Planet of the Apes TV - Finis

Mithrill

 

 

 

North American Continent

June 3040

 

The afternoon sun beat down on the three travelers as they trod across a salt flat in what had once been Texas.  The shores of an unseen sea beat a slow rhythm away across dunes to their south.  One of them, a fair haired man stopped and removed a map, brittle from age.  With an exasperated sigh he wiped his forehead and said, “The sea shouldn’t be here!  We should be miles from it!”

            Slightly behind and next to him; wearing an ammo bandoleer and a belt with a knife; bearing a pack and toting a rifle – something that would gain him instant death if he were caught with it – stood a slightly taller, harder faced man.  Pete Burke and Alan Virdon had been friends for years, both had been in the United States Air Force, both had entered Astronaut training together.  But since they had warped time and landed on what had once been their home, since they’d been on the run for five years now – their friendship was getting strained.

            Burke was something he was sure Virdon wasn’t; a realist.  Virdon had a wife and children back home, Burke hadn’t even left a dog behind.  He’d accepted that somehow, they’d ended up in their own future, a future where Apes had risen to rule over a nuclear devastated world.  Virdon still felt that with the magnetic record he’d risked his life several time to save, that they could get home.  Burke felt they should find some quiet place where no one had ever heard of them, their chimpanzee companion Galen included, and just settle down.  But Virdon was stubborn.  Burke felt lately it might be better for the three of them to go their separate ways, but he was loyal… for now.

            Galen moved up and glanced at Virdon’s map.  “What do you mean, Alan? This sea has always been here.  This is another forbidden zone.  There is a place called Hoostone nearby which my people avoid.”

            Virdon’s face paled at the name.

            “How do you know that, Galen?”

            Galen rolled his eyes and exchanged the same look with Burke, who just wanted to get out of the sun for a while and eat something.  He wanted to shoot a deer or a cow and really feast, but they didn’t have that much ammo and Galen would disapprove.

            “The last farm, where I filled our canteens – the farmer told me.  The local council wants to expand into it, cultivate it, but the Gorillas are against it.”

            Burke made a face.  “Gorillas who don’t want to fight something?  That’s new.”

            Galen shrugged his shoulders, settling his pack more comfortably.  “The council in that town is run by all three races of ape.  Very nicely done if I may say so.”

            Virdon peered at his own map.  “I think we’re going to make a little side trip.”

            Burke shook his head.  “No.”

            “What?” Virdon and Galen both looked at their friend.  Their friendship was unique since never in Ape history had any ape been such friends to a human.

            “No,” Burke repeated.  “We’re not.  At least, I’m not.  I’m not going on another goose chase, Alan.  I’ve had it.  It’s time we found a place and settled down.”

            Virdon couldn’t believe his ears.  He knew that his friendship with Burke was getting strained, but this was unbelievable.  He shouldn’t have let Pete take that Gorilla’s rifle months back when they’d waylaid him for food.  But Pete had been the target enough – he was a good shot - and he wasn’t getting taken easily again.  He was sure that their luck was going to run out sooner or later.

            Virdon’s eyes narrowed.  “Come on, Pete.  This is Houston! Perhaps mission control is still there.  We can read the flight recorder!”

            “And do what Alan?” Burke’s face colored with anger.  “Do what? Find out where we are? I know where we are, in the future. A future that we’re stuck in! There is no getting back, so we may as well make the best of it now!”

            “I don’t believe that,” Virdon replied coldly.  “There has to be a way back.”

            “But how?” asked Galen.  “How Alan? You’re ship is gone, there’s nothing left of it!”

            “Yeah,” added Pete.  “And we’re in a world where they’re barely out of medieval times, Alan.  It’s time to face the truth; we’re stuck here, like it or not.”

            Virdon folded the map and stuck it in his vest.  “No, I don’t believe that and I never will.”  He turned to face his companions.  “You’ve both had enough?  Fine, I’ll go alone.”

            Before either of them could say a word, he started off up the tall dune, leaving them behind.

            Burke and Galen stood there for a moment, exchanged glances and followed.  But Burke was angry at his compliance.  He needed something that would convince Alan that there was no back, to get his friend to concentrate on the here and now.

            But just what that was, he couldn’t say.

 

            With Virdon far enough ahead not to overhear him, Galen said, “Pete, can I ask a question?”

            “Sure Galen.”

            “You and Alan seem to be at ends lately, you barely even speak.  What’s wrong?”

            Burke shifted his shoulders, settling his pack more comfortably.  He shifted the rifle, wondering how to answer.  Finally he said, “For five years we’ve wandered across the lower half of what had been our country, Galen.  Alan doesn’t want to admit that we’re here for good.  I’ve accepted it. I’m a realist and he’s not.”

            Galen’s brows went up as he contemplated this.  “Then you weren’t fooling with him, like you usually do, you’re willing to settle down?”

            Burke grinned at his chimp friend.  “Yes, I am.  In fact, I have a question for you, Galen.”

            “Yes, go ahead.”

            “Two months ago, when we helped at that farm, the one run by the female Chimpanzee with her orangutan friend, she was obviously attracted to you; why didn’t you stay?”

            Galen looked down at the ground and shuffled his feet.  “Well, I wanted to – I did, but what would you and Alan have done without me?  We’re friends, after all.”

