Pete Burke assessed the lay of the land one last time. The coast seemed clear, the clinic where they knew Alan was being held was quieter now than it had ever been. The doctors and staff had just changed shifts – Police presence was practically non-existent – which was odd – you’d think a prisoner of Alan’s distinction would merit the number of guards being at the very least quadrupled.
It smelt like a trap.
Troubled, he turned to his simian friend and fellow outlaw, the chimpanzee Galen.
“Yes, I believe so.” The chimp replied.
“You wanna go over it one more time?” Burke asked - after all, that’s what Alan would have done.
Galen shook his head and rolled his eyes. “What’s to go over? I run up to the door, raise merry hell and demand assistance. I’ve just been robbed by a band of savage humans, you see – So I give bogus directions and send the security force on a wild goose chase – once they’re out of the way you can charge in, rescue Alan and I’ll meet you out back with the wagon… Is that correct?”
Burke shook his head. It wasn’t that Galen was wrong, it was just that it was such a stupid plan. The gorillas would have to be total imbeciles to fall for it. “Correct” he surprised himself by saying.
“Then what are we waiting for?” The absurdity of what they were about to attempt didn’t seem to bother the chimp at all. He stood and hobbled over to the entrance. If anyone should be looking he gave the impression of a chimp whose body - not to mention his pride - had both recently suffered a severe beating.
But there’s no blood! Not even any torn clothes – surely that will give the game away?
Galen pounded on the door and Burke saw it pulled open by an orderly. He was too far away to hear any exchange of words but his friend’s wildly gesticulating hands told the full story. Burke blinked, for just a moment there it hadn’t looked like Galen at all. He shook his head squeezed his eyes shut and when he re-opened them everything was as it should have been. This wasn’t the first time such a thing had happened. Sometimes, he would glance back over his shoulder and he would swear for a moment or two a complete stranger followed and not his old friend.
Ever since that moment when the mission had gone awry –
But just where had they been going?
From the moment they had crashed and Jonesy had died –
But what had been his first name?
- He had barely had time to gather his thoughts and had convinced himself that it was all due to the strain of being an outlaw, of being forever on the run, and, much like he was doing now, he had shrugged it off.
The orderly nodded and then retreated, within moments he had been replaced by a burly looking gorilla. Galen repeated his performance and the gorilla barked a command over his shoulder – within minutes almost the entire security force was galloping away in the direction Galen had indicated.
Burke shook his head, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, he reminded himself and sprinted for the door to the clinic. A female, chimpanzee nurse saw him almost immediately and screamed. He didn’t have much time. He glanced at the nurse and briefly wondered what a female orangutan might look like? For the life of him he couldn’t recall ever having seen one - and then he was running down the corridor, ducking his head through each and every door. “Alan!” he called.
A gorilla appeared before him. At the moment the rifle the soldier-ape held was clutched close to his chest but Burke knew that wouldn’t last long. Just to his left a stack of woven baskets was piled up high against a wall and Burke shot out his hand to tip the whole lot over. An avalanche of archaic, medical supplies scattered everywhere causing the gorilla to throw up his arms as he skidded on something underfoot and went tumbling over.
Burke paused only momentarily, surprised at this fantastic stroke of luck before dashing into the next room. It would take the guard only a few seconds to find his feet, but hopefully that would be all the time he would need.
He found Alan in the very next room, lying on his back on a primitive bed. A comical bandage had been wrapped around his jaw, evidence of recent surgery. “Alan!” Burke cried.
“Pete… Iszh szhat yoo?” His blond friend answered, talking like his mouth was stuffed full of cotton wool.
Burke surged forward and helped his friend off the bed. “C’mon, it’s check out time!” Supporting the bigger mans weight Burke led Virdon as quickly as he could to the rear exit. A glance down the corridor showed him a number of staff arguing amongst themselves over the best course of action. The gorilla lay still, exactly where he had fallen. Somehow he had struck the back of his head on the way down and was out cold. Burke’s foot pistoned out and the rear door splintered and burst open - the apes had many talents, building strong locks was not one of them.
