Old Arguments, New Shoes

Mady Bay—mbay@binghamton.edu

 

 

July 1, 2005

Special thanks to Carol and Jane for beta reading – their comments and thoughts were most appreciated and helped enhance this story.

 

 

“Are you crazy?!?!” Pete exclaimed.

 

“You heard them, Pete,” Alan argued.  Zaius has a machine.  Probably an old computer, the way that Prefect was describing it.  This could be – ”

 

“This could be our chance,” Pete broke in, his voice mocking Alan’s serious tone.  “I know.  I know.”  He paced angrily around their campfire.  “But how could you even think it could work?? Have you seen any power lines running their way to Central City?”  He stopped and turned to face Alan again.  “And did you hear those last two words I said?  Central.  City.  We might as well just hand ourselves over to Urko, Al!”

 

Alan sighed.  “I’m not ready to give up yet, Pete,” he said.  “I still have a wife and child to get-”

 

Pete quickly turned and poked his finger to Alan’s chest.  “No, Al!” he shouted.  “You throw that into my face every time we have this argument!  Just because I’m not married with kids, doesn’t mean I don’t have people I love and care about!  Doesn’t mean I miss them any less than you do!”  He moved back a step.  “But at least I know our limits here.  I know that there’s no way in hell that we’re getting home.  It’s a fucking disc around your neck, Alan, not a space ship.”

 

“Major-”

 

“Oh, and forget about pulling rank on me, too,” Pete ranted on.  “I’m outta here.  I quit.  You go on your wild goose chase.  I need a new pair of shoes and by God I’m gonna go get a pair.”

 

“Shoes?!” Alan balked.  “You’re turning down a chance at a computer for a pair of shoes?”

 

“‘Never underestimate the value of a good pair of shoes,’ that’s what my Gramma Burke always said.  I’m heading back to town.  Gonna go find Galen, see if he’ll help me out.”  And with that said, Pete turned away from Alan and walked back toward the small town they’d just visited.

 

“Pete!  Pete!”  Alan watched Pete storm off, but didn’t try to stop him. He hung his head and sighed in frustration, running a hand through his hair. 

 

It had become an all too common argument between the pair – whether or not they should keep trying to find technology, a computer for the disc around Alan’s neck, to get them back home.  But Pete had usually caved in, gone along with his plans; his orders.  Somewhere inside, there was a part of Alan that knew Pete was right, that they probably wouldn’t ever get home.  But another part of him wouldn’t let him give up his hope, wouldn’t let him ignore any chances, no matter how small or dangerous they were.  Or how tiring it was becoming.

 

When Galen returned to the camp later on, alone, Alan was packed and ready to go.

 

“Where’s Pete? Didn’t he find you?” Alan asked.

 

“Yes, I met up with him a little while ago,” Galen replied easily.  “I introduced him to Zaran, at the tannery.”

 

“You what?!  You just left him there?”  Alan started walking back toward town.

 

Galen grabbed his arm.  “Alan,” he said.  When Alan met his gaze, he held it.

 

Galen had heard the arguments between the two before, knew they were becoming more frequent.  So when Pete had found him in town, and told him of his and Alan’s latest one, Galen thought, maybe, the separation would do the pair some good; that they’d each see merit in the other’s ideas, and that while separated, would cool their tempers enough to do so.  Galen also had his own reasons for wanting to go to Central City – he desperately wanted to visit with his parents.  He also figured Alan would need him more – a trip to Central City being more dangerous than the small town of Romma, where Pete was staying.

 

“I asked Zaran to let Pete work at the tannery, to earn himself a new pair of shoes,” Galen explained.  “I said that I had business elsewhere and that I’d be back for him in two weeks.” When Alan just stared at him, dumbfounded, he continued, “The two of you need a break from each other, Alan.  I’ll go with you to Central City.  In two weeks, we’ll be back and I’m sure you and Pete will have had time to ‘cool off.’”

 

“And what happens to Pete if we’re not back in two weeks?” Alan asked.

 

“I told Zaran that if we weren’t back, he was to send Pete, with a letter I wrote, to my estate in Sandago,” Galen replied simply.

 

“Your ‘estate’?  Gee, Galen, I didn’t know you had an estate!  Well, hell, let’s just go there and retire!”

 

“Alan…  Alan, I had to tell Zaran something!”  Galen huffed loudly.  “Now we’re arguing!”

 

Alan closed his eyes.  He really didn’t want to argue anymore.  “And this Zaran is going to just let him go? To your estate?”

 

“I’ve heard nothing but good things about Zaran since we’ve been here,” Galen assured him.  “I have no reason to doubt him.”

 

“I don’t like it.  I don’t like leaving him here,” Alan said.

 

“Alan...” Galen hesitated a moment, then continued, “Pete’s an adult, isn’t he?  Someone who achieved the rank of Major in your time?”  When Alan nodded, his expression showing curiosity in where Galen was going with this line of thought, Galen pressed on.  “Despite your military background, your society encouraged independent thought, did it not?”  Alan sighed and resignedly nodded his head.  “We’ll be back in two weeks.  You’ll have seen your computer, or not.  Pete will have his new shoes and be happier.  Let’s consider this respite from each other as a learning experience.”

Alan seemed skeptical, but reaching up and feeling the disc as it hung around his neck, he knew he had other priorities, and so nodded his head at Galen.  “Fine.”

###

 

“‘Pete’?  That your name?”

