Life Over, Life Begun

Carol Davis

 

 

[From the author: the usual disclaimers apply – the copyrights belong to 20th Century-Fox and the relevant other parties. This is a work by a fan for the enjoyment of other fans, and no financial profit is being made. Please don’t post the story on other sites without asking permission. As always, feedback is welcome and encouraged, to fanficwriter1966@yahoo.com.]

 

It was the eyes that bugged him the most, Pete Burke decided.

His grandmother had owned one of those old paintings—a portrait of a woman in Abe Lincoln-era clothing whose eyes seemed to follow him wherever he went. That had been bad enough, because the woman’s eyes only seemed to follow him.

Galen’s eyes did follow him.

The chimpanzee was amiable enough, now that he’d settled down from the snit he’d thrown for most of the morning—and all of last night, except when he was sleeping, which was definitely not long enough of a break, from either the snit or the staring. Now that he was calm, he’d picked up the staring with all the enthusiasm of a Mets fan at the World Series. It made Pete’s skin crawl, as if he’d been doused with honey and staked to an anthill, and the nasty little critters were trekking up his arms and legs, gathering for the big meal.

Half an hour or so ago, when the nominal head of this traveling sideshow, Alan Virdon, suggested that they gather food for supper, Burke had allowed Galen to agree to pitch in, and then allowed himself to stay behind, sitting on a flat rock near the opening of the cave they’d chosen for shelter for the night. Being alone for the first time since—well, since it happened—gave Burke a sense of sweet relief he knew wouldn’t last long.

And it didn’t. Rustling sounds in the brush near the cave announced someone’s return, prompting Burke to groan softly.

But it was only Virdon. “Hey,” he said, with a blond eyebrow hiked. “Thought you were gonna help out.”

“Yeah,” Burke replied noncommittally.

“And?”

Burke looked around, but saw no sign of Galen. “It’s him. He gives me the creeps, Alan.”

“Why?”

“Why?” the younger man echoed. “Because he watches me. He watches every move I make, like he expects me to do something fascinating.”

Virdon smiled fleetingly and sat down on the ground near Burke’s rock, swiping the sweat from his brow with the back of his forearm. He’d used his homespun vest as a pouch for the fruit; it was full of berries now, and he set it carefully aside.

“Reminds me of this girl who had a crush on me in the second grade,” Burke went on. “Patty something. She was always waiting for me to do something interesting.”

“And did you?”

“I ate a pocket pack of Kleenex.”

“And that impressed her.”

“Oh, yeah.”

“And…you?”

Burke shrugged. “Kleenex is mostly fiber.” After a pause, he added, “I’m not eating any Kleenex for Galen. Even if we had any.”

Virdon huffed out something that wasn’t quite a laugh and reached over to unfold his vest. Several fat blue-black berries spilled out, but he caught them before they could hit the ground. Using his hand as a scoop, he offered some of them to Burke, who regarded them with mild suspicion. “Galen says they’re edible. They look like huckleberries.”

“And what do huckleberries look like, Farmer John?” Burke asked mildly.

“These.”

Without losing the wary look, Burke accepted the berries and tossed some of them into his mouth. “They’re kinda sour.”

“There aren’t a lot of options on the menu, I’m afraid.”

“Yeah, tell me about it.” As he finished the berries, Burke squeezed his eyes shut and tipped his head gently back and forth. His neck popped audibly, which made him grimace. “Nothing like sleeping on the ground to really make you know you’re alive,” he sighed. “Man, my head hurts.” When he opened his eyes again, he peered curiously at Virdon. “What about you? Your headache still hanging around?”

Virdon smiled slyly. “Oh, yeah. He’s still here.”

That made Burke gape at him. Chuckling, Virdon held out the folded vest and let the younger man help himself to some more berries, then took some himself and munched on them without the mouth-puckering Burke had experienced.

“So where is he?” Burke asked after a minute.

“Down the hill. Looking for some kind of seed pod his mother cooks.”