“Quickly!” called Galen gesturing them over to a horse and cart he had borrowed from a friend who owed him a favor or two.
Between the two of them they manhandled Virdon into the back of the cart and within seconds were on their way to liberty.
Burke breathed a sigh of relief…
How the hell had they managed to pull this off?
They ditched the cart and sent the horses on their way. Their owner had assured Galen that they would find their own way home. Burke knelt down next to Virdon who was propped against a friendly tree. Despite having undergone recent surgery to remove a bad tooth he seemed in remarkably good spirits.
“That was foolish,” the older man admonished, actually what he said was ‘Ghatt wozch phlishh’ but Pete got the message and it wasn’t meant too harshly.
“It worked didn’t it?” Pete responded… and frowned.
“Something bothering you Pete?” asked Galen. “You’ve been acting a little ‘off’ all day.”
Burke shook his head, but it wasn’t meant as a no – it was more of an indication of his confused state of mind. “It just seemed too easy Galen, I don’t understand how in the hell we managed to get in there, let alone get away again.”
“You clomplahning?” marveled Virdon.
“No, I’m not complaining… but…”
“But what?” Asked Galen cocking his head to one side and staring curiously.
“Ahh I dunno… just forget it… so what’s the plan?”
Virdon smiled, “Letch’s get shchumm shleep.”
The sun rose hot and orange in another cloudless sky. Burke watched it climb and shook his head. How long had they been here? He couldn’t recall ever having seen it rain.
So how come there was never any drought?
He paced the edge of the camp. He had hoped the night’s sleep would have cleared that troubled state of mind in which he had found himself lately but that nagging feeling that things were out of whack simply would not go away. He rubbed his jaw and frowned, it was as smooth as a baby’s behind…
When was the last time he’d shaved?
He saw Alan and Galen stirring awake and gave them both time to come too before he asked the inevitable.
Galen looked up from his packing, his eyes alight with excitement. “We need to make our way back towards the city and…
“Back towards the city? Burke interrupted.
“Is there a problem?” Virdon asked.
Hell yeah, there’s a problem! Why do we keep going back towards the city? Why not head away from it and just keep going.”
“Pete… just what has gotten into you lately?” asked Galen suspiciously.
“Nothing’s gotten into me, it’s just that if we ever want to find a computer that can read the disc it ain’t gonna be back in the city – what’s there anyway? Galen’s Mom. His Uncle… how about a second cousin who -”
Galen and Virdon looked at each other with concern. “It’s Barlow, Pete… You do remember Barlow… and the boat race?” Virdon said, carefully
“Barlow has gotten himself in trouble again,” Galen added, “he’s been challenged to a boat race by...”
“General Urko?” Pete guessed.
“General?” Galen replied, frowning. “Where did you get that? Last I heard he was Chief of Security.”
Burke chewed his lip. General? Where had that come from? “Chief of Security”, he whispered to himself.
That’s right, you see, you do remember.” Galen announced, pleased.
Burke shook his head slowly. “Something just isn’t right here,” he insisted.
“Pete… what? What isn’t right?” Virdon asked.
Burke turned his head and looked at his old friend. “How’s the jaw Al? You’re speaking mighty fine for a guy who, only last night couldn’t say, only spray everything.”
“Jaw? Pete what are you…”
“And I wonder, which one of us happens to be the boating expert?”
Galen shrugged, “I thought you were?’
“Me huh... That’s right, because I also know how to make a battery and a wooden fence, a windmill and even a magnifying glass out of a hunk of volcanic glass – and now I’m an expert sailor too – That’s cool, but let me ask you this, just where the hell did I learn it all?”
Burke looked at his friends, he didn’t feel too good. His head was beginning to pound, his blood was rushing in his ears drowning out all other sounds.
“Pete?” Someone said from very far away.
