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It was one of those perfect days when trouble should have had no right to crop up. The sky overhead was a clear, unbroken blue, the temperature right around seventy-two degrees, the humidity low, the breeze gentle. Rolling hills stretched out around the three travelers, and the word of a ruined city further along the road promised a hope of technology. Galen had come to understand how thrilled Alan would be to encounter even the slightest technology, in hopes of using it to find a way home to his own time. The Chimpanzee knew how fixated the astronaut was on returning to his wife and son. Virdon still carried the magnetic disk he had retrieved from his ship before it had been destroyed. Maybe it would be of use if the astronauts could find a computer, but Galen, who wasn't used to the science of these humans from long ago, could not imagine how Virdon and Burke could ever get back to their own time without a ship to take them back.
Pete wasn't as driven as Alan was. He was more inclined to take each day as it came. In a way, that made him a slightly more comfortable companion. Once Galen had thrown in his lot with these two strange and different humans, he had branded himself outcast among his fellow apes. If Alan found a way home, Pete would go with him--and Galen would be well and truly alone. If they took him with them, as they had offered--and planned to do--he would be alone there, too, in a past where apes had been no more than animals. Sometimes, he found himself hoping that his two friends would never find a way home, but that was only when he was weary and despairing. The better part of his nature wished them success. It was where they belonged, so different as they were from the humans of Galen's time.
"What do you think?" Alan said as they topped a hill and gazed down at a verdant valley. To the far right was the trace of a settlement; it wasn't possible to tell from this far away if it were a human settlement or an ape village, where any humans would function as servants or slaves of the apes. It wasn't always safe to venture into an ape village without examining it first. Before his exile, Galen had traveled widely, and he had many relatives and friends--former friends--scattered here and there about the provinces. Usually, he would scout out an ape settlement on his own, or he would go accompanied by his two friends, who would pose as his servants until they understood the situation. Once, it would have felt natural to have human servants. Galen's parents, Councillor Yalu and his wife Ann, were prominent apes. But now that he had come to know Pete and Alan, only old habitual instincts that he fought to overcome ever evoked his old attitudes.
"Can't tell." Pete squinted at the distant village. "The ruined city should be half a day past it, if that's Mellis."
"If that is Mellis, my cousin Rand is assistant
to the prefect there," Galen offered. "
"You'd have to be sure of that," Pete put in. "He might not have a choice. You don't know what the prefect is like. Some of them can be pretty tough."
Galen wrinkled his muzzle
in amusement. "A...tough...prefect would never tolerate
Alan raked his fingers
through his fair hair. "That's all well and good, Galen, but that's only
when fugitive humans aren't thrown into the equation.
"Well, no, he probably doesn't," Galen admitted regretfully. Certain subjects were...touchy, as Pete was inclined to call it. He'd explained that in his own time, people could argue viciously simply discussing religion or politics. Here, the question of human intelligence was sure to stir equally heated arguments. The subject was fine for an intellectual discussion when both parties really had no interest in human emancipation, but it was in the apes' best interests to believe that humans were inferior. Galen had grown up taking that fact so much for granted that he had never considered any other possibility until Zaius sent him out to investigate the arrival of Alan and Pete. Face to face with two humans who were patently not inferior, Galen could not bring himself to turn them over for questioning, torture, examination--perhaps even dissection. They were sentient beings, as intelligent as apes--and maybe far more intelligent than some. General Urko, with his stubborn and narrow-minded attitude toward everything he didn't understand was a primary example.
"Think this Rand would turn you in?" Pete asked.
Galen considered it. "No, Rand would never do that. He might try to convert me from my 'blasphemy' but when we were very small he was like a brother. He would never betray me, even if he honestly believed I was wrong."
"Then you should talk to him," Alan decided. "See if he knows anything about the ruined city, if there are any local legends that might help us."
