No Price Too Great

Kassidy Rae

 

 

 

Urko stood before the High Council. “My troops have told me just this morning of an uprising,” he began. “Not an uprising of the human vermin, mind you,” he said, pacing heavily back and forth in front of the seated orangutans. “Apparently some chimpanzees have it in their heads that the traitor Galen is to be commended! They say he’s admirable for resisting the closed-minded musings of an out-dated council hierarchy!” A murmur arose throughout the room. Urko stopped in front of Zaius and leaned down. “When my officer told the heretics to disband, they spat in the dirt at his feet!” he continued, eyes fixed on Zaius, voice rising. “I won’t allow my officers to be treated contemptuously! This type of incident is becoming almost common place…but it will stop. One way or another, it will stop.” Urko straightened and met the eyes of each council member in turn. “I will see to it.” He turned and, without waiting for a response, left the council in chambers.

 

An hour later, Zaius sat in silence, staring off into space. It seemed that imprisonment and/or banishment were not effective deterrents to those traitors who supported Galen, and questioned the wisdom of the High Council. Zaius knew that the threat was serious and if allowed to spread, harmful to ape civilization as they knew it. Finally, he stirred himself to give instructions to an assistant chimpanzee, and less than 30 minutes later, Urko again strode into the now empty room. “You wanted to see me, Zaius?” he said impatiently.

 

“What we have long feared is upon us, Urko,” Zaius said.

 

“I don’t have time for your riddles, Zaius. Speak in plain terms,” snorted Urko irritably.

 

“Very well…plainly, then. The astronauts and Galen must be found. Now. The infection has started. The disease will only grow amongst the apes in this city until it can no longer be contained. Urko, you must help me stop this - before it’s too late.  If it isn’t already,” Zaius replied, locking eyes with Urko.

 

“Do you think I want this, Zaius? You think I want those filthy humans and their renegade ape alive and out of my control?” Urko asked, staring back.

 

“Of course not.” Zaius answered impatiently.

 

“I will find them, Zaius. Of that you can rest assured.” Urko said. “And I will kill them.”

 

“You will not kill them. You will bring them here, Urko,” said Zaius with a hard stare. Urko brought his fist down, smashing it onto the desk in front of Zaius. Then he turned and walked out the room.

 

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

 

At daybreak the next morning, Urko set out to investigate the where-abouts of the fugitives. His only lead was a tentative sighting of two human strangers at the village of Antros, offered up at the height of an unpleasant (for the human, anyway) question-and-answer session conducted by one of Urko’s soldiers. The human said that the two strangers spoke in a manner not native to these parts. There was, however, no information “volunteered” regarding a chimpanzee companion. The lead was doubtful at best, and one that had failed to yield results when investigated by the local soldiers a mere three days before. Nevertheless, it was all he had. 

 

Urko commanded a unit of his soldiers to reconnoiter every village within a fifty-mile range of Antros, expanding the area previously searched. For the next three days thereafter he stayed at the abode of Prefect Arnak in Antros, organizing efficient, often brutal searches with ruthless drive.

 

Urko recognized that Zaius’s directive carried a great deal of pressure, and he was almost insane with the idea that the three renegades would yet again humiliate him in the eyes of those who occupied the seats of power in Central City - yet his humiliation was postponed on the morning of the fourth day when he received a promising lead from a tired and dusty gorilla soldier riding in from the far reaches of the search area. A village barely inside the 50-mile limit had apparently been host to a chimpanzee, but there were no reports of accompanying humans. A chimpanzee traveling alone was in itself not worthy of notice; however, the fact that a chimpanzee would shelter at a human village almost certainly pointed to the refugees. As far as Urko was concerned, it was enough. The humans were probably with Galen - if the observer who reported the chimpanzee was himself an ape, he wouldn’t know if the humans in the village were strangers or residents. All humans looked alike, everyone knew that. Only Zaius, Urko and a handful of Urko’s soldiers could identify the astronauts on sight.

 

Urko summoned Barda, his second-in-command for this operation, to ready twenty of his best men with orders to ride immediately to the human village of Chandar.

 

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

 

Peter Burke stepped into the barn and looked around, sighing. It was small, boarded walls silvery gray with age. A few chickens pecked at the dirt and bits of hay near the open door.

 

He shook his head. Of all the menial tasks he’d performed while trapped in this bizarre future world, cleaning out a barn had to be number one on his list of things he’d hoped never to do. Ever. But Virdon was with Kabon, looking over his small crop of carrots, potatoes, and God knows what all. Pete supposed that being raised a farm boy had its advantages. Kept him out of the crap. Literally.

 

He wondered idly what Galen was doing as he stripped off his shirt and began to rake up the soiled hay. He snorted. Probably sitting somewhere with his feet propped up. These villagers allowed no ape to work around them. He could just picture Galen’s smug look now.

 

By the time Pete had gotten the soiled hay up and out of the barn he’d worked up a good sweat. He wiped his streaming forehead, then lugged fresh water into the barn from the well outside. Next he brought loads of sweet-smelling hay in by the barrel-load.

 

Burke looked up at the sound of rustling footsteps near the barn door. Liska. Kabon’s daughter. He pulled in a quick involuntary breath at the sight of her. Her black hair fell down around her shoulders and cascaded down her back. She had a lean, coltish look, tall, with long legs. Her eyes looked into his. Blue ice.

 

Burke had met Liska three days before, when he and his friends had first arrived at the human village of Chandar. Liska’s father, Kabon, had a small strip of land he farmed, along with a milk-cow and a few chickens. The week before, he’d hurt his back and although not incapacitating, it was painful. With constant work, the injury continued to nag. He thought it would heal if allowed some recovery time, and was subsequently eager to accept an offer of work in exchange for shelter and food. Shortly after meeting the trio, bargain sealed, Kabon led them to his home.

 

Burke looked away from Liska's gaze. She had a way of measuring you - those clear, pale eyes seemed to see everything. Actually, she’d made him feel uncomfortable a time or two, although he’d burn in hell before admit it to anyone. In the close quarters of Kabon’s home, he’d learned quickly that she was a direct person, and sometimes a silent one.

 

"What are you doing here, Liska?" he asked her, turning back to his work. His matter-of-fact tone belied that fact that his pulse raced at the sight of her there in the doorway.

 

She looked at him, unsmiling. "Taking a break."

 

The undercurrent of electricity between the two was gaining a life of its own. Over the course of the last few days, he'd been pleasantly surprised at her intelligence and quick wit. She seemed so serious - almost too serious - until he made her laugh after a couple of nights spent with her and her father. It transformed her, lit her from inside. 

 

Mindful of the fact that he and his friends settled nowhere for long, Pete tried to hold his feelings in check. This had never been a problem before, frankly. Most of the humans of this time were dull-eyed with fear, beaten down by their servitude to the apes. Hardly anything to be tempted by.

 

Not her, though. And tempting didn’t begin to describe her.

 

He shook himself mentally and continued pitching hay. Liska walked to where he stood. Her fingertips touched his back and he jerked, surprised, and looked around at her. She smiled patiently. "Are you avoiding me?"

 

"What are you talking about?" he scoffed, startled but unwilling to show it. She took a step closer to him.

 

"I’ve always hated cleaning out the barn," she said, changing the subject. "Good thing you’re around to do it."

 

Pete leaned over the handle of the pitchfork, attempting nonchalance. "Is that right?" he said, brow cocked, looking down at her. He rested his chin on the hand covering the end of the pitchfork.

 

"Sure. Makes you good for something," she said. She winked at him. He blinked at her, surprised.

 

"I am hurt, Liska. Deeply wounded."  He cast her a grievous look, and she grinned. He straightened up. "You won’t always have me to kick around, you know."

 

Her look sobered. "I know." Liska’s pale eyes stared into him.

 

"I’ve got work to do. My purpose in life, remember? Clean out the barn." He turned from her to the pile of hay.

 

"I’m all done joking, Pete." Her voice was low and his heart rose in his throat at the sound of it. For God’s sake, what was wrong with him? He was acting like a teenager hopped up on hormones.

 

He turned around again and stopped short at her closeness. She reached up and touched his chest, gleaming with sweat, then stepped into his arms and lifted her face to him.

 

He couldn’t seem to stop her, or himself for a long time, but in reality it was only moments before he pulled back. His breath burned harshly in his lungs, and he tipped his forehead down to touch hers. "Come out here for a break, huh," he said, stalling, trying to calm the pounding of his heart.

 

Liska smiled, staring up into his eyes. "What else would you call it?"

 

He sobered, remembering where he was. What he was supposed to be doing. "A mistake," he sighed, and stepped back from her. He expected an impassioned response, but she was silent, staring coolly at him.

 

Pete broke from her gaze to stare uncomfortably out the barn door. "Look, I’m sorry, but there’s nowhere to go with this," he said. His voice cracked like an adolescent’s. He cursed inwardly and raked a hand through his hair.

 

 "We’ll see," she said, finally, and turned on her heel to walk out the door. He stared mindlessly after her.

 

God was he in trouble.

 

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

 

 Pete excused himself, avoiding Alan and Galen’s questioning look. It was early evening. Rapidly he walked away from Kabon’s home and made his way to the slow, small stream meandering around the outskirts of the village. Another long day of hard work, and all he could think about was the feel of the water rushing over him. Pete pulled his rough shirt hastily over his head. Next came the pants, joining shirt and shoes slung in a careless heap upon the ground.  The fresh air was welcome on his bare and sweaty skin. Assuring himself of his solitude with another glance around the sheltered area, he waded into the water.

 

It was about five feet across, but deep enough so that the water covered him to just above his waist.  Good enough to swim in. He dove under immediately, cool water engulfing his heated scalp, face and neck.  He surfaced and began to cut through the water in long, smooth strokes, relishing the lap of water against his naked skin, washing away dust and soothing aching muscles. After a few minutes he slowed and tipped his head back, letting his still body float towards the surface. 

 

The area was lush and verdant, with sheltering trees and grass growing down to the water’s edge. Birds called busily to one another. Pete sighed again, floating aimlessly on his back. A moment of tranquility… so rare on this world.

 

It had been two days since Pete and Liska’s encounter in the barn. Since then he’d been polite and considerate… but distant. It was awkward, and he hated playing this game with her. God knows he liked her, and wanted to spend more time with her, but he also knew he and his friends would be leaving Chandar, and soon. She’d forget about him once he was gone. He tried to ignore the way his stomach sank at the thought.

 

Interrupting his musing, a loud splash came from directly behind him. Pete jerked upright, heart hammering. His eyebrows rose at the sight of Liska, splashing towards him from the bank. She was completely naked… and gorgeous. His eyes traveled over her figure, the long, dark hair. He closed his eyes for an instant, then opened them to meet her knowing gaze. 

 

"What the hell are you doing?" he said, voice raised.

 

"What’s it look like?" She reached out for him and he stumbled back a step, scowling. Her eyes widened and took on a humorous glint. "You’re not afraid of me… are you?" she asked him, trying to keep from smiling.

 

"Maybe of Kabon," he said, smiling slightly. He took a deep breath. "He’d kill me if he saw us together. I don’t think you should be here."

 

"It’s not my father’s business, and you have no idea how he’d feel about it, anyway,” she said, reaching out a hand towards his chest.  He caught it with his own.

 

"Liska…” he said softly. "I’m leaving soon. You know that."

 

"I didn’t come down here to discuss your plans with you, Pete.  I came here because I wanted to. Simple," she said, and moved still closer.

 

"Not simple at all," he replied, voice hardening. "Why exactly are you here?"

 

Her blue eyes flashed. "Exactly?" He nodded, jaw flexing. With a sudden motion, she stepped into his arms and wrapped her hand around the back of his neck, pulling his face down to hers, covering his lips with her own.  Her mouth sent an electric jolt through his body. He stiffened in surprise and put his hands on both sides of her waist, but he couldn’t make himself step back. Burke grappled with self-control, finally pushing her gently away. She gazed upwards, longing evident, then lowered her eyes.

 

Pete looked down at her closed and sweat-slickened eyelids. Her vulnerability touched him. He shut his eyes again and swallowed. He’d resolved to leave Chandar before letting things go any farther and yet, here he was. He looked at her, the bowed head, the slant of her cheek. Impulsively he reached down and kissed the closed eyelids, tasting salt. She raised her lips to his. This time he could not resist, leaning down to explore her mouth hungrily. Her hand reached up to his face, cupping it.

 

Burke teetered on the edge of the cliff. He knew he needed to get the hell back to the village, before something happened that he’d regret, knowing how he wanted her, wanted this.

 

She opened her eyes and stared up at him, taking in the dark wet hair, already beginning to curl and the brown eyes, softened now. Taking every ounce of self-control, he turned from her. Liska made a protesting noise and reached out, pulling him back, and he drew in a sharp, sudden breath as her eyes burned into his, revealing the depths of her desire. 

 

Teetering… teetering.. falling. Against his better judgment, his arms went around her.

 

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

 

He tried to ignore the sinking sensation, knowing he’d done the wrong thing, he’d hurt her and himself, knowing in that moment that he cared for her more than he ever wanted to think about. And knowing it didn’t matter if he wanted her, or even if he wanted to stay with her… he’d never abandon Alan. Alan needed him to help face the fact of a life without his family in this frightening future world.

 

He looked at her face, glowing and content, and kissed her gently on the cheek. He wanted to protect her, to make her happy, and this was what he’d done.

 

Somehow he’d try to make her understand… but first, he’d have to try and understand it himself.

 

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

 

Virdon glanced at Burke frequently, trying to gauge his mood as the trio walked north, carrying backpacks holding precious food and water. Their path was a fairly pleasant one with gradually rising hills. It was, however, a hot day with the sun beating unrelentingly down upon their heads. 

 

Galen sighed, eyeing the two humans from the corner of his eyes. “Could you move a little downwind, please?” he asked, wrinkling his muzzle.

 

Burke stopped to sniff his underarm as Galen scowled at him. “I’d give my last…what? I don’t own anything.” He paused. “I’d give up a timeshare in Hawaii for some deodorant. Doesn’t anybody use deodorant on this planet?” Pete grumbled, then sidled next to Galen and wrapped an arm around his shoulder. “Anyone at all?” he added, grinning boyishly at the chimpanzee.

 

Galen threw off his arm in disgust and snorted. Ignoring Pete, he stopped to face Alan. “Timeshare? De-o-dorant?” he asked. Alan grinned at Galen, relieved that Burke had finally cheered up. Ever since they’d left Chandar two hours ago, his fellow astronaut had been virtually silent. Leave it to Pete - teasing Galen would be the one thing to make him feel better.

 

“Galen, the first he doesn’t own, and the second, we can’t get,” said Virdon, leaving Galen even more bewildered.

 

”My feelings are hurt, Galen. I just took a bath, pal, and although I admit I can’t smell you, you can’t be too clean under all that ape fuzz,” said Burke.

 

Galen stared at Burke. “Apes do not have fuzz,” he said in a dignified manner. “Pete…every time we start traveling again, you act like this, do you realize?” he grumbled.

 

“Act like what?” asked Burke innocently, brow cocked.

 

“Like an obnoxious, irritating… oh, never mind,” sighed Galen. 

 

“Obnoxious? Irritating… huh. How ‘bout that…” Burke trailed off. Galen grimaced and catching Virdon’s eye, shook his head. Burke smiled, clapping Galen on the shoulder. “Right. Not fuzz. Fur.”

 

Alan spoke up. “A word of advice, Galen: don’t let him get to you. If you do, he’ll never stop,” and looked Pete’s way, eyes twinkling.

 

Pete made a huffing sound and shook his head. “Hey, he’s the one telling me I smell,” he pointed out as he again sniffed at himself, “and I’m clean. For now, anyway,” he said, moving to take the lead.

 

Before their departure this morning, the two men had washed at the small stream flowing close to the village. There was no telling when they might next have the opportunity to do so. It was just one more thing the astronauts had to endure - albeit an insignificant problem when compared to the life-threatening situations they faced everyday in this strange new world.

 

The trio had stayed at Chandar for eight pleasant, uneventful days before forcing themselves to move on. The villagers had been generous and friendly to the two men and their chimpanzee companion, and they’d lingered longer than was wise. On top of that, Pete had unwillingly - almost angrily, Alan knew - grown attached to Liska. Unlike many of the humans of this time, she had spirit. Apparently this world - and the apes - had not yet beaten it out of her.

 

Pete was upset at their departure this morning, though he tried hard to hide it. He cared for her, dammit. But he and Alan were on a mission - at least, Alan was - and he couldn’t let his interest sway him. He didn’t want an involvement with anyone - at least, not for a long while, until Alan was capable of accepting the fact that they weren’t going home.

 

Burke would never admit it to himself, but a tiny flicker of hope remained deep in his mind, kept alive solely by his friend’s stubborn, wrong-headed conviction that there had to be a way back home. Had to be.

 

Next to him, Alan suddenly reached down, feeling for the magnetic disk he carried in a leather pouch. The disk held the record of their flight here - and what went wrong. He’d given it to Pete for safekeeping while he made his trip to the stream this morning.

 

He stopped, grabbing Burke by the shoulders. “Pete! The disk! Where is it?” he asked urgently.

 

Pete’s clear brown eyes widened. “Oh God. Alan….” he trailed off.

 

“I trusted you with it, Pete!” Alan said, voice uncharacteristically raised, staring into his friend’s eyes.

 

“Hey buddy, it’s not like you asked for it back, either,” Pete protested angrily, brows drawn together. The two men stared at each other a moment longer. Then Alan sighed. Pete glanced apologetically at him, then the ground. Galen, who’d been watching with some concern, was relieved to see the mood between the two relax slightly.

 

“I’m sorry, Alan,” Pete said sheepishly, at the same moment that Alan offered his own words of apology. Both men smiled, relieved.

 

“I shouldn’t have snapped at you, Pete,” Alan said, placing his hand on Burke’s shoulder. 

 

“Yeah, you should have. I shouldn’t have forgotten it. It’s just that Liska...she was upset, Alan. She asked me…she asked us not to leave.” He paused. “It’ll be okay, Alan. We’ll get it back.”

 

Galen sighed, turning wordlessly to begin the long walk back to the village.

 

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

 

Riding to the perimeter of Chandar, Urko stopped abruptly, raising a cloud of dust. Barda and the twenty soldiers following stopped at Urko’s signal. It was hot and the gorillas were all tired from their long journey. Urko pointed to half of the unit. “Surround the village. Let no one leave. The rest of you split up and search the dwellings.” He paused, then added, “I warn you, if they are here and you let them get away… “ he stared at the gorillas one by one, until each in turn averted their eyes.

 

Satisfied, he urged his horse onward, leading the remaining soldiers into the center of the village. Frightened citizens scattered from the pack of gorillas pounding down upon them. “You,” Urko shouted, directing his men, “search over there. Barda, over there,” he continued, “and you,” pointing to the two soldiers nearest him, “Come with me. We have work to do.” The two soldiers hunched their shoulders at Urko’s grim expression and followed him to the two dwellings sitting on small, farmed plots at the far end of the village center.

 

Urko and his men found both homes deserted. They came back outside as Barda shouted, gesturing at them from two dwellings over. Urko quickly strode to the doorway where Barda awaited and entered the small home. Inside stood a man, about 50 years old. Staring contemptuously at the human for a moment, Urko shifted his gaze to Barda, who nodded silently. “Where is the chimpanzee?” he demanded of the human. The man stared back with wide eyes and did not answer. “Speak!” Urko shouted, and grabbed his rough shirt with a massive fist.

 

“He’s - he’s gone,” said the man. It was Kabon.  He seemed to be gathering his wits about him after the initial shock of seeing the Supreme Commander of the militia walk into his home.

 

“You lie. Humans always lie!” Urko said, eyes boring into the man. “But you will answer me, and answer truthfully. Or you will die!” Urko shook Kabon like a dog shaking a rat. His dark muzzle glowered scant inches from the human’s face. When the man still did not reply, Urko grunted impatiently, slinging the man to the ground. Slowly, Kabon got up on his knees and pulled himself upward, using a nearby table for support.

 

Kabon’s eyes widened as he spotted the pouch with the magnetic disk inside, lying on the table. With a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, he saw Urko’s eyes follow his own. The gorilla’s dark eyes widened. Kabon snatched at the disk, but Urko swept his arm out and easily knocked the man aside. “What have we here?” he questioned. The quiet tone of his voice caused a shiver to work its way down Kabon’s back.  Urko pulled the disk out of the pouch delicately, large fingers exploring the smooth surface of the disk. Taking his time, he advanced upon the human. Kabon felt a deep thrill of terror, replacing the calm he’d earlier fought to gain.

 

“Where did you get this?” Urko’s expression was calm, but Kabon knew instinctively that his life was hanging from a very thin thread. “Are you afraid? No need to answer. The astronauts brought this with them. And the chimpanzee. But tell me this, human - it’s a strange and evil thing, I sense. What is its purpose?” Kabon, paralyzed, saw an unholy anticipation in Urko’s face. His fear became almost intolerable at the realization that that Urko hoped he would prove uncooperative.

 

“I don’t know what it is, I swear,” Kabon stammered, almost too frightened to force the words past his lips. Urko motioned to one of the soldiers. The first blow smashed Kabon’s head into the table, and the power of that leather-clad fist sent a rush of bile from his stomach into his throat and nose. The second blow struck him hard on his ear, and he heard the crack deep inside his head. The gorilla hooted, grinning malevolently, and raised his fist again.

 

Kabon spoke, fighting his heaving stomach. “I saw Burke with it just before they left.”

 

At the mention of Pete’s name, Urko’s face flushed darker. “You harbor enemies of the state! And Burke is the worst of the lot!” He paused, remembering when he and Burke were trapped together in the underground of a crumbling, ancient city. His hands balled unconsciously into fists as he thought of the picture he’d discovered on the underground wall…the unspeakable horror of his own kind in a cage, imprisoned for the amusement of humans.  And Burke - the man had made a fool of him with all his lies.

 

“What else do you know? Tell me, or….” Urko turned as a female human fled swiftly into the dwelling, followed by a gorilla soldier. She stopped abruptly, aghast at the scene before her. It was Liska.

 

At Urko’s motion, one of the soldiers who crowded the room grabbed the woman by both arms.

 

“Father!” Liska said urgently.

 

Urko smiled. “Ah, your daughter. How convenient. I’ll give you one last chance to tell me where the fugitives are, and what this is,” he said, shaking the disk in his hand, “or she will pay the price for your defiance.”

 

“Please, I told you…they’ve gone. They’ve been gone for nearly three hours now. All I know of the thing you hold in your hand is that Pete called it a disk. I overheard him talking to Alan about it, and Alan said it’s their only chance of getting back home,” Kabon said, all in a rush. Liska’s arrival had taken all the fight out of him. The only thing he cared about now was the safety of his daughter. 

 

“And where did they go?” questioned Urko.

 

Kabon’s heart sank, head pounding sickeningly. He felt the blood lust in the air, and part of him understood that he would not survive this interrogation. “I don’t know,” he said, and one of the gorillas backhanded him viciously. Liska screamed in protest, lunging towards him. As if in a nightmare, Kabon watched as one of the gorillas raised his gun and fired. Liska’s eyes clung to Kabon’s as she crumpled to the ground. Her pale eyes stared up at him, disbelieving, as her father fell to his knees, hugging her to him.

 

Urko turned to the gorilla that shot Liska, slamming his arm down with his own. “Did I tell you to shoot?” he shouted, glaring at the frightened gorilla. “Barda! Why is this soldier in our unit? Surely you don’t consider him one of our best!”

 

“Not anymore,” Barda answered, shoving the soldier out the door, cursing.

 

Urko breathed heavily for a moment, then sighed, considering. He shrugged. “The renegades have infected the village, anyway. After the search is concluded, burn it. To the ground.” He turned and walked outside.

 

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

 

Squinting defensively against the fierce glare of the sun, Galen, Alan and Pete retraced their steps back to Chandar. Conversation between the three had been non-existent since the discovery that the flight disk was missing. Rounding the side of a grassy knoll, Galen’s pace slowed, while behind him Alan stopped abruptly. “Pete…” Alan started, and Pete met his questioning gaze with a grim look as the smell of smoke grew stronger. 

 

Galen sniffed the air, wide-eyed. “Chandar?” he asked.

 

“Liska….” Pete said softly, and broke into a run.

 

“Pete, wait!” Alan shouted, and putting on a burst on speed, grabbed him by the arm.

 

Burke stopped and jerked his arm back, glaring. “What are you doing, Alan? Those people need our help!”

 

“We don’t know what’s going on - Pete, listen to me!” Alan urged as Pete turned away. “I know you’re worried - we all are. But we can’t afford to be reckless. Okay?” Pete stared at him, eyes stony. Alan stared back, determined.  “Pete! Okay.”

 

Burke’s brown eyes gradually lost some of their anger. He nodded, saying impatiently, “Yeah, yeah, okay. But let’s move!”  Virdon put his hand on Burke’s shoulder, reassuring him for an instant before pressing onward.

 

Galen’s heart sank as each step brought them closer to the village.  He sniffed the air, then glanced at his two swiftly moving companions.  His every instinct screamed at him to turn back, away from Chandar. Of course, the villagers were friends, and he had every intention of helping - but he was certain whatever they were approaching was going to change all of their lives for the worse.  

 

Smoke wafted up over the surrounding trees, and Burke’s face grew tighter with every step. Galen, watching him, realized that despite his urgent pace, Pete was also afraid of what they would discover. As if reading his mind, Burke’s hard gaze caught Galen’s briefly, then returned to the path before him. Galen sighed, worried.

 

The sound of pounding hooves came to them, and the three scrambled behind some bushes just as two gorillas rode into view. The astronauts and Galen strained to hear the conversation.

 

“…I was deployed to the chimpanzee protest last week. They wouldn’t listen to ‘reason’,” said one of the gorillas, a husky fellow showing large yellow teeth as he grinned. “But I and others in the garrison took matters in hand,” he continued in a self-satisfied manner.

 

“What’s their problem?” asked the other gorilla, a shaggy ape with grayish fur.

 

“Some of the students at the university have apparently decided that Galen and his human ‘pets’ are being unjustly persecuted,” said the first.

 

“Chimps. Their trouble is they think too much.” The other gorilla snickered.

 

“They just need the truth beaten into their thick skulls. I had one of ‘em at the protest, giving him ‘a lesson’ so to speak. Unfortunately, he turned out to have connections. Complained about the treatment he’d suffered,” the first gorilla growled, continuing. “Council member Yalu’s nephew, no less. The one that started all this, I’d bet - Galen’s cousin.”

 

“Ah, Galen’s cousin. I’m not surprised. Although Yalu is a good ape.”

 

The larger gorilla slammed his fist into his palm. “If I’d only known who he was! I had him right there in the palm of my hand! I’d have taught him a few things years at the university will never be able to show him. Of course, he might not have survived,” the gorilla added, eyes narrowing. The other gorilla laughed as they rode away.

 

“Pergis!” Galen exclaimed as the two gorillas disappeared around the bend. “My cousin Pergis! Oh, what trouble has he gotten himself into now?”

 

“One thing at a time, Galen,” said Alan. The trio left the protection of the bushes and approached the outskirts of the village with caution.

 

Shortly they emerged from behind the last hill blocking their view of Chandar. A terrible silence descended upon them as they gazed downward. It was a ruin. An utter ruin. Smoke still rose from the village, but the fire had for the most part burned the homes to the ground and died out.

 

“My God,” said Alan softly. The three ran swiftly towards the village. They jogged down the pathway to what used to be the center of the small community. From there, Pete ran to the smoldering debris of what had been Liska’s home and turned in circles, searching.

 

“Liska!” he shouted, breath coming in harsh bursts. “Liska! Kabon! Answer me!” He turned again, seeking some sign of life.

 

Galen followed Pete, touching his arm. “You’re going to get us all killed! Do you want that?” he demanded, searching Pete’s brown eyes with his own.

 

Burke focused on Galen impatiently. “I have to find them!”

 

“I understand, Pete. I do. But I’ve always counted on you to help keep us safe, no matter what. You’re placing us in jeopardy. The gorillas may be near. Don’t you understand that?” said Galen in a calmer tone.

 

They were interrupted by the sound of foliage rustling from just beyond the burned area. Kabon emerged from the blackened bushes. They were shocked by his appearance. He moved slowly and painfully, dragging one side of his body. A thin stream of blood ran out of his ear.

 

Pete grabbed Kabon, supporting him as he started to collapse. With a cry, Kabon wrenched himself from Pete’s grasp. “Don’t come near me!” Kabon whispered. Pete stood still, nonplused, as Alan approached Kabon and placed an arm around his waist.

 

“Let me help you, Kabon,” he said gently. Alan sat him down carefully and went over his body, searching for injuries. Afterwards, he looked at Kabon’s bleeding ear and shook his head, making the point that he could do nothing for him.