            Burke stopped and put a hand on Galen’s shoulder.  “Yes we are, but I still think you should have stayed, Xevia certainly wanted you to.”

            Galen said nothing.

 

            As the sun dropped lower, Burke noticed that the ground they were walking on had grown harder, that the dunes were leveling out.  Pausing for a moment, he knelt and touched what they were walking on.  Rubbing away some of the sand, he felt the stone surface – it was concrete!  They were walking on a road!  Rising, Burke began to call out to Virdon when he saw his friend had stopped.  Rising to his feet, Burke ran up to where Virdon and now Galen had stopped and saw… horror.

            There before them, lying out in all its nuclear blasted glory, lay what remained of the city of Houston.  The one proud spires of the city had melted and reformed, creating a vision worse than any hell Dante ever thought of.

            Virdon stood there, tears running down his cheeks.  Most of the cities they’d encountered on the west coast looked as if a natural catastrophe had done them in; this was obviously the work of a nuclear weapon.

            Galen gasped as he looked at it.  “I’d read in the sacred scrolls how man was responsible for destruction, but until now I’d never believed it…”

            Virdon spun on the chimp and shouted, “How do we know my people did this?  It could have been caused by yours!”

            Burke got between them.  “Alan, you’ve seen the height of Ape technology – they’re lucky they have signal mirrors and rifles.  It was us that did this all right.  What I’d like to know is how and why?”

            Galen with a hurt look on his face said, “Even if apes did cause this, it wouldn’t have been Chimps.  We are pacifists, we don’t fight – unlike you humans!”

            Virdon looked downcast.  “I’m sorry Galen, seeing this – upset me.  I apologize.”

            Galen nodded, but said nothing.

 

            They camped over the ridge where the site of the blasted city wouldn’t haunt their sleep.  As they unrolled blankets and prepared a meager meal, Burke said, “Do you think it’s still radioactive?”

            Galen sat up.  “Radioactive? What’s that?”

            Virdon turned to him.  “When a nuclear bomb explodes, it releases and energy that’s fatal to living things – it remains for a long while after.  I really don’t know.”

            Burke stood and walked back up the hill to stare at the city.  As the sun set, the city went dark, no illuminating glow of lights, no sign that anything still lived there.  A slight luminescence – the kind they’d seen on the horizon before – hung over what had been Houston, but that didn’t help.

            With a sigh, Burke turned and went back to his friends, unaware that hostile eyes were on them.

 

            They camped in the lee of a building that looked like it had blown over in a freezing wind.  Setting rocks in a circle, they made a small fire out of the stunted ugly trees that grew on the periphery of what had been a great city.  Virdon looked depressed as the flames lit up the small area.  Burke was more interested in eating and then moving on.  He didn’t see any reason to remain in this area; who knew if the radiation from the bombs was still strong enough to kill them?

            Galen huddled near the fire, a nervous look on his face.  “Pete, how did this happen?”

            Virdon looked up, a strange expression on his face.  “You don’t want to know, Galen.”

            “Why shouldn’t he,” Burke challenged, “Why not?”

            Virdon stared at Burke.  They’d been friends for a long time, but it was obvious that the bonds that kept them so were fraying.  Burke took an orange out of the pack and began peeling it.  “It’s like this Galen, once upon a time when man ruled this planet, when a lot of it was a paradise compared to what it’s like now, some men didn’t feel safe enough – so they built bombs.  Not just any bombs, but bombs that could destroy an entire city.”

            Burke got to his feet and made a motion with his arms outspread.  “This city once held better than two million people in my time. All gone because of… what?”

            “Yes, what,” echoed Galen.

            Burke sat down heavily.  “I don’t know. Something pushed someone to push a button, or it could have been terrorists – we’ll likely never know.  But the bombs fell and mankind fell and you apes have control of what’s left.”

            “Unless we get back and warn them,” said Virdon, his voice dark with emotion.

            Burke rolled his eyes.  “Alan, when the hell will you get it through your heads that we are not getting home, there is no going back!  Your friends and I’m sorry to say, your family are long gone.”

            “You don’t know that!” Virdon shouted; his voice beyond anger.  Galen looked to make sure Burkes rifle was safely out of Virdon’s reach.  The lighter haired man was on his feet now; face flushed with anger.

            “I do know Alan, and I know that this hope you have, of finding a machine that can read that disc – is a stupid one!  Where are you going to find the technology?”

            Virdon was breathing heavily, his fists knotted into clubs that he was ready to use on his friend.  “Perhaps right here Burke!  Perhaps right here in this city!  The bombs haven’t destroyed everything!”

            Burke relaxed slightly, raising his own hands, palms out.  “They may as well have.”

            Galen relaxed slightly as Burke began to unroll his blanket.  As he lay down near the fire, he said, “Unless we get some sleep, we’ll never know.”

            Virdon stood there staring.  Burke had done it to him again; infuriated him then simply turned off his own anger.  With an angry glare, he took out his own blanket and lay down to sleep.

 

            General Urko and his ten Gorillas looked worse for the wear.  They’d left their own prefectures, their own Ape civilization far behind.  For five years now, Urko had sought to stop Galen and his human allies from starting a rebellion against the apes.  That he had seen no such sign of any rebellion meant nothing.  To Urko the best way to stop an infection was to cut it out.  Now that they were close; that they’d gotten hard evidence of where they were, his soldiers didn’t want to go any further.