Pete nodded. "Yeah, Galen, you can check it out and make sure it's safe. Take one of us with you as a servant. If you take two, you might make people suspicious, since the gorillas everywhere probably know to look out for an ape traveling with two humans, but I betcha nobody would think anything of you having just one." He grimaced. He was not subservient, and when he tried to pretend, a clever ape would probably see through the ruse immediately. Still, if Galen did that, he would rather take Pete with him than Alan. Somehow, he felt it safer to have Pete with him, where he could keep an eye on him. Pete 'went with the flow' better than Alan did. At the slightest hint of technology, Alan could be distracted from his role of 'servant' and push for answers in a way no human of Galen's time ever would.
"No, most apes will
have a servant or two." Galen frowned. Since he had expanded his views,
a portion of him was uncomfortable over such basic facts. 'Servant' was a
polite euphemism for 'slave'. When comfortable in believing humans were only
superior animals, the concept of slavery didn't arise, but now that Galen
knew better, he was frequently distressed at the way his people treated
humans. Once Pete had told a story about a human leader called Lincoln, who
had freed the slaves long ago. Both Pete and Alan thought a lot of this
Neither species is perfect, Galen decided and fell into step with his friends. But the fact that he and the two astronauts could be friends, and the kind of friends who would risk their lives for each other--and regularly did--proved both species could rise above their darker instincts.
A smile touched Galen's
muzzle as he fell into step with the two humans. "I think I should visit
"Will it be a forbidden zone?" Alan asked.
"Like you'd care," Pete teased. "They could have ten signs saying, 'All humans keep out--this means you,' and you'd be there with bells on, beating down the door."
"Bells?" Galen echoed in astonishment. "Wouldn't the sound of them reveal your location?"
"It's just a saying, Galen," Alan explained. "It means I'll be eager to be there."
Another saying. The humans had so many, and a great deal of them were definitely odd. He tried to imagine Alan, decked with bells, demanding entrance to a forbidden zone. That would be one way to get the Gorillas' attention. "Oh. Hmmph. I see."
Pete spotted the twinkle in Galen's eye and turned to stare at Alan, mentally adorning him with strings of bells. "Yeah, a real pretty picture, isn't it, Galen."
Alan looked down at himself almost as if he expected them to have appeared out of nowhere, then he gave an amused snort and lengthened his stride. Pete winked ostentatiously at Galen and hurried to catch up.
"Humans," groused Galen, just loudly enough for them to hear, and fell in with them.
Pete didn't have a tenth of
the faith in this
Pete crossed his fingers
about the upcoming meeting with
I hope today won't be another really bad one, he thought wryly. "You sure this Rand won't turn you in?" he persisted.
"No. He might storm at
me and tell me I'm a fool, but he won't turn me in." Galen smiled.
"Think Alan will be okay back there?" They'd decided it would be safer for Galen to take only one of them into Mellis. An ape and one human should set off no mental alarms. Pete glanced over his shoulder at the thicket where Alan had reluctantly agreed to wait. He'd wanted to come himself.
"You're too hot-headed, Pete. You've gotta promise to stay out of trouble."
"Peace-loving me?" he had kidded. "Come on, Al, you know I won't take any chances."
"Unless you think you have to, right?" Alan favored him with a stern and knowing look.
He'd grinned. "Well, if I have to, I have to. But Galen's cousin should be okay. After all, he's related to our buddy here."
Galen beamed at that, but Alan didn't relax. "Maybe I should come into town separately."
"It's an ape settlement. Someone would be sure to ask your business," Galen pointed out. "We won't stay long, only long enough to find out about the ruined city." He shared a look with Alan. "This way, I can watch Pete--and keep him out of trouble."
"So you're implying I get into trouble all the time?" Pete challenged them.
His two best friends grinned at each other and then at him. "Yes," they chorused.
Remembering the amusement in their eyes, he squashed a smile. They knew him too well, not that he ever went after trouble for its own sake. He wouldn't do anything here. It would risk Galen's life, and he didn't intend to do that. Galen had risked not only himself but his parents to save Pete. You didn't let that kind of friendship down.