 

Pete looked at the tannery’s foreman, a middle-aged human named Lan.  He couldn’t help noticing the long scar down the side of Lan’s neck, breaking up parts of his gray beard.

 

“Yes,” Pete replied.

 

“And you’re here for only two weeks?”  Lan did not sound too pleased.

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

“Fine.  Your job will be in the stables.  You will clean out the stalls.”

 

Pete was about to protest – after all, a man with degrees in aeronautical engineering and a career as an astronaut in the space program was above cleaning up horse shit – but realized that he needed to lie low.  He just wanted to earn his shoes and get out of there. 

 

“I’ll do my best,” he told Lan.

 

###

 

“You’re worried about him, aren’t you?” Galen asked.

 

“He’s my responsibility.  I’m his commanding officer,” Alan replied.

 

“So, it’s not because he’s your friend?”

 

“After that blow up, I’m not sure we can be friends anymore.”  A minute of silence as they walked, then Alan continued, “It’s more than just this argument, Galen.  It’s the same argument over and over.”  He stopped walking, picking up a tall piece of grass to chew on.  “The longer we’re here, the smaller the chance we have of getting home.  Pete knows that, but lately… it’s like he doesn’t care anymore.  I don’t think he wants to go home.”  Alan started walking again.

 

Galen continued alongside Alan, contemplating his own thoughts.  He truly liked both of these humans; they’d become his friends.  He worried about what would become of him if they did not reconcile their own friendship.  He did not want to have to choose one or the other to journey with, to be a fugitive with.  He sighed.  When would they decide to stop running?  To maybe settle down somewhere, far away from Central City, to live “normal” lives?

 

How long had they been running?  Almost a year?

 

“Pretty soon you’ll have steam coming out of your ears, Galen,” Alan said with a chuckle.

 

Galen put his hands to his ears and gave Alan a confused look.   “Steam?”

 

“An expression for someone who’s thinking too hard.  Like their brain is going to burn out from overuse.”

 

“Ah,” Galen nodded, then shook his head.  “And here I thought, without Pete around, I’d be getting a rest from these human expressions.”  At Alan’s silence, he changed the subject.  “So what plan do you have for finding this computer?” he asked.

 

“I don’t know yet.  Just the usual, I guess.”

 

“You’ll figure it out when you get there?”

 

“Something like that.”

 

###

 

Pete leaned against the side of the stall and sighed, wiping the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand.  Who knew shoveling horse droppings would be such hard work?  In the four days he’d been at the tannery, most of his time had been spent in the stables.  The horses belonged to Zaran, the orangutan who owned the tannery, and to the gorillas who worked for him – about a dozen horses altogether. 

 

He hadn’t been able to see the entire operation at the tannery – apparently, stable hands and other grunts like himself didn’t mix with the actual shoemakers and leatherworkers here.  He’d seen enough, though, to know that the people working there weren’t very ambitious. 

 

He didn’t quite think they were slaves, actually branded and belonging to Zaran, but he kept a tight leash on them.  In his, Galen’s and Alan’s travels they’d come across worse situations, where the humans were kept as slaves – actually chained or caged to keep them from running away.  They’d also met many a free human family.  Granted, they’d be considered to be in the lower class of this ape run society, but they were still better off than the lot Pete was working with now. 

 

“Get back to work!”

 

Roused from his thoughts, Pete looked up at the gorilla that had yelled at him.  He nodded his head and then began shoveling again. 

 

This particular gorilla, Kulo, seemed, to Burke anyway, to have a bad attitude towards humans.  More than most gorillas did.  Pete shuddered to think he could be Urko’s younger brother.  For some reason Kulo had the odd notion that humans could work for twenty-four hours straight without any sort of break for food, water or sleep.

 

“Lay low.  Lay low,” had become Pete’s mantra when around the apes. 

 

“What are you saying?!” Kulo demanded, coming closer to Pete.

 

“Nothing, sir,” Pete replied quickly, looking at the floor.  “Just talking to myself, sir,” he added.

 

The gorilla grumbled something along the lines of “stupid human,” and moved to leave the stable, shoving Pete to the ground as he passed him by.

 

Pete counted to ten before rising from the ground, knowing that if he got up any sooner, Kulo would have a pitchfork sticking out of his rear end and Pete would really be in trouble.

 

“A week and a half,” he said aloud.  “A week and a half.”

 

###

 

It had taken some careful planning, quick thinking and finally, bribery before Alan and Galen found themselves safely in the home of Councilor Yalu and his wife, Ann. 

 

“Ann, no,” Alan argued.  “I can’t – I won’t – ask you to do this.  It’s too dangerous.”

 

“No more dangerous than you two bribing the servants of the local police with some shiny trinkets to get them to distract their masters long enough for you to sneak through the back gate of the city!” she countered.

 

“That’s different, Mother,” Galen argued.  “We’re already fugitives; already in trouble with the law!  We have nothing to lose!  You… You have everything to lose, with Father being Councilor and all!”

 

“Don’t you tell me you have nothing to lose,” she retorted, then, added, gently, “my dear Galen.”

 

“But this is Zaius’s office we’re talking about, ma’am,” Alan said, joining the conversation again.  Urko’s gorillas.  They won’t let anyone near the place, especially a fugitive’s mother.”

 

“Nonsense!” Ann replied flippantly.  “I am a Councilor’s wife.  I have every right to go where I please and talk to anyone I want.”