 

Pete reached for the water canteen, placing it in Kabon’s hands. “Drink,” he urged.

 

Kabon struck the canteen weakly from him. “I told you to stay away from me,” he whispered, voice hoarse.

 

“Look, Kabon, I only want to help,” Burke protested.

 

“You’ve done enough! Liska is dead because of you!” Kabon screamed, then grasped his head in his hands. Pete’s face drained of color. “You left that thing here…that damn disk,” Kabon continued, staring up at Burke. “My daughter is dead because of it. You might as well have shot her yourself.”

 

Burke flinched as if hit, and Galen moved protectively closer.

 

“It wasn’t intentional, Kabon,” Alan said firmly. “I’m so very sorry…we all are. How did she…how did Liska die? Can you tell us what happened here?”

 

“The gorillas…they came. Urko found the disk in my home. On the table, where he left it. He knew you’d been here, then. He took it with him. They beat me. Then Liska came, and…and those filthy bastard gorillas killed her. They burned the villagers out of their homes. Because of you…” he said, struggling to sit up, staring into Burke’s eyes, “Do you understand what you’ve done to her? They shot her down in front of me!” Pete put a shaking hand up over his eyes for an instant. “Why…why did you ever have to come here? Both of you - with your ape friend, and your disk - you’re responsible,” Kabon stated flatly, looking at the others in turn. Anger and disbelief chased across Burke’s expressive face as he listened. He turned away, his face reflecting Kabon’s anguish.

 

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

 

The people of the village came trickling back in pairs, in threes, and in groups to view the remains of their homes with a mixture of despair and resignation. None of them would speak to the astronauts and their companion. They knew the reason the gorillas had rained such fury upon their village and their lives.

 

Kabon’s condition steadily worsened throughout the day, until he collapsed and could no longer speak.  His breath came in gasps. Burke stayed away in order to give the man some peace in his last moments. It left a bitter taste in his mouth and an ugly feeling of helplessness. Virdon and Galen tended to Kabon as best they could, and tried their best to comfort him. He died a little before dusk.

 

The three friends buried Kabon just outside of the village.

 

Burke searched for evidence of Liska, but found nothing recognizable in the fire-blackened ruins of what had been her home. He returned compulsively to the scattered remains until it became too dark to see.

 

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

 

Several times during the first hour of their nightmare death watch over Kabon, the astronauts and Galen had heard noises suggesting that the gorilla soldiers - or at least some of them - were still quite close. As Kabon was in no shape to move, they’d simply hunkered down and hoped for the best. Luckily, the sounds they’d heard had been the last of the gorillas moving off, having assured themselves of the devastating results of the fire.

 

Unknown to the trio, Urko had sent search parties in pairs spiking outward from the burnt village in search of the three fugitives. Urko himself had moved on to the closest village out of Chandar to regroup and map out a new plan in his search for the three, not realizing that the trio had already doubled back before he’d destroyed the village. It was, however, a welcome reversal of the three’s recent fortunes that only one pair in the gorilla search parties had chanced upon their path back to Chandar, and had been so easily avoided.

 

The people of Chandar, now homeless, had faded back into the surrounding territory where they could no longer see and smell the overwhelming results of the fire - and the total loss of everything they’d owned in the world. Galen, Virdon and Burke also left the ruins of the village after their repeated offers of help had been received in silence and in some cases, outright hostility. The three finally realized that the best thing they could do for the villagers was to leave them to deal with the devastation alone. The realization left a sick and impotent feeling lurking in all of their stomachs and guilt weighing heavily on their conscience.

 

Virdon, Burke and Galen tramped a little over five miles south of the village before making camp late that evening. They were too dispirited to go any further. None of the three companions had eaten since their departure from Chandar early that morning, yet no one complained. They dared not build a fire for fear of being detected, and sat on the ground exhausted, except for Galen who perched atop a rock. They were silent for a long while until Galen finally spoke.

 

"I feel just as badly as you two do about this," he said, nodding his head at the others. "Having said that, I think it’s important to understand exactly what happened today. I know we all agree that if we hadn’t been at Chandar, none of this would have happened. At the same time, do you really feel that we are to blame for this tragedy?" he looked at the astronauts in turn, wrinkling his snout.

 

"Yeah, well, who else would you blame?" asked Burke tiredly.

 

"The gorillas set the village on fire, Pete. I think you need to remember that. The gorillas killed Kabon and…and Liska. Not us," Galen answered.

 

Virdon looked at Burke. "And not you, Pete," he said firmly.

 

Burke ran his hand through his hair, agitated. He shrugged, plainly wishing to avoid this discussion.

 

Virdon continued. "Frankly, Galen, I’m not so sure we shouldn’t shoulder the blame…partially, anyway."

 

"Shoulder the blame?" Galen quizzed.

 

"We were the reason for what happened today. You can’t deny it." Virdon paused. "Maybe we could have been more careful. Maybe we shouldn’t have stayed as long as we did. I don’t know…but I do know that we’d never have harmed those people intentionally."

 

Burke kept his eyes to the ground for a moment, silent, then raised them slowly to meet Virdon’s. "Intentionally, huh? Intentional or not, those people’s lives are ruined. And Liska and Kabon are dead."

 

Virdon’s face twisted. "You think I don’t know that?" he said in a low voice.

 

"No, let’s tell the whole truth," Burke continued, voice rising. "nothin’ but the whole truth. I got Kabon and Liska killed. I left the fucking disk there in plain sight, and they paid the price."

 

"Yes, you left the disk there," Virdon countered, voice intent. "You didn’t set the fire! You didn’t beat Kabon to death! And you didn’t shoot Liska!"

 

Alan stared at Pete, blue eyes filled with compassion. He knew Pete, knew the torture he could put himself through. Would put himself through. Pete stared back, eyes flat. "Quit worrying about my feelings, Alan. My feelings on this don’t count. What counts is that they’re dead."

 

He stood abruptly and walked around the camp as if he couldn’t bear to be still. Virdon turned and looked at Galen helplessly, and Galen shook his head. Finally Burke sat down again, arms propped on his knees. Galen opened his mouth, but Burke put his palm up in a stopping motion. "No more, Galen. I’m tired, okay?"

 

"I don’t want to talk about this anymore than you do, but we have to. Or we never will," said Alan firmly.

 

Galen looked at Burke sadly. "Your finger didn’t pull that trigger, Pete. Anymore than Alan or I did. Can’t you see this is something you did not do?"

 

Pete buried his head on his arms and said, faintly, "Liska trusted me."

 

Galen’s eyes met Virdon’s worried look. He moved next to Pete and patted his arm awkwardly, but Burke jumped up as if he couldn’t bear to be touched.

 

"Can’t you just back off?" he shouted, glaring first at Galen, then Virdon. They gazed back, mute.

 

Burke began to pace the small area again. "Okay…okay, Galen. You really want to talk about it? Let’s talk. Alan. You still want to get that disk back, don’t you? After everything that’s happened."

 

Virdon looked him straight in the eyes. "Yes."

 

"How much is it worth, Alan?" Pete said softly, clearly shaken. "Is it worth our lives? Was it worth theirs?"

 

"I understand if you don’t want to help get it back," said Alan just as softly, looking up at Pete. "I don’t expect you to. But it’s something I have to do."

 

"What are you talking about?" exclaimed Galen, jumping up. "We need to stay together, especially now!"

 

"Don’t worry, buddy," Burke said to Galen, then turned to Virdon. "Oh, I’ll get it back for you, Alan," he said, lips twisted into a sarcastic smile. "It’s priceless, I know. And it's my fault it was lost in the first place. No matter the cost - I will get it back."

 

Alan stood, blue eyes burning. "Pete - that’s enough!" They stood eye to eye.

 

"I can’t believe you two!" Galen scolded, furious. He exhaled loudly, exasperated, and continued in a softer tone. "We are not going to lose our friendship over this! It’s the most important thing I have."

 

Burke turned from Alan and studied Galen for a long moment, considering. "Hell, it’s the only thing you have," he said, and smiled unexpectedly. Virdon and Galen paused for an instant, startled, then laughed aloud.

 

"We’ll talk about the disk later," Virdon said. "We’re not going to split up over this or anything else. Right, Pete?" and at Burke’s nod, added, "Nobody’s going to go after the disk that doesn’t want to go after it. Okay? Now let’s get some sleep. Or try to, anyway," he added, glancing at Burke again.

 

Each of them searched for a comfortable spot to sleep under the dark shelter provided by a massive, thickly branched tree. Not long after, Burke got up from his makeshift bed and walked away. Galen and Virdon heard the unmistakable sound of Burke’s stomach trying to give up a non-existent lunch.

 

"Oh Alan, what can we do?" Galen whispered, knowing even before the question left his lips that there was no answer.

 

"I wish to God I knew," Alan answered, then turned quickly away as Burke walked back to his resting place.

 

They lay there, none of them sleeping. Finally Burke spoke softly. "A little advice, guys.  I may not have a lot of things, but ears…that I got."

 

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

 

Virdon tossed restlessly. Too many thoughts rushed through his mind, precluding rest. The bitterness of Burke's tirade still rang in his ears. While he had to admit he'd risked his life and as a consequence, the lives of his friends when he first retrieved the magnetic disk, he'd never

willingly trade their lives for it. Yet the disk was their only link to home, and their only shot, albeit a long one, of getting back. As such, it was invaluable. But Pete twisted it all out of

context…ah, well. He knew Pete well enough to know that he sometimes struck out without waiting to see where the blows fell. Pete was upset about Liska and the village - hell, they all were. Alan knew with the sure knowledge that comes from long friendship that he and Galen simply happened to be in the line of fire when Pete's anger and guilt erupted tonight. 

 

But was that all there was to it? Virdon couldn't fool himself. No, when it came to the disk, the differences between himself and Pete ran deep. And on this night, their differences had been forced into the open and brought to a head as a result of the events culminating in the destruction of Chandar.

 

Alan let his grief for Liska and Kabon rise to the surface. Couldn't they have done something to stop their deaths? Anything! Pete thought he'd signed their death warrants, but Urko didn't need an excuse. He'd already known they'd been there, or he wouldn't have been at Chandar to begin with. Alan had known they shouldn't have stayed there as long as they had, but it was such a relief to stop running…even if only for a few days. Still, as the acknowledged leader of the trio, he should have listened to his instincts and gotten them out of there. Maybe things would have been different…he shook his head impatiently. Could have, should have…a waste of time.

 

Virdon looked up towards the branches of the huge tree they sheltered under, blocking his view of the night sky. He couldn't give up on the disk yet. It was true that the lives of his friends were infinitely more valuable to him than the record of their flight to this hellhole. But he had to be honest with himself. When it came down to it, he would willingly risk his own life to get it back.

 

No, not would. Will get it back. His jaw squared with determination as he turned over, trying to find a comfortable position to sleep in.

 

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

 

Liska beckoned, smiling. Burke's face lit at the sight. He ran to her as fast as he could, overjoyed that she was okay. Drawing nearer, he slowed. Something was wrong, very wrong. A chill worked its way up his spine. His feet dragged as he forced himself to keep moving towards her. A few steps closer and Liska turned, facing him fully. Her smile was replaced by a rictus of agony as she drew back her hand to show him the ragged hole in her chest. He screamed and

dropped his head into his hands, hiding from the sight momentarily, then willed himself to look at her again. "I love you, Pete," she said, lovely mouth accusing. "Don't go. Not yet."

 

Burke choked back a sob, then whirled at a sound behind him. The dirt at his feet crumbled into large muddy clots as a hand pushed through the ground, clawing. Burke was rooted to the spot, eyes grown impossibly wide as a figure struggled, escaping the clinging earth. Kabon. He grabbed Burke’s legs, pulling himself upwards. "You are to blame," he whispered, arm out-stretched. His hand was mud-covered, and the fingernails dirty and broken from the climb out of the depths of his own grave. Burke watched, horrified, as the hand drew closer and closer….

 

Burke woke suddenly and sat up, panicked. His breath came in stentorian gasps. He clapped his fingers across his mouth, preventing any other sound. Quickly he looked at Galen and Alan.

Asleep. He shivered, wrapping his arms around himself. God. He wanted to throw up again. His eyes burned, and he brushed a hand furiously across them. He had to do something. Hit something. Someone. Just make the pain go away.

 

All right, calm down. Get hold of yourself. Unwanted, the dream flashed before his eyes. He drew in a quick breath. You've already killed them, Burke. Torturing yourself isn't going to make it any better. He winced and lowered his head into the heels of his palms, elbows resting against his thighs. He willed his breath to slow. 

 

Gradually it did. Rubbing his eyes, he lay back, thinking about the argument he'd had with his friends tonight. Shit. That only made him feel worse. What was he thinking, attacking Alan like that? He knew what the disk meant to him - knew the disk was his motivation to keep going another day, and the next, and the next. If he thought there wasn't a chance of finding his way back to his beloved wife and son… Burke shook his head. They meant everything to Alan.

 

I know that, he said to himself. I know that. I shouldn't have jumped him. I'm the one that left the disk behind. Not Alan.

 

He became very still, staring into the dark branches far above. I will get it back for you, Alan, he thought with sudden resolve. The resolve turned into cold anger. And I'll kill that son-of-a-bitch Urko while I'm at it. If it's the last thing I ever do.

 

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

 

An unidentified sound brought Galen suddenly awake. He turned his head to see Pete sitting up. Galen opened his mouth to speak, but Burke’s head dropped down into his hands and Galen paused, muzzle wrinkling. It seemed a sorrowful gesture and one that Galen was sure Pete didn’t wish him to see, let alone speak about. He barely stifled a sigh. These two friends of his were so complicated. Why couldn’t they understand what he felt to be a clear-cut issue - they had no part in the destruction of Chandar, and the deaths of Liska and Kabon. Galen’s heart ached for the villagers, and yes, he did wish that he and his friends hadn’t stayed there.  He admitted freely that Chandar would still stand if they hadn’t. But gorillas had been abusing humans for years, and this was one more example of that - although, Galen admitted, an extreme one. But still, unfortunately, not that uncommon.

 

Galen understood why Pete was so against risking their lives for a disk that would almost certainly be of no practical use. He also understood, as did Pete, that Alan needed the hope that the disk represented. Despite Pete’s anger and grief over the death of his friends coming to the forefront tonight, Galen knew that a part of Pete hoped to make it back home. As for Galen, he’d go back to their world with them, if the opportunity ever presented itself. Flying machines, technology enabling humans to speak together over unimaginable distances, buildings so tall they defied the gods…yes, he would go. Even knowing the dangers he might face.

 

Galen watched as Pete finally lay back down. Maybe now wasn’t the time, but later, they would talk more about this, Galen resolved. Pete had to realize that this wasn’t his fault…before he destroyed himself with useless recriminations and guilt.

 

Both of his friends needed help. A divide had been opened between them, and he was determined to close it. He wasn’t going to let anything come between the three. They were almost like…brothers. Galen smiled involuntarily. Imagine - an ape regarding humans as brothers. It could happen. It already did.  And someday, maybe it would happen for all apes and humans. Oh, he knew it was an uphill battle. But still…

 

Galen frowned. Earlier in the day, a hundred years ago, it seemed, he’d heard the gorilla soldiers talking about his cousin Pergis. Pergis! There was another problem to deal with. The events of the day had pushed aside his intent to speak with Alan and Pete about returning to his parents’ home in Central City, even though they’d been there less than two months before.

 

That was just the point. The three’s last visit to see Galen’s parents had started Pergis down the dangerous road he now traveled. He had discovered their presence at his uncle’s home, after all - quite by accident.

 

Such a simple mistake - but one that could cost Pergis everything.

 

It started when Galen and his friends had made a brief sojourn into the village of Dakan for food and water. They’d ended up staying for three days at a very friendly farmer’s home - friendly primarily because he was desperately in need of help. His son had run off and left the farm and his family a few days before, and help was in short supply. When Galen arrived with his two servants, the old ape was quite happy to take them up on their offer of services in exchange for shelter and food. Galen had explored the village and being his usual inquisitive self, struck up an acquaintance with the local prefect. Amongst the news he’d gleaned from that short association was an alarming tidbit: Galen’s father had apparently been stricken in the middle of a council meeting with chest pains. Nothing more was known of his condition.

 

At first light the following morning, Galen and the two astronauts had set out for the home of Galen’s parents in Central City. The three fugitives had arrived scant hours earlier than Pergis, who’d stepped up his visits to his uncle over concerns of his health. Pergis’s arrival coincided with Galen and Yalu’s stepping out onto the patio. At the knocking on the door, Galen’s mother Ann immediately led the astronauts to their by now familiar hiding place under the floor. Tired of waiting, Pergis had walked around to the garden and caught Galen red-handed.

 

Initially, Pergis’s delight seeing Galen overshadowed his concerns for his cousin’s situation. But then came the questions - curiosity being a much-vaunted trait in the family. Why did Galen feel so strongly about humans? Everyone knew the Lawgiver had established the superiority of apes, and subsequently the inferiority of humans. Apes were made in the image of the Almighty, and thus given divine status above every other creature on the planet. 

 

And one more thing -where were Galen’s companions now?

 

Galen’s attempts to answer Pergis’s questions grew increasingly short. Yalu became positively terse - but still, Pergis talked on, oblivious to the not-so-subtle signals of his hosts. Ann tried several excuses designed to remove Pergis from his seat and out the door, but he seemed almost to have taken root. That, along with the gleam in Pergis’s eye, finally compelled Galen to shout vexedly, "Oh, all right! It’s plain to see he knows they’re here.” Over the protestations of his parents, Galen walked to Ann’s favorite chair, waving his arms disgustedly. “Look at him! He’s prepared to stay for as long as it takes," he said, glaring at Pergis. "Well, I won’t keep my friends down there all night," and he pulled Ann’s chair aside to reveal the trap door beneath the fur rug. Opening the door, he helped the two sweaty, uncomfortable astronauts out of the cramped space. Virdon and Burke’s eyes darted around the room, taking swift measure, then returned to Galen’s face, questioning.

 

"Oh, uh… this is my cousin," Galen said to the astronauts, then addressing his cousin, added wearily, "Pergis… Peter Burke, Alan Virdon." 

 

Virdon’s brow knitted. "This is a mistake. A dangerous one," he stated firmly.

 

"Oh, what would you have me do - leave you down there all night?" Galen snapped, then closed his eyes briefly in a put-upon fashion. "He caught me outside with Father. He wasn’t going to leave until he’d seen you."

 

Pergis stared coolly at the two astronauts, then said dismissively, "They look like every other human."

 

"That’s funny - I was just going to say, ‘seen one chimp, seen ‘em all,’" Burke retorted, earning virulent glares from the male apes in the room. A dignified stare from Ann's angular face left Burke with the good grace to look abashed. Virdon sighed.  

 

Galen huffed at Pete, hands on hips and exclaimed, “I should have left you down there after all!” He rolled his eyes and plopped down on a chair. "Pergis, now you’ve seen them. You got what you wanted - if you have any sense at all, you’ll leave it at that," he said, rubbing his forehead resignedly.

 

But apparently, Pergis had no sense at all, for he returned early the next morning, interrupting Galen’s interrogation of his mother regarding Yalu’s health. Galen’s direct questioning of Yalu the evening before had been met with a gruff reassurance, subsequent irritation and finally flat-out refusal to discuss it further. 

 

Galen hovered at Ann’s side as she made breakfast. Ann reassured him as best she could - the Doctor had informed them that Yalu’s chest pains had not been a heart attack, but rather a warning to be heeded. When the knock came at the front door, Ann seemed almost relieved at the distraction.

 

 The astronauts and Galen scrambled for cover as Ann closed the trap door behind them, then opened the front door to admit Pergis. Sighing, she sent Pergis back to the trap door to release the trio from their hiding place, then had him set the table while she finished making breakfast.

With impeccable timing, Yalu walked into the dining area just as Ann called everyone to eat. He surveyed the room and snorted. "Eating with humans, now. I don’t want to think about what you’ll have your mother and I doing next," he said to Galen in his raspy voice, sitting in his seat at the head of the table.

 

Galen and Pergis left the room, returning shortly with platters of biscuits, fruit and a vegetable casserole. Virdon and Burke exchanged glances at the chimps working busily around them, and stifled smiles. Quite a switch, humans relaxing around working apes.  Evidently, Ann did not yet feel comfortable enough with her human guests to direct their activities.

 

Virdon started to stand as Ann once again swept into the room. "We’d be glad to help," he offered.

 

"We’re done, Virdon, but thank you," she answered, then added pointedly at Burke’s smug smile, "However, you can clean up afterwards."

 

"Yes, ma’am," Burke said docilely. She nodded his way, a glint of humor in her eyes.

 

Galen, Virdon and Burke happily stuffed themselves. It was not often that they sat down to a warm, appetizing meal. Pergis frequently glanced back and forth between the three as he ate. His narrow forehead furrowed as though puzzled. The astronauts ignored him, but Galen was growing irritated. "Pergis, would you please concentrate on your meal instead of us?" he exclaimed.

 

"I’m sorry, Galen," he answered, conciliatory. "But I really need to speak to you after we finish. I have…questions."

 

"Oh, very well, Pergis," Galen sighed, twitching his muzzle. He knew his cousin and had a pretty good idea of the inquisition forthcoming.  

 

Yalu left the house shortly thereafter. Alan cleared the table, and Burke scraped the dishes, sighing. Ann glanced mildly at him, busying herself in the kitchen. Burke looked back at her, a faint smile crossing his lips as he spoke. "I was just thinking of Galen waiting on me, earlier. Bringing me food. And now it’s over. It kind of makes me sad."

 

She looked at him a long moment.  "I rather enjoy watching my son work, myself," she commented agreeably. "But humans have no such luxuries here. I don’t know about where you come from," she said.

 

"We have machines to help us clean. Dishwashers, for one. You’d love it."

 

"A dishwasher? But why would I need one - I have you," Ann said.

 

Burke did a double take. "For today, you have me," he said, grinning.  "But wouldn’t you like to be able to put your dishes into a machine, close the door, then open it up later to find them all clean?"

 

"Do you really have such things where you come from? How does it work?" she asked, eyes bright with interest.

 

"Well, you put the dishes in a rack inside the dishwasher. Then you put soap…” Virdon came into the kitchen and stopped, listening. He leaned against the wall a moment, smiling, then left the room to join Galen and Pergis.

 

"...but Galen, you know that humans have no souls! The Scrolls teach us this," exclaimed Pergis.

 

"You’re taking religion classes at the university, Pergis. I recognize the drivel."

 

Pergis gasped. "You deny the truth of the Lawgiver?" he exclaimed.

 

"I am a heretic, after all," Galen said, voice raised. "Had you forgotten?" At Pergis’s uncharacteristic silence, he continued. "Some of us don’t believe in the Lawgiver. Or the Sacred Scrolls. There are those who still believe in the gods…rather than the Almighty." Galen sighed. "And then there are those of us who no longer know what to believe in. So we believe in what our conscience tells us to be right or wrong." He looked into his cousin’s eyes. "Did it ever occur to you to question what you are taught? Complacency is blinding, Pergis." Galen clapped his cousin on the shoulder. "It isn’t necessary for you to understand me, cousin. It probably isn’t even wise." 

 

"Maybe I do understand you, Galen. And I wish I didn’t. Are you what they say you are? A traitor? A danger to us all…" Pergis said slowly, eyes fastened on Galen’s.

 

Galen’s eyes narrowed. "They lie to you, Pergis. You condemn me without ever knowing the truth…regardless of proof."

 

"You’re my cousin, Galen. It pains me to come to such conclusions," Pergis replied, sorrow evident in his voice. "Tell me of this proof."

 

Virdon interrupted. "No. We can’t," he said simply.

 

Pergis glared at him, wide-eyed. "You give Galen orders?" he said, appalled.

 

"He tries,” said Galen dryly, glancing at Virdon.

 

"Not that he listens," Virdon added.

 

"Hardly ever," agreed Burke, who’d just entered the room.

 

“How could you allow this? It’s unnatural!” asked Pergis, voice rising.

 

"Virdon has every right to say what he thinks. He does what he wants in my company. Man is not inferior to ape, whatever you believe, and Zaius has the proof of it!" Galen said, incensed.

 

"Galen." Alan said, loudly. Galen looked chagrined.

 

"Proof?" asked Pergis, eyes wide. His gaze turned skeptical. "I want to see it."

 

"I…there is no proof, Pergis." Galen said, lying. He looked at the floor. Pergis snorted, then waited until his cousin’s gaze rose to meet his.

 

"I’m sorry, Galen. Very sorry it has come to this. You know I have never felt anything but the deepest affection for you, ever since we were boys…. remember how you used to read to me, cousin? And taught me to play stickball? If you say these humans are your friends, then I’ll respect that. Even if I can’t agree with you."

 

"I’ll be leaving soon, Pergis. I’d rather not leave knowing our friendship has changed," Galen replied, even while thinking, sadly, that their relationship had already transformed irrevocably.   Another casualty, perhaps…the path that Galen followed was littered with them.

 

 

Galen’s reverie of the recent past was interrupted as Virdon stirred restlessly in his sleep, and his eyes turned from the tree branches far above to gaze at his friends absently. He had to get back to Pergis. See what he’d gotten himself into. Galen was sure that Pergis hadn’t left well enough alone after the trio’s departure. Incurable curiosity - it was a family trait that he and Pergis shared. Galen felt a pang of fear. Well, there was one cure - one the gorillas would be glad to administer to Pergis.  Whether or not Pergis would survive it…that was altogether different.

 

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

 

A few days after the three fugitives had left Central City, having reassured Galen of his father’s continued good health, Ann answered her nephew’s knock at the front door. It was early, and Yalu had just left to attend to council duties. This was as Pergis intended - he wanted to speak with Ann alone.

 

“Aunt Ann, I need to speak with you about something most urgent,” Pergis began and then amended, “Well, urgent to me, anyway,” giving his aunt a slight smile.

 

“Come in, come in, Pergis. Something tells me that this may take awhile; will you have something to drink or eat?” asked Ann, while holding her nephew’s elbow and leading him to a chair.

 

“No, no, thank you,” said Pergis, and sat down.

 

“Very well, then. What can be so urgent?” asked Ann as she lowered herself into the seat next to Pergis. 

 

“I noticed when Galen was last here with his two friends that you and one of the humans - Burke, is it? - seemed to get along rather well,” Pergis began.

 

“Yes, I suppose so,” Ann agreed mildly.

 

“Yes, well…I was wondering…” Pergis said, glancing at Ann, then down at his lap.

 

“Pergis, I am a busy woman, and although I’d like nothing better than to while this day away with you, I don’t have the time. Now, you tell me exactly what is on your mind, and I’ll try to help,” said Ann firmly.

 

“Very well. Galen spoke to me of equality between apes and humans. What do you make of such an idea?” asked Pergis.

 

Ann sat silently a long moment, eyes far away. “There are many things my son has done and said that I have not, in the past, understood. And yet, do you know, Pergis, that every time I see him, I find myself understanding…more?” Ann paused. “I would never speak to you of such things if you hadn’t discovered so much on your own. You understand, don’t you, the great secrecy involved. Yalu’s career…our lives depend upon it.” Pergis nodded. “Quite honestly, I am not convinced it is best that I speak my mind even now. However,” she said, affectionately rapping her knuckles against her nephew’s chest, “I can see that there is no turning back for you. So finally, in answer to your question….I do not believe that all humans are equal to apes.  But some…a few, I believe, can be regarded as equals. And so I wonder where that leaves the rest of them…” Ann trailed off.

 

“You believe Virdon and Burke are our equals.” At Ann’s nod, Pergis continued. “But how can you believe in the equality of man and ape if you believe in the teachings of the Lawgiver? ‘Beware the beast man, for he is the devil’s pawn...let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours,’” Pergis quoted.

 

“I believe what my eyes and ears tell me.… Those men are my son’s friends. They have risked their lives for him, as he has done for them,” Ann said firmly. “I’ve seen their loyalty, and kindness…their bravery.”

 

“Does Yalu know you hold such heretical viewpoints?” Pergis asked, bewildered.

 

Ann smiled. “Dearest nephew, if you had wanted Yalu’s viewpoint, you should have asked him. You did not. You asked me.”

 

Pergis shook his head, as if to clear it, and sighed. “You are right, of course,” he said, reaching for her hand, “I can’t go back now. I don’t want to. I must know the truth. From you, from anyone, however I can.”