            “What do you mean we can’t go any further?”

            Sergeant Kurne stared at his leader.  “That’s a forbidden zone ahead, General Urko.  Only death lies there.  No apes enter a Forbidden Zone!”

            The other soldiers muttered in agreement.  The Lawgiver himself had decreed them off limits.  No ape would willingly violate his laws.

            Urko put his snout an inch from Kurnes.  “I am in command here, Sergeant.  We are going to stop those rebels; tomorrow we will go into that… city and kill all three of them.”

            Kurne looked down but said nothing.

 

            It was nearing dawn when Burke woke up.  There, sitting on a rock, dressed in a voluminous cloak, sat a stranger.  With a strangled noise, Burke lunged for his rifle and brought it up.

            “I mean you no harm,” hissed the stranger, his voice gravelly and deep.

            “Why sneak up in the night,” asked Burke, rifle unwavering.

            “I saw your fire and was curious; few come near this cursed place.”

            Virdon and Galen both woke up at the sound of their voices and Burke waved them around behind him.  “We have a guest.”

            Rubbing his eyes, Virdon got to his feet.  “Pete, put that thing down.  If this … person had wanted to kill us, we’d be dead.”

            Burke shouldered his rifle as Galen said, “Would you like some water?”

            The being shook his head, in doing so the hood falling off his shoulders.  The three of them could just gasp in wonder.  What sat near them may have had human ancestors, but it was far from human.  He was blind, his eyes covered in a milky film.  It had no hair and its pale skin was akin to the albino.  But its skin while colorless; was nearly transparent and the bones could be seen beneath that flesh, glowing with a faint luminescence, like the city the creature inhabited.

            “I am Hermes, last of a dead people.  We once inhabited Houston, but in recent years began to die off.  He stared at the pair of them with his good eye and said, “You are not of this time.”

            Virdon grinned nervously.  “Of course we are.”

            “No,” said Hermes in his grave voice.  “I know.  I have a gift that tells me.  You are astronauts, both from the past.”

            Galen’s jaw dropped open. “How do you know that? How can you know that?”

            Hermes turned his face toward Galen.  If he were afraid of the ape, he didn’t show it.  “I know that you are different from your kind, you don’t have the fear the others do.”

            Galen shuffled back a bit.  The Apes were superstitious and Galen was no different.  “Is that good or bad?”

            Hermes rose to his feet.  “You are all in danger.  An enemy follows.  If you would be safe, come with me.”  Without hesitation he shuffled off toward the city, walking as surely as if he could see.

 

            The three followed Hermes into the beginnings of the ruined metropolis.  Metals and glass had run together from the heat of the bomb, parts of the ground beneath their feet slippery from this mix.  Here a car was visible, mostly melted into the surroundings.  Virdon was glad there weren’t any bones left.  Burke looked at the night sky, vaguely lit by the city’s residual radiation.  Before he could ask, Hermes said, “It’s all background.  There is no more dangerous radiation.”

            Virdon and Burke stared at each other, but continued on.

            Galen shook his head, voice nervous, “This is so horrible, how could this have happened?”

            Burke stopped a moment.  “Galen, I hate to admit this, but some of the sacred scrolls less flattering statements about men are true.  We were a destructive species, not all of us, but some.”

            Galen licked his lips.  “The some who were did this?”  He shook his head, but his eyes, for the first time since he’d met the humans, he wished he’d hadn’t.

            Hermes stopped and turned to face them, “Follow.”

            The mutant human entered an alcove and started down a stair.  At the bottom of it, he stopped and turned.  “Come, the way is clear.”

            With some hesitation and Galen between them, the three of them followed.  The stairs ended a few feet down, a wall facing them.  Hermes pushed his hand against a part of the wall and it opened noiselessly.  As they passed through the wall, the door slid shut again.  Hermes motioned toward couches, items of furniture that looked as if they’d been preserved since the 20th century.

            “Sit, I will bring food and water.”

            Virdon touched the man’s arm.  “Will you…”

            “I will tell you all,” said Hermes.

 

            After his guests ate and drank, Hermes sat and looked at them with his blind eyes.  “So you are from before the fires, before the war?”  He sighed and they all felt his sadness.  

            “I know you have questions.  I know because I can see them in your minds.”  Hermes lifted one of the odd fruits he had fed his guests.  “I am a mutant, a descendant of those of Houston that survived the war.  This fruit is also a mutant, a strain developed by the survivors to help them survive.”

            “What happened to the rest of your people, Hermes?” Virdon asked, trying not to stare at the man.

            “Dead, all dead.  I am the last.  An army? No a tribe of Ape mercenaries, mostly Gorillas invaded and killed them all.  Soon, when I die, the people of Houston will be no more.”

            Galen felt saddened by this.  He’d seen many strange things, had adventures since he’d met Virdon and Burke, but he’d never felt sadness like this before.

            “You have an enemy, a Gorilla, he is close.”

            “Urko, here?” exclaimed Virdon.

            Burke started to rise, reaching for his rifle.  “Then we have to go, or you’ll be in danger Hermes.”

            Hermes raised a hand.  “He will not find his way down here.  Soon, he will have problems of his own.  The apes who destroyed my people, they still live near by.  They will want his weapons, possibly his flesh as well.”