 

“Mother, please,” Galen implored, taking his mother’s hand in his own and petting it gently.  “After the last time you helped us, Urko and Zaius will know to suspect something.”

 

“They’ll suspect nothing,” she retorted, removing her hand from Galen’s.  “They had no proof I helped you rescue Burke.”

 

Galen just looked helplessly at Alan, not knowing how to say no to his mother.

 

“It’s simple,” Ann went on.  “I’ll distract Zaius and his guards while you and Virdon find this… this… com- compootee thing of yours.”

 

“Computer,” Alan corrected her.  “And it’ll be a lot more difficult than that, I’m afraid.”

 

“And you have a better plan?” she asked.  “Maybe if Burke were here, he’d have a plan,” she added.  She’d gotten to know Burke after his rescue and had become fond of the young human.

 

Alan turned away from Ann and Galen and looked out the window, at the city.  He and Galen, when asked by Ann about Pete’s absence, had told her that Pete had stayed behind in another town doing some other business.  They didn’t specify what business that might be, or go into the truth, even when they saw the skeptical look in her eyes.  They assured her that he was alive and well, and that seemed to satisfy her.  Somewhat.

 

Zaius has to leave his office sometime,” Galen put in.  “And it’s not like Alan hasn’t gotten in before.”

 

“I will provide a distraction for the guards,” Ann insisted.  “You know I can do it.”

 

Alan turned around and faced Galen and his mother once again.  “Fine,” he told them.  “Tomorrow night.”

 

###

 

Pete collapsed onto his bedroll with a sigh.  He’d finished his work early and thought to take a short nap before the dinner bell rang.

 

“Pete!  What are you doing there?” Lan called.  “There is work to be done.”

 

Geez, Lan, don’t you guys ever take a coffee break?” Pete groused.  “I mean, I’ve been here for over a week now.  Those stables are clean enough to do surgery in!”

 

“Surgery?” Lan questioned, obviously confused.

 

“I’ve seen how this place works,” Pete went on.  “These gorillas work you like slaves!  Sure, they say they pay you; you get room and – ”

 

“We do honest labor, without complaints,” Lan interrupted.  “I don’t understand why you fight our ways.”

 

“I don’t accept apes as superior to humans,” Pete replied, adding, “My master, as you call him, is actually a good friend of mine.  We’re equals.”

 

“That can’t be.  No.”  Lan was obviously disturbed by Pete’s words.  Zaran is good to us.  He treats us well.”

 

“That’s why you have that nice scar on your neck?”

 

Lan’s hand came up and touched the side of his neck.  “Get back to work,” he stammered.  “You have your paper from your master.  You are free to leave any time,” Lan told him before turning away, storming off.

 

“Not without my shoes,” Pete muttered, then as an afterthought, yelled, “Hey!  There’s more to life than making boots and saddles for the gorillas, you know, Lan!”

 

###

 

Alan couldn’t help but look over his shoulder again.  Ann was outside Zaius’s office, distracting the guards, trying to convince them that she needed them to take her to see Zaius immediately or some other such nonsense.  He thought he heard her mention something about her ‘safety being at risk, what with fugitive humans rumored to have been in the city.’  Galen was hidden nearby, ready to rescue his mother, or Alan, in case anything went wrong.

 

Alan dared not light a candle, and risk alerting the guards, but it was dark inside and Alan was having trouble finding his way around.  He’d just come back into Zaius’s office area, walking around the desk, when his foot hit something solid.  It took Alan a few seconds to calm down and swallow the loud yelp he’d wanted to loose upon impact.

 

Looking down, he saw the square machine on the floor and nearly dropped to his knees.  All the buttons with letters on them, the square glass top…  Alan’s head dropped to his chest.  Zaius’s machine, his computer, was nothing more than a cash register.

 

Pete had been right – he’d wound up on another wild goose chase. 

 

He rose and headed for the rear door to the office.

 

###

 

“Pete!” Kulo called.  “Come here!”

 

Pete put down his shovel and headed toward the gorilla.

 

Whaddaya need, Kulo?” he asked.

 

Lan tells me you’re not happy here,” Kulo said.

 

Pete stood silently while he tried to gather his thoughts and let go of his anger toward Kulo and now Lan.  “Not the best place I’ve worked,” he said, neutrally.

 

“You’re provided with food and shelter in return for your work.  What could be better?”

 

“Oh, I don’t know, maybe a lunch break, with something remotely nutritious to eat for starters,” Pete replied.

 

“Your two weeks of work will only earn your shoes and basic needs,” Kulo told him.  “Anything else, humans don’t need, nor could they possibly hope to earn.”

 

“That what you tell these people?” Pete balked.  “A little positive reinforcement goes a long way, you know.  Maybe some Christmas bonuses, raises, promotions… hell, you’d increase production tenfold!”

 

Pete was not ready for the back of the gorilla’s hand to make contact with his cheek, forcing him to spin to the left and fall to the ground.

 

“I knew you were the source for their unrest,” Kulo growled, placing his booted foot on Pete’s chest, pressing down.

 

Kulo!”

 

Pete was thankful for the other gorilla’s interruption.

 

Kulo!  Zaran wants to see you!  Now!”

 

Pete felt as if his ribs were about to break, hardly able to breathe, when at last Kulo removed his foot and joined the other gorilla, leaving Pete behind, gasping.