 

Ann’s eyes probed her nephew’s. “I see that you must.” She sighed. “I helped Galen and Virdon to rescue Burke some time ago from the clutches of Urko and Zaius. They’d tortured the boy cruelly,” Ann said, looking indignant, ignoring the shocked look on Pergis’s face at her admission. “From the nightmares he had - something Galen tells me he still has with some frequency - and the things he’d uttered in delirium, I was sure he would never recover his emotional faculties. Which is something I am happy to be wrong about,” she added, smiling slightly. “I wonder why apes must sometimes act so much like the animals they claim to despise… as I was saying, I helped nurse Burke through his recovery. That was when Galen first told me that the chimpanzee who wielded these techniques against Burke learned them from books…written by humans. Books from the time before time, when humans still ruled the Earth. My son tells me some of these books are terrible - filled with unimaginable wars, death…and some are wonderful, full of wisdom and beauty.” Ann paused before continuing. “Pergis, even though humans originated this ‘brainwashing’, as Galen called it, apes did not hesitate to use it for their own means. Given equal opportunity, one species would seem no better than the other…and so I see the potential for humans to be our equal in all things… terrible and wonderful.”

 

“But what of the inherent evil of man?”

 

Ann looked sharply at Pergis. “Don’t ask your questions if you can’t hear the answers, Pergis.”

 

Pergis looked back at Ann, intent. “Help me to hear, then. To understand.”

 

“Do you know for a fact that humans are intrinsically evil? Are they more so than we?” Pergis was silent, musing. Ann continued softly, patting her nephew’s hand. “What I have come to fear most in humanity is their creativity and intelligence in the service of evil. But I have also come to fear our capacity to do the same.” 

 

“These books from the past…they truly exist? And Zaius knows this?” whispered Pergis.

 

“Pergis, my son flees for his life because of a book his friends had when captured. A book that he read, and that caused him to question our lives as we live them now…that taught him blasphemy…or truth, as you will. Zaius has the book in his keeping.” Seeming almost to grieve, Ann stated simply, “Now you know, Pergis. I believe it all. Every word. I believe Virdon and Burke are not of this time. I believe they are as intelligent as we are - perhaps more so. And now, Pergis, you must discover what it is that you believe.”

 

“If Zaius has these books in his possession, then he and Urko have many things to answer for,” Pergis said, staring at his aunt, his mind a chaotic whirl. Ann gazed back steadily at her nephew. He rose from his seat and walked numbly to the front door.

 

“Where are you going?” Ann asked, following him.

 

“I have to…I have to think, Aunt Ann,” Pergis said quietly. “I need time.”

 

“I have one more thing to say, and I want you to listen. I have already lost my son to this - be it truth, or heresy. Whatever you decide to do, or believe…don’t let it take you away from this family,” Ann said softly, patting his face.  “Remember that we need you.”

 

Pergis looked into Ann’s eyes a moment, then nodded. He kissed her cheek. As the door shut behind him, Ann stood motionless at the door, knowing that she’d done the right thing, telling the truth…and fast becoming convinced that she’d made a terrible, terrible mistake.

 

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

 

Her lips touched his for an instant, then withdrew. He opened his mouth to protest, then closed it as she placed her finger to his lips. Blue eyes looked humorously into brown as she smiled, lips teasingly curved. Again her mouth lowered to his. He drew his breath in sharply and curled one arm around her back while the other cupped the back of her neck, pulling her closer.

 

He opened his eyes, startled. The hand at her back was touching something...something wet. He raised his hand and looked at it.

 

Blood. There was blood on his hand. He tried to pull himself from her, to see what had happened to her, but she held him fiercely. He grabbed her shoulders and yanked himself from her grasp. She moaned and he looked down. A gaping hole showed in the center of her chest, blood running from the wound, and she collapsed against him.

 

Pete sat up suddenly, gasping. Alan was already awake, and turned to look quizzically at his friend. "You okay?" he asked. Pete stared fixedly at Alan a moment, sweat beading his face. He rubbed his eyes, gathering his composure.

 

“Yeah, fine."

 

Alan looked at him a moment, then turned away.

 

Pete stared at the ground, fists clenched, then heaved himself up as Galen stirred close by, still sleeping.

 

At Galen’s insistence, the three were headed back to Central City to check on Galen’s cousin. Not that the astronauts needed persuading…it was obvious that Pergis was in over his head, to judge by the gorilla soldiers’ conversation they’d overheard.  But Pete and Alan were surprised at the apparent radical turn that Pergis had taken, after their last visit. Galen, on the other hand, was not at all surprised. He knew Pergis - knew he’d somehow become convinced that Galen had spoken the truth. And Pergis, however young and naïve, was an ape of conviction.

 

The three fugitives were up and on the road shortly after daybreak, taking advantage of the cooler morning temperatures to travel at a fast pace. Galen estimated they’d be back in Central City by nightfall. A strained silence settled uncomfortably amongst them - a silence that was becoming commonplace. Each of them was sharply aware of the differences of opinion that kept them silent. Add to that the fact that they were traveling in a more populated area, increasing the odds of their capture as each step brought them closer to Central City.

 

A lone gorilla soldier appeared on the dusty trail winding ahead of them, and the three dived quickly away towards the brush. He ambled along, seemingly in no hurry, horse's hooves kicking up little puffs of dust.

 

As the soldier drew alongside of them, Galen’s nose tickled unbearably.

 

His sneeze, for all that he covered his mouth, was audible as a muffled if indiscernible noise. At once, the gorilla pulled hard on the reins of his horse, transformed quickly from careless rider to alert soldier. His nose wrinkled as he surveyed the ground around him, then made for a stand of bushes a couple of yards off the trail where Burke hid. 

 

Burke waited a heartbeat before he was exposed to the gorilla, then launched himself straight at him.  As Galen and Virdon rushed out from the bushes on the opposite side of the trail, the gorilla brought his rifle up quickly, slamming it into Burke’s face. Burke's weight sent them both crashing to the ground, and the gorilla lost his grip on the rifle. Burke shook his head, blood streaming from his nose as he lunged for it, barely snatching the rifle out of the enraged gorilla’s reach. Grabbing Burke at the waist, the gorilla slung him aside, but Burke held onto the rifle with a death grip, swiftly rolling over. He kicked out hard and his foot slammed into the soldier, knocking him back. Burke jumped onto the gorilla’s chest and jammed the rifle crossways in under his chin, panting with exertion and anger. Roaring, the gorilla attempted to throw Burke off, but Burke jammed the rifle savagely into his throat. Making a gagging noise, the gorilla clawed at the rifle as Pete pressed harder. Drops of blood fell on the gorillas face.

 

Galen quickly knelt beside Burke. "I think you can let him go now. Before you kill him." he said, brows raised. Burke didn’t respond, mouth taut with rage, and Virdon grabbed his arm.

 

"Pete! Let go! What are you doing?" he demanded.

 

Pete glared at him, slinging his arm away, then swiftly turned the rifle so that the end of the barrel pointed under the gorilla’s chin. He squeezed the trigger slightly.

 

"You want to commit murder, now? Just like they did, is that right!" Alan yelled at him.

 

Burke’s eyes narrowed. "Are you crazy? He tried to kill me!" he said heatedly, and looked to Galen.

 

"Enough. Put the rifle down…now. Please." Galen said evenly.

 

Burke looked down at the soldier, debating. With a swift motion, he clubbed the gorilla’s head with the butt of the rifle.

 

"Satisfied?" he asked them both flatly, suppressing his rage.

 

"No, I’m not!" Galen said angrily, staring at Burke. "Since when do you believe in killing? Or is it a sport now?" he continued, almost immediately regretting his words.  

 

"Why don’t you ask your pal, there, on the ground? Ask him about it when he wakes up. I’ll bet he and every other gorilla on this planet could tell you some good ones about killing for sport,” Burke retorted.

 

"Maybe so. But when did that become an excuse for you to act like them?” Galen asked.

 

"Pete. You’ve got to get a handle on this. As it is, you’re a danger to all of us," Alan added firmly.

 

Quickly, Burke turned to him. "Me. I’m a danger. That’s great, Alan, just great! I suppose I should let them kill me next time!" Burke spat.

 

"You don’t need to kill him - we all know that, including you. Get yourself under control!" Galen said, glaring at Pete.

 

"Or what?" Burke stared at Galen for a long moment. The fury left his eyes and he wiped his nose tiredly, smearing blood. "Or what, Galen?" 

 

Galen’s anger vanished. After a pause, he spoke slowly. "I’m not the enemy, Pete. I’m beginning to wonder if you know who is."  The trio stood silently a long moment before Galen sighed and gestured at Burke. “You’ve got blood everywhere.” He pulled off his backpack and rummaged inside.

 

“Let me have a look at you,” Alan said. “Come on, sit down.” Galen handed him a rag he’d torn off from a larger cloth and moistened from the water canteen.

 

Pete winced and grabbed the rag irritably as Alan attempted to clean the area and examine his injury. “I’ll do it, okay,” he said, and patted his nose gingerly.

 

“Oh, really, Pete,” Galen scolded, snatching the cloth and holding a startled Burke by the hair,  “if I didn’t know better, I’d never have believed that you’d been through torture before. At worst, your nose is broken - it’s not like it’s cut off,” he continued, bending to wipe the area clean over Pete’s muffled protests.

 

“Broken?” yelped Burke, raising his brows.

 

“’Fraid so, Pete. It looks like a clean break, far as I can tell. I was going to tell you once you’d…” Alan trailed off.

 

Burke grabbed the square of rough cloth from Galen. “Just say it, Alan.”

 

“Calmed down. That was what I was going to say. Not that I’m saying it now,” amended Virdon, a glint of humor in his blue eyes. Burke shot him a dirty look.

 

“Well, I am. Calm down,” added Galen.

 

“Galen, haven’t you already thrown in your two cents?” Burke retorted wryly, squinting up at him. “And I am calm... but let me tell you, this rag sure ain’t no Charmin. Feels more like sandpaper,” he groused.

 

Galen sighed. “Alan, I don’t suppose you’d care to explain?”

 

“‘Throwing in two cents’ is slang for betting money,” Virdon explained.

 

“Hmm…I’m still not sure…” said Galen, considering. “What is ‘Charmin’?”

 

Virdon looked taken aback. “Well, er…it’s a paper, Galen. Humans used it. Or used to. It was made especially…especially for…” Alan looked at Pete, reclining on the ground, head tipped back.

 

Pete brought his head back level until his eyes met Virdon’s and stared at him a moment, still holding the rag in under his nose. He smirked, wincing, then chuckled faintly. Virdon grinned. Pete laughed out loud, then yelled “Oh shit,” as his nose began to bleed once more.

 

“You took the words right out of my mouth,” said Virdon, still smiling. Pete laughed again, then cursed at the pain.

 

Galen shook his head. “Why, oh why do I bother?” he muttered to himself, then said louder, “We’d better get going before that gorilla wakes up.”  

 

“Want me to…” began Burke helpfully, then hastily shut his mouth as Virdon and Galen turned to face him. “Hey, just trying to do my part…” he said, heaving himself off the ground. He stood and tilted his face upwards, trying to stop the flow of blood.

 

Virdon clapped him on the shoulder. “Thanks, buddy. I think you’ve done enough for one day.” 

 

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

 

Galen crept stealthily closer to the home of his parents, waving the two astronauts in behind him. They’d already avoided one gorilla soldier stationed close by, and earlier had spotted yet another climbing down from the roof of a near-by home as the sun had begun to set. The three had decided to send Galen out as an advance, reasoning that he would have a chance of talking himself out of a situation if caught, whereas the two humans discovered out alone, after sunset, wouldn’t stand a chance.

 

Galen approached the patio door of his parent’s home with extreme caution. Just as he started to step out into the open, he heard the faint clop-clopping of horse’s hooves. He froze into position, hoping Burke and Virdon were well concealed, as any gesture he made would no longer be visible. The soldier passed by, yawning. It was full dark by now, and the only light available came from the gibbous moon or an occasional torch lighting the path to the doorway of an ape home.

 

Galen strained his eyes, seeking other movement, then quickly darted to the patio. The astronauts followed, stopping in the garden, heavy tropical growth affording some protection. Galen knocked on the door, cringing inwardly at the muffled noise. A prickle ran up between his shoulder blades as he stood with his back to the garden, silently urging his parents to hurry.

 

The door cracked open and Yalu’s familiar gruff voice asked loudly, “Who are you…” trailing off as Galen urged him to be silent.

 

“Shhhhhhh, Father! It’s me.”

 

“Are your….’friends’ here as well? Get them in quickly, if they are. Urko’s guards are crawling through the neighborhood,” said Yalu, blinking into the darkness. Galen entered, followed swiftly by Burke and Virdon. As the door closed, Yalu grabbed his son, hugging him fiercely. Surprised and touched, Galen returned his father’s hug as Ann entered the room.

 

“Galen, oh Galen!” Ann exclaimed, rushing to him. “I’m so glad to see you’re all right.”

 

“I’m fine, Mother, just fine,” Galen replied warmly, kissing her. “And so are my friends.”

 

“Virdon, Burke. I’m glad you are well,” said Ann, smiling at her visitors. The two smiled a greeting at her, and nodded to Yalu.  Yalu looked at Burke and Virdon without expression, then nodded stiffly in return. A small smile flickered on Galen’s face as he watched. Whereas most might have seen the uncomfortable exchange as just that - uncomfortable - Galen saw any sign of recognition from Yalu towards his friends as an inroad into his father’s resistance to his relationship with the two.

 

“Urko has had guards placed around our home and throughout the neighborhood ever since his last outing from Central City,” Yalu remarked. “When I demanded an explanation, I was told that the council felt that, as you are at the root of the chimpanzee protests, my family should be guarded.” Yalu looked disgusted. “Hmmph…watched, they mean,” he added.

 

“Father, is it true that Pergis is behind these demonstrations?” asked Galen.

 

“He’s been removed bodily from one protest. I was able to use my influence to keep him from being arrested. That was a small miracle in itself, considering I am connected to these demonstrations,” Yalu said, cocking an eyebrow at Galen. “I won’t be able to stop his arrest again.  My influence is dwindling quickly. And there will be a next time. That foolish Pergis is adamant. No one can convince him otherwise.”

 

Galen shook his head. “What can he hope to accomplish?”

 

“He wants to change the world, Galen,” his mother said, smiling in a bemused fashion. “He reminds me of you at a young age.”

 

“Surely I was never so impressionable,” retorted Galen.

 

“Well, you made quite an impression on him last time you were here,” his father said with a hint of sarcasm. “Of course, your mother tells me she only added fuel to the fire after you’d left.”

 

Galen looked at his mother, questioning. “Pergis came to me a few days after you’d left. He had many questions,” said Ann.

 

Galen looked humorously at his mother. “And when did he ever not have questions about one thing or another,” he said.

 

“Yes, well….I’m afraid I made things worse,” said Ann quietly.

 

Burke spoke up. “What did you tell him?”

 

“Why, I told him…the truth.” Ann replied.

 

“About us.” Virdon stated.

 

“About you, about everything. It was foolish of me, I suppose, but I could not bear to mislead him,” Ann replied.

 

“Oh, Mother,” breathed Galen, sighing.

 

“Do you see what you have put in your mother’s head? How quickly she speaks of heresy? It will be our downfall,” Yalu warned, shooting his wife a look.

 

“It was a mistake. He is my nephew, and I was swayed by his sincerity…his need to know. Surely you don’t think I’m foolish enough to speak indiscriminately of these things to others? Unfortunately, Pergis is as strong-willed as the rest of the males in this family,” replied Ann, returning her husband a look in kind.

 

“Yes, but without the intelligence to match,” added Yalu, looking hard at his son.

 

Galen looked at the floor. “Father, you know I’ve never meant any harm to my family. And Pergis is extremely intelligent - if a bit naïve. Unfortunately he doesn’t have the practical knowledge to go with it,” said Galen, defending his cousin.

 

“I’m sure Pergis doesn’t mean any harm to the family, either - nevertheless, between the two of you, you will ruin us,” retorted Yalu.

 

“Would you have me turn my back on my principles completely?” Galen asked, perturbed.

 

“I would have you let your mother and I live a life of peace!” Yalu exclaimed. He looked at his son a moment, then wheeled and left the room.

 

“Your father is angry at the turn of events, Galen,” said Ann. “He is - believe it or not - quite proud of you.”

 

Galen was silent a moment. “That young cousin of mine will cause Father to be ousted from council chambers if something isn’t done,” said Galen at last. “As it is, I’ve already done enough damage to his career. I won’t let anything else happen to ruin it. I’m going to go talk some sense into Pergis.”

 

“Now?” Ann exclaimed. “You need something to eat, surely.”

 

“Now will be easier cover of darkness,” Galen replied. “I’ll eat when I come back.”

 

“We’ll go with you,” Burke declared, starting to stand.

 

“No, no. That would be foolish. If I’m stopped, I’ll make up something. If you come with me, you’ll only make it worse,” Galen said.

 

“He’s right, Pete. But Galen…be careful, okay?” said Virdon, concerned.

 

“Oh, don’t you worry about me. I can easily outsmart those gorilla soldiers. I’ll take care of Pergis and get back as soon as I can, but expect me to be a while,” said Galen.

 

He kissed his mother, who cupped his face in the palm of her hand. “Galen… I’ve missed you,” she said softly.

 

He looked down into her eyes lovingly. “And I’ve missed you. I’ll be back before you know it.”

He nodded to his friends, then vanished through the patio door.

 

Ann stared at the door her son had disappeared through, then sighed and turned to face Alan and Pete. “There’s some fruit and bread in the kitchen - help yourself. As for sleeping arrangements, you know I’ve no beds for you, but I’ve got those same old stuffed straw matts you’ve slept on before. Come with me,” she motioned to them and they followed her into Galen’s old bedroom.

 

“The matts are just fine, especially compared to sleeping on the ground. Thank you,” Virdon said, smiling.

 

“Actually, I slept on Galen’s bed before,” Burke added helpfully.

 

“You’re welcome, Virdon. And as for you, Burke…you weren’t well then. You look perfectly fine to me...I’m glad to see,” Ann replied, smiling.

 

Burke smiled back. “I’m hard to get rid of.”

 

“Yes, well, you needed time to recover,” Ann replied, still smiling. Pete opened his mouth an instant, then grimaced and lowered his head, scratching it. Alan smothered a laugh, and Pete looked at him, grinning. “I’m going to bed. Eat, and get some rest. Goodnight, boys,” Ann

added before leaving the room. The two men wandered off to the kitchen and satisfied their hunger before returning to Galen’s room to rest.

 

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

 

Galen traveled quickly, skulking from tree to house to bush. He was exhausted. The fast pace of the trip to Central City, and the events just prior, were taking their toll on him. Galen did not look forward to the coming confrontation, yet he was filled with an urgency that would not allow him to rest.

 

He approached a small window set high in the back of his cousin’s home and looked around warily, then whispered his cousin’s name loudly. There was no answer. After repeated tries, he approached the window and leapt upwards, holding himself so that his head poked through the window. “Pergis!” he hissed.

 

There was sudden movement at his cousin’s bed as Pergis sat up, startled.

 

“Shhh!” said Galen, before Pergis had time to utter a word. “It’s me….Galen.” He pulled himself through the window and dropped to the ground.

 

Pergis jumped up, exclaiming, “Galen!” and rushed to greet him. “Come here, sit down. I’m glad to see you…although surprised,” Pergis added, guiding Galen to sit on the comfortable bed.

 

“Surprised, indeed,” said Galen. “What do you think you’re doing, Pergis? Besides getting yourself into some very deep trouble.”

 

“Galen…” Pergis began. In the deep shadows of the room, he looked very young. “You of all people should understand what I’m doing. I’m trying to right a wrong. A wrong done to you and your friends by the apes in power,” he said firmly.

 

Galen sighed. “Pergis, the last I saw of you, you were ready to turn me in. What has happened to change things?”

 

“I discovered the truth. Literally.”

 

“Pergis,” Galen said, warning. “I have traveled a long way today. I am extremely tired, and in no mood for guessing games. Tell me what you mean.”

 

“I mean I broke in Dr. Zaius’s home, and there I discovered the real truth. The books, Galen. Amazing, incredible books.”

 

“You did what,” said Galen, mouth gaping. “Were you spotted?”

 

“As far as I know, no. For some reason they have guards at the homes of both Zaius and Urko, but when I took the book, a few days after you’d left, there were none. It was late, and Zaius was asleep in his bed when I broke into his study.”

 

 Oh, Pergis, Pergis…do you know what you’ve done now? If they find you’ve taken a book, you are as good as dead.” Galen sighed. “Where is the book now?”

 

“It’s right here, actually. I just brought it home last week.”

 

“From where?” asked Galen, horrified at the thought of Pergis roaming the streets freely with the book.

 

“I and the others have a secret meeting place,” said Pergis, digging the book out from its hiding place behind the bed.

 

“Others? You mean the protestors?”

 

“Yes, of course. Students…friends of mine, many of them from that religion class you spoke of.  You remember, the one that teaches ‘drivel’,” said Pergis, ironically.

 

“May the gods…may someone forgive me,” exclaimed Galen, clapping a hand to his forehead.

 

“Oh, they’re not the only apes who’ve come to believe. The word is spreading, as the lies of Urko and Zaius become evident. This is the proof, Galen,” said Pergis excitedly, shaking the book. “Some of us have been arrested, but so far the punishment has been slight.”

 

“It won’t remain that way, Pergis. If some of you weren’t from prominent families, I dare say you would be dead. And if they thought they could bury the incident altogether, I’m sure you’d be dead.” Pergis handed Galen the book, and Galen gasped. “This is the same book that was discovered when my friends were first captured! The human that befriended Burke and Virdon had it in his possession when one of Urko’s soldiers killed him, at the site of the crash landing,” Galen exclaimed. Carefully he rifled the book’s pages, remembering. This was the book that had started him on the treacherous path he now shared with Virdon and Burke.

 

Pergis looked excited. “The crash site? Do you mean you saw the ship the two humans traveled through space in?”

 

Galen looked irritated. “That’s besides the point, Pergis. I’m here for one reason, and one reason only. To try and get you to use your common sense!”

 

“After all this time, I see the truth, Galen. The truth as you have known it for some time now. We have been lied to, all these years. Why? Can you tell me why?”

 

Galen paused, considering. “Zaius thinks he does this for the benefit of all apes.  He believes that humans are evil, and that we must be protected from them. He treats us as though we were children, not quite bright enough to decide for ourselves what to believe in. He and Urko would like nothing better than to see humanity exterminated from the face of the planet.”

 

“And why would you want me to be silent about the truth, Galen? Don’t you want everyone to know we’ve been lied to?”

 

Galen looked at his cousin’s earnest face. His heart ached. “Yes, Pergis,” he said slowly, “I’d like nothing better. But my point here is that you are a young chimp, with a full life ahead of you. Surely you must realize the consequences of what you do now!”

 

“Surely you must realize that the time has come to right these wrongs, Galen?” whispered Pergis softly.

 

“I wish it were the right time! You can’t go against them like this, out in the open. You will lose.”

 

“I can try, cousin. I can try,” Pergis said.

 

“You can die!” Galen said passionately. “And I can’t bear it, and neither can your parents… neither can mine!” He paused, lowering his voice. “I’ve traveled for days, Pergis, from a human village, burnt to the ground by Urko and his like, all because he knew they’d given us shelter. Do you want all humans to suffer the way they did? Go ahead, give Zaius and Urko the excuse they need to really, finally rid our world of them all!”

 

Pergis, stood, stunned. “Urko burnt an entire village?” he asked slowly.

 

“Don’t act so shocked, Pergis. It’s happened before, you know it…and worse.”

 

“This is why I can’t turn back, cousin. Don’t you understand? The power of those two cannot continue, unchecked,” Pergis said, pleading with Galen.

 

“Please… Pergis. If there is truly a way to stop them, I’d be the first to join you. But the only way we’ve found so far is to influence both apes and humans on a personal basis, as we come to know them. To show them the truth, not tell it. You can’t shove it down their throats. They will turn on you. They are afraid.” Galen said quietly.

 

“No, Galen. It is you who are afraid.” his cousin whispered.

 

“Yes, Pergis. As you should be. You can’t help change the world if you’re dead.” The cousins stared at one another as each came to the inexorable realization that one could not sway the other.

 

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

 

The table turned round and round, faster and faster. The top of his head felt as if it would roll off…. a heavy, dead weight. His stomach contracted, a slow, painful upheaval, but there was nothing left for him to vomit. They’d tied him to the table, which was a joke, if only they knew…he didn’t have the strength to get down on his own, much less fight. Or maybe they thought he would just roll bonelessly off with the turn of the wheel…a faint smile ghosted across his dry mouth at the thought.

 

What he wanted, more than anything in the world, was a drink of water. He swallowed convulsively, hearing the hard, dry click in his head. Sweat beaded his upper lip and forehead as he opened his eyes briefly, roused, yet finding nothing to focus on. Just as well. There was nothing he cared to see here, anyway… again his smile flitted across cracked lips, beginning to split. He didn’t notice. He’d quit reacting to pain hours ago…or was it days?

 

He opened his eyes again. Now he was standing, bent at the waist, shoving the wheel around, pushing it faster and faster. He felt wonderful, strong. In control. He was in control now. He pushed harder, grunting with the effort, and glanced down at the table. Liska was tied there, spread-eagled, bloodied. The wheel began to slow. He knelt closer to her, waiting, as the wheel gradually came to a stop. “Tell me who helped you…” he breathed slyly, low into her ear.

 

Burke’s eyes flew open. Quickly he lunged to his feet and strode out of the dark room just as Alan’s eyes opened. Alan stumbled up, following him, stopping as Ann stepped out from the kitchen in her nightclothes. Burke opened the patio door quickly, unaware of the two behind him.

 

Alan smiled hurriedly at Ann, then gestured Burke’s way, intent on following. Ann stopped him with a hand to his shoulder and he turned, eyes inquiring. “Let me talk to him, Virdon,” she said softly.

 

Alan looked at her appraisingly. “He’s had a hard time lately, Ann. I’m not sure what I can do for him…but I have to try.” Again, he started towards the door.

 

“I think I can help him. Alan,” she said, still softly. “I’d like to help him. I’ve helped him before.”

 

Again Alan stopped and looked at her, considering. “All right. You know where I am if he needs me,” he said quietly.

 

She nodded, walking through the door and out into the fresh air. Burke perched on a stone table, feet on the bench, eyes pressed into his hands. A faint breeze ruffled his wavy hair. He jerked upwards, startled, as the door opened. He saw Ann and his expression relaxed into a sullen look.

 

“You’re having some troubles, Burke,” she commented quietly.

 

He made a harsh noise that caught in his throat. “Guess you could say that,” he said tightly.

 

“You’re having dreams again?”

 

He glanced at her briefly. “Look, I really don’t think this will help, Ann. Although I appreciate the effort,” he added, trying to be polite.

 

“Well, help me, then. My only son is out there, somewhere - if he’s not been caught - trying to convince my nephew not to commit a suicide that I’ve helped lead him towards,” she said, catching his brown eyes with her own.

 

Pete uttered a hard laugh and looked into Ann’s eyes. He rubbed his upper lip, then looked at her again and shook his head. “What a pair we make, huh?” he said, more quietly.

 

“I’d say so. Quite a pair. Now what is it you’ve been dreaming about?” she asked.

 

“You’re not one for the subtle approach, are you?” he asked, one side of his mouth lifting.

 

“Directness has its virtue. Don’t change the subject,” she admonished.

 

He smiled a sarcastic smile. “It’s nothing, really. Just dreaming about a girl who died because of me. Nothing to concern an ape.”

 

“You forget very quickly, Burke. I suppose I’ll have to remind you, then. It was in the home of apes that you recovered from Wanda’s tortures. Do you think I’d let you stay here if I weren’t convinced you were worth saving? Especially after you pulled that knife on me,” Ann added tartly.

 

Burke laughed unwillingly. “Hey, I told you I was sorry about that. I was… confused. Thought you were Wanda.” His eyes darkened at the thought.

 

“I’m not Wanda. I’m Ann, Galen’s mother, and independent of my feelings for my son, I have grown somewhat attached to you and Virdon. Against my better judgment,” she added severely.

 

Burke stared at her, then smiled faintly and sighed. “I know, Ann. I’m sorry. It’s just that things are a little mixed up in my head right now.”

 

Ann snorted. “A little? I think more than a little. Irregardless,” she continued. “I know nothing of the woman who died, Burke. Nothing of the situation. But I know you, somewhat… and I know that whatever happened to her was not something you did. Perhaps something you did indirectly,” she continued, holding up her hand as he started to protest, “helped bring about this death…but it isn’t something you would have had a hand in. Except maybe in your own mind.”

 

“You don’t know that!” he exclaimed, glaring at her. “You don’t know me at all!”

 

“I know more than you think I know. You’re quite the one to talk in your delirium,” she said firmly, staring him down. “And I know something even more important than that. I know you can’t bear to let your friends down. And you think you have. But they are merely waiting for you, not condemning you. Waiting for you to get better…and hoping they know how to help.”