“Thought you said a fire wasn’t a good idea.”

“We’ll try them raw.”

“Raw seed pods. Now, that’s making my taste buds sing.” Burke considered the vest but decided against another handful of berries for the moment. Instead, he pulled his feet up onto the rock so he could rest his arms on his knees and stared off into the distance—or at least as much of it as he could see through the thick growth of trees and underbrush on the hillside. The sun had started to dip down into the west, marking the beginning of the fifth evening he and Virdon had spent in this world, a thousand years into the future from the home they had left behind. The headache that had been with him since he’d awakened after the crash had spread down into his neck and shoulders. And, now that he thought about it, into both arms, his back, his butt, and both legs. “Where the hell are we, Alan?” he asked plaintively.

Virdon offered him a sympathetic look. “I don’t know, Pete. I don’t know.”

“We were looking for some adventure, but this is—this is nuts.”

With half a shrug to serve as his agreement, Virdon leaned closer and took a long look at his friend. “I think you’re dehydrated. Come on, let’s walk back down to the creek and get some more water.” He got up from the ground, pulling off the wide strip of cloth he used as a belt. “We can soak this in the creek. The water’s nice and cool. Put it on the back of your neck, and it might help chase the headache.”

“A couple aspirin, a beer, and my bed would chase this headache, too.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

Galen found them on the bank of the creek a short while later. Burke, to his commanding officer’s relief, had actually followed Virdon’s advice without quibbling for once. After shucking his shoes, he had waded into the stream and used the cool, clear water to bathe his face and arms, then pulled off his homespun shirt and tossed it onto the bank. Shivering a little at the chill, he scooped water up over his shoulders, letting it trickle down his chest and back. The furrow that had been etched between his eyebrows for most of the last four days eased somewhat, and by the time he climbed back up onto the bank he seemed almost relaxed.

Then Galen showed up. “I found some,” the chimpanzee announced cheerfully.

“Oh, goody,” Burke muttered.

“Pete,” Virdon warned him quietly. Galen, who hadn’t heard Burke’s remark, sat down on the grass close to Virdon and displayed his bounty: half a dozen fat seed pods about the size of his fist. “That’s great, Galen,” Virdon told him.

The chimp beamed, pleased with himself. “My mother normally cooks them, as I told you, but they’re also good raw. A bit chewy, but perfectly edible. There’s two for each of us. With the berries, that should hold us over until morning.”

“Which is when the catering truck gets here?” Burke inquired.

Galen thought that over, then turned to Virdon and asked, almost apologetically, “What does he mean?”

“He’s making a joke. He likes to do that.”

Eyes narrowing, Galen offered Burke a tip of his head and commented, “It’s my experience that the success of a joke would rely upon the other party understanding what in the world you are talking about. Otherwise it would seem to fall more into the category of mockery. Might I remind you that if the three of us intend to travel together, we ought to avoid that sort of thing?”

“Pardon me, your lordship. No offense intended,” Burke replied with an edge in his voice.

If anything, that made the situation worse. “Now, look here,” Galen snapped. “If it hadn’t been for my intervention, the two of you would likely be dead right now. In fact, as I recall, you’d be dead twice over. I would think that would entitle me to a little respect on your part. No, I think it would entitle me to a great deal of respect. Not to mention the fact that—”

Burke shot back, “Oh, yeah, here we go. You’re an ape and we’re just lowly humans.”

“I gave up—”

“We went back for you, pal. Your hairy backside would be in mighty deep crap right now if we hadn’t gone—”

“Enough!” Virdon barked.

The other two fell silent and regarded him with nearly matching expressions of disgust.

“Galen’s right,” Virdon went on. “If we’re going to travel together, we need to show each other a little respect.”

“Travel,” Burke scoffed. “Like we’re on a bus trip to Disneyland.”

“Would you stop—” Galen began.

Virdon’s voice cut through the air like a scythe. “I said, enough!”

This time the silence lasted only a few seconds. “Tell him to stop staring at me,” Burke demanded.