 

And as he lay there, sucking in oxygen and contemplating the puffy white clouds floating overhead, Pete realized that he really missed his home – the earth of a thousand years before – a place where slavery was unheard of anymore and where gorillas like Kulo, or, humans that acted like gorillas like Kulo, were the ones that eventually found themselves in cages.  And he missed his friends, Alan and Galen, even more.

 

###

 

“It was nice to see your parents again, Galen,” Alan said, finally breaking the silence of the morning.

 

The two had left Central City two days ago and now were returning to Romma, the town they’d last been in as a trio. 

 

“Yes, it was,” Galen replied.  “As I’ve said the past four times you’ve told me,” he added.

 

“Sorry, Galen,” Alan answered quietly, kicking a stone as he walked.  “Guess I’m still not much of a conversationalist.”

 

“It’s all right, Alan.  I know you’re still disappointed.  But at least you can tell yourself you tried.”

 

“I’ll be sure to tell that to Pete, too,” Alan muttered angrily.

 

Galen stopped walking and turned around to face Alan, forcing him to stop, as well.  “Alan,” he began.  “Deep down, I think Pete understands.  He wants to return to your world, your time, just as much as you do.”

 

“But?”

 

“But… Pete’s… tired, for lack of a better word.  We’ve been fugitives for almost a year now, Alan.  And for Pete, staying hopeful, I think, has been more tiring than actually running.”

 

Alan dropped down to sit on the grass and let out a sigh.  Galen noted the troubled look on his face and sat down next to him.

 

“Alan?”

 

“Sally and I lived next door to the Dickinson family,” Alan spoke.  “Jeff worked as a computer software designer.  Margie stayed home with the kids, Lucy and Mike.  From all appearances, they were the typical American family.  Had the perfect house, white picket fence, kids got straight A’s in school…  Margie was always bragging about Jeff and the kids, hosting dinner parties, presiding over the PTA meetings.  She drove Sally nuts with her perfectionism, of course.”  Alan smiled, remembering Sally’s complaints.

 

“But something tells me she wasn’t so perfect?” Galen asked.

 

“We got woken up one night by sirens,” Alan continued.  “The police and an ambulance had responded to their house.  Margie had had a nervous breakdown – kind of an emotional sickness,” he added, tried to explain the term to Galen.  “All this while we were thinking everything was perfect, it was far from it.  Jeff had gotten laid off from his job.  The kids were having problems in school.  And Margie, well she just tried and tried everything she could to keep their household together and happy without letting anyone else know.  And I guess, she just got… tired.”

 

Galen did not miss the emphasis Alan put on the word that he had used to describe Pete just minutes before.  He was definitely glad he had helped Pete out, now, giving his human friend a chance to “relax” for a bit, even if it was while working at a tannery.

 

“Come on,” Galen said, lightly tapping Alan’s shoulder as he rose from the grass.  “The sooner we get back to Romma, the sooner we can put all of this behind us.”

 

“Sure, Galen,” Alan replied, standing up and following his friend down the path they’d been walking.

 

###

 

Kulo tells me you were unhappy here, Pete,” Zaran spoke evenly as he walked to his desk.

 

“Hate to admit it, but yeah,” Pete replied.  “Not that Kulo makes it easy for anyone to enjoy themselves,” he added, absently rubbing the dark bruise on his right cheek.

 

Zaran had not bothered to even look at Pete as he had entered his office, let alone reply to the remark.  He began to shuffle through the papers on his desk.

 

“Look, I’ve done my time here, sir,” Pete went on.  “My master told me to go on without him.  All I want are the shoes I’ve earned and my walking papers.”

 

Zaran nodded his head absently, half agreeing with Pete’s words as he read the purchase order from the local police garrison that was in his hand.  “Here are your papers from your master, your shoes are in the hallway,” Zaran said, holding out a piece of paper.  He waved his hand over toward one of the side doors, dismissing him.

 

Pete was quick to grab the paper, scanning it quickly and making sure it was the paper Galen had written for him.  He wouldn’t put it past these apes, especially Kulo, to give him a piece of paper that said, “I think apes are assholes.  Kill me!” on it, thinking that like most other humans, he could not read. 

 

“Thank you, Master Zaran,” he said to the orangutan, and headed for the hallway and his new shoes.  When he got there, though, he was just a bit confused, if not disappointed and eventually angry.  The shoes were too small.  Almost child-sized.  Pete turned and headed back to Zaran’s office.  “Master Zaran,” he said, entering the office, ignoring the icy glare he got from Kulo.  “There’s been some mistake, sir.  Those shoes are all too small.  I’d like to go get a pair that will fit me.”

 

“You get what you’re given,” Kulo told him, anticipation rising in his voice.  He knew Pete’s anger was going to get away from him, and that he’d get to deal with the human once again.

 

Pete tried to keep his cool.  Tried to ignore the little voice that told him to deck Kulo.  “I’m sorry, sir,” he went on, gritting his teeth at yet another time he’d had to call one of these apes “sir.”  “But my master specifically left me here to earn a pair of shoes from you, for me.  A pair of shoes that would fit me.  So that I could walk long distances in relative comfort, as I perform my duties for my master.”

 

Kulo, do be so kind as to escort this human out of my office?” was all Zaran would say.

 

“No, please!” Pete pled.  “Master Zaran.  Just one lousy pair of shoes.  My master will be very disappointed if I don’t get them.  I’ll slow down his journey!”

 

Kulo moved forward, ready to grab onto Pete.