            Galen’s jaw dropped.  “They eat other apes?”

            Hermes nodded.  “That and more.  I believe they are also mutants, possibly descended from Apes who were caught too close to the bombs.”

            Virdon leaned forward.  “Hermes, the war - How did it start?”

            Hermes stood.  “It would be easier to show you.” He held out his hands.  “Take them.”

 

            The war had started not long after the ape rebellion.  While the slave apes of the world responded to the mental cry of a Chimpanzee from the future, the cities burned.  One country, still unknown, took the time to settle scores.  One night, while humanity was rallying it’s armies to stop the apes – and it would have worked, humans outnumbering the simians by at least ten to one, the city of Tokyo disappeared in a nuclear fireball.  With the tensions of the worldwide ape rebellion, this was all it had taken.  The war lasted seventy one hours.  By its end one hundred and fifty of the world’s greatest cities had ceased to exist.  In space, satellites and other defense mechanisms worked, destroying nearly two thirds of all missiles while in orbit.  Still the ones that got through had been enough to wreck Man’s world.

            There had been no nuclear winter, there hadn’t been enough bombs for that, but there had been world wide panic and terror.  With many of the worlds human armies gone, the vacuum of power was filled by the apes.  In some areas, the apes, their pent up hatred against the slave masters released; slaughtered the humans.  In others, uneasy alliances such as Caesars came, but none lasted long.  Eventually even enlightened ape societies drove humans into ghettos or held them as slaves.  In some cities, such as Houston and New York, humans who survived by taking anti-radiation drugs became a new species of humanity.  For awhile there was some telepathic contact between them, but as the generations mutated further, the contacts were lost.  Most mutants preferred to live in isolation, protecting themselves by destroying any invaders.  Apes, using the sacred scrolls, stopped most advancement preferring to live in what to humans would be a 19th century civilization.  But still, they expanded their domains, taming the Forbidden Zones, their population growing.

            Hermes released their hands.  “Sleep now, tomorrow I will show you more of the city.”

 

            Corporal Daven had the watch.  The horses were in a small copse of trees, the soldiers sleeping – some fitfully – at the edge.  The fire they had made was burning low and the chill of predawn was in the air.  Daven held his rifle in gloved hands, sniffing the air.  Something was wrong here, he didn’t know if it was being so close to the Forbidden zone, but something was happening.  Turning to start his round again, Daven saw something moving by the horses.  Bringing his rifle up he fired two quick shots and the shadow spun away, dropping something.  From the darkness came more shots and Daven crouched to one knee, firing his rifle and reloading quickly.  The shots brought the other Gorillas to their feet, scrambling for their rifles.  Urko came up, pistol in hand and, seeing the glare of shots, fired back.  After a few moments, there was silence and Urko shouted, “Cease firing!  Daven, what happened here?”

            “I saw something by the horses and fired on it.  I’m sure I hit it.”

            Kurne, get some torches.  Daven, you and I will investigate. The rest of you; spread out and keep your eyes open.”

            The three ape soldiers moved toward the copse of trees.  The horses were whinnying nervously, their eyes wide with fright.  Daven moved to them to calm them, not wanting them to pull their pickets and leave the apes stranded.  Kurne, holding his rifle in one hand, his torch in the other found the intruder.

            “Over here!” Urko wasted no time.  Kurne stood over a dying figure, Daven’s bullets having punctured its lungs.  It breathed its last, eyes filled with hate at its killers.

            Urko’s mouth dropped open.  The dead intruder was an ape, but like no ape he had ever seen.  It was obviously of Gorilla stock, but was horrid looking; it had one eye, the other socket crusted shut with some mossy looking growth.  Its fur was black with silver highlights; the mouth had sharp long fangs such as no ape Urko ever saw had.  It was dressed in some crude homespun.  At its waist was a belt decorated with bones of animals, humans and… apes.  Kurne knelt by it and removed a wicked long knife from its belt.  A few feet away lay a long rifle.  Kurne lifted it and handed it to Urko.  “What kind of rifle is that?”

            Urko examined it.  It was a primitive device, able to fire one shot at a time.  Sniffing it Urko smelt the gunpowder fumes where it had been fired.  “Search the body more thoroughly, look for powder and shot.”

            Kurne paused for a moment.  “General, we’ve killed an ape.” His voice went soft. “We’ve broken our most sacred law.”

            Urko looked down at the corpse and kicked it.  “You call this abomination an ape?  Search it and forget it.  Whatever that is, it doesn’t deserve protection from the sacred scrolls!”

 

            Zoreth!”

            The large gorilla, fully one hundred pounds heavier than his fellows, rose from a small fire where he had been toasting part of a dead follower.  This gorilla, the leader of the renegades who had once sold his rifles to the highest bidder, stared through one large eye.  Like his followers, Zoreth came from what had been Nebraska, his ancestors serving in the NORAD command center.  It had survived a near hit by a bomb, the apes and humans taking enough radiation to warp their genes, but not kill them.  Over the years, the humans had either died off or been born retarded, finally giving the apes the upper hand.  One of them, Zoreth’s ancestor, had them all killed and eaten.  Other apes, chimpanzees and Orangutans who protested, had also been killed.  The former command center had become a haven only for gorillas.  Over the years they had degraded, becoming less civilized, more vicious.  Finally, their numbers too great for the base, they had left it behind, spreading out in a reign of terror against any who resisted them.  Finally after years of degradations against their fellow apes, three different cities drew up armies and on what was called the road of death; where a large amount (though the apes didn’t know it) of automobiles had been caught in a bomb, the bones of the riders fossilized, most of Zoreth’s followers; facing better weapons and tactics, had been destroyed.  They had been forced to abandon their females and families; these were shown no mercy the victorious gorillas staking them out in the heat of the desert.