“I don’t stare at you,” Galen countered. “Why would I stare at you? You’re a human.”

Without saying a word, Virdon jabbed a forefinger toward Galen’s face, then toward Burke’s. Not that long ago, from his perspective, he had been able to threaten an insubordinate junior officer with time in the brig. Now there was no brig. No chance of court-martial. Other than a serious butt-kicking, an exercise he was not entirely sure he had a chance of winning, he had nothing real with which to threaten either the man or the ape. Sending them to bed without dinner might have been an option if dinner were more appealing than sour berries and uncooked seed pods.

Burke’s mouth opened slightly, but Virdon jabbed the finger at him again.

“My son is twelve years old,” Virdon said crossly, “and I swear he’s more mature than either one of you.”

This time Galen’s mouth shifted. Virdon stuck the finger in his face.

“What happened, happened,” the blond man informed the other two. “None of us planned on it. But we’re left with this: Urko wants all three of us dead. Zaius wants to question me and Pete, something that I figure wouldn’t be a day in the park, and then he’ll turn us over to Urko to be killed. I don’t think he plans to offer you the option of questioning before they hang you for treason, Galen. Basically, we’re all in the same boat. We have nowhere to go that’s safe. We have very little food, no weapons, no way of knowing what’s over the horizon. All we have is each other, and we won’t even have that if the two of you insist on bickering like children. You,” he said to Galen, “stop staring at Pete. And you,” he told Burke, “treat him with a modicum of respect. He did give up a great deal to help us, and I want him to understand that we appreciate that.”

Burke replied stubbornly, “We went back for him. That makes us even, the way I figure it.” Before Virdon could rebuke him, he grabbed his shirt and pulled it on over his head, then fumbled for his shoes, all of it without looking at Galen.

No one said anything for a minute or two. Then Galen put in, “I have a question.”

“No questions,” Virdon said.

“But—”

Virdon shook his head adamantly. “No questions. We need to get back up to the cave. We don’t know how far behind us Urko is, so we shouldn’t stay out in the open any longer than necessary. It’ll be dark soon. We should get some rest.”

“Why do you call him ‘Pete’?” Galen persisted.

“Because that’s his name.”

“I thought his name was Burke.”

“It is.” Virdon pushed himself to his feet, beckoning to the other two. With a show of reluctance they fell in half a step behind him as he made his way back up the hill. “Burke is a family name,” he went on. “Peter is what we call his given name, and Alan is my given name. Actually, customarily, we each have three names: the given name, a ‘middle’ name, and the family name. Pete’s middle name is James, and mine is John.”

Galen made a loud strangling sound. “Now you’re making sport of me again.”

“No, I’m not.”

Burke offered, “Now tell him about rank. You’re a colonel, I’m a major. That’s four names. And if you want to count ‘Pete’ and ‘Al’ instead of ‘Peter’ and ‘Alan,’ that’s five.”

The chimpanzee stopped in his tracks.

The two humans went a few steps more up the hill, then stopped and looked back.

“I want to go home,” Galen announced.

“Join the club, pal,” Burke told him.

 

The seed pods, while indeed chewy, were filling and reasonably tasty. The three fugitives made short work of them, and the remainder of the berries, each of them trying his best not to wish for, or even think about, a more substantial meal. As the day’s light began to fade, each of them found a spot on the dirt floor of the cave and settled into a position that might offer the least amount of aches and cramps come morning.

“I have another question,” Galen piped up as the cave fell almost completely into darkness.

“Go ahead,” Burke sighed.

“Do you do this very often? Back where you come from?”

The dark-haired man grumbled to himself, then asked, “Do what? Run from armed gorillas? Sleep in caves?”

“You seem very capable in the outdoors.”

“That’s him,” Burke said, gesturing toward Virdon. “Not me. He’s the one who kept signing up for Cub Scout camping trips and got all those merit badges for making fire and identifying moss and that kind of stuff. Me, my idea of ‘roughing it’ is a motel with a broken TV.”