 

“Please!” Pete shouted.  “I’ve done everything you’ve wanted, better than your own workers!” 

 

Zaran ignored Pete’s pleas, continuing to read through the papers on his desk. 

 

Frustrated and angry, Pete slammed his hands down upon Zaran’s desk, finally forcing the orangutan to meet his gaze.  “I want my shoes!”

 

Kulo grabbed Pete by his arm, dragged him away from Zaran’s desk and slammed him against the wall.  And still Pete ranted on.

 

“I’ve been shoveling shit and putting up with this jerk of a gorilla for two weeks!  I want my shoes!  I want my fucking shoes!” 

 

He rose quickly, shoving Kulo away from him and lunged at Zaran once more.  But Kulo was again quick to react and prevented Pete from nearing his boss.  This time he wrapped his arms around Pete’s, pinning him in a bearhug, squeezing him hard enough that Pete could no longer shout at Zaran or Kulo.  Kulo turned to the side so that he could meet Zaran’s gaze, silently asking permission for something.  Zaran nodded, if reluctantly, then Kulo dragged Pete out of the office, calling another of the gorilla guards to help him.

 

Pete fought against the gorillas’ grips – but it was no use.  One gorilla’s strength, never mind two, would have outmatched him.  All he received for his trouble were more bruises as they dug their fingers deeper into his flesh.  They dragged him along, into a courtyard, and up some stairs onto a platform.  There they brought his hands upward, and tied them to a ring that hung from a post at the platform’s center.

 

“All I wanted was the shoes I earned!” he shouted, pulling at the ropes.  Zaran made a deal with my master!  He went back on his word!”

 

He watched as people started gathering around, his shouts bringing them out of the tannery and the other buildings on the property.

 

“It’s unfair!” he shouted.  “They lied!  They treat you like crap and then – ”

 

Pete’s shouts were cut off when Kulo’s cohort shoved his head against the pole, creating more bruises on his right cheek.

 

“You will be silent!” Kulo growled at him.

 

Unable to protest while the gorilla held him, Pete looked around, peering from behind his left bicep, searching the crowd for his saviors… but Alan and Galen were nowhere to be seen.  Not that he expected them to be.  He flinched as his shirt was literally ripped from his back, Kulo again proving his strength, shredding the threadbare material as if it were paper.

 

“The punishment for disobedience,” Kulo called out, keeping his eyes above the human laborers, “is five lashes!”

 

“NO!” Pete managed to shout, fighting off the gorilla’s grip, pulling on the ropes with renewed strength.

 

Pete felt the breeze and heard the crack of the whip just seconds before he felt the sting.  He nearly bit his tongue as he clenched his teeth, his pride keeping him from crying out.  He closed his eyes and leaned heavily against the pole and tried to get his breathing under control, to prepare for the next lash.  “This is what I get for wanting a lousy pair of shoes,” he muttered to himself.  “I worked hard, did what I was told, my two weeks was up.  Time for my new shoes. Ask for a pair that actually fit me, though, and what do I get?”

 

The second lash came quickly.  Pete let out a groan as his flesh was torn again, and he felt blood starting to drip down his back, to soak into the waistband of his pants.

 

“I was not being disobedient, Master Zaran, sir,” Pete called out, gritting his teeth.

 

“When humans question the methods and authority of apes it is disobedience!” Kulo shouted, to Pete, and to the crowd.

 

“I just wanted a pair of shoes that fit!”

Pete felt himself sagging against the pole, but forced his legs to lock, to hold him up.  He would not give in.  He would show these apes that he was stronger than they were.  He would show the workers that they were stronger.   He would need to be strong, so he could get away.  When Alan and Galen came to get him.  But he screamed as the next lash struck, all thoughts of being brave and stoic leaving him.

 

Alan and Galen would not be coming to get him.

 

“I’m sorry!” he cried out, his back arching, pressing him against the pole again, trying to get away from the whip.

 

Pete didn’t think he’d ever felt such pain in his life.  He tried blocking it out, tried to think of anything to take his mind off of it, to take him away from it.  He opened his eyes and caught sight of Lan standing to the side of the crowd, seemingly oblivious to the torture up on stage in front of him.  He looked around at the rest of the people.  No one cared.  No one looked.  No one tried to stop the apes from hurting him.

 

As he was struck once again, all strength and hope left him.  He let his body sag, his legs buckling under him.  Only the ropes on his wrists held above him kept him upright.  He barely felt the last strike, his mind sending him elsewhere, away from the pain, away from the apes, away from the people that didn’t care, that had no hope.

 

###

 

“You seem distant, Alan,” Galen remarked.

 

The two had been walking for several hours, starting a sunrise, and had just a short way to go before returning to Romma, and Pete.

 

“Not looking forward to the next few... months,” Alan said with a sigh.

 

Galen stopped walking, a confused look coming across his face. “You aren’t looking forward to seeing Pete again?  I’d thought we’d been over this, Alan.”

 

Alan stopped now, too. “As much as I hate to admit it, Galen, no. I’m not in the mood for one of Pete’s ‘I told you so’ attitudes.”

 

Galen approached Alan and put his hand on Alan’s forearm.  “I’m sure it won’t be that bad,” he said.  Then, when Alan arched an eyebrow at him, he added, “I’ll talk to him first. Maybe he’ll have missed us enough to forget that whole argument you two had.”