 

Burke looked at her incredulously, then offered her a sideways smile. “You can’t tell it by me.  Your son is riding roughshod all over me,” he said wryly.

 

She looked quizzically at him. “Don’t throw any of that garbage at me like you do Galen. It won’t divert me,” she said.

 

“Garbage? Throwing garbage? You’ve been around me too much, Ann,” he said, grinning. “What garbage are you referring to?”

 

“Your constant obscure references stemming from the time-period you and Virdon came from. You do it in order to distract my son, and intrigue him, and irritate him. It won’t work with me,” she said firmly.

 

Burke smirked at her. “That’s terrific - just what I need right now, another ape psychologist.”

 

Ann stared at him silently. “Very well,” she said evenly, and got up to leave.

 

Burke rubbed his forehead wearily. “Listen, I’m sorry. Really. I’m just…tired.”

 

“And striking out at everyone who would help,” pointed out Ann, sitting back down.

 

“It’s just… I don’t think I can be helped right now, okay? Not until I can…” he trailed off.

 

“Until what?” Ann asked him, eyes narrowing. Burke remained silent, hard gaze faltering a moment before looking away.

 

“Until I can make things better,” he said, unwillingly.

 

“How are you going to do that? I’d like to know - if not for your sake, then for Galen’s.”

 

His brown eyes came swiftly up to meet hers. “Whatever I have in mind, your son won’t be present. Okay?” Getting up to leave, he sighed at the stricken look on her face. Impatiently he raked his hand through his hair, then stared down at her. “I really messed things up, you know? I don’t know how to make it better. But I’m gonna try.”

 

He turned away. Startling herself, Ann reached out and grasped his hand. “Be careful, Burke.” He turned and looked down at her hand in some wonderment. “Contrary to what you sometimes tell yourself, you do make a difference. For the better. And besides - whom would I joke with if you weren’t around, every once in a while? Yalu?” she wrinkled her muzzle, smiling at him.

 

His eyes were warm as he smiled back. “I’ll have to keep that in mind, Ann,” he said, and patted the furry hand grasping his own. Suddenly he reached over and hugged her. After a moment’s hesitation, she brought her arms around and patted his back lightly. “I’ll keep it in mind… okay?” he repeated, and letting go of her, opened the door and headed back into Galen’s old room.

 

Ann stared after him, wondering what he thought he could do to make things better. She had a feeling she wasn’t going to like it.

 

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

 

Zaius sat at his desk, looking up into the furious militia commander’s face. The older orangutan’s eyes were pale and watery, yet implacable. "Urko, you committed a grave error when you burned the human village. The Council is highly displeased. I am highly displeased. Do you realize the power you have handed to the dissidents with this foolishness?"

 

Urko’s fists ached with the need to pound the orangutan’s clever, deceptive face into the ground. His fingers, curled into fists, felt as if made of stone. Yet he held his rage in check. To do otherwise would mean the end of his career.

 

Zaius continued. "You placed proof of gorilla brutality into the out-stretched palms of the protesters, as if bestowing a gift upon their cause." In a rare display of emotion, Zaius snorted and slammed his hand onto his desk. "You helped them, Urko!"

 

"Galen and his astronauts had been protected by the residents of that village for days!" Urko shouted. "I could not allow their defiance to go unpunished, and neither should you - nor this Council body! And if the chimpanzees continue in their protests, I will deal with them in a similar manner!"

 

"The dissidents will be dealt with, Urko, but with brains, not brawn. The citizens of Central City will not allow you free rein to brutalize those chimpanzees - some of which are the best and brightest this city has to offer. Not to mention they are also the progeny of some very influential families. Don’t underestimate their voice within this Council. No, Urko, if you continue down this path, you commit political suicide. There can be no more mistakes such as this," Zaius stated.

 

Urko looked both miserable and grim as he listened to Zaius’s reasoned arguments. His anger was such that he felt his rigid fingers would snap off if he tried to uncurl them.

 

Zaius wisely changed the subject. "Have there been any sightings of the fugitives?"

 

"None," Urko rapped out, still seething.

 

"With that disk in your possession, it is only a matter of time."

 

"And then we’ll have them…. at last. I have guards posted at our offices, our homes, and Yalu’s home," Urko gloated, momentarily diverted.

 

A knock on the wooden door interrupted the conversation. Zaius’s chimpanzee assistant walked into the room. "Pardon, sirs, but an incident has arisen that requires your immediate attention."

 

"Out with it!" snapped Urko.

 

"The dissidents… it seems they have gathered yet again," the chimpanzee replied. "In the middle of the Commerce Plaza, this time. The commanding officer has sent word that there is no peaceful way to disperse them." Both apes reacted immediately by heading for the door. Zaius paused, looking back thoughtfully. Was it his imagination, or was there a hint of… glee in the eyes of his assistant as he turned away?  Zaius shook his head. Perhaps he’d imagined it.

 

If not, Zaius knew something had been started in this City, something stronger than he’d realized. It could be that Urko would have his way, after all. Perhaps brutality would be the only answer. If that’s what it took. The stability of their civilization was, after all, more important than political gain.

 

Zaius followed Urko out the door.

 

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

 

The three friends huddled uneasily at the back of a stone building. They awaited the passing of yet another gorilla soldier on patrol. Several hours earlier, the three had made the extremely risky decision to intercept Pergis at the secret meeting Galen had learned about the night before. It was held at an old university outbuilding, currently not in use.  The fugitives had gained entry into the building after convincing a chimpanzee on lookout of their identities. The poor chimp student had been quite star-struck upon realizing that he was speaking with the notorious Galen himself. Galen had been quite full of himself until the utter failure of their mission to convince Pergis to abandon his dangerous quest.

 

Not only had they failed - the plan had backfired. The dissidents, upon seeing Galen and his friends, had achieved an almost religious fervor, dismaying the three who attempted to plead caution. 

 

The trio had decided to withdraw from the heart of the city until after nightfall, at least. But their retreat was taking quite a bit of time, as Urko’s gorillas prowled the city in great numbers.

 

The friends spoke casually amongst themselves. No one would ever guess they’d failed miserably in their mission, and were now in terrible danger. 

 

 "…I can see the family resemblance, Galen," Virdon said wryly, as the three watched the gorilla soldier.

 

"Hmm…what?" Galen replied absently, thinking of their next course of action.

 

"You and Pergis. You two are the most hard-headed mon…." began Burke, hastily remedying his comment at Galen’s sharp glance, "chimps we’ve ever met."

 

"Obviously a family trait. Look at your father," Virdon pointed out.

 

"Of course you’re right. Lucky you humans have no such failings. Do you know, I’ve never seen the slightest hint of stubbornness in either of you? I’m quite impressed," Galen replied. The two humans exchanged humorous glances.

 

"Sarcasm, too. Another family trait," Burke added.

 

"Good thing you’re not like that, Pete," Virdon said, cocking his eyebrow at Burke. Galen snorted.

 

"Now, your mom, Galen - she’s a tough customer," said Burke. Galen turned to face Pete. "See this?" he continued, pointing to the bluish bruises and swelling around his nose. "She cold-cocked me last night. Said I wouldn’t listen to reason. I’ve seen you looking at me lately, buddy - you’ve had the same urge. But ---"

 

"Let’s move- now," Virdon commanded, seeing opportunity present itself. Galen patted Burke’s cheek playfully - if a bit hard - and Burke winced as the three moved on.

 

The streets seemed less crowded, and the three glanced at each other. "Something’s going on," Galen commented. "Everyone seems to be going in one direction."

 

"Whatever it is, it might help us get out of here alive. Just go with the flow, for now. Then we’ll cut out," Virdon replied, then smiled at Galen’s look. "I mean, we’ll follow the crowd for awhile," he amended. The three walked out in the open, Galen in the lead, trying to seem casual.

 

"Up ahead," Burke said, "whatever it is. A crowd's gathering."

 

"Time to make a break," Virdon answered.

 

"Wait - don’t you want to see what’s going on?" asked Galen, looking back at Virdon.

 

Burke stared at him disbelievingly. "Oh, yeah… I forgot about that other annoying family trait. Curiosity. Haven’t you ever heard the saying, ‘Curiosity killed the cat’?" Burke asked.

 

Galen looked puzzled. "What’s a cat?" He gestured impatiently at Burke. "Never mind. You two stay back, and I’ll just check this out." He looked at Virdon.

 

Virdon sighed. "Galen, this is an unnecessary risk… but I have a feeling that we need to know as much as possible what’s going on in this city…. Okay. But be careful," he said, and gestured Galen forward.

 

Galen walked further down the city street growing crowded with pedestrians. Rubbing shoulders with chimps and orangutans, he resolutely avoided the gaze of the gorilla soldiers on horseback. The jostling crowd generated an uncomfortable heat. Intent on moving forward, and staring at the backs of those before him, Galen’s head snapped up in shock as he heard a voice address the crowd.

 

 He knew that voice.

 

It was Pergis, standing upon the top step of the massive entryway of the main plaza building. Immediately to his left stood Gathor, a young chimpanzee student that Galen had met only that morning. Surrounding the both of them was a tightly packed group of chimps - all young and solemn-looking, most dressed in the standard black and gray that university students found fashionable these days.

 

The next words out of Pergis’s mouth made Galen wince and glance involuntarily back in the direction of his friends.

 

"My cousin is wanted by the leaders of this city. It is said he is a renegade. It is said that he murdered a gorilla soldier, and that he has helped two dangerous humans to remain outside the clutches of the law.

 

Some of you may know Galen. He was a fine student himself, and not so long ago… "

 

Galen glanced swiftly to his left, then right. If he tried to leave, he’d garner unwanted attention - the crowd was too tightly packed. The heat and the fright he was enduring left him feeling frantic, trapped, but there was nothing to be done. He lowered his head, trying to control his breathing, trying to escape notice.

 

"I have known Galen all my life. And I am here to tell you that the reasons our government give for hunting my cousin down are untrue." The spectators began to stir uneasily. Some craned their necks as gorilla soldiers from the crowd began to make their way to the stone steps. Pergis ignored them, staring down into the gathering.

 

"Our leaders are afraid of something Galen has. Knowledge. Galen knows the truth. A truth they don’t trust you to understand. And now, all of us before you -” he swept his arms out, indicating the other students “- your brothers, your daughters… we have found the truth, too - in an ancient text.  A book that our government considers so dangerous, so heretical that they will kill to keep it secret. A book written by… humans." A gasp arose from the crowd. Some apes snorted derisively, or glared. A few seemed intrigued. 

 

"It’s true…I’ve seen it. And so have the others," said Pergis, voice raised, gesturing to the students. "Humans developed buildings that touch the sky… technologies unparalleled in our world today. Medical and science advances...flight."

 

Hoots came from the audience. Two of the gorillas converging upon Pergis laughed. Another gorilla grabbed Gathor’s arm, and he turned, startled. "Break it up, now," the gorilla growled.

 

"They don’t want you to know the truth - they’re afraid of what you’ll do, or think." Pergis said loudly, in a commanding tone. Galen’s head snapped up. In spite of the danger his cousin was in, he admired his audacity.

 

"Humans are capable of intelligent thought - and honor, and courage, and generosity," Pergis shouted over the increasing uproar. Gathor shoved the gorilla holding his arm, and the gorilla smiled ferociously, yanking him down from the top step.

 

Two gorillas reached Pergis at the same time, and seized both arms. "That’s enough, now," one warned quietly, shoving his muzzle into Pergis’s face. Hostility was clear in his dark countenance. "Or so help me, orders or no, I’ll…" 

 

Pergis ignored the gorilla, appealing to the crowd. "Why won’t they let me speak freely? What are they afraid of? If I’m a lunatic, let me rant! Let those of you who would listen, listen! The Almighty created the ape in his own image, that he gave him a soul and a mind…."

 

The crowd began to quiet as Pergis described the First Article of Faith. The two gorillas holding him halted their struggle to pull him from the steps. "…that he set him apart from the beasts of the jungle and made him the lord of the planet. These sacred truths are self-evident…” Pergis paused, looking out at the silent, waiting crowd.

 

"LIES!" he screamed passionately.

 

Hoots and shouts arose as the crowd erupted. One of the gorillas holding Pergis backhanded him across the face. Gathor hissed at the gorilla gripping him and pulled away, jumping back to the top step, and took his place next to Pergis. The students surrounded Pergis and Gathor and tightened their ring around the two, sweeping them away from their gorilla captors and back into the center of the students, making a bodily barrier for the gorillas to cross. All around the edge of this ring, gorillas began to sling the chimps aside. The students hoisted Pergis aloft in their center, supporting him.

 

Silence again befell the crowd as Urko and Zaius rode up on their horses and pulled them to a stop, surveying the gathering. Urko snorted, disdain clear upon his features. The crowd parted as the two urged their horses up the dusty road before the stone steps.

 

Galen was fixated on Pergis. He felt helpless, and enraged, and sorrowful. The time for Pergis to change his path was over. He had chosen, and there was no turning back. With a nod to himself, Galen made his way to the edge of the crowd on his right, facing the steps, and from there worked his way to the front. The heat and the dust were appalling, and he panted, imagining a long cold drink of water.

 

In the silence, Zaius spoke. "All apes are created equal, Pergis. Men have no souls. The divine spark exists solely in the simian brain."

 

Pergis stared down upon the old orangutan. "Before the true God and the Lawgiver came to us, there were the gods… the gods of the sea, and the forests, and the crops…. who demanded our devotion. Fortunately, the Lawgiver and the gods are of a like mind as to the beast man. Or we would not know which to believe... would we?"

 

Urko scowled, directing an angry glare at the young chimp. "Get him. Seize the rebel! Now!" he shouted at his soldiers, and shrieks arose from Pergis’s protectors as the gorillas redoubled their efforts.

 

"Urko, you destroyed an entire human village!" shouted Pergis. The crowd roared again. "You are without conscience! You brutalize defenseless humans, and we students are next - yet you and Zaius, and your Council control ape civilization!" He gestured for the crowd to quiet, and directed his gaze at Zaius. "We can think for ourselves. Now we know the true history of our world! We can make the right decisions about the fate of apes and man, together…without your fear or coercion to assist us," said Pergis.

 

Galen looked upon the face of Zaius, and an arrow of fear slammed into his heart. Pergis had very little time left. For anything.

 

Beside him, a gorilla shouted into the near silence, "What are you waiting for? Shoot the chimp and be done with it!"

 

Galen stepped forward and looked at the ring of students on the stone steps. "Take Pergis from here! You will fight again!" he said in a clear, firm voice. He turned to look at Zaius. Zaius stared at him, watery eyes stony and unreadable.

 

The sun’s glare cast a blinding reflection from Urko's helmet. Galen squinted as Urko met his gaze. Urko laughed. His massive shoulders shook.

 

"Galen!" he exclaimed, almost conversationally. He laughed again. "You sentimental fool."

 

At the sound of their General addressing the traitor Galen, a dozen rifles were raised throughout the crowd. Astride their horses, a dozen soldiers trained their eyes upon their target. Urko slapped his leg in amusement until a glance from Zaius wiped the smirk from his lips.

 

"Take Galen into custody. Don't shoot unless he tries to escape," Urko shouted. "We'll attend to Pergis and his rabble-rousers later." Gorilla soldiers cut through the crowd to complete their orders. In an aside to Zaius, Urko remarked, "It’s a fine day, Zaius….wouldn't you agree?"

 

"No, Galen!" Pergis’s voice shattered the fragile quiet. Again the soldiers’ rifles bristled towards Galen. A few were now trained upon the ring of chimpanzees, as well.

 

Galen’s anxiety notched higher, and he turned his head swiftly towards the dissidents. "Take Pergis away NOW! Before it’s too late!" he shouted angrily.

 

The crowd of students chattered excitedly. Gathor burst from their midst, broad face filled with excitement. Pergis appeared next, pushing his fellow students aside in an effort to follow. "Stop him!" Galen yelled. Uncertain arms pulled his cousin back. Pergis easily yanked himself from their grasp, intent on Galen.

 

"Pergis… they have me now. Is it for nothing, after all?" Galen implored of him, and watched as his cousin’s features become still.

 

Pergis reached towards Galen, uncertainty clear in his stricken gray eyes as he was pulled back into the group. The students began to withdraw in an unorganized fashion, oddly silent. Gathor, unaware of being cut off from his supporting fellows, struggled towards Galen, pulling his shirtsleeve from the grasp of a frustrated gorilla.

 

"Zaius! Urko!" a strong voice commanded attention from behind them on the far right reaches of the crowd. The two apes turned as the voice continued. "How ‘bout two out of three?" 

 

Urko’s growl rang over the crowd as he caught sight of the two. "Burke!"

 

Behind them, another soldier got a firm grip on Gathor’s arm, whipping him violently back. Gathor slung his free arm forward in an effort to maintain balance, unwittingly grabbing the soldier’s rifle.

 

A shot rang out.

 

The crowd screamed. Apes flung themselves to the ground.

 

Burke watched, horrified, as Galen slowly toppled. "Galen!" he shouted, and caught a glimpse of Virdon off to Galen’s right, diving down to his friend before losing sight of them altogether.

 

Unthinking, Burke ran towards Galen, following the path of least resistance along the edges of the crowd. Over and over in his mind, he saw blood flowing from Galen’s head as he fell. Just like another obscene nightmare.

 

Only this was real.

 

"GET HIM!" Urko bellowed, arm thrust out towards Burke. His horse danced uneasily beneath him, puffs of dust rising in the heat. In response, a gorilla in the crowd charged after Burke on foot. Other soldiers on horseback made their way slowly towards him.

 

Burke ran, ignoring the crowd cautiously regaining its feet. Trying to ignore the vision of Galen bleeding profusely...to ignore the certainty that he'd been a witness to Galen's death. 

 

A powerful arm pulled his frantic run to a stop.  Lips thinning with rage, Burke rebounded immediately, smashing his fist into the face of the gorilla who’d grabbed him. Burke's quick response stunned the ape, grimacing in pain as bright blood flowed from his nose. Burke pulled easily away, eyeing the simians in the crowd to his left as they reached for him, faces burning with anger. He slung their arms aside, breathing in harsh gasps, feeling his chances of getting to Galen and Virdon grow ever more slim as more and more apes tried to stop him.

 

A tall, graying ape stepped out from the fringes of the crowd and grasped his rough blue shirt with a large fist. He pulled Burke close, staring at him. "The sooner we kill you all, the better. Damnable, worthless filth," the chimp said. He let Burke go unexpectedly, wiping his hand with distaste upon his shirt. Burke stared at the surrounding hostile faces before stumbling away.

 

He was free, for the moment. And he knew he had to stay free, even if it meant abandoning his friends. He was the only chance they had left now.

 

With a despairing curse, he ran. 

 

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

 

"What the hell!" exclaimed Burke, shaken. Deciding to follow Galen, he and Alan arrived in time to watch, disbelieving, as their chimpanzee friend revealed himself to Zaius and Urko.

 

"He’s trying to save Pergis," Virdon said, grim-faced. He turned to face Burke. "I’m going after him."

 

Burke looked at Virdon. "I’ll distract our buddies up front," he said after a moment. "Jesus, Al... we must be crazy."

 

 "It’s a long shot... " Alan agreed. "When isn’t it?" He looked at Burke a moment. "Good luck."

 

"Yeah." said Pete. He smiled slightly and cleared his throat. "Show-time, folks." Alan clapped him on the back and turned to go. 

 

Here and there spectators stared curiously, but none intervened as Virdon made his way boldly around the edge of the crowd to Galen. He was surprised at the ease of his progress. Within minutes he’d positioned himself mere yards away from Galen, out of the main crowd.  Galen, absorbed in his exchange with Pergis, did not see Virdon.

 

Completely vulnerable to the surrounding apes, Virdon ignored the alarm bells going off in his head. He could not, however, stop the uneasy prickling at the back his neck as he waited for Burke’s part in this insanity to unfold. 

 

Virdon froze, sighting the soldiers converging upon Galen. In mere seconds he’d be seized by Urko’s finest. Game over.

 

He released his breath as the familiar, caustic tone Burke used to address the ape leaders rose over the hubbub of the crowd. The gorillas moving towards Galen halted, craning their necks to see who spoke.

 

Virdon ducked reflexively at the unexpected boom of rifle fire. His eyes flew to Galen, widening in shock as his friend collapsed. Virdon shouted his name, pushing through the apes separating them. Reaching Galen’s side, he knelt down next to him in the confusion and examined the chimpanzee hurriedly.

 

Thank God. Though Galen’s scalp was deeply razed and bled copiously, it didn’t appear life threatening.

 

Galen opened his eyes. "Alan?" he murmured.

 

"Galen, you’re wounded... but you’ll be okay," Alan replied evenly, looking at the surrounding apes who picked themselves up from the ground. As they stood, they hid him from what he was sure was dozens of rifles pointed in their direction. "Can you move?"

 

Galen looked up at him, eyes dull. "Alan, you know I’ll never make it out of here. You’ve got to go."

 

"I can’t leave you here," Alan answered, blue eyes determined.

 

"It’s the only way you’ll ever get me out of this mess now. Pete needs your help planning my rescue, you know," he said with a weak attempt at humor.

 

Alan stared at him, torn. There was no time. "We’ll get you out. Do you trust that?"

 

Galen opened his eyes again, trying to focus on Alan’s face. He nodded, wincing.

 

"Count on it," said Alan. Galen grasped his hand for an instant. Alan looked a moment longer at the chimpanzee’s pale face, his pained brown eyes. Blood ran from his scalp down over the plain leather shoulders of his tunic. 

 

"Of course you will. Now go," Galen urged weakly. Alan didn’t move. Galen touched his hand again. “Alan…”

 

Alan lifted his bowed head. Even amidst the confusion that Burke’s challenge generated, several apes were now looking down at him and Galen with astonishment. He squeezed the chimp’s hand one last time. With a deep breath he stood. He resisted the urge to look down again.

 

Virdon scanned the ring of suspicious faces.  No gorillas menaced in the apes immediately surrounding him. Hands plucked at him as he pressed through the resistant bodies, and he raised his hands, open-palmed, and pushed them carefully from him. He feared any display of force would encourage the agitated, resentful city dwellers to resort to violence of their own. A chimpanzee hissed at him. Others hooted and growled. An old orangutan spit on him, cursing. Virdon ducked his head and wiped with his arm, reining in surging anger and fear, unable to stop himself from panting. Every second counted now.

 

Near the edge of the crowd, Virdon heard the deep voices of the soldiers’ exclamations behind him as they surrounded Galen. He ducked his head again in sorrow. He had a wild impulse to turn back.  He’d left his friend wounded and alone. His chest hitched as he took a deep breath, taming his emotions, staying with his objective: to get out in one piece.

 

A huge fist grabbed the back of his homespun shirt. Virdon raised his right foot and slammed it back into the crotch of the unfortunate gorilla holding him captive. The gorilla’s hand fell away, and he burst from the edge of crowd, sprinting.  He feared the lack of surrounding ape bodies would allow the soldiers to use their weapons - a fear that proved correct as a shot was fired.

 

He cut through the covered promenade the next building over as more gorillas broke from the crowd on foot and pounded after him. Risking a look backwards, he saw still more gorillas on horseback free themselves from the confines of the crowd.

 

If he couldn’t shake those damned gorillas soon, he was dead.

 

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

 

 

Burke ran back up the street they’d came down a lifetime ago, the sound of the crowd fading behind. Two gorillas ran after him some distance away, dark leather uniforms gleaming dully. The faint sound of gunfire came from Commerce Plaza and he pulled up short and listened, heart sinking at the implication. One of the pursuing gorillas pulled a pistol from its holster and fired. Rage flooded through Burke at the sight - a rage born of the shame he felt, abandoning his friends. But he’d had no choice.

 

Yeah, tell that to his conscience.

 

He turned and ran again, barely catching sight of two gorillas appearing far back of the two already pursuing. They were astride horses. He broke into a flat-out sprint, ignoring the startled citizens of the city, ignoring their outcries, taking every turn, cutting around the backs of buildings and avoiding the piles of garbage awaiting disposal at the end of the day.  Sweat ran in rivulets down his face and body. His dark hair hung in damp waves. He was horribly thirsty, and against his will felt himself slowing. Looking back, he was relieved to see no sign of his pursuers. Ducking around the next corner, he slowed to a walk, trying to blend in with the human servants walking behind ape masters. He scanned the street and determined that he’d somehow made his way back to the university area where he, Alan and Galen had done their best to convince Pergis of the danger he was in. Was that only this morning?

 

He was tired and frightened, but anger simmered just beneath the surface. Since Liska’s death it had been a constant, low-grade buzz in his head. Such was its depth that he no longer remembered how he felt without it. It seemed important to keep up a charade, to protect his friends from the depth of his fear, his anger, his failures, so he worked hard to be his old flippant self.  He made jokes, he laughed. He acted his usual sarcastic self. They thought he was feeling better, except for the heightened bursts of temper.

 

As many things faded in importance, so his friends became more important. He thought he knew how to make things right for them all. He would retrieve the disk for Alan, and give him back what had been taken from him - hope. His dreams of reunion with his wife and son. 

 

The one thing his friends wanted that he couldn’t give them was himself as he was before. So he pretended, understanding that his old self could not exist until he rid himself of the anger and guilt. If then.

 

What he needed was retribution. He awaited the opportunity.

 

The sound of hooves came to him, growing steadily louder. A mounted gorilla.

 

He found his anger useful now - it goaded him, gave him the strength to run again. He barreled around a corner. Rickety wooden booths with assorted wares and food were set up in rows in front of the rounded stone buildings of a small market square, catering to the university crowd.  Most of the booths were attended by humans, selling the wares of their ape masters. The area was strangely empty, Burke guessed because of the protest.

 

Hoof beats clattered noisily behind him and fear rose up in his throat. Running down the row of booths, he flung himself abruptly behind one as the gorilla came around the corner. The startled humans attending the booth scattered and Pete knelt, trying to calm his breath and think what to do next.

 

He listened as the horse slowed to a walk, hooves echoing against stone. "Where is he?" came the graveled voice of the gorilla, bludgeoning the near quiet. Pete heard the distinct clunk as the gorilla chambered a round. His heart raced, and he tried to quiet his breathing as he sucked air into his lungs. He couldn’t get enough air. The gorilla was very close.

 

The rifle roared and someone screamed in agony. Another voice wailed, and continued its eerie sound as the rifle boomed again, deafening Burke.  The roof of the booth that protected him exploded, and he flinched and hunkered down into a tight ball. Panic struggled to overtake him, and his breath accelerated harshly. Burke scanned the surrounding area and got ready to make a run. Frankly he didn’t think he’d make cover before the gorilla shot him in the back, but he didn’t know what else to do. After the first shot he knew there was very little time until the ape cavalry arrived - so to speak. 

 

Again the rifle fired. He buried his head in his arms, protecting his face as the rest of the booth disintegrated into chunks of wood. The bullet tore through the air next to his bowed head.  

 

He was completely unprotected now. The booth was in pieces. Pete blinked as particles flew upon the air and pushed himself slowly to a crouching position. The gorilla sat astride his horse, brutish face smirking, enjoying the sport.  

 

Pete surveyed his surroundings, eyes stopping at the sight of a woman lying a yard or so in front of where the booth had been. Her arms were flung out towards him and her rough dress was hitched high upon her thighs. Fear and pain rested on her face and she looked at him, sightless eyes begging for help. The bullet had hit her in the chest. His sorrow was immediate and immense.

 

The gorilla put his rifle away, yanking his pistol from its holster. Taking his time, he sighted down the barrel and fired as Burke threw himself to one side. He hit the ground rolling, grabbing at a sizable chunk of wood from the remains of the booth. He flung himself behind the next booth over as the gorilla fired again and again.  

 

They’d killed another person trying to capture him. She’d been too close. That was all. She was in the way, she was human… she was expendable.

 

Anger bolted through him, electrifying, singing in his blood. He hefted the chunk of wood in his hand and stood, grinning at the ape. The ape hooted and hopped up and down in his saddle, frenzied. As Pete feinted to the right, the gorilla fired repeatedly, correcting his aim with each shot. Pete flung the wood, and the heavy chunk slammed solidly into the gorilla’s hand. He roared in pain as the gun fell from his fingers to the ground below. Pete ran towards it. 

 

The ape dismounted, reaching for the gun, and Pete launched himself at the gorilla, crashing feet first into his ribs.  The ape fell, flinging his arm out and gripping a handful of Pete’s shirt with great strength, pulling him abruptly down to earth. Pete’s skull crashed into stone. He heard a loud thud in his head, and immediately his ears began a loud high ringing. The world went white, then gray around the edges, and he rolled over, curling helplessly into himself.

 

The gorilla laughed, and the laugh ended abruptly in a deep cough. Grimacing at the sudden sharp pain in his ribs, he fell back. 