Virdon shook his head. “We both had training, Galen. In case our ship landed in—well, anywhere other than a landing strip at an air base. We were taught how to survive in the jungle, or the desert, or the mountains. Which is kind of odd, really,” he confessed. “Being out where we were, in space—chances were that we wouldn’t land anywhere at all, or if we did crash, it would be on a planet with no life, no breathable air.”

“In which case we would’ve been SOL,” Burke added. “And here’s an even funnier thing: they gave us a ‘survival kit.’ A couple flares, some antiseptic, a few bandages, a flashlight. And couple of those funky silver blankets—although I wouldn’t mind having one of those right now. But Prefect what’s-his-name and his boys must’ve made off with our survival kit when they trashed the ship. They’re probably making shadow animals with the flashlight right about now.” He paused, but Galen didn’t say anything, so he continued, “Yessir, the official survival kit. NASA’s version of ‘duck and cover.’ If we crashed on a nice atmosphere-free moon someplace, those flares would’ve come in real handy.”

“They were planning for a crash somewhere on Earth,” Virdon reminded him.

Burke chuckled quietly. “At least we followed that part of the flight plan. Hey, weren’t there some granola bars in there, too?”

“I seem to remember your rather pithy comment on the subject of granola bars.”

Chocolate granola bars.”

In the darkness, the two men could hear the chimpanzee shift position. A moment later he did it again.

And again. And again.

“Have you ever killed one of your own kind?” he asked softly.

Virdon tried to console the chimp by saying, “It was an accident, Galen. I’m sure Zaius and Urko know that, even if neither of them wants to admit it publicly.”

“Does the lieutenant’s family know it? And do they care? He’s still dead, whether I intended to kill him or not.”

“There’s nothing you can do about it now.”

“So I should just forget about it? Would you just forget about it?”

“No, I don’t think I would.”

Galen asked again, “Have you? Killed…someone.”

A headache that matched Burke’s, though he’d done his best to avoid acknowledging its existence to himself or mentioning it aloud, sang out a little louder in Virdon’s skull and prompted him to sit up and lean back against the dusty wall of the cave. For a while he simply waited for the throbbing to ease, then he murmured, “Farrow—the old man—died because of us. And Jonesy, the other astronaut who was with us—he was under my command. My responsibility. I didn’t kill either of them with my own hands, but I—it’s a weight, Galen. It’s a terrible weight. I understand how you feel.”

That reminded Burke of something that had gone unsaid for the last several days. “When Urko rode us off toward Central City, you were the last one there, by the ship,” he said to Galen.

“Yes.”

“What happened to Farrow?”

“I don’t know,” Galen said.

“You just left him there.”

Galen replied tersely, “What would you have had me do? I had to stay with Urko. You should be thrilled that I stayed with Urko. Otherwise you would never have made it to Central City.” After some grumbling, his voice leveled off. “I’m sorry about your friend. Yes, as far as I know, he’s still lying there by the ship, unless some animal dragged him off.”

“If he’s still there when we get back to the ship,” Virdon said with a sigh, “we’ll bury him.”

“What about Jonesy?” Burke asked.

“What about him?”

“He wasn’t anywhere around the ship. What happened to him?”

Virdon said quietly, “Your guess is as good as mine. Farrow said he was dead. Maybe Farrow buried him.”

“Or the prefect took him, along with our survival kit.”

Galen scoffed, “Why would the prefect take a dead human? Look, the two of you—Veska, the prefect, is a cousin of mine. He’s a very decent ape. He doesn’t have much use for humans, but he wouldn’t have done anything…unseemly. If your friend was still in the ship when Veska found it, then more than likely he had the body buried.”

“If he’s decent, what’d he trash our ship for?”

“Sport,” the chimp said sharply.

Huffing in anger, Burke got up from his less-than-cozy spot in the dirt and left the cave. Virdon scrambled to his feet and caught up with the younger man a few steps beyond the opening. Grasping Burke by the arm, Virdon demanded, “Where are you going?”

