the one that will always be there.” He stood and turned to the Prefect. “Well, what will it be?”

 

“He’s right, Prefect,” Galen added. “They saved your son. Please, just let us walk away.”

 

The Prefect rubbed his paws together, deep in thought for several moments. Galen waited, barely breathing. This was the critical decision that could seal their fate, and the anticipation was maddening. Then, the Prefect walked to the chair and placed a protective hand on his son’s shoulder. “Maybe I have been too busy, but I don’t know if I can explain—“ He looked at Virdon with a mixture of thankfulness and sadness on his face. “All right, go. Go quickly. I know what to tell the authorities.”

 

Galen didn’t need any more encouragement. He started for the door at once, before any minds could change. Virdon followed; they had to find Burke and get out of the district as quickly as possible.

 

“Ovid?”

 

Virdon stopped in the doorway. “Yes?”

 

Andon clutched the ball to his chest. “I’ll miss you.”

 

For a moment, Virdon was too stunned to respond. Those were exactly the last words his eleven-year-old son had said to him before takeoff. He swallowed back all that emotion and, with a small smile, he answered just as he had 2,000 years ago. “Remember me.” He touched his head where the bandages had been. “I’ll remember you.”

 

--------------------------------

 

Before separating from Galen, Burke had told him to get Virdon and meet him at the bridge. It took Burke almost two days of avoiding gorilla patrols and retracing the river to return to the collapsed structure where this whole misadventure had started. He spent another full day waiting, hiding twice. At dawn, he heard someone approaching. He stumbled while in search of a hiding place and tumbled into a deep hole with steep muddy sides.

 

He sat very still, but heard nothing. Figuring whoever he’d heard had moved on, he stood and surveyed the slick mud with distaste. “Fucking nature,” he muttered, picking up a stick. “We couldn’t land in a future where the entire surface of the Earth is paved, no.” He dug into the wall, trying to gouge out makeshift steps. “The city I understand—” He cut off suddenly. There were footsteps in the forest again, and they were coming closer.

 

If it was a gorilla, he was dead.

 

Quiet unexpectedly, Galen and Virdon appeared above him.

 

Virdon smiled, hands on his hips. “Well, this is just lovely.”

 

Burke dropped the stick. “Alan?” Last he knew, his friend was still an amnesiac. “You remember?”

 

Evaluating the situation, Virdon said to Galen. “Ya know, the least we could do is gift-wrap him for Urko.”

 

“Funny.” Reassured that Virdon’s memory was restored, Burke raised his hands. “How about helping me up?”

 

“Alan,” Galen said with honest curiosity in his voice. “You were going to tell me that story, about Ovid.”

 

“You’re right.” Virdon laid an arm across the chimpanzee’s shoulders. “I think we have time for that,” he decided, leading Galen away from the hole.

 

“Hey, you guys,” Burke called after them. “Get me the hell out of here!”

 

 

THE END