 

Alan shook his head.  “When did you become such an optimist, Galen?” he asked.  When Galen just gave him a knowing look in reply, Alan continued, saying, “Come on, let’s see what kind of trouble Pete got himself into.  Probably tried to get the tannery workers unionized or something.”

 

“Unionized?”

 

Alan put his arm around Galen’s shoulders and started them walking again, explaining all about labor unions, forty-hour workweeks and Jimmy Hoffa as they went.

 

###

 

They entered the front door of the tannery’s office, Galen walking a few steps ahead of Alan, assuming the role of master and owner of the human.

 

“Ah, Zaran, good to see you again,” Galen greeted him, bowing slightly.  “I know I’m a few days late, but wondered if perhaps my human, Pete, might still be here, or if we’ll find him on the way to my estate.”

 

A frown formed upon Zaran’s face at the mention of Pete’s name.  He rose from his desk.  “He’s still here,” he said.  “You’ll find him out back,” he added, motioning behind him.

 

“I assume there were no problems, he worked well for you?”

 

“For the most part,” Zaran agreed.  “But now you can take him home with you. I have no need of him,” he added and sat back down at his desk, dismissing Galen without another word.

 

Galen found Zaran’s words and actions a bit disconcerting.  He turned to Alan and silently questioned him for his opinion.  Alan just shrugged his shoulders.  “Very well.  Good day,” Galen said, finally, turning to exit the office.

 

As they left the office and walked through the grounds outside the tannery, Alan was very aware of the stares he and Galen got. It made him uneasy.

 

What made him even more uneasy was that he didn’t see Pete anywhere.

 

“I don’t like this,” he whispered to Galen.

 

They turned a corner around a building and found themselves in a courtyard, and at the center of it, was a platform.

 

“Oh, God,” Alan whispered, his pain and heartache audible in his words, as he broke away from Galen and ran to the platform.  “Pete?!”

 

Galen followed quickly, his right hand coming up to cover his mouth, agape in horror.

 

“He’s been whipped!” Alan shouted, climbing onto the platform to get closer.  “Pete?  Pete?” he called, reaching for his best friend’s neck, and pulse, as he did.

 

“Is he?”

 

“He’s alive,” Alan confirmed.  “But we’ve got to get him down.”

 

Alan struggled with the knots around Pete’s wrists.  Galen got out his knife and handed it to him. Alan made quick work of the ropes and had to move quickly to catch Pete as he collapsed, a small groan escaping his lips as his did.  Alan caught him carefully, trying to keep his hands from touching the horrible wounds on Pete’s back.

 

“Easy, Pete,” Alan whispered.  “I gotcha.”

Galen was about to help him, when he noticed that they had an audience.  Zaran and his two gorilla enforcers had approached.  Zaran!” Galen shouted.  “What is the meaning of this?!  This human belongs to me!” Galen told him, irritation and true anger in his voice.

 

“The punishment was justified,” Zaran replied defensively, making eye contact with Kulo.

 

“I can’t believe that.  He has always been obedient, and honest.  I wouldn’t have left him here with you if it were otherwise!” Galen argued.

 

“He questioned orders. He riled up the other workers. He was nothing but trouble,” Kulo spat.

 

“He is a valuable member of my serving staff,” Galen began.

 

“He attacked me.  He is lucky to be alive,” Zaran cut in.  “Take him away.  Far away,” he added, dismissing them as he turned and began walking away.

 

“Is that it?” Alan shouted, angered at the orangutan’s nonchalance.

 

“Alan,” Galen scolded gently, putting a hand to the human’s shoulder.  He was just as outraged, but they needed to keep in character, for Pete’s sake.

 

“Is there at least a vet in town?” Galen asked quickly.

 

“No,” the other gorilla replied.  “Closest one is in Central City.”

 

Galen sighed, then turned back to the platform to help Alan.  When he looked at Pete again, Galen had a tough time holding his emotions in, seeing up close now how badly Pete was injured.  But with Zaran and his gorillas still nearby, he had to keep up the charade and treat his human friends as servants.  Seeing Pete’s shredded shirt, knowing they’d need it for bandages, he picked it up daintily, tossed it toward Alan and said, “Bring him,” before heading off the platform.

 

Alan bristled at the order, but knew deep down that he had to go along with the act.  After carefully maneuvering Pete toward the edge of the platform, Alan jumped down to the ground.  He pulled Pete’s arms toward him, to slide his torso over his shoulder and down his back, in a modified fireman’s carry.  When Pete let out another pain-filled groan, Alan whispered, “I gotcha, pal.  Don’t worry, we’re gonna take care of you.”

He followed Galen out of the tannery grounds, past the humans that had gone back to work, skinning the animals and prepping their hides to make leather.  Not one of them looked up as the trio passed; no one offered to help.

 

Once they were out of the tannery grounds, Galen led the way to the Prefect’s office.  He meant to complain to the orangutan about Zaran, and to see if there was anyone in the village that would be willing to help them.

 

Unfortunately, when they arrived, Zaran was already talking with the Prefect.

 

“Yes, what do you want?” the Prefect said upon Galen’s entrance.

 

“I need to make a complaint!” Galen told him.  Zaran punished my human, whipped him, without due cause and without my permission!”

 

“I’ve just spoken with my brother, Zaran,” the orangutan responded, easily.  “He’s told me about this human of yours.  How he tried to attack him.  I think he did not get punished enough!”