“To take a leak. That okay?”

“Pete—”

Burke cut himself off before he could say what first popped into his head. “I’m sorry, Alan. I just—I’d really like to wake up from this nightmare now, you know? Jonesy’s dead. Our ship is trashed. A bunch of talking apes in leather uniforms want us dead. My head feels like a football in play. I’m hungry, I’m tired, I’m scared. What do we do now? Run? Where are we running to?”

“I wish I had an answer for you, Pete.”

“Yeah,” Burke sighed. “You know what else?”

Virdon tried for a smile. “What?”

“These frigging clothes itch like crazy. I think I’m infested.”

“Just dirty.”

The two of them were silent for a moment. Then Burke picked his way through the underbrush to a spot a few yards away from the cave entrance. Virdon did the same, but in the other direction. When they returned to the small clearing in front of the cave’s mouth, they turned to consider the lay of the land in the direction from which they’d come earlier in the day.

“Maybe we could find somebody with tools,” Burke suggested after a minute. “Looked like all the prefect really did was pull out the wiring. If they’ve got a way to manufacture guns, maybe somebody’s got some wire, and a soldering iron. We could cobble things together and keep our fingers crossed.”

Virdon asked his friend, “What about the fuel cells?”

“Maybe they’re not completely depleted. There’s probably not enough juice left to break out of the atmosphere, but we could try low-level flight. Go somewhere else. Farrow didn’t know if the apes were in charge everywhere. Maybe Australia?”

“Where is Australia?”

That was Galen, standing just inside the mouth of the cave.

“It’s a continent. A very large body of land,” Virdon told him. “It’s—well, I’m not sure how far it is. I don’t know where we are now.”

“Maybe we’re in Australia already,” Burke suggested.

Virdon shook his head. “Can’t be,” he said mildly. “Nobody’s told us ‘g’day, mate.’”

The seriousness with which he’d said it made Burke gape at him for a moment. Then the younger man snorted loudly and said, “Yeah, right.”

“There is an ancient name,” Galen mused. “One of my teachers mentioned it.”

“A name for what? This place, you mean?”

Galen nodded. “It was a long time ago that I heard it. I may have remembered it incorrectly. But it was something like clay…no, cally…”

California?” Virdon said.

“Yes. Yes, that was it. California.”

To the chimpanzee’s astonishment, both men started to laugh. They went on laughing until tears were running down their faces and they had begun to double over, clutching their bellies. Several times Galen attempted to hush them for fear they’d be heard by Urko’s troopers, who were certainly not far away, but the two men paid no attention, just continued to laugh until finally the noise faded away and they sat down on the ground close to each other, wiping tears away with the backs of their hands.

“Would you please tell me,” Galen ventured then, “what in the world is so funny?”

Burke swiped at his nose and let out one last bubble of laughter. “The emergency homing device. On our ship. Brought us right where it was supposed to. It’s the ‘when’ that got all screwed up.”

The three of them sat considering the night for some time, each of them listening for something that might betray the approach of Urko’s gorillas, mixed in with the more benevolent sounds of the woods: the rustle of leaves in the breeze, the soft tittering of birds, the hoot of an owl. Once, a crackling sound made all three of them look sharply down the hill toward the west, but the intruder was only a raccoon.

“We’re going to need supplies, Galen,” Virdon said finally. “Something to carry water in. Maybe a pot, and a couple of bowls and spoons. Is there any way to convince your cousin to let us have—”

Veska would turn me in to Urko before I could blink.”

“You said he was a decent guy,” Burke argued.

“Decent, yes. Likely to risk his position as prefect by aiding an enemy of the state, no. And we’ve never been close to begin with.”

“Got any cousins you’re closer to, then?”

Galen wobbled his head. “Yes. But not near here.” In the dim light of the rising moon, he could see Virdon’s expression shift slightly. “What?”

“Maybe you should—”

“Say it.”