 

Struggling, Pete sat up. He cried out at the pain and retched miserably, head pounding in great pulsing waves. From the corner of his eye, he looked over at the gorilla. He couldn’t seem to sit upright. Probably broke a few ribs.  Spying the gun on the ground, Pete crawled over to it. He picked it up. He put both hands to his head, trying to keep it from exploding, gun still in hand.

 

The next time he looked up the ape was towering over him, reaching for the gun. Burke jerked it back and looked into the gorilla’s eyes.

 

"Bastard," he whispered. He thrust the gun into the gorilla’s face and pulled the trigger. At the loud report of the gun, he moaned in pain, dropping it.

 

He pulled himself upright and started walking, listening for the sound of horses approaching as he headed behind the nearest building. He heard only silence. No one tried to stop him. Evidently the witnesses - most of them human - had decided to let the militia handle the situation.  He risked a look back and saw a few spectators gathering where the fallen gorilla lay.

 

Once behind the building, he crouched over a pile of garbage and threw up, eyes watering at the jarring upheavals. His head pounded sickeningly. Finally he was able to stand again. He shuffled off, making an effort to straighten and appear normal. Normal, that’s me, he thought. He risked crossing another street and rounded the back of a building there.

 

Ah, there they were. What he’d been waiting for. Hoof beats. They seemed to boom down a long dark tunnel towards him.

 

Part of him understood the game was almost up, but stubbornness kept him to his feet. He kept wanting to laugh. Laugh at the possibility of normal old Pete shuffling away with his head in two pieces, surely, escaping the clutches of the gorillas because the shocked citizenry were too afraid to restrain him until the cavalry arrived.  Hell, a toddler with a squirt gun could have taken him out.

 

At the sight of three gorillas at the end of the alleyway, Burke pulled back clumsily along the side of the nearest building and ducked. He lost his balance and fell to his knees. Another bolt of pain lanced his head at the impact. The gorillas looked down the street briefly and moved on. 

 

Can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man, he thought hazily. He kept moving, headed for the protesters’ meeting place of this morning. He couldn’t think of anywhere else to go. Hoof beats came close by with some regularity. His head pulsed in great waves. 

 

Burke took a deep breath and headed out over the road crossing the alleyway. More and more pedestrians walked around him, most hurrying towards the area where the shots had been fired. 

Then someone grabbed his arm, and the world stopped. He turned to see who held him.

 

It was Pergis. With another chimpanzee. "Well, don’t stand there. You’re drawing attention to us," hissed the stranger. 

 

Burke released his breath in a whoosh. He started walking again. "I’m going in front now. Try to follow closely - like a servant," Pergis said in a low voice.

 

The other chimpanzee added, "Don’t stagger about. It’s your life we’re trying to save."

 

Burke’s lips tightened. "Yes, sir," he muttered. "And just who the hell are you?"

 

"Shh," Pergis cautioned.

 

On the journey to the abandoned university building, his goal became simply to take another step. Another. Another. Twice, following the chimps closely and with his head down, he walked right by soldiers on horseback. He walked through random waves of dizziness. The biggest challenge was not to fall.

 

Once the strange chimpanzee grasped his arm, whispering something about the cause. Do it for the cause. Burke wanted to hit him. Easy there, he told himself. You’ve filled your quota. Again he resisted the urge to laugh. It would hurt like hell if he did.

 

He almost fell through the door when they arrived at their destination after what seemed hours, but was surely only minutes. Someone lowered him to the floor. He heard and felt no more until his dreams led him, over and over, to the vision of the ape's face exploding as he shot him point-blank.  Sometimes it was Galen's face.

 

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

 

Burke opened his eyes to near-darkness, briefly surfacing from what seemed a deep tunnel. He didn’t want to think or feel and so he sank, retreating. "The rest will arrive very soon, now," he heard the chimpanzee who’d earlier accompanied Pergis comment.  The rest of them? The question formed in his thoughts, then faded. But the voices were persistent and allowed no peace. "Pergis, vengeance is yours on this night. Urko’s brute force will not be felt by our kind again. Or his," added the chimpanzee. Burke cracked his eye open to see the chimpanzee gesturing at him. For a moment longer, he closed his eyes against the things he did not want to face.

 

He sighed and gingerly pulled himself upright, nausea dogging him.

 

Pergis handed him a canteen. "I was beginning to wonder if you were going to wake up. We brought water for you,” he said, and passed it to Burke, who took tentative sips. Nausea or not, his thirst was all consuming. "Not too much, or we’ll both be sorry," he added, dryly.

 

"You sound like Galen," Burke said, wiping his mouth. He turned carefully to him, wanting to see his face in the dim light. "Do you know if he’s okay?" The silence stretched out. "What did he mean… vengeance?" he continued, jerking his thumb at the other chimp. Pergis looked down unhappily. "Will you just say something!" Pete yelled, and squeezed his eyes shut as the dull booming in his head intensified to a sharp pain.  

 

"Galen is dead,” the other chimp said. 

 

 "I didn’t see it," added Pergis. "Malachi here, he saw it." He looked sadly at Burke.

 

"No," said Burke fiercely.  "I don’t believe it." He would not believe it. He couldn’t.

 

Malachi shrugged. "Believe whatever you want. But tonight we’ll make Urko pay for Galen’s death."

 

Burke looked at Pergis beside him. "What’s he talking about?"

 

Pergis looked calmly at him. "He’s talking about what we’re going to do. We’re going to burn him out. Same as he did the humans."

 

Pete scrambled to his feet, swaying.  The alarmed chimpanzees rose with him. Pergis reached out to him and irritably Burke waved him away. "I’m okay, I’m okay."

 

"What are you doing?" asked Malachi, impatient.

 

Burke glared at him. "I’m going after Virdon."

 

"You’re in no shape to look for him," Pergis protested.

 

"Hopefully I won’t have to."

 

"Explain yourself," said Malachi, looking annoyed.

 

"We agreed on a meeting place if separated. I’m hoping he’s there." Malachi obstructed his path. "Get this guy out of my way, before I move him," Burke said to Pergis.

 

Malachi laughed unexpectedly. "Touchy, aren’t we?"

 

"Like I said before.. who the hell are you?"

 

"I am Pergis’s friend and council in this war against ignorance."

 

Burke paused a moment. "Council, huh." He rubbed his forehead wearily and looked at Malachi. "Something tells me you have a lot to learn."

 

Malachi threw him an irritated glance. "We’ll see."

 

"I’ll send one of our group to your meeting place for Virdon. Just tell me where it is," Pergis interrupted. Burke nodded. Some of Pergis’s supporters began to come through the door. They stared at Burke, who ignored them.

 

Burke focused on Pergis. "What do you hope to accomplish with this? Are you crazy?"

 

Malachi said, "You’re the one that killed a gorilla."

 

Burke froze. He stared at Malachi, eyes flat.

 

"And a gorilla killed my cousin." Pergis spoke up. "Galen was his friend, Malachi."

 

"Galen is my friend," Burke replied, eyes still on Malachi, who looked away. After a long, silent moment Burke turned to Pergis and put his hand up in a stopping motion. "Okay, okay. Tell me how you hope to accomplish this? Urko has guards surrounding his house."

 

"There is all of us, and more still coming," said Malachi, waving at the filling room. "We will overcome the guards."

 

"They’re trained soldiers!" snapped Burke. "Carrying weapons. The only thing you know how to carry are books."

 

"Maybe. But we’re going," Pergis said.

 

"Fine. So am I."

 

"You! You’re a liability. You can barely stand," Malachi stated.

 

"He can go," said Pergis. He looked at Malachi evenly.

 

Malachi shrugged. "Very well. Stay out of our way."

 

Burke stared at Malachi, lips in a tight line. "No, you make damned sure you’re not in my way.  Got it?" He turned to Pergis. "I can help and God knows you need it. In return, you allow me to question Urko before you do anything else." Pergis raised his brows at Burke questioningly. "I need to find out what happened to Virdon if he’s not at our meeting site. And I want that flight disk."

 

"Urko has it?" asked Pergis.

 

"You know about it?"

 

Pergis nodded to Pete. "Galen told me."

 

 Pete’s throat tightened at the mention of Galen’s name. "Urko took it from where I… left it, in Chandar,” he said.  He watched Pergis’s face as realization dawned.

 

"It was you… you started this."

 

Burke looked at him, expressionless. "Yes."

 

Pergis watched Burke’s face for a moment, then nodded in understanding. He took a step closer and rapped his knuckles lightly on Pete’s chest before turning away to address his compatriots.  

 

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

 

Galen stared at the ceiling. He was lying on a primitive bunk inside the jail. He’d been there for hours. At first he’d slept. When he woke, the blood from his scalp had dried and crusted. It clung to his neck and head. It itched. He tried to clean it off as best he could. His head hurt and he felt weak. After a while he gave up and lay down, motionless, worrying. What had happened to his friends? He tried to think what to do next.

 

The cell darkened as the day faded. Outside the door, torches were lit. He sat up as a taciturn gorilla brought him his dinner. He stirred the unappetizing mess around on his plate dispiritedly before setting it aside.

 

The door opened again, and Zaius stepped inside, followed by Urko. Galen rose, watching them apprehensively. He tried to appear calm.

 

"Your friend Burke killed one of my soldiers," Urko stated bluntly.

 

Galen stared at him, shocked. He sank slowly down on the bunk. Too late, he tried to hide his reaction. Urko laughed. 

 

"Surely you knew he was capable. As are most humans," Zaius remarked.

 

"Why tell me this... this lie?" asked Galen. His heart beat rapidly. He realized he was afraid.

 

"Truth, Galen. I want you to face the truth about the animals you call friends. They are more than capable of murder without remorse," said Zaius.

 

"Martial law has been imposed. A new day has begun. Humans will no longer be allowed the liberties they’ve become accustomed to. Curfews are imposed... servants accompanied by their masters at all times... or locked up. Human villages, overrun with apes," Urko said with great satisfaction. "Orders have changed. Your friends will be shot on sight." He watched Galen closely as he said it.

 

"So you haven’t caught them," said Galen.

 

Zaius ignored him. "I have no choice. I had hoped to learn more about them. Why they came here. What they want. I had hoped to stop the arrival of others of their kind. But I can no longer justify my position."

 

Urko added, "My soldier was shot directly in the face. At close range."

 

Galen winced and looked down at his hands, saying in a low voice, "Burke is not a killer."

 

"You must face the truth before it is too late. I don’t tell you this to trick you - I tell you to save yourself," Zaius replied.

 

Galen’s nose twitched. He watched the expression on the orangutan’s face. Deliberately he asked, "And how would I save myself, Zaius?"

 

"Stand with me. Renounce the astronauts. Help me to persuade the dissidents at the university that the fall of mankind was of their own doing. That their violent, unstable tendencies came very near to destroying this planet. They’ll listen to you," Zaius said, and paused. "In return, I will spare your life." His pale eyes studied Galen.

 

"And what does Urko think of your plan?" asked Galen, gesturing. Urko glared, not bothering to disguise his contempt for the chimpanzee.

 

"He will abide by it," replied Zaius firmly.

 

There was a long moment of silence as Galen turned to stare at each of apes, considering his response. 

 

"What do I need to do?" he asked at last.

 

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

 

"From what I know of chimps, fighters you ain’t. Are you willing to let me help you, Pergis?" asked Burke quietly. He’d just returned from scoping out the guards around Urko’s house. Six apes surrounded him in the darkness, listening. There’d been more followers initially, but at Burke’s advice, Pergis had sent some of the students back to their homes.

 

Burke ignored Malachi’s glare as Pergis nodded, agreeing. "We’ve got to get moving - there are too many of us to be easily concealed. First, I want a couple of your cohorts here to stay outside as lookouts for Alan, okay? Second, from what I see, Urko has two guards here - front and back of the house. I want the rest of you to come with me. You’ll be in hiding until Malachi and I overcome the first guard in the back. There’s no sense in all of us getting caught if we don’t make it in. Okay with you so far, Pergis?" Once again, Pergis nodded. Burke, Malachi and two others followed Burke, leaving two chimps to conceal themselves and watch for Virdon or anyone else that approached. 

 

Burke snuck noiselessly towards the back of the house in a wide arc, followed by the four students. They stopped a safe distance away from the guard stationed in back of the house and hunkered down behind a large bush. He and Malachi moved forward in the dark.

 

Burke didn’t like Malachi but he felt comfortable with him for what they were about to do. His gut told him that Malachi was probably as vicious as any chimpanzee he’d ever met. That quality could prove useful here. If the chimp would listen to him.

 

The two crawled as close as they dared to the brawny guard, who paced in a small area to the left of the residence. Burke threw a small rock. The startled gorilla raised his rifle and strode quickly in the direction of the sound. So far, so good. Before Burke could do anything else, Malachi broke cover and ran at a crouch to the gorilla, hitting him powerfully over the head from behind with his two interlocked fists. The gorilla went down with a small, surprised grunt. Malachi unholstered the gorilla’s gun and picked it up. Agitated that the chimpanzee hadn’t awaited his signal before acting, Burke realized nevertheless that his instincts had been good. Keeping his thoughts to himself, Pete ran to a darkened window cut through the thick stone wall in the back of the house and grimly ignored the pulsing pain in his head brought on by his short run.  

 

He pulled himself in and dropped carefully to the ground in what appeared to be an office. Before him sat a stone desk, bare of ornamentation. As expected, the darkened room was deserted, and he waved out the window at Malachi, who in turn waved the three remaining chimps in from the bushes. Soon Pergis and the others dropped through the window to join Burke. Taking Malachi with him Burke went quietly from room to room in the house. At each doorway, Burke’s anxiety notched higher. Would he soon be face to face with Urko?

 

He stopped short at the living room, motioning Malachi to a halt. Two rugs decorated the floor, and potted plants were scattered throughout. A female gorilla sat quietly, sewing, facing an unlit fireplace. A few candles gave the room a subdued, warm light.

 

Urko’s wife, Elta. She was small for a gorilla, and her fur was an unusual light brown. She wore a relaxed expression as she bent to her task. Realizing Elta was the only ape present in the home, Burke swallowed his keen disappointment. How was he going to find the disk - and Galen? His face tightened as he watched her. He didn’t like what he had to do next. 

 

He stepped swiftly out of the shadows and threw an arm around her shoulders, wrapping his long fingers over her mouth. Her shriek was muffled by his hand as she struggled against him.  Burke jerked, startled, at the sound of a gun being cocked. Turning his head, he saw Malachi aiming the guard’s pistol at Elta. Elta immediately quieted, eyes wide above Burke’s hand. Burke glared at Malachi. "We’re not going to hurt you," he said in a low voice, trying to sound reassuring - a useless effort, considering the situation. Guilt, his constant companion of late, tightened his chest at Elta’s terrified expression. Malachi watched them coldly, and Burke said, conversationally, "Stop aiming that thing at us unless you want me to stick it up your ass." 

 

Malachi’s hand tightened on the gun, and his eyes narrowed. "That’s not too smart, is it? When I have a gun in my hand. It’s hard to believe that your kind once ruled the planet."

 

"I don’t think you do believe it. So why are you here? You’re not fooling me, Malachi. You don’t believe in the equality of apes and man. Level with me. We had men just like you, back home. Mercenaries. Violence excited them. Only they were monsters made by necessity, more often than not… unlike you."

 

Pergis and the two other chimps entered the room. "Put the gun down, Malachi," Pergis exclaimed.  He said, facing Elta, "You’re Urko’s wife, aren’t you? I’m sure she’ll cooperate without you waving that in her face."

 

Reluctantly Malachi lowered the weapon. Burke said, "Where did you get this guy, Pergis? He’s nothing but trouble. And Urko’s not here." He pointed to one of the two chimps and continued, "Could you search the office for the flight disk?" The chimp gave him a puzzled look and he answered patiently. "It’s a small round metallic object… shiny. You’ve never seen anything like it before - it’ll jump out at you if you see it."

 

At Pergis’s nod, the chimp retreated to the study. Burke spoke again. "Let’s go take care of the guard out front. What’s your name?" he motioned at the other chimp. "Trahern? Okay, Trahern, you go down the hall, there, through the front door and say something to the guard. Anything. Divert him. Be prepared to get back in here fast. Give us a minute or two first. We’ll come from around back and grab him."

 

Trahern stared at Burke, scared. "If you’d rather I did…" Pergis offered.

 

"No, no… I can do it. I trust you," Trahern murmured, looking at Pergis. Pergis nodded, and he and Burke found the back door and unlocked it, stepping back out into the darkness. They crept around the side of the building, following the rough stone with their fingertips, and waited, peering out from behind the corner.

 

The guard turned as the soft yellow candlelight flooded the area in front of the door Trahern opened from inside. Startled to see the strange chimpanzee, the soldier pulled his gun from its holster and waved it at Trahern, demanding his identity. Quietly, Pergis ran up behind him and grabbed the guard from behind, throttling him with powerful hands.  Trahern quickly stepped aside and grabbed the gorilla’s gun. The guard made a gargling noise, pulling feebly at the hands choking him. In moments, he slumped to the ground. Pergis and Burke pulled him inside and down the candlelit hall into the living room, followed by Trahern. Elta’s mouth trembled at the sight of the gorilla’s body. Pergis began to tie him securely.

 

Burke watched Pergis as the chimp they’d sent to search the study stepped back into the room to report. "I couldn’t find the disk." Damn it, Burke thought. The odds had been against him, anyway…. Zaius could have it. Or it could be at Urko’s or Zaius’s office in Central City.

 

"You and Trahern bring in the other gorilla guard from out back, before he wakes up," said Pergis to the chimp, keeping his head down. Trahern and the other chimpanzee glanced at each other, then left the room. Pergis avoided Burke’s gaze.

 

"You okay?" asked Burke, brow raised.

 

"I’ve never hurt anyone before. Not on purpose. I hate it." Pergis looked at Burke, half-ashamed.

 

"That’s a good thing, Pergis," Pete said softly, clapping him on the back. "But just what the hell are you doing here, then?"

 

"Urko is dangerous. He’s a murderer. He’s responsible for Galen’s death. Someone has to show our citizens how deadly he is."

 

"You think this is the way? If you do, you’d better be prepared for the consequences. You’re no longer a pacifist... willing or not. What you’re doing sounds more like vengeance to me," said Burke. Vengeance...why was that ringing a bell?

 

"I don’t know a right way."

 

"Pergis… you weren’t planning on harming anyone, were you?"

 

"Aside from the guards, you mean," he said, looking aggrieved. "No, no… that would make me no better than Urko, would it?"

 

"They’ll put you in jail for this. Or worse."

 

"If they find me."

 

Burke was silent, considering. Something nagged at the back of his mind. Something important…and then, suddenly, a voice floated to him from his memories: "Pergis, vengeance is yours on this night. Urko’s brute force will not be felt by our kind again. Or his."

 

Burke turned to look at Malachi, keeping a close watch on Elta. His eyes widened. "You son of a bitch," he said softly.  Malachi turned his head to Burke, startled. "You’re going to kill Urko, aren’t you? You planned it all along."

 

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

 

Urko paused before mounting his horse, turning to Zaius in the torch-lit courtyard of the jail.  “You really believe you can use Galen to stop the protests,” Urko said, disbelief weighing his tone.  

 

“Think, Urko. Even now the city is reeling from the news that one of the ‘astro-nauts’ has killed an ape. It won’t be necessary for the Council to address the claims of the dissidents. Galen will do it for us. By renouncing his human companions, he rejects the very foundation of the protester’s beliefs.” Zaius shrugged. “All we need do is retrieve the stolen book. As long as we proceed with wisdom and restraint, the High Council will stand by our actions.”

 

“After what happened at the market square today, the citizens will no longer question my handling of Chandar.  And we’ll have total control over the human population.” Urko climbed astride his horse and smiled down at Zaius.

 

“Indeed, Urko, you will be commended for your foresight. The irony is that your fortunes have reversed themselves in no small part due to Burke’s actions today,” said the elderly orangutan, a glint in his eye.

 

Urko barked a laugh. “Yes… I’ll be sure to ‘thank him’ very soon. In the meantime, we’ll watch Galen carefully as he plays his part,” Urko said, and paused. “I’ll just have to make sure he understands what is at stake. Then, when he’s fulfilled his bargain with us… I’ll kill him.” His horse took a few steps away before Urko paused, reining in his horse. “Didn’t I tell you today is a fine day, Zaius?” he added, pleasure evident on his face. He urged his horse forward, leaving Zaius to stand alone in the courtyard.

 

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

 

Galen stopped pacing and listened, astonished, to the unmistakable voices of his parents outside of the cell door.

 

“The prisoner is allowed no visitors,” said the guard.

 

“But Galen is my son. He’s been hurt. Surely you can understand I must see him,” said Ann.

 

“I have my orders.”

 

“As a member of the High Council, I can promise you dismissal from your post if you keep me from seeing my son,” Yalu’s abrasive voice threatened. There was silence for a moment and then his father’s voice, just outside the door: “Guard! The key! What are you waiting for?” Galen heard the key turning in the lock and Galen’s parents stepped inside the cell, followed by none other than Gathor. 

 

How did you ever get the guard to change his mind?” asked Galen, hugging both his parents quickly. He patted Ann’s hand absent-mindedly and stared at Gathor as his mother clucked over his injury. Gathor’s face grew pale as he stared miserably at Galen’s wound.  

 

“I pushed him aside. He didn’t dare push back.” said Yalu, determination in his eyes. Galen’s gaze went to his father, and he couldn’t help but laugh.

 

“Gathor told us of your injury. I told your father we were coming in if Urko himself blocked our way,” added Ann, a glint in her eyes.

 

Galen shook his head. “Did Gathor tell you….anything else?” he began.

 

“What?” asked Yalu.

 

“I was the ape who caused the rifle to fire. It’s all my fault.” His eyes met those of Galen’s parents, shame-faced.

 

Yalu’s voice rose. “You tell us our son is shot, but fail to inform us that you are responsible for the injury?”

 

“Galen… I never meant it to happen. I had to come. To tell you how sorry I am,” said the young chimp, head bowed.

 

Galen studied Gathor, then nodded as he made up his mind. “Well, it was an accident, I suppose. And you’re actually quite brave to come here with my father, then confess in front of him.”

 

“Oh? That’s not exactly how I would describe it,” said Ann dryly. Gathor lifted his head and looked at Ann.

 

“She means you’re insane, of course,” Galen confided, leaning towards Gathor and crinkling his muzzle kindly at him. He turned to face his mother and winced as pain lanced his scalp. “Zaius has offered me… a deal,” he said, voice heavy with irony.

 

Ann sat down upon the narrow bunk and patted it, inviting Galen to sit.

 

“What does he have in mind?” asked Yalu.

 

“He means to use me against my cousin and his group. He wants me to renounce my… my friendship with Alan and Pete. To tell the students that I was wrong to trust humans. Of course I won’t do that. Do you believe,” said Galen, looking down, “they tried to tell me that Burke killed an ape?”

 

“Galen. A soldier was killed today in the city,” said Yalu, voice purposely neutral.

 

“That doesn’t mean Burke had anything to do with it! It’s another of Urko’s tricks.  Anything could have happened - the city’s in an uproar over the demonstrations,” Galen said vehemently, pushing aside the sudden memory of Burke jamming the rifle muzzle into the gorilla’s throat. “Urko wants total control of the human population, and this lie gives it to him.”

 

“Galen,” said Ann, casting a look at her husband, “I won’t accuse Burke. I can’t imagine… although I must tell you that he was very disturbed last night.”

 

“Another dream?” Galen sighed at his mother’s nod.

 

“Well.. that, and other things,” Ann said. Galen glanced at her quizzically, but she said no more.

 

“I have a plan,” said her son. “Zaius wants me to talk to the protesters. I will. Pergis has to understand the terrible suffering the people will endure if the changes Urko and Zaius threaten come to pass. Pergis can bargain for their rights. Zaius is desperate to stop the dissension before it goes any farther. If Pergis will agree to stop the protests, and hand over the stolen book to Zaius, I think he might agree to leave the humans alone. I’m not sure how much freedom I’ll be allowed in speaking to Pergis…” Galen added, musing.

 

Yalu snorted. “Not much.”

 

“Will you help me? Persuade Pergis that this is the only way to help the humans. Otherwise, Urko will destroy them.” He looked at his parents, then focused on Gathor. “This is a way to make up for what happened today, Gathor. You and the others will only hurt the humans if you continue. Help me make good come of the bad.”

 

The silence weighed heavily before Yalu finally spoke. “Are you sure Burke did not do this murder?”

 

“I know him, Father,” Galen said, looking him soberly in the eyes.

 

Yalu nodded, resigned. “I still think you’re making a mistake. You can’t predict what a human is capable of doing.”

 

“Father… those men are my friends. I know them.”

 

“I hope you’re right,” Yalu said, standing.

 

Ann gave her son’s hand a final pat, then joined Yalu. “Coming, Gathor?”

 

“I’d like to stay awhile, if you don’t mind.”

 

“I am rather tired, Gathor,” Galen replied. He sighed as transparent misery chased across Gathor’s features.  “All right, all right. It’s fine. You can stay.”

 

“I won’t stay long, Galen. I promise,” said Gathor.

 

“Son… try to stay out of trouble, will you?” said Yalu.

 

“I wouldn’t worry about it if it were anyone else, seeing as you are in jail, but….” Ann trailed off.  

 

Galen smiled. “Don’t worry. What could happen, after all?”

 

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

 

“Don’t tell me you don’t want Urko dead, Burke,” Malachi said evenly. He took a step towards Elta.

 

 “I do. I did…. “ Burke shook his head. For a moment, the number of apes in the room doubled before his eyes.

 

“It’s too late to turn back. After what you did to that gorilla today.”

 

“It’s called self-defense, Malachi. What’s your excuse?” Burke flared, looking into Malachi’s malevolent face.

 

“I was there, Burke. Pergis and I arrived in time to see it. There was nothing we could do for you until after you’d fled the scene…. Are you sure it was self-defense?”

 

Burke watched Malachi, eyes narrowing. “I repeat… what’s your excuse?”

 

Malachi shrugged. “Urko has committed numerous crimes, has he not? All while operating under the sanctity of the law.” He paused. “Are you forgetting how much he wants you dead?” He sidled still closer to Elta. A flash of loathing appeared on her face as she stared back and forth between the two.

 

“Get away from her, Malachi,” Burke said.

 

“Or what? It’s true I would be petrified of you, knowing how casually you kill, if it weren’t for this weapon….”

 

“That makes you a big ma…. ape, does it?”

 

Pergis stepped forward. “Malachi, enough. Give me the gun.”

 

Malachi laughed. “Pergis, you are a good ape… I’m sorry you had to be involved.”

 

“Involved in what?” asked Pergis softly.

 

“Everything just fell into place, Pergis. Do you believe that? I did nothing… or almost nothing. Your convictions led you to this path. I merely nudged you along.”

 

“Look, just tell us what you want, Malachi. Why are you here?” Pete asked.

 

“I’m here to kill Urko. Just as you said,” Malachi replied. His eyes were like black stones. Burke stared at him. He wanted Urko dead, too… but much of the anger he carried had vanished in a cold white fog after he’d killed the guard. He was numb.

 

Did he really want to come into Urko’s home and kill him - in cold blood? His head throbbed unceasingly, confusing him further. He put a hand on the back of his neck, trying to think. He must be crazy.  He looked at Elta, and felt a stab of remorse. He hated Urko for what he’d done to Liska…. a voice inside his head added, whispering, and to Alan… to yourself. For what had happened between the three friends as a result.

 

C’mon, Pete, you did that all on your own, he thought. Nobody helped. How far are you willing to go?

 

It’s too late, whispered the voice. You can’t go back. He squeezed his eyes shut briefly. “It’s a wonder you didn’t die, lying in our hide-out… but you’re tenacious, I’ll give you that.” Pete almost thought it was the voice in his head still speaking. But it was Malachi, and his voice brought anger seeping back.

 

Trahern and the other chimp dragged the motionless body of the gorilla guard into the room and laid him in the corner. “I hope he’ll be all right…” murmured Trahern.

 

Burke knelt down to him and examined him. “He’s out cold, but he’s breathing just fine. He’ll be okay,” he said, and stood.

 

Malachi laughed. “Such concern! For a gorilla, no less.”

 

“Everyone here knows what Burke did today. I told them exactly what happened… exactly as I saw it. They know what the soldiers are like. They made their choice,” Pergis said firmly.

 

“Everyone knows but me,” said Elta. Heads swiveled in surprise at her voice. “You come in my home, you threaten my life, and my husband’s… yet I know nothing of why you are here. Why you would do this.”

 

“Surely you know enough of your husband’s activities to know why this is possible,” Pergis replied.