            Zoreth had escaped though.  He and his remaining thirty soldiers had fled into the area that led them to Houston.  There they had discovered a civilization of humans who looked like no others.  These had tried to bargain with him, to save their pathetic lives.  All had gone into the stew pot, stringy though they were.  Now one of his scouts was returning, empty handed it appeared.

            Zoreth!”

            “I heard you,” he growled.  “What is it?  Where is Oneer?”

            The smaller gorilla, who had two extra useless arms growing out of his elbows, arms that waved all the time, more so when he was excited, said “Oneer is dead! He tried to steal some of those other gorillas horses, but they shot him!”

            Zoreth’s face went cold.  “And you ran, you coward?”

            Yerth shook his head.  “You don’t understand, Zoreth!  They had rifles like those other apes had!”

            Zoreth opened and closed his fists.  “Get the others ready.  No one attacks my people!”

            While Yerth ran through the camp, Zoreth lifted his long rifle.  Built by his father, only he was able to fire it.  Soon it would be letting blood again.

 

            Hermes led the three further into the city.  This part of the city was clean, the tiles of the floor scrubbed, the lights bright.  Before Virdon could ask, Hermes said, “Nuclear power.  The reactor has run for years, but now without my people to care for it…”  He let the sentence end, sadness in his voice.  “Where are you taking us, Hermes?” asked Burke, not really caring for being underground.

            “To the last project the people of Houston ever worked on.  Their crowning achievement!”

            The four of them came to a large door.  On it was the legend: TEMPORAL DISPLACMENT CHAMBER. NO ADMITTANCE EXECPT AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL.

            Virdon’s eyes went wide.  “Time travel?  Is that what this is Hermes?”

            The blind mutant nodded as he pressed a code on a key pad.  With a rumble the door slid open, revealing a dark chamber at whose center was a circle of light.  The light wavered and blinked then went steady.  Hermes pressed a switch on the wall and the chamber illuminated.  A bank of computers filled one wall, several screens – most dark – filled the other.

            Hermes turned to the travelers.  “This was to be tested on the night the war began.  For years my people argued as to how to use it.  I am the last with the knowledge.”

            Virdon’s face lit up.  “Pete, do you see what this means?  We can use it to go back, before the launch! We can stop things from happening, perhaps even,” he pulled the computer disc that he had carried so long from a pouch.  “Perhaps even stop the war!”

            Burke was less impressed.  “Alan, how do we know this thing would even work?  What if it just kills whoever gets sent?”

            Virdon’s face colored with anger.  “Do you always have to be so damn negative, Burke?”

            Galen intervened.  “If you can go back, Virdon.  What would happen to me? To my civilization?”

            “Yes, Alan.”  Burke practically sneered, tired of chasing a will of the wisp hope.  “What would happen?”

            “I don’t know,” Virdon mumbled.  “But I do know that this isn’t a great future.  It’s a horrible one.  It has to be changed for the better! Hermes, how soon can it be ready? How soon can Burke and I go back?”

            Hermes, who had remained silent replied, “It is ready.  But only one of you can go.  There is only enough power for one to make the trip.”

 

            Urko and Kurne led the troop of Gorillas toward the city.  They were just at the ancient highway when a shot rang out and one gorilla, trooper Juno, fell from his horse, blood spurting from his neck.  Urko wasted no time.  “Charge the enemy!”  In an instant the Gorillas drew their rifles and rode forward.

            In the rocks to either side of the road, Zoreths apes had lay their ambush.  They were surprised by how fast the uniformed (uniforms none had ever seen before) apes had reacted.  They were already nearly through the area where the ambush had laid. Once they had passed it, they could come around and attack Zoreths group from the rear.  Even as Zoreth rose to roar orders, the enemy gorillas were turning their horses.  While Zoreths people began to reload their cumbersome smoothbore rifles, Urko’s troops were taking aim and firing.  In the first volley, five apes, among them Yerth, fell to the ground dead.  Seeing that his enemies were in the rocks to both sides, Urko split his forces.  Half followed Kurne left, the others Urko to the right.  Kurne caught the enemy on his side in the open.  While the gorillas tried to bring their rifles up, the gorillas rode them down, several more killed as horse hooves smashed their skulls.

            To Urko’s left, another trooper went down, a shot from Zoreths large rifle smashing him out of his saddle.  Crouching low in his saddle, Urko urged his horse on.  While Zoreth knelt to reload, Urko brought his rifle up like a club and smashed the huge gorilla in the head as he passed.  With blood flowing from a cracked skull, Zoreth collapsed to hands and knees dazed.  

            This was enough for his followers.  Already unnerved by the battle that had seen most of them killed, their females and children abandoned to the north, they began to flee.  But Urko wasn’t having any of this.  As they rose and started to run he made a motion to his troops.  For a moment they hesitated, then formed a skirmish line and chased the fugitives down.  Rifles barked again and again, breaking the silence of the dead city with their harsh voices.  After a half an hour of hunting, only Zoreth, now bound securely, was alive.