“Maybe you should seek sanctuary with one of your cousins,” the older man said. “Surely one of them would take you in. If they’re some distance from here, that’s all the better. There’s no reason for you to live in caves if there’s someplace you could go.”

“And what will you do?”

“We’ll figure something out. With that flight record disk from our ship—”

Galen considered that for a moment, or at least seemed to be considering it. Then he told the two men firmly, “You don’t know where you’re going. You have no idea how to reach the nearest village, or which villages are friendly to humans and which are not. There are some where you could find shelter for a day or two, get food and water. But there are others where you’ll be tossed out on your ear, if not something worse. I wouldn’t wager on your surviving more than a month on your own.”

“We’ll take our chances,” Burke replied.

“Because you’ve had that survival training? Did the humans who trained you have any inkling what this world is like?”

Virdon smiled, without humor. “No, I can’t say they envisioned anyone like Urko.”

“Well, then.”

Burke looked the chimp in the eye and demanded, “Why?”

“Pardon?”

“Why would you stay with us? A couple of annoying humans? When you could find some nice, accommodating ape settlement and move in with some relative of yours? Being with us only increases your chances of running into more trouble.” Galen didn’t respond with anything more concrete than a wrinkle of his brow, so Burke pressed on. “If you could go back to that night at the jail, would you do it again? You wrecked your life. For us.”

“I had no other choice.”

“Sure you did. You don’t know us. You didn’t owe us anything.”

“Only my principles.”

The two men glanced at each other. What they were thinking, Galen couldn’t tell. After a moment they looked off in different directions, both of them somber and pensive.

“Am I to believe that if the situation were reversed, you would not have tried to stop Urko’s lieutenant from firing his gun?” Still, neither man said anything. Galen scowled at them, which accomplished nothing, and not entirely because his face was difficult to see in the faint moonlight. “So you two are allowed to have principles, a sense of right and wrong, and I am not? Because I’m an ape? Is that it?”

“We don’t want you to compound the problem, Galen,” Virdon replied. “If there’s somewhere you could be safe, and return to a reasonably normal life, you should do that.”

The owl hooted again and was answered by the chitter of smaller birds.

“Then how would I learn?” Galen asked.

“Learn what?” Burke responded.

Zaius wants to question you to find out what makes you different from our humans. I would like to know the same thing. You see—” Galen paused, staring down at his hands: the instruments of death for another ape. “I’ve been around humans all my life. My parents have several of them working in their home. I see humans almost every day, working at various jobs around the city. Zaius has a human named Ullman who seems to be a very agreeable sort. He’s helped me a couple of times with some little chore or other. But they—if it came down to it, I can’t believe for a moment that any of them would risk his life to save mine. They might if they were threatened, but of their own volition—no, I don’t believe they would. You two,” Galen said, his voice falling to not much above a whisper. “I was a stranger to you. You could have run. You should have run. But you broke me out of that jail. Yes, you see—I would very much like to know what makes you different. I would like to know how it is that two humans have such a sense of honor.”

“Even if that knowledge comes at a price?” Virdon asked.

“Yes,” Galen told him. “Even then.”

The man smiled fleetingly. “Then: we need your help. And we accept your company.”

“If he stops staring at me,” Burke muttered.

Galen snorted at the younger man. “I do not stare at you,” he shrilled. “And if I do, it’s because I’m wary of you. As I would be of a snake. You’re very unpredictable. Much too much so for my taste.” Before Virdon could rebuke either of them, he conceded in a lower tone, “Maybe I should let you go your own way, and wait for the next group of astronauts to come along. They might be more civilized.”

Something in his voice caught Virdon’s attention. “Why would there be a ‘next group’?”

“Because there have already been two. Zaius expects more.”

Again, Virdon and Burke stared at each other. They were both speechless for a minute, then Burke managed to say, “Two?”

“Yes. There was another ship.”

“When was this?” Burke squeaked.

“Ten years ago.”

Virdon cut in, eyes wide open in his eagerness to learn more, “Where are those men, Galen? Can you help us find them?”