 

“He is a leader. He does what must be done. What others are afraid to do,” she said, steel in her voice.

 

“He’s a murderer! He killed Pergis’s cousin,” cried Trahern.

 

“We must be protected… sometimes, even from others amongst us,” said Elta. 

 

“Urko’s wife admits to it!” said Malachi, amused.

 

“Here in this room, yes.” She glared at the apes surrounding her. “Chimps are pacifists… so I thought.  The authority my husband carries comes with enormous responsibility. Someone must make the hard choices… the ones no one wants to make. Urko does this willingly for all apes.”

 

“I must say, I’ve never thought of Urko’s generosity of spirit before,” Malachi mused, eyes glinting.

 

“What of the murderer in your midst?” Elta cried, turning to Burke. All eyes followed.

 

She took advantage of the distraction, turning swiftly to Malachi, flinging her arm wide and hitting him in the mouth. He shrieked and brought his free hand up, almost incidentally catching her other hand in mid-air as it headed for his mid-section. Swiftly, he brought her arm around her back, pulling it upwards. She grunted as he jammed the gun into her temple.

 

“Stop this!” shouted Pergis.

 

“Pergis… didn’t you know where your resolve could take you?  To this moment? Ah, you are a good ape, Pergis, but so naïve,” said Malachi softly, attempting to cover his anger. Blood ran from the corner of his mouth. He held tightly to Elta, who threw him a look of mingled disgust and fear.

 

“Malachi! What are you doing?” Burke said loudly, drawing attention to himself.

 

“It’s strictly self-defense... Pete.” Malachi stared at him.

 

Burke stared coolly back. “Don’t get distracted. Urko could come in here any moment.”

 

“We have guards outside,” said Malachi. His hand shook as he pressed the muzzle into Elta’s temple.

 

Pete laughed derisively. “Yeah. Two little university chimps…. I mean, it’s all we’ve got, but I wouldn’t count on ‘em to stop Urko.” He regarded Malachi skeptically. “Maybe I gave you too much credit.”

 

Urko pushed the half-opened front door ajar still further and walked silently, slowly through the candle-lit hall. His pistol was drawn. He’d easily disabled those poor excuses for lookouts after realizing his soldiers were no longer at their posts. The students lay motionless where he’d taken them down.

 

He listened, disbelieving, to Burke’s voice. In his home! His chest tightened with the effort to contain himself.  He peered around the corner of the doorway. Burke’s back was to him. Urko trained his pistol upon Pete and tightened his finger on the trigger.  

 

“You don’t need to kill her, Malachi. Urko’s the one you want,” Burke said clearly.

 

Urko lowered his pistol. Carefully he peered further around the door. Elta. Elta was being held by a strange chimpanzee… a gun to her head. Burke, trying to dissuade the chimpanzee.

 

Pergis spotted him and gasped. Making up his mind, Urko stepped quietly just inside the room.  Malachi and the others froze in surprise. “Tell me what you want,” he said, commanding.

 

Malachi spoke, recovering with an effort. “Put the gun down.”

 

Urko laughed.

 

“Do you want her to die?” Malachi asked, nodding at Elta.

 

“You’re already dead… whoever you are.” Urko looked at him grimly.

 

Burke interrupted. “Malachi, stay with your objective.”

 

Malachi issued a strained laugh. “Don’t be in such a hurry, Burke. I promise I’ll kill him.” He turned to Urko. “You don’t remember me?”

 

“I don’t care who you are. Let Elta go and I won’t kill you.”

 

Malachi raised his brow. “Is that a request? I have one of my own. Try to remember… a horse race. In Parga. The prefect’s name was Mordan.”

 

“What of it!” Urko bellowed, striding closer.

 

“Stop!” said Burke, stepping in front of Urko. “I can help you,” he said, in a low voice. “I know him… what makes him tick.” Urko looked at the astronaut’s bruised face. He was full of loathing, yet he made no further move.

 

“Mordan was one of the many prefects that you bested in your horse races. You forced him to bet everything. He lost everything. Everything he owned. His wife left him. My mother. He was completely ruined.

 

And you don’t even remember,” Malachi snarled.

 

Urko shrugged. “It was inconsequential.”

 

“Are you crazy? Do you want to die, do you want her to die?” Burke demanded of Urko. “Just shut up a minute. Malachi, listen, you don’t want to do this. What has she ever done to you? It’s him, Malachi, him. Not her.”

 

“I’ll kill them both, Burke. Why do you care? I’ve gone too far. It’s too late,” Burke blinked rapidly and shook his head, regretting it almost immediately. Those words… so familiar.  “None of us can afford witnesses, if nothing else.”

 

Pergis spoke quietly. “You can’t do this.”

 

Malachi grinned. “Oh, but I can.”

 

“My husband did this to you? And your family?” asked Elta, surprising everyone.

 

“He did this to many others, Elta,” said Burke softly.

 

She glanced at him dismissively. “The ape killer. Everyone here seems to think you are justified in your actions. I would never excuse you.”

 

“I’m trying to save you, Elta. Does that count for anything?” Burke looked at her for a moment. She dropped her eyes. He turned to face Urko, waiting. Urko stared at him, then nodded reluctantly.

 

“Does Pergis mean nothing to you?” Pete asked Malachi.

 

“He was a means to an end. Ever since I came to understand who was truly responsible for my father’s death -” Malachi’s face twisted. Against all common sense, Pete felt a sudden twinge of pity.

 

“Your father is dead? There’s no one left, then,” said Pete, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “You know what I think… I think Pergis is more to you than what you claim. He’s been kind to you, been your friend. Who knows how long it’s been since anyone has been your friend, Malachi…. You owe it to Pergis to let her go. He doesn’t want Elta’s death on his conscience. She means nothing to you.”

 

Malachi stared at him intently. A hint of something sorrowful crossed his face, then was gone. He pushed Elta violently to the side. “Consider my debt paid, then.” He turned quickly to train the gun upon Urko, and at that instant Pete stepped forward and swiveled alongside Malachi, slamming his elbow directly into his stomach.  As Malachi hunched over, Burke pulled his gun from him with both hands.

 

Urko fired his gun just as Trahern grabbed his arm and the bullet hit the couch.  Urko swung his powerful arm, knocking Trahern down.

 

“I just saved your wife for you,” Burke yelled, furious, ignoring the insistent pounding of his head. He raised the pistol and aimed at Urko.

 

“You should have let me kill both of them, Burke,” said Malachi. His dark eyes were emotionless.  “You still have the chance. Take it.” He held a hand to his face where Trahern had slugged him.

 

“I saved her, do you hear me? Not you. A human saved your wife. We have minds, and a conscience, and souls… whatever your goddamned Lawgiver says to the contrary,” Pete said.

 

“You kill apes,” replied Urko flatly.

 

“And you kill humans. And apes. You’re the equal opportunity guy, when it comes to killing.”

 

“Let me show you my gratitude,” said Urko. Suddenly he swiveled to Malachi and fired. The report of the gun was loud in the room. Malachi crumpled instantly, knocking over a potted plant as he fell. Burke watched him go down, his shaking hand still tracking Urko with the gun. 

 

Malachi opened his eyes and looked painfully, reproachfully at Burke. “I told you… it’s too late. There are no second chances. You can’t save yourself, or anyone else, now.”

 

Burke walked across the room towards Urko, keeping the gun pointed at him. Sweat ran down his forehead and blurred his vision.

 

Malachi said, weakly, “You’re right to fear the humans. They’ll wrest it all away from you, Urko.  Your every fear will be realized.  We’re alike… but they’re smarter. Look at the books. They’ll be the masters and we’ll be the beasts… again.” He closed his eyes.

 

Burke heard the apes in the room mutter uneasily. He halted as he and Urko faced each other, mere feet apart, guns trained at each other.  Suddenly Urko lunged forward, knocking Burke’s arm aside, and the gun went flying. Urko grabbed his blue shirt in his fist and shook him, staring scornfully into his eyes, then pulled his arm back and slammed his weapon across Burke’s face.

 

The rhythmic pounding in his head dissolved in the face of this new, encompassing agony. He lost his balance and fell to the floor, arching helplessly upwards at the impact. A high, thin ringing assailed his ears, and over this, a woman’s voice. Liska… begging him to stay. He opened his mouth to tell her, to promise her he would, to promise her anything at all. This time she and her father would be safe.  

 

He opened his eyes, uncomprehending as Urko’s voice boomed at him from outside the deep tunnel he found himself in. The apes, the room... it all spun crazily, and he turned over, gagging.

 

Urko laughed.

 

Rage rammed up his spine at the sound. The bastard had killed her, her father. He climbed to his knees, clawing at the floor as it flip-flopped beneath him. Urko knelt down next to Pete. “Need some help, Burke?” he said in a jovial tone. Burke panted and forced himself to turn and look at Urko, saliva hanging in a thread from his mouth. “Sure…” he croaked. Urko extended his arm, grinning. Burke grabbed the proffered arm and pulled himself upwards in a swift motion, yelping involuntarily as he sent his face crashing into Urko’s.

 

He grabbed a thick, leathery chunk of skin between his teeth and bit down savagely. Urko shouted and jerked back, holding his hand over his bleeding cheek. Trahern rushed to Burke’s aide, slamming Urko’s arm down and picking up the gun as he dropped it. “Give it to me,” said Burke fiercely.  His own voice boomed at him eerily. He moaned, then shouted, heedless of the pain taking new life inside him, “Give it to me, now!” Trahern thrust the gun uncertainly into his hand. The hammering in his head resolved itself into great waves and he hung on, anger coursing through him. He rose and staggered to Urko, understanding there were no second chances for Liska and her father.

 

Malachi had been right all along. There was no turning back.

 

Pete knelt by Urko as he began to get up from the floor. He pointed the gun at Urko’s forehead. "No, no, don’t get up now," he said. He didn’t think he could get up without falling. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, thinking. "I want you to stay down. Get over there," and he motioned.

 

There was a scuffle behind him, but Burke dared not look. Then Elta’s voice, cursing the chimpanzees. "Move, Urko… now,” he said. Urko pulled himself over to the chair, staring venomously at Pete.  "Okay, Urko, that’s a good ape. Now sit up. Slowly." Urko did as directed, leaning his back against the chair. Pete placed the muzzle of the gun in under the ape’s chin, pointing directly upwards. "You move and you’re dead. Got it?" Pete grinned at Urko’s lack of response, but his eyes held no mirth. "Yeah, you got it."

 

There was a noise from deep inside his head -a droning, mechanical sound. Pete blinked, trying to focus. He knew Urko needed only an instant to finish him off, weak as he was. He was determined not to give him that instant. 

 

"Where’s Alan?"

 

Urko was silent. Pete ground the gun further up in under Urko’s chin. "Answer!" It struck a chord in him… an answer, demanded. Ah yes, his dream. The wheel. Liska. ‘Tell me who helped you…’ He gritted his teeth against the memory.

 

"My soldiers were unable to capture him," Urko said tightly, and Burke wanted to sag with relief as he watched Urko’s face. It was true. He kept his expression even with an effort.

 

"What about the disk?" There was no response. "The flight disk, Urko. What have you done with it? I’m warning you…"

 

"You’ll never find the disk without me. Not even Zaius knows its location. Are you willing to kill me without knowing where it is?" Urko said.

 

Again, the droning sound. Louder now… he frowned. Burke thought of Virdon. Then Liska, and Kabon. Galen. Poor Galen, who’d stuck his neck out for the astronauts… right into a noose. He’d been a good friend. A good ape.  He focused on Urko. "I’m willing to let go of just about everything, Urko. In fact, I think I already have… don’t you?" Urko’s eyes widened as Pete’s finger tightened on the trigger.

 

"What are you doing?" came Virdon’s voice.  Pete didn’t turn.  Virdon’s stomach fell as he caught sight of Burke’s sunken, puffy eyes, the bruises, his stranglehold grip on the gun.

 

"What the hell has happened to you… Pete… okay, okay." Alan took a deep breath and spoke firmly. "Just take it easy. Don’t do anything rash. I’m gonna get you out of here."

 

"I’ve got everything under control, Alan."

 

"You…” Alan stared at him. God. "I don’t think so, Pete."

 

"I’m going to get your flight disk back," Pete said reasonably. His head wanted to droop.

 

"Okay. We’ll get it. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it."

 

The corner of Pete’s mouth lifted as he smirked, darting a quick glance at Alan. "You think I’m crazy. It has been a rough day… you know?" he said. He grinned a little.

 

Alan stared at him and said, evenly, "I think you’re in pretty deep. I’m going to get you out, though. You’re not a killer - now give me the gun."

 

"Oh yes… he is. Your friend Burke is a murderer," said Urko.

 

"Do yourself a favor… keep quiet." Alan snapped.

 

Burke laughed, then clutched his head. "Joke’s on you, Alan."

 

Virdon knelt swiftly beside Burke and said, intent, "Stay focused if you’re going to point that thing, okay?" Burke jumped as he felt Urko move. He thrust the gun firmly and jabbed hard into flesh. "Don’t think I’ve forgotten you, buddy," Pete whispered solemnly.

 

Virdon went to Pergis. "Give me that gun,” gesturing to the gun Urko had knocked from Pete’s hand. “Better check on those guards, too… they might be coming around soon. I’ve got to get Pete out of here… I don’t think he’s going to be on his feet much longer." He turned back to Urko and Burke.

 

"Tell Virdon. Tell him what you did to my soldier," said Urko, fighting to breathe evenly as the gun pressed upwards.

 

"What’s he talking about?" Virdon asked.

 

"Yes, tell him, Burke! He killed one of my troops… in cold blood."

 

"You’re lying!" Burke shouted. "I had no choice!" Alan looked at him, shocked. For an eerie instant, Burke fell back in time, trapped in a subway station. Urko grabbed him and shook him, accused him of lying… he’d been frantic then. As now.

 

That damned noise. Like an elevator…yeah. Picking up speed. 

 

Alan knelt down, slowly, gun trained on Urko. He reached out for Burke’s gun. Pete squeezed the trigger back, increasing the tension slightly, watching Alan’s eyes. Alan looked at him, just for a moment, as though he’d never known him. As though he were a wild animal….

 

In his mind’s eye, the elevator jolted, descending. How did he get here? How had it gotten to this point? He didn’t know. Last trip down. God he was tired.

 

Alan spoke slowly, deliberately. "How much do you think you have to pay for Liska and Kabon? For me and my hopes of going home? You lost sight of what you’re fighting for, you don’t know what you’re responsible for anymore.  I don’t want this from you. I just want you to stop, before it’s too late."

 

"No second chances," Pete said quietly.

 

"Maybe. Maybe not… but don’t take it all the way. You’re in no shape to make decisions. I’m asking you not to do it."

 

"The murderer kills a killer… Galen is dead, did you know that?" said Burke, knowing in that moment that it was true. Alan’s face drained of color. He looked sick.

 

Everything slowed around him. "I’m sorry, Alan," Pete mumbled. He’d just blurted it out, and now he couldn’t take it back. 

 

Full stop, ground zero. He was still looking at Urko, but he wasn’t seeing him. Pete’s finger tensed on the trigger for the last time.

 

“Galen’s not dead.”

 

Pete froze. Alan switched his gaze to Urko, startled.

 

“Nice try,” said Burke.

 

“Hold on. Pete. I said hold it,” Alan said, eyes steely.

 

“He’s trying to save his bacon, Alan, can’t you…” started Burke, then his eyes widened as the caught sight of Malachi, motionless on the floor. He was the one who’d told the students that Galen was dead. Was it possible…?

 

“Where is Galen?” asked Burke. The gun wobbled and he ground his teeth together, concentrating.

 

“In jail,” said Urko.  His raw wound stung and throbbed where Burke had bit him. He wanted to kill him.

 

“Let me handle this,” Alan said to Pete.

 

“I can’t do that. Urko still has to answer for Liska and Kabon.”

 

“Didn’t you hear him? Galen is still alive. We’ve got to get him out and we need Urko to do it,” Alan said. He grabbed his friend’s arm and Pete looked at him blearily. “It’s too late for Liska and Kabon. Not Galen.” Burke looked at Alan, undecided. “Pete… consider it an order.”

 

Burke’s mouth twitched. “”Do they have colonels in Hell?”

 

“Somebody’s got to keep an eye on you.” Alan trained his gun on Urko. “Pergis… help him. It’s my show now.” Pergis bent over Burke, but Burke waved him back.

 

“ Al.. the disk.” For a bare instant, Alan looked startled. Pete scratched his jaw, feigning nonchalance, and eyed Alan. “Don’t make me have to come back here.”

 

Jesus. Alan shook his head, staring back at Pete. He didn’t know who was crazier at this point.  “Where is it, Urko? No more games.”

 

Urko looked at him. “It’s in my office… in the city.” His voice blustered, as always. Alan watched him a moment, eyes narrowed. “Get up,” Alan directed. He searched Urko carefully.

 

He found it in its leather pouch around the gorilla’s waist. Alan pulled the flight disk from the pouch, surveying it. It shone dully in the candlelight. He turned to meet Urko’s dark, emotionless gaze.

 

“Time to get Galen,” Alan said.

 

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

 

Alan peered into the torchlit shadows of the jail courtyard. The muzzle of the gun he carried pressed into Urko’s leather-clad back. Just behind him awaited Trahern, Pergis and Pete, spread along the outside wall. Trahern had half-dragged Pete to get him this far. Alan watched as his friend rested wearily against the wall, leaning into it as if he wished it would recline back beneath him. It was obvious to Alan that Pete has sustained a head injury - how serious was difficult to tell. He seemed fairly coherent in the few quick exchanges they’d had, yet Alan had seen him keep his head aright with an effort, and he didn’t like the dull look of his eyes. They’d need a place to hole up in, or they’d carry him out of the city on their backs. Whatever it took.

 

The cicadas chirped in the heavy silence. Alan glanced up at the half-moon. A figure was framed in the light of the jail doorway for an instant. As the door closed, the observers beheld a young ape, clad in dark clothes. He moved slowly, hanging his head, seemingly lost in thought. “Gathor!” Pergis whispered, looking from behind Alan into the courtyard. “What is he doing here?”

 

“He one of yours?” said Alan, watching intently.

 

“Yes… he’s also the reason Galen got shot. Accidentally, of course,” said Pergis dryly.

 

“Of course,” Alan muttered. The torchlight gleamed dully on his blond hair, and a slight breeze brought welcome relief. He was too focused to engage in small talk. “Why is he here?” He nodded to Pergis. “Ask him.”

 

Pergis eyed Virdon, narrow forehead puckering. “Humans from your time have a talent for telling others what to do,” he said, twitching his nose.  He waited until Gathor stepped out from the courtyard into the darkened surroundings and then stepped forward.

 

“Pergis?” said Gathor, looking with astonishment at the group of men and apes. “Urko! By the Lawgiver!”

 

“What are you doing here, Gathor?” asked Pergis, face pale in the dim light.

 

“I came to Galen, to apologize and offer my help.” He glanced at Urko and then drew Pergis aside. “I tried to plan a rescue. He’d hear nothing of it,” he added, chagrined. “I wish there was something I could do that would show him how sincerely sorry I am.” His eyes locked onto Urko’s dark countenance as he and Pergis turned back. “Why do you bring Urko with you?”

 

“We’ve come to get Galen. Go home,” said Alan tersely, nudging Urko forward with the gun. Urko grimaced, throwing an angry look back at the astronaut.

 

“If you chose to stand with them… you’ll fall with them, as well,” said Urko, returning the young chimp’s fascinated stare with a hard look.

 

“I’m staying,” Gathor declared, a bit timidly but holding his ground. He could have slapped himself - his voice very nearly squeaked.

 

 “We’ve got too many with us already. Don’t you understand the danger you’re putting yourself in?” Alan demanded.

 

“Please… I can help. I’m sure of it.”

 

Alan’s glance was tinged with impatience. They didn’t have the time to argue with this young, idealistic chimpanzee, bent on making amends. He pushed his misgivings away. “Wait outside.”  He urged Urko ahead of him into the courtyard. Alan surveyed the shadows in the corners and those cast by the surrounding bushes. Finding nothing amiss, he motioned Urko forward to knock on the door. “Okay, Urko, you’re up. Don’t do anything stupid.”

 

Urko turned to look at him, dark eyes piercing his a moment before turning away. “As you say… Virdon. For now.”

 

Virdon tensed as he heard movement from inside the doorway of the jail. “Who is it?” came the deep voice of a guard.

 

“Galwait, you idiot, open up!” Urko bellowed. Alan cast him a warning look, and Urko snorted, broad shoulders turning back to him. Galwait hurried to open the door. His eyes widened as he spotted the blond astronaut, and he reached for his pistol.

 

“Put your hands up,” said Virdon in a commanding tone. Galwait looked uncertainly from him to Urko and back. 

 

“Do as he says,” Urko added grudgingly. Galwait stared at them, then turned with his hands held up.

 

“Get inside.” Galwait moved across the threshold and the door closed behind them. Alan disarmed him swiftly. “Take us to Galen. Now.” Alan strained to hear any sound presaging movement before them. His pulse beat in his ears. A few steps took them through the small entryway and into a stone passage. Torches dotted the walls. At the widening of the passage before a closed wooden door, another guard stood duty. Galwait spoke quickly to him, eyeing Virdon who pushed forward, his hand on Urko’s arm. Urko looked down threateningly at the human hand holding him just below where his gauntlet would rest. Virdon ignored the look.

 

“Now unlock the door,” Virdon directed the second gorilla. Although the night had cooled, the jail was still warm, and Virdon wiped his forehead. “Hurry it up,” he said harshly, and the gorilla directed a quick, threatening look his way as he retrieved the keys from his belt. He fingered his way through the jingling ring until Virdon wanted to shake him. Instead he pressed the muzzle of his pistol deeper into Urko’s back. Urko looked back at him, staring, and growled almost imperceptibly.

 

“Alan?” came Galen’s voice from the other side of the door.

 

“I’m here, Galen. We’ll have you out in a moment,” he called reassuringly. He stiffened at a sudden jab to his back. A gun.

 

“Drop the weapon,” said a voice behind him. Alan stayed as he was. “I said drop it!” the voice repeated, jabbing him once again.

 

“Do that again and I’ll shoot your general, here,” he replied, speaking swiftly. “If you shoot me, I’ll take him with me, I promise you. Make up your mind how you want it to go.”  

 

After a moment, the gun was withdrawn from Alan’s back. He drew in a short breath of relief, then turned with Urko and disarmed the gorilla who’d threatened him.

 

“Alan, what’s going on out there?” Galen called anxiously.

 

“Everything’s okay, Galen,” he called back to the chimpanzee, than addressed the third gorilla guard. Any more like you?” Alan asked. The gorilla remained silent, scowling.

 

The guard found the correct key and unlocked the wooden door. Galen walked from the cell, blinking, looking at the apes and Alan. Blood crusted at his hairline and he looked pale, but otherwise all right.

 

“Good to see you, Galen,” Alan said with a broad smile. “How’s your head?”

 

“I’ll live. You weren’t joking when you promised not to leave me here,” Galen smiled at him warmly, relieved, then glanced around. “Where’s Burke?”

 

“The murderer is outside with the heretics,” Urko replied, contempt evident.

 

Galen gazed steadily at him. “Why do you insist on calling him that? You know I don’t believe it.” 

 

Alan’s lips pressed in a straight line as he looked away, blue eyes shadowed. He changed to subject. “There’s no time. Let’s get you out of here.”

 

Galen deposited Galwait and the other two guards in his former cell as Alan kept an eye on Urko and watched for other guards. They locked the cell door and went back down the passageway to the entrance, stepping out into the dim courtyard. Galen looked at Alan and spoke in a low tone. “What aren’t you telling me, Alan?”

 

Alan gave Galen a quelling look after glancing at Urko, and the chimpanzee sighed. He stretched his back and breathed deeply of the night air as Alan paused, thinking. “There’s a lot you need to know, but the most important thing, right now, is that we get out of the city… which isn’t going to be easy.”

 

They emerged from the courtyard, keeping an eye out for more guards. Galen breathed a sigh of relief as no one attempted to stop them. Alan took the lead with Urko before him, and they headed for the back of the building where the rest of the group awaited them.

 

“Galen! We thought you were dead,” said Pergis in an excited whisper.  He patted him enthusiastically on the back.

 

“Pergis, thank the gods. If ever you scare me like…” Galen said, beginning to scold. He trailed off as his eyes spied Burke.

 

Pete leaned against the back wall, watching him. “Galen… glad you could make it,” he said, voice low. Galen nodded, hesitating, then looked away.

 

Virdon’s skin prickled as he watched Galen. It hit him then… Galen knew. He realized what Burke had done, or was, at the very least, afraid that he had. Why wouldn’t he admit it? He paused, considering. Somehow, the chimpanzee’s fears outweighed his usual clarity of thought.

 

Virdon understood the implications raised by Galen’s denial. Burke’s actions were serious enough to threaten their friendship. Alan brushed his own worries aside. If Burke…. when Burke recovered, they’d deal with it.  All the deception that had smoothed their paths was over. When the time came, they were all going to hunker down and pay the piper. For now, he bent his concentration to their escape from the city.

 

Virdon looked about, trying to orient himself, give himself direction. He looked at the sky again. Going north would be the quickest way to get out of the populous area, he calculated, dredging up what scarce knowledge he could of Central City from his previous visits. With the exception of the jail, all the buildings were silent and dark. The streets were deserted. Virdon squared his shoulders, having made a decision. They were a bulky crew and Virdon knew they’d pressed their luck to the breaking point. He decided they’d damn the torpedoes and walk forth as boldly as if they owned the city. It was insane and he knew it. He took a deep breath. Nothing new there, his mind argued, and sheer bravado had kept them alive today. Maybe, just maybe, their luck would hold.

 

He’d keep Urko along with them awhile longer. He couldn’t bring himself to leave him at the jail with his guards. Alan was sure that somehow Urko would manage to free himself and come after them. If that made him a little paranoid, then… so be it. Better that than make a fatal mistake.

 

The group walked in the middle of the road, the chimps attempting to appear casual. Virdon kept right behind Urko, dogging him, weapon pointed in the tall gorilla’s back. Only once did they run into company - a chimpanzee couple. They looked like scientists, with their simple long coats. As soon as they were sighted, the students did their best to appear unconcerned, faking conversation and trying not to eye the two chimpanzees walking closer. What scared Alan more than anything was the feeling that the gun in his back didn’t intimidate Urko.

 

His breath ratcheted up in his throat as the chimpanzees drew alongside the group, glancing quizzically at the two humans. They weren’t following like most slaves did their ape masters, were they? One seemed to be injured, though. Urko opened his mouth to speak, and Alan jabbed the gun into his kidneys, grinding hard. With a low warning growl in his throat, Urko twisted to glare at the astronaut. Alan stared back, eyes hard. The chimp couple spared the group a second curious glance, then hurried to whatever business kept them in the city after hours.

 

The group had gone on for nearly an hour after that, encountering no one else save a distant trio of gorillas that had nearly given the chimps a heart attack. The streets had changed gradually from commercial to residential. Now even those warmly lit windows came at intervals further apart.  Alan felt a sense of exhilaration. Almost made it. Almost. He could taste it. He glanced quickly at Pete and Trahern. Not good. Pete stumbled along - the tall chimp very nearly carried him. Alan looked grimly ahead. He was going to have to do something, and soon.

 

Urko suddenly spoke. “It must feel good to be back with your friends, Galen. Do you think they’d be so glad to see you if they knew your plans to betray them?”

 

“Quiet,” Alan snapped.

 

Galen stopped, touching his sore scalp and turning to survey his surroundings, spotting a house some distance away, windows dark. They were out of the city at last.  He faced Urko in the dim night and sighed. “I wouldn’t betray them, Urko. They know that.”

 

“You were going to renounce these humans to the students. That was our agreement,” said Urko, voice barely controlled.

 

“I planned to ask Pergis to stop the protests. You blame Burke for the murder of the gorilla in the city, to use him as an excuse. To further curtail the freedom of humans.” Galen turned and spoke to Pergis. “If you can get to Zaius before Urko finds you again and guarantee him that you’ll stop the protests, I’m sure he’ll agree to call off the new restrictions. Otherwise, with all the anti-human sentiment running so high, the humans will be beaten back and slaughtered as we’ve never seen before. You’ve got to stop it.”

 

“It won’t work even if you get to Zaius before I put a bullet in you. A human has killed an ape in the heart of the very city my soldiers protect. It’s too late for your bargains,” Urko said, anger escalating. He shifted as Virdon pushed the gun harder into his back.  He longed to tear him apart.

 

Pergis regarded Urko calmly. “You killed Malachi. You burned a human village. Our families will believe us - the citizenry will believe us when we tell them that this is another plot against the humans put in motion by Urko.”

 

“You’ve gone too far. You will all be jailed… or worse,” Urko promised.