 

            Urko kicked the bound Gorilla in his side, snapping a rib.  “Two of my gorillas killed, by such as you? A blasphemy?”

            Zoreth knew his time was come, but he was unrepentant to the end.  Sneering he replied, “We are the true form of Gorillas.”

            Urko spit on him; hitting the mutant in his large eye.  “What you are is an abomination, an insult to the word gorilla.   What were you doing here? Why attack us?”

            Zoreth stared through that odd eye.  “Why should I tell you anything, ape?”

            Urko loosened his pistol in its holster.  “Your followers are dead; you are no longer a threat.  Answer my questions and I’ll let you live.  You have my word.”

            Zoreth drew back his lips showing sharpened fangs.  “Your word… what does that mean to me?”  With a sudden flexing of his arms, he snapped his bonds and shoved Urko back.  Arms pinwheeling as he stumbled backwards, Urko fell down, the larger Gorilla starting to snap his leg ropes.  Before he could be free, several shots rang out.  Zoreth went down, his legs shattered.  As the mutant ape moaned in pain, Kurne stood over him, rifle smoking.  Urko got to his feet, pistol out.  Kurne, what are you doing?”

            Kurne turned to face Urko.  “Juno was my nephew.  What else could I do?”

            Urko nodded.  He understood family, though he had none of his own.  “Do what you have to.”  Turning, he went to see to the rest of his troop.

            Kurne stared down at Zoreth who, for the first time in his life, felt fear.

 

            As Urko and his other troopers made sure the rest of Zoreths mutants were dead, they were horrified by the creatures they had killed.  Ape religion always held themselves as the proper norm of apeness.  These things, these abominations were better off dead.  Here was one mutant with both arms on one side, another had three eyes, one of which was still moving, another had two mouths, one on each side of its face.  Urko was disgusted and for the first time, wished he’d never left the lands he knew.  Daven; take two troopers and some horses.  Gather wood.  We have to burn these things before they start to stink.”

            On the hill where Kurne was with Zoreth a high scream could be heard.  Urko’s head snapped around.  Kurne had always been so calm and in control.  The death of Juno had changed him, Urko fingered his pistol as he hoped it wasn’t for the worst.

            “Go and get the wood.”

            As Urko arrived, Kurne was standing up.  His gloves were covered in gore and he held a knife – not one of the ones they’d brought with them – in one hand.  Dropping it on the ground, he held up a parchment.  “This thing says this map will lead us into the city.”

            Zoreth was gasping for air.  His face was a mask of pain.  Kurne had dug the bullets out of his legs; then tied the wounds off with tourniquets.  Looking up at Urko, the abomination gasped, “You said I could live.”

            Urko smiled, his incisors showing.  “I gave my word, but Kurne didn’t.”

            The last thing the mutant ape saw was the barrel of the Sergeant’s rifle.  A flash and his mutant head exploded, dirtying the desert with his brains and bone.  Kurne started reloading his rifle, “When do we end this, General?”

            Urko looked at the darkening sky.  “It’s getting late.  First we burn these creatures; then see to Juno.  Tomorrow should be soon enough.”

 

            Virdon ran a hand over the cool metal of the consoles that were part of the time displacement equipment.  Under Hermes instructions he had rerouted the power from the rest of the city to this chamber.  Would it work? Virdon had tried to argue that Pete should go, but he would have none of it.  He insisted that Alan take what he called a ‘fools venture’.  Virdon couldn’t believe that NASA was working on something like this.  He wondered if it was the theories of Dr. Hasslein that powered this, Hasslein who’d died in southern California under mysterious circumstances.  He had been on his way to being the new Einstein when he’d been murdered.  Virdon looked at the ball of light suspended between four large magnets.  If it worked a portal would be opened, he’d step through and be home – or at least close to the time he’d left.  Virdon wondered if there were some way both of them could go through at the same time?

            “No,” Hermes entered the chamber.  “One at a time.  The energy required will allow one to pass, no more.  If you both try, both would die.”

            “How do you know, Hermes?”

            The Mutant stared at Virdon as if his eyes worked.  “I have read the documents.  If the nuclear generator were at full strength, it would be possible.  But it is failing.  Without the technicians the gorillas killed, I do not have the knowledge to repair it or make it function any further.  When this machine is used the fuel rods will be drained.”

            Virdon chewed his lower lip.  How would it feel to see his wife and children again; to hold them close.  It had been so long...  Would his warning to humanity be understood? Would his warning be too late?

            Hermes stiffened for a moment.  “There has been a battle above ground… Urko is victorious… he knows how to enter the city.  Get your friends.  There is no time left.”

 

            Burke entered the chamber, rifle in his hands.  “Bad news, Galen and I just saw Urko and his boys heading this way.  I don’t think we can hang around here any longer.”

            Virdon looked at Burke and Galen, his companions in danger.  “Pete, I’m going to chance it.  I’m going back.”

            Burke looked unimpressed.  “I knew you would. Do me a favor and if you get back before we launch, talk me out of it all right?”

            Virdon wanted to laugh but he couldn’t believe that he and his friends were going to be parted forever.  Perhaps when he got back, he could take another ship and return, at least for Burke.  Of course, if he succeeded, this future might not exist.