Grey clouds began to creep into his field of vision, he felt himself swaying.
Mr. Burke? Can you hear me?
Bob looked down upon his client slumped in the chair. Not another one, he silently prayed, please not another embolism.
“Alan?” His client muttered.
“Who’s Alan?” Bob mouthed to the Lab Tech looking on nervously.
“A SIMM,” the tech whispered. “Alan Virdon, fellow ‘astronaut’.”
Bob nodded. “Mr. Burke, it’s Bob… Bob McClane. Can you open your eyes for me?”
Burke did just that and found his vision swimming in and out of focus. Someone who looked vaguely familiar was staring down at him with obvious concern. Behind him were two young kids in white lab coats, looking on. Behind them, outside this… room, an attractive black girl was craning her head to see just what was going on.
“Just take it easy Pete, things will make more sense in just a few moments”. McClane relaxed, something had gone wrong, but it wasn’t an embolism. Pete Burke was going to be all right.
“Where am I?” Burke asked, this time much more coherently.
“Rekall… don’t you remember?”
“No no… Rekall… Rekall, ree- kuh-all, reee-kallllll” McClane sang, somewhat annoyingly.
“The memory implant people?”
“That’s good, you’re remembering, you came here for a holiday, remember?”
Burke rubbed his forehead. “Hunghh, yeah… yeah, I do. Planet of the apes, right?”
“Yes,” said McClane, relieved, things were going to be okay.
“It was going okay, but the programs obviously need more work – too many discrepancies, it was all put together to fast… at you insistence I might add.”
“Mr. Burke, you came to us for a virtual holiday, except you didn’t want Mars or the Moon. You didn’t want to be yourself, Peter Burke, lounge singer, as a spy or a playboy. You wanted your own custom program, you wanted to be an astronaut who lands on a planet ruled by apes – do you remember?
It was all flooding back now – Burke began to remember the details. “But that was… months… years ago?”
Bob smiled, “Actually Pete it was about fifty minutes ago. We were making up the program as we went along, inventing things on the fly – you started off having a great time getting into one fix after another and getting out by the skin of your teeth but unfortunately a convincing program needs work. It needs months of testing to iron out the bugs and you just didn’t give us that luxury… I did warn you of this, I must tell you that I’m unable to authorize a refund.”
Burke smiled, he could see where this was leading. “Don’t worry… Don’t worry, Mr. McClane, I’m beginning to remember now… Wow! It all seemed so real… except… things started to seem a little… clichéd, after awhile.”
“Look, I’ll tell you what. We can take another crack at it, give us a few more weeks, we can build more convincing characters and storylines, take out all those ridiculous coincidences… And all for a very competitive price.”
Burke shook his head and pushed himself out the implant chair, a device that managed to look both high-tech and gothic at the same time. Lights blinked and flickered across the surface of the skullcap – or the brain-pan as it was otherwise known.
Virdon and Galen… Is that all they were? Just lights flickering across a circuit board?
“Ahhh, Don’t worry about it Bob – I got my money’s worth. Sure, it fell apart towards the end there, but it was fun while it lasted. Relax, you did a good job - rest assured, you have another satisfied customer to add to your list.”
“But you do understand it wasn’t real? Normally we like our clients to leave believing everything that was implanted actually happened. Obviously your case is quite different.”
Burke nodded. “Bob relax, I told you I was satisfied, no lawsuits okay. What memories I have are fun… I tell ya, I’m gonna miss those guys… even the unfriendly ones.
“Well… if you ever change your mind, you know where to find us,” assured McClane in the best salesman’s voice he could muster.
Burke looked at his friends, something wasn’t right and he didn’t feel to good. His head was beginning to pound, his blood was rushing in his ears drowning out all other sounds.
“Pete?” Someone said from very far away.
Grey clouds began to creep into his field of vision, he felt himself swaying.
Galen and Virdon looked at each other in alarm.
“Where did he go?!” The chimpanzee cried.