 

“Do that. Your influence in Council will be over. Some of our families might support you now… but that won’t last if what you say comes to pass. Oh, you might put myself and others at the forefront of this movement away, but the rest will receive a slap on the hands - nothing more. If Zaius agrees to what Galen has proposed here tonight, you won’t be able to do even that.” Pergis’s frank gray eyes awaited his reaction.

 

“A soldier lies dead… who will pay?” demanded Urko, brows drawn.

 

Pergis hesitated, then looked to Virdon. “Does Galen know who did it?”

 

“He’s known it since I first told him. Burke is a killer,” said Urko, dark face angry.

 

“That’s enough,” Virdon snapped. The tension was building, and he sensed the danger. His control over the situation was slipping.

 

Galen looked at Virdon, then walked to where Burke stood, heavily supported by Trahern.

“Tell him he lies,” Galen said, biting down hard on the words. He waited in silence for Burke’s reply.

 

“Pete… go on…” he tilted his head, looking into Burke’s face. Burke held his gaze with some difficulty. Galen leaned closer to him. “They’ve hurt you, Pete. What have they done?” He reached a hand out towards him.

 

“You’re not looking so good yourself, buddy,” Burke said quietly.

 

“No, no, I’ll be fine…. “ Galen said. He waited. The silence stretched out. Galen let his hand drop, and looked at the ground. “You did it.”

 

Burke looked off miserably, then back. “It’s true, Galen. I had no choice.”

 

Galen’s face drained of warmth as he stared at his friend. “There had to be another way.”

 

“What do you want me to say? If there was another way, I didn’t see it. I don’t see it.” Pete’s brown eyes fastened on Galen’s.

 

“There’s always another choice,” said Galen. He looked at Burke as though he didn’t know him.  

 

Burke swallowed. His face tightened. “Fine, Galen. I admit it. I shot him. I wanted him dead, okay? You want me to verify it for you… there it is. I wanted him dead,” he repeated. He put his hand to his mouth, then pulled it back.

 

Galen looked closely at him. “Just tell me this, Burke… how am I to continue calling you friend after what you’ve done?”

 

Burke blinked and looked away before his eyes returned to peruse Galen’s. His jaw clenched. “Maybe you shouldn’t.”

 

“This isn’t the time!” Virdon hissed.

 

Pergis drew close to the two. “Listen, cousin, and listen good. This fool is too stiff-necked to say what needs to be said, but I’m not. I was there, with Malachi, at the market square. We saw it. He was hunted down like an animal – the gorilla played a game with his life. He shot another human female right in front of him. Burke actually managed to fight back and that’s when he was injured. There was nothing else he could do but shoot, unless it was to die. Galen,” Pergis said, eyes searching his cousin’s, “if I can see that, having only known him for a short time, why can’t you, who professes to be his friend… who after being his friend, professes to believe in the equality of man and ape?”

 

Burke groaned. “Shut up, goddammit! I put the gun in his face, I watched his eyes, watched him know what was coming, and I blew his head off. I hated him, I killed him, understand? That’s what’s important, that’s what you really want to know, isn’t it, Galen?”

 

Galen looked as though he’d been slapped. Slow understanding dawned over his face. “I think it’s important that you want me to know it.”

 

Suddenly, taking quick advantage of the situation, Urko twisted violently to one side, smashing Virdon’s arm away from his back. Before the astronaut recovered, Urko wrested Pergis’s half-forgotten, slackly held gun away from the surprised chimpanzee. Quickly he stepped forward and grabbed Burke, pulling him in front of him and wrapping an arm around his neck.

 

“Urko! Put the gun down!” Alan shouted, aiming his own gun. He held it with two hands; his right wrist felt numb. Urko ignored him. Burke struggled, back against Urko. His lips thinned in anger, watching him from the corner of his eyes. The gorilla snorted in derision, holding him easily.

 

Urko turned to Galen. “All this time you’ve wasted, running with humans… look at them! Have you finally realized the nature of the beast?” he asked. Suddenly he jammed the gun into the side of Burke’s neck. Burke gagged at the force of the muzzle stuck in his throat. “How does it feel, Burke?” he said in a low voice. His face was obscenely close.

 

“What are you waiting for?” asked Burke belligerently, disregarding everything else.  There was something in him now that never stopped, no matter how destructive, no matter the cost, no matter how scared or angry or tired he became.

 

“We won’t stand by, Urko,” Galen spoke.

 

“Would you like me to get rid of Gathor, Galen? I could kill him first. After all, he did shoot you,” Urko said. He aimed the gun towards him. “No? How about your cousin, the trouble-maker?” He turned the gun to Pergis. “What will you speak with Zaius about now, Pergis?” Urko asked, grinning.

 

“Last time. Put the gun down,” Alan said coldly. Taking Urko off guard, Trahern darted at him from behind and kicked the back of his knee sharply. Urko’s knee buckled, and Alan dived at him. Burke pitched to the ground. 

 

The gun went off, and Gathor’s body jerked as the bullet punched into him. He fell in a heap.

 

Alan tumbled to the ground atop Urko and slammed a fist into his stomach, followed quickly with a punch to the face. Urko grunted as Alan made contact with the raw cheek wound and grabbed him, flinging him to the side. Looking up, Urko saw Pergis draw his leg back. No time to deflect the blow. Urko’s breath left him in a whoosh and he doubled over, gasping. His vision dimmed.

 

Together, Pergis and Alan took the pistol from Urko and forced him back onto his feet. Urko stood, hunched over, looking at them with murder in his eyes. “You’ll see how I repay you for standing with Galen,” Urko threatened Pergis. Pergis watched him without emotion. Urko’s eyes swept over Gathor, bleeding, with Trahern beside him. He faced Alan and Galen. “You’re next. And your friends.”

 

Galen looked at him, eyes narrowing. “You’ll try. But then, you already have, haven’t you?” He turned his attention to Pete.

 

Urko barked a short laugh, hand holding his thigh as he struggled to breathe. “Burke knows… you’ll never have peace as long as I am alive.”

 

Pergis kept his gun trained on Urko as Alan knelt by Pete, sprawled face down in the dirt of the street. Carefully he and Galen turned him over. Dark hair ruffled over still features in the night breeze. A fine layer of dust clung to his face. Alan pulled his eyelids open, checking his pupils, then looked away for a moment. He looked up at Urko, eyes flat. “If he dies, I’ll kill you myself.”

 

Urko snorted, staring down at Burke. "Only two left to deal with… now," he said, mocking.

 

"We’ll see," Alan said, eyes on Urko. "Galen, I want you to take Pete there…into the field. See the tall tree to the left? Get on the other side of it, hide out, wait for me. Make him as comfortable as possible. I’m going to get rid of Urko, then I’ll be back for you. Pergis… Trahern,” he continued, kneeling next to Gathor and checking his wound. “The bullet entered his side… went right through. Look, put some pressure on it, like this….” looking at Trahern. “Got it? You need to get him to the hospital. Ask for Kira when you arrive.” Alan turned to Pergis. “You’ve met Kira before?" The chimpanzee nodded. “Good. Next you go straight to Zaius’s house. Make a deal with him, if you can, and do it quick. I don’t know how long we can keep Urko out of commission." Pergis nodded again. "You might have to get help getting Gathor to the hospital… I don't know if you can carry him all the way."

 

Pergis put his hand on Virdon’s arm. "Don’t worry, we’ll take care of it. Alan… it’s not your fault."

 

Alan looked at him tiredly, then nodded. "Good luck, Pergis." He looked back at the single, distant dwelling. It remained dark. Maybe they were far enough away… maybe the apes hadn’t heard the gunfire.  

 

Pergis looked down at Burke’s still face, then knelt beside Galen. "Galen… " he said softly, grasping his shoulder. Galen looked up, startled. "Try to forgive him. The gorillas are free to do what they will to humans. We all are. Can we blame them when they fight for their very lives?"

 

"Do you condone the killing, then?" asked Galen softly, eyes still locked on Burke.

 

Pergis sighed and looked up into the night sky, contemplating. "By all rights, Burke should be dead. Instead, he stopped… an evil that made my blood run cold, cousin. Who would have been next - how many?  An ape, perhaps? Does an ape who kills deserve to live in place of a human?"

 

"I don’t condone the killing of man or ape, Pergis," said Galen quietly.

 

"You don’t condone it, but as the murder of humans is common, so you’ve become accustomed to it. Is it possible, perhaps without realizing it, that you have grown tolerant of such things? What was your reaction to Urko destroying the human village, Galen?"

 

Galen was silent, looking up at his cousin’s thin, solemn face. Pergis clapped his shoulder. "All I ask is that you think about it. Maybe then I will have opened your eyes a bit, as you have done mine."

 

"You have grown so, Pergis… you aren’t my little cousin anymore. You’re an adult. When did that happen?" said Galen wistfully.

 

Pergis smiled, wrinkling his nose. "Recently, I think. It started with your last visit…" he said, looking fondly at Galen, then turned to help Trahern with Gathor, lying doubled up on the ground.

 

"Be careful, Pergis, won’t you?" Galen heard his voice almost pleading.

 

"As best I can, Galen. I would hate to make the family go through more than they have already," he replied as he picked up Gathor’s feet. Trahern grabbed Gathor under the arms. Gathor groaned feebly.  

 

Galen rose from his position beside Burke. He picked him up carefully, trying not to jostle him any more than possible, Alan cautioning him. With the superior strength of most apes, Galen found himself more than capable of carrying the astronaut. Alan turned worried eyes to him. "I’ll be back soon, Galen. Take care of him, will you?"

 

"Of course," said Galen, and nodded. "Be careful. One can’t be too cautious around Urko, you know." He nodded again and stepped off the road and into the field, walking into the dried yellow grass, the long stalks of which looked almost ghostly in the cold moonlight. Thank the gods the moon was out, now that they were out of town with no torches to guide them.

 

"It’s almost over, Urko. Let’s move out," Virdon said, turning to the tall gorilla general.

 

"You’re right about that, Virdon. It is almost over… for you and your friends," Urko said.

 

"You never stop, do you… your jailers are trapped, Galen has escaped, your men don’t know where you are, and you think you’re going to turn this around…" Alan sighed wearily. "Get moving."  He took up position behind Urko, walking down the dusty, rutted path. The area was becoming overgrown, with stunted bushes and trees dotting the landscape. The two walked for a couple of miles, seeing only the one house at the beginning of their walk and another perched far off the road on top of a hill. Another mile and Alan saw a dirt road leading off to the right. He and Urko followed it, Alan glancing up at the moon and noting that clouds were gathering. If he weren’t careful, he’d be left in pitch black with the gorilla. He urged Urko to move faster.

 

The dirt road led to a small farm with a thatched roof. The fields behind the home were plowed, with stalks of corn struggling feebly against the current drought. Close to the house stood a small, rickety barn and wagon, sheltered under a wooden extension. Alan’s mood lightened at the sight. Maybe they would get away after all.

 

He and Urko walked silently to the barn, just inside the entrance.  Various tools, ropes and tethers hung on or leaned against the wooden slatted wall to Alan’s right, and he pulled one of the ropes off its peg and turned to Urko. It was very dim, even at the foremost part of the barn. It made Alan nervous.

 

"Have a seat, Urko," he said, gesturing to the wooden support closest to the door. He heard the rustling of the animals inside the barn, roused by their voices.

 

"Galen has turned his back to his own people," said Urko, ignoring Alan. "Burke hates me and anything else that gets in his way." Alan’s eyes narrowed. "But you, Virdon… you’ve always seemed almost.. reasonable. You have a wife and child back home. Zaius and I have seen for ourselves how much they mean to you. Why are you here, Virdon?"

 

"You seem to think we want to be here, Urko," said Alan in an even tone. "We don’t… we never have. And we’ve never wanted to hurt anyone, contrary to what you believe."

 

"I might have believed that of you until you threatened to kill me tonight. As for Burke… never. Not after what he’s done. The both of you together encourage rebellion amongst the humans. You’re a pestilence." The loathing in Urko’s voice sent a chill up Virdon’s spine.

 

"Pete didn’t kill your soldier in cold blood. He was defending himself." Even to himself, his voice sounded uncertain. His mind persisted, slyly, in asking him if it were really true. Firmly he shut the door on internal speculation. Not now.

 

"Are you sure of that, Virdon? And if you truly don’t want to hurt anyone, then why are you here with a gun pointed at me?"

 

"Same as Pete. I have no choice. Now sit down," Alan snapped, impatient with himself. He should never have been drawn into this conversation.

 

"You tell yourself that… he had no choice. I think he did," said Urko, raising his voice. "Most humans will kill without thought, when given the opportunity. What about you, Virdon? Will you kill me as you said? You’d have almost certainly been exposed if you’d shot me within the city…."

 

"If I’m out of options, Urko, I’ll shoot," Alan replied, the last of his patience evaporating.

 

"Even here? A gunshot would rouse the farmers, don’t you think?"

 

“I didn’t say I was out of options, yet. There’s still this,” Alan replied, striking Urko hard and fast in the jaw. He shook his fist as Urko reeled back. There was no time to lose - his life and the lives of his friends depended on him getting out of here quickly. Alan moved forward and put the muzzle of the gun to Urko’s forehead.

 

"I haven’t had to shoot, Urko… and I won’t, unless you force me to. Do you understand?" he said, glaring into the dimness that was Urko’s face. His actions had moved them further into the barn where he could see even less, a situation that made him very uneasy.  “Now come and sit down. This is your last chance."  

 

For a moment there was silence. "You may have gained a little time, bringing me out here.. but not much. Burke will hold you back. If he’s not dead, already," said Urko matter-of-factly, moving at last to do Alan’s bidding.  

 

With a sudden intake of breath, Alan absorbed the comment. "There’ll be time enough,” he said, tying the gorilla general securely to the support. He walked back to the wall with the hanging tools, finding a tether made of leather, and brought it back to the general.  "I meant what I said. If you, Zaius and the Council could get it through your heads that we don’t wish to harm anyone - ape or human, none of this would be necessary."

 

“You don’t understand, Virdon. It doesn’t matter what you intend - it’s what you are,” Urko said. “Burke has proven what we already knew.”

 

Alan looked away. "Open your mouth," he said, voice strained. Urko stared up at him. "Open it. Now," Alan said harshly. Urko complied, a murderous look flushing over his features. Alan wound the leather between the gorilla’s parted jaws carefully and around the back of his head, several times, forming a gag. When he was satisfied with the result, he walked deeper into the barn and came out leading an old farm horse. He stopped before Urko a moment, then walked outside to the wagon.

 

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

 

Trahern and Pergis carried Gathor several miles back into the residential area of the city. The chimp had lost a lot of blood, but remained conscious. He tried to stifle his groans at the jostling journey, but sometimes couldn't help himself. Trahern and Pergis winced, sympathizing, and tried to comfort their young friend. As the houses surrounding them crowded each other in their lots, the trio decided to ask for help. Trahern shrugged and picked out a house at random, knocking on the door.

 

After some long moments, an elderly female chimpanzee answered the door, pulling it wide with little regard for safety. She was stooped and much of her fur had gone gray. Blinking behind thick glasses, she examined the two young chimps supporting a third in her doorway. "What do you want?" she asked, sounding irritated. They’d woken her out of a sound sleep, and that wasn’t so easily come by these days, with all the aches and pains of old age.

 

"Please.. we don’t wish to alarm you, but our friend is hurt. We’d hoped to get help getting him to the hospital," said Trahern hopefully.

 

"Hurt!" the elderly chimp asked, startled. "What’s happened to him?"

 

"Well, he… he was shot," answered Pergis hesitantly. He raised a hand to his face and scratched nervously.

 

"Shot." the old chimp repeated, as seemed her wont to do. She stood thoughtfully at the door. "What in the name of the gods have you young chimps been doing to get shot!"

 

"Can you help us?" asked Pergis quietly. He was exhausted, and Gathor seemed to weigh more with each step they took.  The old female regarded him shrewdly for a moment, hand holding the doorknob for support.

 

"I have a horse and wagon. You may take it. I’ll have your names first, and that of your families, of course," she said gruffly.

 

A broad grin covered Trahern’s face. Forgetting himself, he reached out to Gathor’s shoulder and clapped it. Gathor yelped. Pergis said, wryly, "If you can keep from hurting him further, Trahern, I’d like you to take him into the hospital. Find a Doctor named Kira. Tell her you are a friend of Galen’s. I’ll go on."

 

"Yes, yes, I heard that from Virdon," said Trahern, nodding enthusiastically.  "Are you really going...?"

 

"I’m going to see Zaius, of course," Pergis answered, looking at his friend. "It’s the only thing left to do." The old female chimp’s eyes widened with interest behind her glasses.

 

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

 

The dry grass rustled underneath Galen’s feet as he tramped to the far side of the old tree. Carefully he lowered Burke to the ground in what he hoped was a comfortable position and sat down next to him. It didn’t bode well for the astronaut that he’d not yet awakened. Galen wasn’t sure what he should do next.

 

The moonlight shone dimly through the sweeping branches and scarce foliage of the tree. Galen looked up. Clouds. He looked back down at his dark-haired friend and sighed. What had happened to Pete today? He draws trouble like a magnet, he thought, shaking his head. He’d have given anything to be there with him when the trouble started. Maybe he could have diffused the situation Burke apparently had not been able to extricate himself from. Galen was left facing some hard questions and a cold feeling in the pit of his stomach.  

 

‘Ape shall not kill ape’ - the mantra of those who believed the Lawgiver’s teachings. It was finally taking hold in Central City, although still not given much thought by those apes who lived outside its limits - those farmers and laborers who struggled with the land were still more likely to believe in the simplicity of gods ruling the elements. Galen had thought himself not affected by either religion, but he was shaken to the very core by the murder of the gorilla at Burke’s hand. The beast man, his mind whispered. He shook his head, irritated.     

 

Pete was so still. Galen looked up again at the fast-gathering clouds, and a light rain began to fall, making its way through the branches.  He craned his neck around the tree-trunk, looking for Alan. They wouldn’t be able to see if this kept up - then what? He turned back to Pete and impulsively shook his shoulder. His head rolled limply to one side. Galen’s anxiety crept higher. Should he try harder to wake him? Maybe he needed to rest.   

 

He rubbed his eyes, undecided, then dropped his hands down into his lap and stared fixedly at the astronaut. He looked at peace, features relaxed, almost innocent. Pale though, in the cold light of the moon breaking momentarily through the clouds. He watched his chest, waiting for it to rise. A fist suddenly squeezed Galen’s heart and he dropped down on all fours, pressing his ear to Pete's chest. His own heart rate slowed at the sound of Pete’s, beating strongly.

 

He’d recover, wouldn’t he? What had happened to him after Galen had been captured? He looked down at his friend’s face, tasting copper-tinged fear on the back of his tongue. He didn’t want to think about this, but knew he would. It was more than self defense, wasn’t it, Pete? At the very least, it felt like more than that to you. And you wanted me to understand, you confessed it to me. So I could decide the fate of our friendship. His heart dropped like a stone, fearing the implications.

 

The death of man or ape could never be an acceptable solution to a bad situation, and to ignore the fact that Pete had harmed another would be to give tacit approval. He had the feeling that Alan and Pete were going to be enduring some difficult growing pains in their friendship. Whether he would be there to weather them as well remained to be seen.

 

Galen blinked at the falling drops of rain, and wiped Pete's face. They were both getting wet.  

 

Does it matter how it happened - the gorilla’s death? Yes, his mind insisted, but his heart thought otherwise.  Galen believed what Burke said was true, he’d have to have been cornered to do what he did, but had there truly been no way to save himself without violence? I know you, Pete, or I thought I did, but something changed. Suddenly the casual brutality, the stark reality of human life squandered at the hands of apes became more to you than a common evil of this world. It became personal in a way that it never had before, even when it threatened your own life. Chandar was the catalyst and when the gorilla came after you, you couldn’t step back, could you? Not anymore, not after Kabon…after Liska.  

 

You’ve never been good at stepping back from anything, not as long as I’ve known you. What did I think you'd do - what would I have done?  Are you merely the first of us to be pushed into going all the way, to kill in order to live, knowing there is a price to be paid for our continued existence? Galen bowed his head.

 

The distant rattling of wheels in the rutted lane below brought Galen’s head up. Alan leapt from the wagon and ran to the tree, heart sinking as he spotted Galen leaning over Pete, trying to shelter their motionless friend. Quickly he knelt down beside the dark-haired astronaut.

 

"Oh Alan, I don’t know what to do to help him," Galen said.

 

Alan’s eyes met his. "I know. I was hoping he’d be awake by now. I’m afraid he’ll go into a coma. It that happens, we may never get him back." He patted Pete’s shoulders gently. "Pete, Pete, you gotta wake up now." He turned to Galen. "We’re going to try and wake him up, Galen, and get him in the wagon. You keep an eye on him back there. Look for slurring, talking off his head… personality changes. Hell, any kind of change. Got it?"

 

Galen nodded, hunkering down next to Alan. He hunched his shoulders at a sudden gust of wind. "Pete… wake up. Wake up," he said, calling to him. His eyes stung and he blinked rapidly.

 

Alan looked at him sharply. "Galen, he got into a helluva mess today, but we’ve always known something like this could happen. I’m upset, too - at him, at the circumstances - I’m worried about repercussions… but right now it just doesn’t matter."

 

"What do you mean, it doesn’t matter?" Galen said, voice raised.

 

Alan leaned towards Galen. "Who do you think he was trying to save when he got into this mess to begin with? Would you feel better if he’d been the one who’d died?" Galen threw him a hard look and Alan sighed deeply. "Sorry. What I’m saying is, he made a decision, right or wrong. And now you’ve got to decide if you can live with it and all of the damned after-effects involved for us all."

 

Galen stared at him. "Can you? Live with it, I mean?" he questioned Virdon.

 

Burke’s eyelids fluttered open, and he turned groggy eyes upward, squinting. "Thank God," Alan muttered. He pushed damp hair from his forehead. "Pete… back in the land of the living, huh?" He smiled at Burke and then spared Galen a glance. "Yeah, Galen. I’ll live with it, one way or another. Nobody would have thought twice about another human carcass, would they? But let me tell you something. It should matter. It matters to me."

 

Alan helped Burke upwards, who struggled to a sitting position and stifled a groan. Alan offered him his canteen and Burke took a long, thirsty pull from it. He threw Alan a weak but unmistakably ill-humored look as he took the canteen away.  "Take it easy, Pete. Not too fast."

 

"One more thing you should know…" Alan said, turning back to Galen and putting a hand on his shoulder. "It wouldn’t be the same without you. Now would you help me get him into the wagon?"  Galen ducked his head and nodded, at a loss for words.

 

They pulled Pete into a standing position, supporting him between themselves, and made their way to the horse and wagon. Galen rearranged the hay in the back into a comfortable pile to cushion Burke as much as possible and climbed in after him. Alan jumped into the seat of the wagon and urged the horse forward.

 

The rain had let up. At least they hadn’t had to fight through mud, but the next few hours were a nightmare for Burke. In spite of all they could do, every jolt of the wagon reverberated through his head until he wanted to beg them to stop. He struggled to focus through the pain rising like a fog around him, telling himself it meant nothing, wouldn’t last long. But each rut they bounced through crashed through his skull, shredding his nerve. He leaned over the side of the wagon and threw up the little water he'd taken in.

 

As the minutes dragged slowly on, Galen found Burke’s struggle increasingly unbearable. Even the importance of putting distance between themselves and Central City faded next to the losing struggle unfolding before him.  He called up to Alan, eyes locked on Burke, "We’ve got to stop. Now. He can’t take any more," and muttering, to himself, "and neither can I."

 

Alan pulled the wagon off the dirt track and jumped into the back, examining Burke. "We've got to find some shelter and let him rest. We'll chance it here. Besides," he added, looking up at the sky, "dawn is coming. It’s too dangerous to go much further." He looked at Galen, adding, "We’ve done all we can. Just pray we’ve made it far enough. Urko will be after us… soon."

 

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

 

The sky began to lighten and the stars grew faint, then winked out at the first streak of rosy light in the eastern sky. Long, slanting rays of light and shadow striped across the landscape as night began its customary retreat before the rising sun.

 

In Central City, a young chimp in dusty black waited patiently at the front door of the venerable Counselor Zaius. A servant answered his knock, inquiring groggily about the nature of this early morning visit.  He listened to the chimp’s reply, nodding, before retreating inside the house. Yawning, Pergis turned, folded his arms tiredly upon his chest and gazed out at the coming dawn. Moments later, having delivered the message within, the servant returned to beckon him inside. The door swung shut behind him.

 

To the north of the city, a sagging Urko snapped upright against the support holding him captive, uneasy dreams interrupted by a rooster announcing the coming day. He blinked, trying to focus in the dimness of the barn. His jaws ached. He could not bring his teeth together. A cow mooed and his eyebrows rose in disbelief. Suddenly, the previous night’s events flashed before his mind, and adrenalin flushed through his veins as he tugged at the binding rope.  

 

The chimps dwelling at the farmhouse were awake and preparing for the first chores of the day. The youngest daughter stepped outdoors into the fresh air and shuffled sleepily to the barn, stopping to pick up the milking bucket. Suddenly she shrieked, dropped her bucket and ran back to the farmhouse, excitedly calling her father.

 

The farmer appeared quickly enough and followed his pointing, chattering daughter. He stopped short, dismayed. Someone had trussed a gorilla soldier up like a large and angry chicken and left him out in the barn. The chimp’s eyes searched the dim recesses beyond the inflamed gorilla, dismay deepening at the realization that the horse was missing. And the wagon, he realized belatedly. His heart sank further, and he flashed an impatient glance as from the gorilla’s throat there arose a deep, unnerving growl. "Shut up, you…" he muttered and stomped further into the barn to see if anything else was gone.  

 

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

 

Two days later. The sun shone hot and bright in the mid-afternoon sky. A seething Urko walked heavily from Zaius’s office in Central City. Immediately upon his "rescue" by the belligerent chimp farmer, Urko had commandeered a horse from the closest neighbor and rode to Central City at great speed. Once there he’d organized an immediate search for the three fugitives.

 

The missing wagon and horse had been recovered and returned to the relieved farmer, but of the fugitives there’d been no sign. Urko hadn’t given up, of course – he never would – but he felt the chances of their capture slipping from his grasp. To make matters worse, he’d been summoned by Zaius and practically forced into a plan hatched between him and the head of the student dissidents – that human lover, Pergis. Urko’s lips curled at the thought, and he swung himself swiftly upon his horse and galloped away with more than necessary haste.

 

Back inside his office, Zaius arose from his desk. In his hand was the book that had first started the trouble with the university students. Pergis had returned it as a condition of their agreement. He placed it safely under lock and key and emerged from his office moments later, following Urko to the meeting of the councilors.

 

The Council Hall was packed. Emotions ran high as word of the gorilla’s murder had spread. If the rumors were true – that a human was responsible – it was the first of its kind in Central City. Action would be taken, swift punishment meted out, and in the process, a terrible toll exacted upon humanity.

 

Zaius called Council to order – not an easy thing as the hubbub rose to a near roar.  "You have all heard by now of the tragedy within our City two days ago. One of our soldiers was killed at Market Square during his pursuit of a fugitive."

 

"We all have heard that a human is responsible. If that is true, we must take action immediately," said an old orangutan, Ebram, who’d served honorably and well on this council for many years. He’d cut to the heart of the matter immediately.

 

"General Urko has investigated the incident and will now present his findings. General?" said Zaius, sitting down.

 

Urko stood and took a deep breath, surveying his audience. They looked back at him expectantly from their high-backed seats. The council body was composed of orangutans and a few chimps. There were no other gorillas here. If this had been an open meeting, the room would be flooded with gorillas demanding retribution.

 

"My soldiers were in pursuit of a renegade human – Burke. According to those humans and apes I’ve interviewed, Portis was the first to find him. He and Burke engaged in hand to hand combat." Urko paused, looking out over his enrapt audience. His eyes were drawn to Yalu, Galen’s father. He snorted. Yalu should never have been allowed to remain on Council, no matter how faithfully he performed his duties. Urko would never understand why he was even allowed here today.

 

"Is it true that the human killed Portis?" said old Ebram with emphasis.

 

Urko swallowed, controlling his anger before he spoke. "It appears that someone else was responsible." Instantly, the hall was in an uproar. Orangutans and chimps alike pounded excitedly on the stone tables before them. Urko cleared his throat, feeling as if something was lodged there. Something large.

 

Zaius banged his gavel, but it did little good. When at last the hub-bub began to subside, Zaius spoke again. "You’re sure?"

 

Again Urko cleared his throat, nodding. "There were many witnesses. A student from the demonstration killed Portis. A chimpanzee named Malachi."

 

"But why? Why would one of our own do such a thing?" asked old Ebram in a shocked tone. He stroked his straw-colored ruff.