            Burke thought about Galen.  “Hermes, is there some secret way out of here? Perhaps far enough away for Galen to escape?”

            “Escape?” Galen exclaimed. “Who said I wanted to escape?”

            Burke put a hand on the chimps shoulder.  “Galen, its over.  Once Alan steps through that portal, he’ll be gone.  I think I’m going to stay here with Hermes.  This is no place for you.  Take off, go back to Xevia, change your name and make a life for yourself.”

            Galen shook his head stubbornly.  “No, I’m your friend.  There has never been a friendship like this and now you want me to go?”

            Virdon came over and nodded.  “Galen, Pete’s right.  There is a place for you and its back with Xevia.  She wanted you to stay and you should have.  We’ve ruined your life; this is a chance to get it back.”

            Galen looked from face to face.  They were serious.  For a moment he was going to argue then he saw the logic and friendship in what they were saying.  A sad look came over his face as he realized while he didn’t want to leave, he did want to settle down, to live a normal life again.

            With resignation he said, “Show me the way.”

 

            It was Burke who led Galen to a long dark passageway.  As he opened the door, sealed with a large wheel, they could both smell water.  According to Hermes the tunnel would let Galen out far beyond city limits.  Once he entered the tunnel and Burke closed the door, there was no way back.  It would be a one way journey.

            Burke held out his hand.  “I’ve known a lot of men whose hand I didn’t want to shake, Galen.”

            Galen found this hand shaking mystifying, but he put a cool hand in Burkes.  “Goodbye Peter.  If you do leave Houston, come to the farm.  There will always be a place for you there.”

            Burke smiled at the good natured Chimp.  He had never lost his spirit.  Burke was glad to see him able to carry on his life again.  “Hey, if you have a son, name him after me.”

            Galen smiled and peered into the dark tunnel.  Taking a moment to strike a flint and light one of the torches he and Burke had prepared, he stepped across the threshold and felt that he was shedding his old life.  Before he could say another word, Burke closed the door.  Galen could hear him doing something on the other side.  Pausing a moment he started walking into the darkness toward freedom.

 

            On the other side, Burke removed the wheel and dropped it down a crack in the floor.  If Urko and his men got past him to find this door, there was no way they could open it.

 

            Hermes watched as the doorway into the past began to get larger.  Virdon, making sure he had the magnetic recorder tucked away safe, paced back and forth, wondering what was taking Pete so long.  Hermes head snapped up from the console.  “The Gorillas, they are here.”

            Virdon felt his heart freeze.  No, not when he was so close!

            “What can we do?”

            Hermes smiled knowingly.  “I have activated certain defensive measures, measures I had turned off until the gorillas slaughtered my people.  I believe they will slow the gorillas down.”

 

            The traps Hermes had mentioned were placed in disparate places in the tunnels through the city.  He had told Burke of them, but not Virdon.  Hermes had known that Virdon would be the one to go.  Virdon not only wanted to see his wife and children again, if there was a risk he, as mission commander should take it.  But Burke was going to see that he got that chance.

 

            Pete heard the Gorillas amazed voices as they got closer.  Moving backwards he made sure he had a full clip of ammunition in the rifle.  Alan might be about to get disintegrated by that device, but Burke was going to make sure he got the chance to use it.

            It was Daven who caught the first trap.  A piece of the floor suddenly tilted and he spilled into it.  A horrible scream rose up, then silence.  Kurne moved forward cautiously and peered into the pit.  Daven lay there, impaled upon steel spikes which glistened with his blood.

            Urko moved beside his Sergeant and looked down.  “This is something else the traitor Galen and his human accomplices will pay for.”  Carefully each remaining Gorilla jumped the pit and moved on.  But Hermes surprises weren’t finished yet.  As they moved down the corridor, the only passageway, a wall made of some clear substance suddenly slid down, splitting four troopers off from the party.  The four of them pounded on the glass like substance and one raised a rifle and fired a shot off.  The bullet ricocheted into a second wall.  There was no mark on the clear wall at all.  The four gorillas started to pound on it, their eyes growing wide.  Urko, pistol in hand pounded from his side.  Slowly the four gorillas on the other side collapsed; no air for them to breath.  One lasted longer than the others, the blood vessels in his eyes bursting before he died of asphyxiation.

            Urko rubbed his eyes with a gloved hand.  “By the lawgiver!  What kind of mind designs such things!  He grabbed the youngest of the troopers, staring at his fallen companions.  “Go! Move out, but be cautious!”

 

            In the chamber, the glow of the temporal vortex was nearly blinding.  Virdon was wearing goggles supplied by Hermes still couldn’t look directly at it.  “A few minutes,” said Hermes, his voice weary.  “And you’ll be on your way.”

            “Any idea,” asked Virdon.  “When or where I’ll arrive?”

            “I can only estimate that it will be within a week of when you left.  You can’t meet yourself; no two selves can exist in the same time.”

            Virdon nodded.  From what he’d read of Hassleins theories, he certainly had to be the driving force behind this experiment, dead or not.  Possibly one of his associates or students had carried on.  Virdon took a breath.  Would he have the nerve to go through once it was time?