 

“I disagree,” Galen countered. “And now – ”

 

“You’re not one of those human rights activists, are you?” the Prefect cut in, disgust in his voice. “Always protecting humans, thinking they’re intelligent animals…bah!”

 

Zaran shuddered at his brother’s description.

 

Galen knew his protest would go no further.  “Is there at least someone in this village that would provide care or supplies for him?”

 

“You are not welcome in Romma,” the Prefect told Galen.  “Get out.”

 

Sensing the increased tension and danger in the room, not to mention Kulo’s imposing presence, Galen backed down, and out.

 

“We need to get out of here, Alan,” he told his friend as he exited the Prefect’s office.  “Back to the clearing.”

 

As they neared the edge of town, Lan met up with them.  “I’m Lan,” he said, introducing himself.  “I’m sorry I cannot offer you shelter in my own home, but I know of a small, abandoned hut, just to the west,” he told them.  “Here are some things for Pete.  I hope they help.”

 

“Thank you,” Alan told him.

 

Lan saw the questioning look in Alan’s eyes.  “I did not understand him.  How he could not be happy to have food and shelter in exchange for work.  But he did what he was told.  He was a hard worker.”  He stopped for a moment before starting again, saying, Your master made an agreement with Master Zaran.  Pete did not deserve Kulo’s punishment.”  He handed the bundle he’d been carrying to Galen and hurried away.

 

Alan did not waste time questioning Lan’s motives or actions.  He looked to the sky, determined which way was west and started walking.  Galen quickly followed.

 

###

 

Half an hour later they found the old hut Lan had told them about.  It was not in the best of shape and not very big, but it would provide the shelter they needed.  Galen entered first and laid out his and Alan’s blankets on the floor.  “I’ll get some water,” he then said, grabbing their canteens and a pot and heading toward a nearby stream.

 

Alan nodded absently, his exhaustion from having to carry Pete so far, so quickly, evident.  When he reached the blankets, he knelt down and carefully lowered Pete onto one.  He had to quickly grab Pete by the upper arms, the momentum almost allowing him to continue down to lie on his back.  Alan carefully turned Pete to his side and rolled him so that he was lying on his stomach. 

 

He had tried not to look at the wounds when Pete was up on the platform.  It had been easy to ignore them when he was carrying Pete to the hut, but now it was unavoidable.  Now he would have to treat those wounds.  And looking down at the torn, bloody flesh, he realized that he wasn’t sure he could.

 

When Galen returned, canteens and pot full of water, he found Alan staring helplessly at Pete’s back.  He put a comforting hand on Alan’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze.

 

“I don’t know where to begin,” Alan said.  “There’s just so much…”

“We’ll just start at the top and work our way down,” Galen spoke up, matter-of-factly.  “And the sooner the better.”

Alan nodded his head and began the task of gently removing Pete’s remaining clothing so that he could clean and treat the horrible wounds.

 

###

 

Alan knew Pete was waking up.  His friend’s breathing was becoming quicker and more erratic. The pain from the whipping, if not the wounds’ tending, was becoming unbearable, reaching through Pete’s shock-induced unconsciousness.  “Too soon,” Alan muttered.  He still had more work to do.

 

“Easy, Pete,” Galen spoke up, his voice soothing as his hand found its way to Pete’s temple.  He patted it gently.  “We know you’re hurting, but it’s going to be all right.  Just keep still and let Alan finish.”

 

“I’m right here, Pete,” Alan said.  “Just keep still, buddy.  I’m almost done.”

 

Pete did not respond verbally, but he did do as instructed, lying still during Alan’s ministrations.

Alan lightly pressed another clean cloth over Pete’s right shoulder blade, where the deepest lacerations seemed to be, hoping the bleeding would finally stop, or at least slow, so that he could see where to put the set of stitches that area would need.

 

Galen had gone through the pack of supplies Lan had given them.  The small sack had come complete with clean cloths, thread, a fine needle, what appeared to be a soothing balm of some sort and some tea herbs.  It appeared that Lan knew exactly what supplies they would need, maybe from personal experience.  Later, if they got the chance, Alan hoped to show the man his appreciation.

 

Another item in the pack, not related to medicines, was a pair of shoes.  They appeared to be Pete’s size.

 

Pete sucked in a breath, pain lancing through him as the needle pierced through his skin, but still remained silent.

 

Galen looked at Alan then, his eyes concerned.

 

“Pete,” Alan whispered. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have left you behind.”

 

###

 

Two hours later, Galen left Pete’s side, the young man finally asleep again.  He left the small hut, and saw Alan sitting against the base of a tree to the right, staring up into the night sky.  He walked over and sat down next to his human friend.

 

Alan looked over, a question in his eyes.

 

“He’s resting,” Galen replied.  “The herb tea eased the pain a little.”

 

Alan nodded and returned his gaze to the stars.  “Basic first aid class in the Academy didn’t tell us anything about how to treat that kind of wound,” he said, almost to himself.  “Not like I was headed for combat or anything – I was on the fast track to the moon – didn’t think I’d need to know any of that stuff.”

 

“You did the best you could, Alan,” Galen told him.  “He’ll be fine.”  When Alan didn’t reply, Galen continued, muttering, “I don’t know how I put up with you,” ending with a harumph.  “I know you’re blaming yourself when none of this is anyone’s fault.  Well, no one’s fault but Zaran’s.”

 

“I’m the one that was hell-bent on going to Central City,” Alan argued.