 

Urko felt ill. He looked at Zaius for a moment, and a flash of loathing he could not contain transformed his face. This was Zaius’s fault. He’d insisted that they name the chimpanzee as the murderer, to provide a foil, deflecting the pressure from council to punish humanity. In this way he’d fulfill his bargain with the students. Pergis had sworn all demonstrations would cease in return.

 

"He, er… apparently Malachi was the son of a prefect in Parga. He’d infiltrated the dissidents with the intentions of fulfilling a grudge he and his father held... against me."

 

For a moment, there was a shocked silence in the room. Zaius spoke. "Luckily, the young leader of the resistance came to his senses, realizing that Malachi misled them. If we’d believed what Malachi wanted us to believe - that the human had killed Portis - harsh restrictions would have been imposed against the humans today, and a clash between our military and the students almost inevitable. Malachi convinced the rebels that Urko threatened their cause. He wanted their help to eliminate that threat."

 

"But… a chimpanzee? Killed a gorilla? Ape shall not kill ape!" The youngest chimp in council spoke, protesting.

 

Zaius sighed. "In the future, perhaps…."

 

"For what reason did Malachi hold a grudge against you?" asked Ebram, eyes narrowed. The councilors looked at Urko expectantly.

 

Urko pulled in a deep breath. “It is of no consequence."

 

"Obviously it was," came the dry retort.

 

"Mere fantasies…he had an illness of the mind," Urko replied, shooting Ebram a grim look.

 

"And what has happened to this Malachi?" inquired the youngest council member.

 

"He was killed when he fired at the soldiers attempting to take him into custody," Urko answered.  

  

Come now, Ebram… all of you! You question Urko as if he were a suspect. Remember, he and his soldiers remedied the threat posed by this unstable young chimp."

 

"Yes… a chimp provoked by the General to begin with…" Ebram muttered. However, he had the good sense to keep it to himself.  

 

"You know that someone in his position is at risk for such attentions… it’s an unpleasantry to which high-profile leaders are susceptible," said Zaius. Several of the council members nodded.

 

Urko took his seat slowly. He’d survived the meeting with his career intact, in no small part due to Zaius’s skillful handling of the Council. His eyes narrowed. He’d never have been in this position to begin with if not for Zaius. Urko felt an overpowering urge to snap the old orangutan’s neck in two. Perhaps, someday, he’d arrange for it. Zaius had gone too far this time.

 

Urko’s humiliation was complete.

 

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

 

Galen crept up to Virdon, in vigil over Burke as he slept.

 

The day after they’d escaped the trio had hidden the wagon back into the trees, far away from the dirt road. They’d put Burke on horseback and lead the horse deep into the woods. Virdon kept watch over Burke that day, fighting his own exhaustion, and Galen slept in preparation for his work of the coming evening. As full darkness descended, the chimpanzee struck out on the road with horse and wagon, moonlight his only guide. He rode all night, heading east, ears and eyes straining for signs of approaching soldiers. As the sun made its first appearance, Galen drove the wagon off the road and set the horse free. He gave his gentle companion a final good-bye pat on the head.

 

Since then, he’d traveled all day and hours into the following night to get back to his friends. Finally he admitted to himself that they’d spend another night without him - he’d never find them in the darkness of the forest. Worse yet, he’d likely get lost. He lay down within shouting distance of the road and was asleep within minutes. Shortly after daybreak, the voices of gorillas awakened him.  A search party. Galen’s fear at the sound of those voices was nearly as great as his exhaustion. He lay with bated breath, fearing to move until the soldiers moved on. Finally he got up and crept cautiously into the deep woods. Some time later, he drew within sight of his friends. Burke was asleep. Alan sat upright, head nodding drowsily.

 

"Alan, it’s me," Galen whispered, grasping his friend’s shoulder.

 

Alan jerked awake. He blinked at his friend and smiled. "Galen, you made it! Did you get rid of the wagon?"

 

"It’s far enough away to be safe… I hope. Is everything all right?" asked Galen.

 

Alan nodded, yawning. "I was almost asleep. Have to be more careful."

 

"I think you can relax a bit, here…" Galen trailed off, fighting to keep a smile off his face. Almost asleep, indeed.  

 

Alan fished in his pocket. "Did you know we got this back?" he asked, and held up the metallic disk.

 

"Oh, Alan, I’m so glad. But how…"

 

Alan nodded towards Burke. "He went after it. At Urko’s house. We were both there." Alan grinned at Galen’s wide-eyed look.

 

"To think that I go along with your schemes - both of you are insane! Have you no common sense at all?"

 

"Don’t look at me. I just followed him. Question the nut over there when he wakes up." Alan’s face turned serious. "It’s time we cleared the air, anyway."

 

Galen sighed. "Clear the air?"

 

"I mean we need to talk."

 

Galen nodded, thoughtfully. "We have a lot to… clear. All of us." He paused a moment, then nodded at Burke. "How is he?"

 

"Head injuries are tricky - it can take awhile for the full effects of the injury to manifest. His head hurts, of course. He’s unreasonable - complaining, naturally. Makes a bad patient… what are you smiling at?" said Alan curiously.

 

"Because he’s well enough to behave like… well, like Burke. He’s going to be okay, isn’t he?"

 

Alan smiled back. "He needs more time to heal, but… yeah. Yeah, Galen… I think he is."

 

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

 

Burke squinted and looked up at Galen’s back, trudging before him. "Now tell me again why we’re doing this? Not enough risk-taking to make you happy lately, is that it?"

 

Galen snorted and threw a quick look over his shoulder. "I really don’t think you of all people should be asking me that."

 

Alan murmured, "I think he’s lost his nerve, Galen." He shot a mischievous glance towards Burke.

 

Burke huffed. "Who says I ever had any to begin with? Quiet and relaxation, that’s all I want.  Lying back, with a gorgeous girl to feed me grapes. Fan me when it’s hot."

 

Galen rolled his eyes. "We must make sure Pergis is all right. And you owe me. Both of you." As an ape stepped up alongside them on the dusty street, Galen snapped crossly at them, "Come now, we don’t have all day!"

 

"Owe him. We owe him now," grumbled Burke, after the ape had passed.  "Just who the hell got you out of jail?"

 

"Alan, I believe. Thank you very much for your help, Alan. Just in case I forgot to thank you before," Galen replied.

 

The three quieted, turning onto the street where Galen’s parents lived. The chimpanzee halted briefly, looking up and down the street for gorillas. He saw none. Galen led them quickly to the house, heart pounding. Behind him the astronauts looked up and down the street, alert for signs of trouble, then tucked their heads back down towards the ground in a token show of servility. Their steps whispered through the dry grass as Galen led them to the garden door in back of the home and knocked, heart pounding. His neck prickled, waiting for someone to answer, praying they’d come quickly. He hated standing there with his back to the great outdoors. He shook his head, thinking. Another insane risk, and this time at his instigation. He was as bad as the two astronauts.

 

It was early evening, and the sun lay low in the sky, casting strong light and shadows. Almost a month had passed since their escape from Urko’s clutches. Immediately afterwards, they’d stayed in the woods for as long as they dared, weighing Burke’s need for recovery against the dangers of staying so near to Central City. Finally, a scarcity of food forced them to move on.

 

The trio’s relief in simply being alive and together was palpable, and so far Virdon had been willing to let things go. His determination had not waned - they would talk, and soon - but he’d decided to give Burke and Galen some time before forcing the issue.

 

Galen’s mother answered the door, delight at seeing her son warring with concern on her face. Quickly she stepped aside, and they blinked as they walked indoors, eyes adjusting to the comparatively dim interior of the airy home. Yalu stood, surprised at their sudden arrival. Ann embraced Galen and greeted the humans warmly.

 

"Galen," said his father quietly. "I’m glad to see you’ve recovered. Although I question your judgment, coming back so soon."

 

Galen sighed. “So do I, Father… so do I.” He moved closer to Yalu and smiled. "Aren’t you happy to see me?"

 

Yalu blinked as Galen tapped his father’s chest affectionately, and his arm reached out to encircle his son’s shoulders. Ann looked upon the two fondly as the astronauts glanced casually away, trying not to smile.

 

"Now, please tell me that Pergis is safe," said Galen, eyes searching his father’s.

 

"Pergis and his friends are keeping very quiet… but he’s fine. They all are. Apparently you left some injuries behind you?" The two astronauts exchanged glances. "There was a young chimp named Gathor who was hospitalized for several days.…  But he’s recovered quite well, according to Pergis." Yalu stared at his son. "Your cousin comes to visit, but has little to say ever since Urko’s confession at Council Hall."

 

"Confession?" Galen prompted.

 

"Apparently a young chimp named Malachi killed the gorilla guard… this Malachi appeared to have some sort of a grudge against the general." Yalu’s eyes searched his son’s, and Galen turned away, hiding his surprise. Behind him, Burke stiffened. He’d been ready to expect anything at their arrival, and was relieved at the welcome he’d gotten. Now this.

 

Galen turned to his friends. "Why would Urko…" he began.

 

Alan’s eyes widened. "Zaius and Pergis. They must have come to an agreement."

 

"Can you imagine Urko being forced to take part …" Galen’s smile faded. "uh-oh...Urko was forced to take part in Burke’s defense."

 

Ann turned puzzled eyes to Burke, dark eyes probing his. "Your defense?"

 

Burke looked trapped. Galen opened his mouth, but Burke waved a hand, motioning him quiet. He put his hand up to his mouth, thinking.  "There are…" Burke started, then sighed. "There are… look, Pergis didn’t tell you everything, obviously."

 

Ann smoothed her shirt, then turned her eyes to Burke’s again. "What is it?" she asked.

 

Burke ran a hand through his hair, agitated. "I did it."

 

Yalu looked confused. "Did what? Malachi killed the soldier… didn’t he?" His gruff voice resounded through the room.

 

"Malachi had a grudge against Urko. He tried to kill him... not the gorilla." Everyone froze as the door to the garden suddenly opened. It was Pergis. His face was still a moment as he surveyed the room, then smiled delightedly.

 

Thank the gods it’s you," Ann sighed, pressing a hand to her chest again. "Lock the door, please," she said, motioning to Pergis.

 

"Pergis, you’re all right!" Galen said happily, throwing his mother a look at the same time. He couldn’t believe the door had been unlocked. The cousins embraced while Yalu glared at Burke, refusing to be diverted.  

 

Yalu stood up slowly. "Get out of my house. Now." Ann put a hand on his shoulder. He shook her off, advancing upon Burke. "I said now." Burke’s face was a mixture of misery and anger. He nodded nearly imperceptibly and took a step towards the door. Pergis placed a staying hand on his shoulder and Burke looked at him, questioning.

 

"It was self-defense, Uncle Yalu. The soldier hunted him down. And I’m convinced Malachi led the gorilla to Burke in the first place," said Pergis.

 

Burke looked at Pergis, surprised. Pergis nodded. "My friends and I were looking for you and Alan. Malachi was with me, and then suddenly he was gone. I was maybe a block away from Market Square when I spotted him again. He wasn’t talking to anyone, but the soldier was right behind him. Portis went directly to you." Burke looked at him grimly. "He wanted you caught, Pete. He wanted me to see what happened to you. So I and the others would act against Urko. The fact that you got away was unexpected, to say the least."

 

"I said OUT!" said Yalu, voice raised. He advanced upon Burke with arm out-stretched. Burke looked at him without expression. Ann’s face was solemn, standing next to her husband. She turned away from the astronaut. Burke swallowed and turned to the door again.

 

Galen caught up to him an instant before he walked out, Alan on his heels. "Wait… please," and he put a restraining arm on Burke’s.

 

"I can’t stay - aren’t you listening!" Burke said, frustrated.

 

"I have something to say to all of you," said Galen in measured tones, and turned to his parents.

 

"After what he’s done, you bring this ape-killer into my home!" exclaimed Yalu, gray-streaked ruff quivering with emotion.  

 

"Let him speak."

 

Galen looked towards Ann’s quiet voice. Yalu opened his mouth, then shut it.   

 

"I told him," Galen said, nodding to Burke, "that there’s always another choice. Always. If that’s true, then the same holds true for me."

 

"What is this nonsense!" Yalu exclaimed.

 

"Father, I killed a gorilla. Have you forgotten when I first became a fugitive? All I wanted was to stop Urko’s plan to kill Alan and Pete. Because it was wrong. But someone ended up dying anyway. What happened to Pete was wrong, too.  And he had to make a choice. As hard as it is for me to say, I can’t be sorry he made that choice, because he wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t."

 

Burke stared wordlessly at Galen.  

 

Pergis spoke up. "Pete got into the situation trying to save Galen." Pergis’s sober gray eyes met Burke’s, level with his own. "You did nothing wrong. I believe that. As would they, if they’d witnessed what happened." Burke’s eyes dropped from his.

 

"Perhaps the words of the Lawgiver are true…." Pergis mused. Alan threw him a surprised look, and Pergis held up a hand. "What I mean is… the Lawgiver warned us of the nature of man, of the violence inherent to him. But he failed to warn us about ourselves…. We are no better. We cannot afford to think we are."

 

Alan spoke. "Sometimes they’re hard to find… but we’ve met many good individuals… human and ape."

 

There was silence. Yalu looked at the astronauts for a long moment, then Pergis, and finally Galen. His face was stern as he drew close to his son. "I won’t say that I can accept this, because I can't.  But I won’t turn my back on you," he said, simply.

 

Pergis nodded, satisfied, and turned to leave through the garden doorway, thinking he’d done all he could. Now it was up to Galen, his friends and his parents.  Galen grabbed his hand and Pergis looked back. "I don’t know if it makes a difference, Pergis… but I’m proud of you."

 

"It matters, Galen. Always," said Pergis, squeezing his cousin’s hand.

 

Burke looked at Pergis. "It’s funny. You of all people--" he started, and shook his head. "..of all apes, never doubted me, what I did.… " He trailed off.

 

Pergis looked at Burke, studying him. "Can’t you just accept it, then?"

 

"Pergis has always been an ape of conviction," Galen said. Burke nodded, bemused.

 

Alan shook hands with Pergis. "We won’t forget what you’ve done for us."

 

Pergis looked amused, then turned sober.  "I think you need all the help you can get. Urko will never rest until he finds you after this."

 

Alan nodded and turned to Galen. "We’ve found out what we came for. You ready?"

 

Galen turned to look at his parents, then back at Alan, who sighed, realizing it wasn’t over yet.

 

Ann spoke hurriedly. "You’re already here. Aren’t you hungry?" Burke looked up, alarmed. He wanted nothing more than to be out of this house and away from the city. Ann hesitated, then stepped closer to him, huffing impatiently as he continued to avoid her gaze. She tapped his arm gently with her fingers. He responded to her touch, looking stiffly at her, seeing her confusion over his actions and what it meant to her. And something else… the willingness to push that confusion aside. For her son’s sake - and maybe even for his.

 

He smiled awkwardly down at her for an instant. It was enough.  She tapped his arm again one last time and wrinkled her nose.

 

The trio looked at each other and came to agreement, nodding. They trooped behind Ann into the kitchen.

 

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

 

 Early the next morning the trio left Central City, tracing their path of a month before. They did their best to appear as unobtrusive as possible, and moved through the city without incident. Relief at safely reaching the outer limits of the city lightened their steps as they continued traveling, reaching the forested area where they’d previously camped an hour before dusk. The three made their way through trees and bushes to a familiar clearing and collapsed on the ground with grateful sighs.

 

Burke rummaged in his backpack and pulled out the bread and fruit that Ann had packed inside. He chewed, tasting little, and swigged from his canteen. Glancing sideways at Galen seated next to him in the fading light, he wiped his mouth with his arm. The chimpanzee seemed lost in thought, and Burke waved a hand in front of his face. Galen started and turned to Burke inquiringly. "Listen…" Burke said, clearing his throat. "What you said back there at your parent’s house… I, ah… appreciate it." He glanced away, picking a blade of grass from the ground. Suddenly the sounds of the forest were very loud to his ears.

 

Galen nodded, eyes thoughtful. He smiled slightly. "It was the truth."

 

"I think its time for us to talk about some things," Alan said quietly, sitting up from his reclining position on the ground.

 

Burke glanced at him uncomfortably. "Al…."

 

Alan held up his hand. "I mean it, Pete. It’s past time we dealt with what happened. Things got way out of hand."

 

Burke heaved himself up. He paced restlessly around the small clearing before stopping, hands on his hips, staring at the ground. His two friends watched in silence as he looked up. "What’s the point of this?" He squinted at the sun, sinking below the line of trees closest to him in the clearing.

 

Alan stood and faced Pete. "The point?" he repeated.

 

"Yeah. What good is it gonna do?" He switched his gaze to Alan.

 

"We can’t afford to keep secrets from each other. It almost got you killed, Pete," said Galen, looking up.

 

"What secrets?" Burke asked impatiently.

 

"Come on, Pete. You haven’t dealt with what happened at Chandar, or anything else. It’s coming back to haunt you - and us," Alan said, eyes trained on friend’s.

 

"So the purpose of this little heart-to-heart is so I’ll confess my sins – is that it?" Pete’s voice was even, but with an edge.

 

"By all rights, you should be dead now after what you did back there last month. You were out of control all the way," Alan said vehemently. He sighed, trying to retain his calm. "It’s bad enough we have to fight off so many threats from the outside.  It’s almost impossible if we have to worry about what stunt you’re gonna pull next."

 

"Look, I screwed up," Pete said, voice raised. "Don’t act like you wouldn’t have went after that flight disk if I hadn’t, Alan."

 

Alan stared at Pete and said, slowly, "Yeah. Yeah, you’re right. I would have tried to get it back." He paused, staring off into the trees, rubbing his chin. The fading light glowed orange. "You know, when I saw you pointing that gun at Urko, trying to keep from falling flat on your face… I was thinking, how much of this is my fault?" He looked at his two friends. "I won’t lie, that flight disk still means a lot to me… but it’s not worth your life. Our lives. I hope I never see anything like that again," he said, eyes on Burke.

 

"I got it back. That’s the end of it." Burke said flatly.

 

Galen snorted. "Oh no you don’t. We deserve more than that," he said, returning Pete’s glare with a measured look. "Stop looking at me that way and listen! We’re trying to help, whether you appreciate that or not."

 

"Maybe it bothers me that I left the disk behind in the first place, okay? Yeah, I got it back. Not quite as easy to make things right for Kabon and Liska, though. Not to mention the village." Burke uttered a strangled laugh. "It’s been one royal fuck up after another, lately, courtesy of yours truly, hasn’t it? I don’t know, Galen, maybe I figure you’re getting tired of having to pick up the pieces. Isn’t that right, Alan? I know I’d be tired of it."

 

"NO!" Alan exclaimed. "But the fact that you think you are single-handedly responsible for all that’s happened does bother me. Same as you thinking you can just single-handedly make things right does."

 

"We’ve got to deal with this together, Pete," said Galen.

 

Burke looked at them a moment, rubbing the back of his neck. He looked downward. "Then I get into that standoff with the gorilla..."

 

"You got into it trying to help me," Galen interjected quickly.

 

Burke looked towards the chimpanzee. "One step is all it takes, Galen. Did you know that? One step…one moment, one second, puts you over the line. I don’t know how to deal with it - or with Chandar, okay?" he burst out, sounding frustrated and uncertain. "It’s what I’ve been trying to do for weeks, and it hasn’t worked." He raked his hand restlessly through his hair.

 

"Maybe it was just one step… the last one. It took a lot of pushing to get you to that point," said Galen. He tapped his fingers together, watching his friend. The gloom in the clearing deepened.

 

"I looked at that gorilla… I couldn’t fight him, I knew he’d win. I remembered Liska, and Kabon, and all the other humans that have been beaten down, or killed, and I just… had enough. Was I supposed to roll over and quit?  After everything?" said Burke hesitantly, searching Galen’s eyes. Galen shook his head wordlessly.

 

Alan put a comforting hand on his friend’s shoulder, seeing his misery and self-doubt. "It’s easy to think you’d never take another life, Pete - easier to think in black and white, in absolutes... if you’re lucky, you’re never faced with a situation to challenge that conviction."

 

"You know as well as I that absolutes are tricky. It seems to be something I keep learning over and over," said Galen, smiling a little.  

 

"Stop defending me! I was glad when I pulled that trigger - you need to understand that, if nothing else," Pete said, suddenly angry. He waved his hand at them dismissively and turned away.

 

"I understand. I understand you very well. Enough of this, Pete!" Galen said loudly, advancing on Burke. "If it’s vengeance you still need, why are you looking for forgiveness?" He grabbed Pete’s arm and gave it a shake for emphasis.

 

Startled, Pete raised his brow and looked at the chimpanzee. "Who said I’m looking for forgiveness?" he yelled.

 

"Oh, please," was Galen’s reply.

 

"We’ve made our peace with what’s happened. You’ll have to look to yourself for absolution," said Virdon. Burke stared at him wordlessly. "And you better find it soon. We’re getting tired of this crap," added Virdon. His blue eyes crinkled at the corners.

 

"Yeah, well.. that’s asking a lot," said Burke, anger gone. He eyed the two of his friends and rubbed his forehead wearily.

 

Alan sobered, struck by the vulnerability on his face. "Try. Okay?"

 

"I’m not the same, anymore," Burke said simply.

 

"Then be what you are," Galen replied, gazing at him.

 

Burke looked back a moment. "I thought that was the problem."

 

"I dare say that won’t change anytime soon," Galen said dryly, patting Pete’s arm. He rolled his eyes at Virdon.

 

"Can you just let go of my arm now?" asked Burke pointedly. He sat down with a thump.

 

Alan looked back and forth at the two of them for a moment. Absently he felt for the disk in his pocket - a habit he’d acquired since getting it back. A startled look crossed his face.

 

"Alan…" said Burke, warning.

 

Virdon looked at him, stricken. "It’s gone."

 

"What do you mean, gone!" Galen exclaimed, agitated.

 

Burke looked up at Alan, anxiety belying his even tone.  "Oh no, uh-uh. This better be a joke." He and Galen stared at the blond astronaut. He returned their gaze with a blank look.

 

"If it is, I really don’t see the humor," added Galen sternly.  There was a long silence. "It’s a very bad joke."

 

Alan grinned and pulled the disk out of his pocket. "Busted."

 

Burke frowned at Alan, then sighed. "The king of comedy you ain’t." He scratched his finger idly in the dirt.

 

Galen glared. "I don’t think it’s funny at all."

 

"I’m sorry," said Alan, trying to look repentant, and failing miserably. He sat down beside Burke. He smacked the back of Alan’s head lightly, and a smothered laugh escaped the blond astronaut. Burke shook his head at Virdon and chuckled at Galen’s outraged expression.

 

Galen put his hands on his hips, staring at the two. His nose twitched. "Hmmph," he said, and turned away as the two began to laugh out loud.

 

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

 

He kissed her forehead and her temples before capturing her lips hungrily with his own. A fire lit inside him and he felt her answering shiver as his lips traveled down her throat, murmuring her name. Her fingers curled around the nape of his neck, then moved down his back. He shuddered at the feel of her cool fingertips trailing down his skin.

 

He’d been lying to himself and everyone else, all along, telling himself he didn’t need her, didn’t want her. God, he’d never wanted anyone so bad. He looked down into her eyes with pupils widened and dark, wanting him. Building her excitement with his own, he moved with her, held her. He closed his eyes, gasping, feeling what he’d wanted to feel since the first day they’d met, knowing he didn’t want to leave her.

 

He opened his eyes and her sightless stare met his own accusingly. Her flesh was cold. He screamed and pulled frantically away from Liska’s corpse.

 

Burke’s wavering cry awakened Alan and Galen immediately. Pete sat upright, eyes wide in the moonlit night.  

 

"What the hell?" Alan said, kneeling quickly beside his friend. Pete wrapped one arm around his stomach.   

 

Galen knelt on the other side of him. "It’s just another nightmare, Pete," he said, soothingly.

 

Abruptly Burke’s head lifted to meet Galen’s gaze with haunted eyes. Sweat beaded his forehead and upper lip. "I wish that’s all it was."

 

"What is it, Pete?" asked Alan, concerned.

 

Pete opened his mouth, then shut it. He looked at them both briefly, then turned his head. "Like Galen said… a nightmare."

 

"That’s not acceptable, Pete. No more hiding." Galen winced at the look in Burke’s dark eyes as they moved slowly to his, considering.

 

"No, this hovering over me isn’t acceptable," he said in a low voice. He sighed and lowered his head across his arms, propped on his knees.

 

The fog shifting and swirling in Pete and through him was cold and gray.  It numbed him, separated him from his emotions, emotions that had taken on shapes he no longer recognized and was terrified to face.

 

But face them he would. Before he risked his life again, or theirs, or ruined any chances of freedom they still had.

 

 Or destroyed the friendship they shared.

 

"I was going back," he said, voice muffled. There was a stunned silence. Slowly he raised red-rimmed eyes to meet Alan’s. "To her. Understand?" A chill ran down Alan’s spine at the raw pain he saw there.

 

"Oh God, Pete," said Alan. He looked away, shutting his eyes briefly.

 

"Why, Pete?" whispered Galen. "Why couldn’t you tell us?" His sober brown gaze searched the astronaut’s eyes.

 

"I lied to myself, to her. I’d only known her a few days… I wasn’t going to let some infatuation control me. Now it’s too late," said Burke. His long fingers rubbed his eyes. "She’ll never know."

 

"I’m so sorry. I wish to God there was something…" Alan started, deep voice soft.

 

Burke swiped at his nose and stared down at the ground. There was a long silence before he spoke, clearing his throat in attempted nonchalance. "There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you, Al..."

 

"Anything, Pete. You name it."

 

"It’s just a question. How the hell did you get away from the apes the day of the demonstration?"

 

Alan looked at him a moment and sighed. "I really don’t want to tell you this."

 

Burke turned, surprised, towards Alan. "Why not?"

 

"I’ll regret this. I should just make up something," he replied, disgruntled.

 

"C’mon, Al," Burke said curiously, Galen chiming in behind him.

 

"All right. Here goes." Alan took a deep breath. " I.. I hid."

 

"Yeah? No kiddin’," snapped Burke. Galen waited patiently, gazing at Alan.

 

"In a pile of garbage," Alan mumbled with his face turned away.

 

Burke put a hand behind his ear. "Where? What was that?" His dull eyes began to liven.

 

"I SAID IN A PILE OF GARBAGE," Alan said loudly.

 

"Those big piles in the alleyways?" Alan nodded. "Man, that must have been rough. Phew." Burke shook his head and smirked. Galen smiled. "What’d you do, just dive right in?" Alan nodded again, chagrined. "Hey, you know, I threw up on one of those piles. Maybe I threw up on you. I could have sworn that stack of garbage moved… figured I was hallucinating. You weren’t hiding behind Market Square, were you?" Alan shot him a look, brows lowered. Galen chuckled. "Come to think of it, when you rode to the rescue there at Urko’s, you did smell pretty ripe. I didn’t want to say anything, buddy… didn’t want to be indelicate…"

 

Alan snorted. "You, indelicate? It’ll never happen." Burke continued to rib him. Alan said, voice even, "You’re pissing me off, Major."

 

The corner of Burke’s mouth lifted. "Didn’t you know? There are majors in hell, too. Pissing off the colonels."

 

Galen frowned. "Pissing off? That’s disgusting." He shook his head. "I will never understand you two." He cocked his head sideways, considering. "You know.. I don’t believe it’s worth the effort."

 

Virdon patted Galen’s back, and Burke smiled.

 

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

 

Two months later:

The weather was pleasant in Central City. The sky was bright blue, and a freshening breeze blew in and around the stone buildings as a crowd of students gathered at the Commerce Plaza. A young chimp stepped forward to speak, holding his hands out for silence over the murmuring crowd.

 

The day before, in a dismal back street, a body was discovered. A chimp, shot once in the forehead. The wound was small upon entry, but the back half of the simian’s head was blown away. He lay crumpled, black clothes ruffled in the lonesome wind.

 

An unheeded warning echoed in his mind, one of the chimp’s last sorrowing thoughts: It’s too late for your bargains. It won’t work even if you get to Zaius before I put a bullet in you.

 

Zaius, who would protect the secrets of mankind’s legacy. No matter the cost.  

 

Opening his gray eyes, the chimp struggled against the swift descent into blackness. His spirit fled before the shrinking corridors of his mind, his surprised gaze fixed on the sun rising high over the city.

 

Shortly after noon on the day of his death, his body was discovered. Instantly a great clamor arose within the city.  Another ape killed, within months of the other.

 

The next day, regardless of consequences, Gathor stood upon the steps of the Commerce Plaza intending a resurrection of a sort.

 

A new day had dawned on the planet of the apes.

 

~The End~