Galen shook his head. “They’re long gone. Urko and Zaius told me they were killed before they could give Zaius the information he wants.”

“‘Killed’ as in, they died in an accident? Or were they murdered?”

“Knowing Urko, you still ask that?”

“Maybe he was wrong,” Burke suggested. “About their being dead.”

“If Urko says those humans are dead, then they’re dead,” Galen insisted. “Believe in other flights of fancy if you like, but Urko knows a dead human when he sees one—or when he’s produced one. I don’t imagine there’s anything left of their ship, either.”

That still left something unanswered. “Did he say their names?” Virdon pressed.

“No.”

“Anything specific about them at all?”

“No.”

Burke turned to his commanding officer. The expression on his face, wonder mixed with dismay and anger, was much the same as Virdon’s. “You think they sent a rescue mission out after us?”

“Maybe,” Virdon told him.

All three of them understood what was left unsaid: that the count of lives lost through some connection to Virdon and Burke was growing rapidly.

“Urko may not know their names,” Galen pointed out. “He may have acted on instinct, and killed them before they said anything at all.”

Virdon had turned away and was staring off down the hill. “You okay, Al?” Burke asked him.

“Hmm.”

“Ten years ago,” Burke mused.

That seemed to spark Virdon back to life, though when he spoke, there was very little in his voice that could be called enthusiasm. “We need to get some rest. We have to find a way to get those supplies—steal them, if we have to, although I’d prefer not to. We’ll wait a few days and see if the coast looks clear before we go near the ship. Once we’ve got the flight disk, we can start looking for a way to read it.”

“The coast?” Galen frowned. “You want to go to the seacoast?”

“It’s just an expression. It means, we’ll see if there’s any sign of Urko before we move.”

A grin crept across the chimpanzee’s face. Virdon could see just enough of it to make him curious, and he tossed Galen an inquisitive look. “I was just imagining Zaius’s servant Ullman taking charge of a situation like this. I’ve never seen a human take charge of anything more complicated than laundry.”

“Then you’re all right with my being in charge?”

Galen looked from one man to the other. “I don’t suppose it’s a question of my being ‘all right with it.’ You’re likely to take charge anyway, no matter what I say. Yes, I suppose it’s all right, since you’ve had all that complicated training. But I do reserve the right to object if you suggest doing anything foolish.”

“Foolish?” Burke echoed. “Us?”

“In my experience,” Galen said archly, “the words ‘human’ and ‘foolish’ tend to be somewhat synonymous.” He didn’t give the younger man a chance to respond before he added, “I imagine most of the population of Central City is referring to me in terms that are somewhat more critical than ‘foolish.’ I wish—”

“What?”

“I didn’t have a chance to explain myself to my mother.”

Again, the chimpanzee looked from Virdon to Burke and back again. There was so much regret in the chimpanzee’s voice that Virdon reached out and rested a hand on his shoulder. “If she’s your mother, she doesn’t need an explanation,” he said encouragingly. “And if she knows what happened, I imagine she’s proud of the choices you made.”

Burke too reached out and gave Galen a nudge in the arm. “Yeah. She probably knows she raised a pretty stand-up chimp.”

Not very much encouraged, Galen nodded anyway. For once, Burke was smiling at him, in a way that—oddly—made the dark-haired man seem like a blend of the servant Ullman and Galen’s cousin Augustus. Galen returned the smile and made a small sound that among apes meant he was grateful for the show of support. “I hope so,” he sighed.

“Listen,” Burke said. “It’s been a rough couple days, you know?”

“I noticed.”

The man and the ape looked at each other—at what little they could see in the darkness. “Sorry,” Burke murmured.

“Me too,” Galen said. “I won’t—”

“Can if you want to. I’m just not all that interesting. Really. For somebody who’s likely to help bring about the downfall of your entire civilization, I’m pretty boring.”

Galen and Virdon exchanged a glance, and each mouthed the word “Unpredictable.”

“Hey,” Burke said. “I saw that.”

 

 

 

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