 

“And Pete was ‘hell-bent’ on not going. You’re both stubborn humans,” Galen groused.  “I don’t know how I put up with you,” he repeated.

 

“I don’t know, either, Galen,” Alan replied.  “We don’t deserve such a good friend.”

 

“Nonsense!” Galen retorted.  “I’m the one who has learned so much from the two of you.”

 

“Learned how we humans fight – probably easy to understand how we ended our world.”

 

Galen put a hand on Alan’s arm.  “You’ve also shown me how compassionate and kind humans can be,” he said, thinking not only of Alan and Pete, but of Lan, too.  “You and Pete will continue to argue, of that I’m sure.  But you’ll also continue to be friends, who will care for each other, and me.”

 

“I don’t know, Galen.  This turned out to be more than just any old argument,” Alan replied.  “He’s hurt so bad.” 

 

“That wasn’t your fault, Alan, any more than it was mine, even thought I was the one that left him there,” Galen said, emphasizing the last few words.  When he saw that Alan got the logic of the statement, he continued, “He knows it, too.”

 

“I’m not talking about his back, Galen.”

 

“Neither am I.”

 

Alan shook his head and smiled.  “You’re a good friend, Galen,” he said, patting the hand that was still on his arm.  “Thanks.”

 

He rose, stretched, and headed back to Pete’s side.

 

###

 

The quiet whimpers got Alan’s attention, waking him from a light doze.

 

Ssshhh, easy, Pete,” he soothed, lightly patting a damp cloth across the side of Pete’s face and neck.

 

Pete opened his eyes a crack and tried to look toward the voice he heard. “Alan?” he whispered painfully.

 

“Right here, Pete,” Alan replied.  “Here, drink some water.  Gotta get those fluids replaced,” he added, one hand bringing a canteen to Pete’s lips while the other lifted Pete’s head a bit so he could drink the water.  Pete greedily drank whatever drops made it into his mouth before Alan took the canteen away.  “Slow down, slow down,” Alan said.  “There’s plenty.”  After a minute or so, he helped Pete drink some more.  “How you doing?” he asked.

 

“Hurts,” Pete got out.

 

“I know.  We’ll see if Galen can make up some more of that tea for you,” Alan replied.

 

“Already made,” Galen called over Alan’s shoulder as he approached.  He handed the small cup to Alan, saying, “I don’t think it’s too hot.”

 

Alan again helped Pete to drink, this time being more careful with the tea, not wanting to spill a single drop of the elixir.

 

By the time Pete was finished, he was exhausted.  The effort it was taking to keep from crying out in pain at every movement, every breath, was too much.  “Al... Galen...” he began.

 

“Just rest, Pete,” Galen shushed him.  “There will be plenty of time to talk later.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Pete said anyway.

 

“So are we,” Galen replied.

 

“So are we,” Alan agreed.

 

###

 

Alan helped Pete to roll onto his side.  It had only been a day since they’d found him at the tannery and Pete was already getting restless.  Alan and Galen had stayed by his side almost constantly, tending his wounds and taking care of his needs.  It was intense at times, Pete unable to take the pain any slight movement caused without Alan or Galen’s help.  The balm and herbal teas only did so much to quell the pain and keep him still, and Pete was not the type of person, no matter how badly injured or in pain, that tolerated stillness for too long.

 

“Easy, Pete,” Alan gently scolded when Pete tried to move on his own.  “We don’t need you ripping out any more stitches.”

 

Pete took several deep breaths to calm the pain enough to reply, “Damn that Kulo!”

 

Kulo?  Who’s that?” Alan asked.

 

Zaran’s number one gorilla.”

 

Alan nodded his head, remembering the hench-ape at the tannery.

 

“And damn Lan, too!” Pete added, grunting in pain as he struck the ground with his fist.

 

Lan?” Galen questioned.  “He helped us.  He showed us where this hut was; gave us medical supplies.”

 

Lan?  Middle-aged guy, gray beard, big scar?” Pete asked, not believing that the tough foreman would have helped him.

 

“Yeah, that was him,” Alan replied.  “Said you were ‘a hard worker,’ as hard as that is to believe.”

 

When Pete didn’t react to Alan’s attempt at humor, Galen tried to distract them.  “Mother and Father both send you their regards,” he said.  “Mother especially missed you.”

 

Pete smiled in remembering Galen’s mother.  “Did she insist on helping you find the computer?” he asked, not looking at Alan.

 

“Yeah, she did,” Alan replied.  “But it was a wild goose chase, like you said,” he admitted.  “It was a cash register,” he added, answering Pete’s unasked question.

 

“And I didn’t get my shoes,” Pete said after a moment.  “Looks like we both lost out.”

 

“Oh!  But you didn’t!” Galen exclaimed, and then continued, “We’d forgotten all about that!  Lan gave us more than medical supplies.  He also packed a pair of shoes for you.”

 

“So you didn’t totally lose out, then,” Alan said.  Gramma Burke would be proud.”

 

“Yeah,” Pete said after a minute.  “Can’t wait to try them on.  Gonna need them to go on a couple of wild goose chases I owe you.”

 

“You don’t owe me anything, Pete,” Alan replied.  “In fact, I think, maybe, we need to slow down a bit before going on any more adventures,” he continued.  “You’ve got some recovering to do, and, well, I think we’ve all got some thinking to do.”

 

Galen watched as his two friends looked at each other, silently apologizing, but obviously glad to be back together.  He nodded his head; all would be well again. 

 

Until the next argument.