 

            Burke took aim and fired off a single shot.  The trooper to the left of Urko went down, unmoving, the shot dead center in the chest.  The other apes scattered to sides of the corridor, taking cover in small alcoves.  Pete, satisfied with his shot, slipped back further up the corridor.

            Urko cursed.  All that was left of his troop were Sergeant Kurne and one soldier.  The soldier looked as if he were going to run.  Urko grabbed him by the shoulder.  “There is no way back.  We go forward or die here, understood?”

            Kurne added his voice to Urko’s.  “Don’t you want revenge for our comrades?”   

            The young trooper nodded and climbed to his feet.  “Yes, yes I do want revenge!”

            The three of them left their dead companion behind, bent on killing the three fugitives.

 

            “A minute more and it will be time,” said Hermes.  Stand in the square before the portal.

            Virdon moved forward, standing there feeling more nervous than his first spaceflight ever.  Back to the entrance he heard the patter of feet. Turning he saw Burke standing in the chambers entrance.

            “Weren’t you going to say goodbye, Alan?”

            “Don’t leave the square!” warned Hermes.

            “Pete, I can’t thank you enough.  Take care of yourself, I’ll see you again!”

            Suddenly a spatter of shots rang out and Pete cried out in pain.

            “Go now,” ordered Hermes.

            Virdon, torn between staying and going, stepped forward.  He felt something tug at him, then he was gone, the chamber empty, the light extinguished.  Only a few of the consoles remained lit, casting an eerie glow about the chamber.

 

            Pete lay to one side of the chamber holding his side where a bullet had punched through.  He moaned in pain, his other hand still clutching his rifle.  The younger trooper rose and shouted, “I got him!” Without waiting, he ran forward past Kurne who shouted, “Wait!”

            Pete fired twice, catching the trooper in the chest and stomach.  The gorilla fell backward, rifle flying from his hands, eyes wide open in death.  This was enough for Kurne.  He’d killed other apes, had short rations and no pay for years following Urko’s quest.  Now this human had to die!  Forgetting about any traps or mutant apes, he charged forward.  From an alcove to his left came a clanking noise and a wall of spikes shot out, impaling the brave Sergeant.  Kurne didn’t even have time to yell.  Urko, who had held back at the end crept past the corpse of the trooper and stared at Kurne, who hung there from the spikes, eyes staring accusingly.  Licking his lips, Urko left the dead behind.  There were still traitors to deal with.

            As he moved down the corridor, Urko saw Pete lying there in a pool of blood, holding his rifle.  Urko sneered, “Many good apes are dead because of you and your friends, human.”  He raised his pistol.  “Now it’s your turn.”

            “No, its not.”  Hermes voice came out of the darkness.

            Urko spun and fired blindly.  Hermes staggered out of the dark chamber, blind eyes wet with tears.  One hand held his middle, blood seeping from the bullet wound.  Urko stared in horror.  “What kind of creature are you?”

            “The last of my kind,” mumbled Hermes, falling on his face.

            Urko stared at the dead…was it a human?  It was Burkes voice that brought him back to the present.  “I’ve been waiting for this for a long time, Urko!”

            As the Gorilla General spun and brought his pistol up, Burke fired three times.  The bullets smashed into Urko, pushing him against the wall.  He had a surprised look on his face as he slid down the wall, leaving a smear of blood on it.  Pete dropped his rifle from nerveless fingers and lay back, saying, “What happened Alan… I thought you were going to change the future…”

            A haze came over Burke's vision; then all went black…

 

Epilogue 1

 

“I’m not insane, I tell you!  I am Alan Virdon!”  The patient in the secure room, wrapped in a straight jacket was screaming again.  Have to up his medication thought the Doctor, making his rounds.  The man had an interesting delusion; he’d arrived near Cape Kennedy the day the Alpha Centauri mission, consisting of Virdon, Burke and Jones had lifted off.  He claimed he’d come from the future, where apes ruled and people were slaves or worse.  His proof had been in a NASA flight recorder disc.  How he’d gotten it was beyond understanding but it had no data on it all, it had been as pristine as one right out of the box.  The officers at the base who’d caught the imposter had brought him to the military hospital.  Orders had come from Washington to keep him isolated, no visitors other than government ones.  That had been six months ago.  Now he was merely another screaming inmate.  Occasionally someone from the Government would come and attempt to ask him questions, but usually he was left alone.

            Virdon had come home, but no one believed him.

 

Epilogue 2

 

North American Continent

June 3043

 

The two gorillas, armed and equipped for a long journey drank water from the small farms cistern.  They thanked the Farmer, mounted their horses and moved off west, back the way they had come.

            Xevia, a comely Chimpanzee female came out to stand by her husband, Rojek.  “What did they want, dear?”  She wrinkled her nose as they disappeared over a small rise.

            “They were looking for a General Urko and his soldiers,” Rojek replied.  “I told them we hadn’t seen any soldiers recently and perhaps they’d want to check with the council.”

            Xevia nodded knowingly.  “I’m going in get dinner ready.  Don’t stay out too late, and don’t let Burke stay out late either.”

            Rojek, nodded. “I’ll go get him, he gets lost when he’s exploring.”

            Rojek, who had been Galen looked up at the sky and wondered if Alan had succeeded, or if Burke were still alive.  Perhaps when his son was a little older, the two of them would take a secret trip to Houston and see if Burke was still there.

            Perhaps one day he’d find out.