Galen asked an Orangutan he
encountered on the village outskirts where to find
"At the prefect's office," the ape replied, and very helpfully pointed it out. He didn't so much as glance at Pete, who felt like he'd suddenly turned invisible. Maybe this was how waiters at parties felt; more like part of the scenery than people. It was a lot safer than being observed and remarked upon, but a part of Pete would have liked to make a greater impact than that. Deliberately he restrained himself.
A Gorilla patrol on horseback rode past. Pete tried to look stolid and uninterested as he followed Galen a pace or two behind, his eyes cast down subserviently. He watched the troopers out of the corner of his eye. No trace of Urko, thank goodness, and no indication that these mounted gorillas were going anywhere but out on routine patrol. They were headed west--and Alan was south. With any luck at all, they wouldn't swing around and discover him. Pete held his breath until they vanished.
"They didn't pay any attention to us," Galen said, pleased.
Their luck held. They arrived at the Prefecture unchallenged and went into an outer office just as the tallest, thinnest chimpanzee Pete had ever seen emerged from an inner room. Even with the typical ape hunched-over posture, he towered over Pete. At the sight of Galen, he stopped dead, then his muzzle wrinkled in a delighted grin and he lunged at the Chimp and hugged him hard, slapped him on the back, and ruffled the fur on the top of his head, just the way Pete used to ruffle the hair of Alan's son Chris back on Earth.
"Galen, Galen, Galen. This is delightful. How wonderful to see you." He paused, then hurried to closed the door to the inner office. "Are you insane? To walk right into the building? Suppose I'd been Marton? He's indolent and won't bestir himself a step more than he has to, but he knows what you look like."
"The Prefect is Marton?" Galen winced. "I hadn't heard. I know of him. He might recognize me."
"He has been here for the past year. We get on well. He has me do all the work, and concentrates on nothing so much as his collecting, but he wouldn't dare ignore you."
"Collecting?" Galen echoed doubtfully. "I seem to remember.... Never mind that now. It's good to see you, Rand. Is it safe to visit you?"
"Safe? Of course it's not safe. How could it be safe? Marton won't come out unless I summon him. He has a whole box of new pieces of junk to play with, and I always shut the door when someone comes on business. He wants me to bother him only when it's important, someone from Central City. He probably didn't even notice me shutting the door. But he could walk out any minute and see you, and then we'd be in trouble." He glanced past Galen for the first time and studied Pete. "So, this is one of your tame humans?"
"No, Rand. This is one of my friends."
Pete bridled, but all he said was, "Oh, I don't know. I just might surprise you."
"This is Pete," Galen introduced. "Pete, my cousin Rand."
"Pete." The assistant prefect glanced nervously at the closed door. "We can't stay here. He might hear us talking and come out to ask my opinion on one of his bits of junk. You'd probably be a better one to ask than me, Galen. You were always smart. Digging around in the rubble, I ask you. He's not normal for a Chimpanzee."
"What rubble?" Pete asked suddenly. "From the ruins near here?"
"You always were vain,
"And you never cared about your appearance, Galen. I could never understand what Shayla once saw in you."
"Shayla?" Pete asked, intrigued. "An old girlfriend, Galen?"
Galen bowed his head, clearly distressed. "Not now. At one time...."
"At one time, we
thought he might marry her,"
Galen bowed his head. "Yes, I did know. My mother told me when I was last in Central City."
"I never heard anything about this," Pete persisted. Galen looked sad, yet he'd kept the news from Alan and Pete.
"You were hurt. I would not have bothered you with trifles at such a time."
Yes, he'd been a victim of Wanda's dubious hospitality. Much of the encounter with Galen's parents had been a blur. He winced.
Galen made a distressed sound. "Oh, Pete, I am so sorry to remind you...."
"Remind him of
Galen lowered his voice.
"He was captured and tortured,
"Well he should be." Galen glanced at Pete, saw the memories in his eyes, and patted his shoulder. "We can't let such a thing ever happen again."
"Should we be talking here?" Pete asked. "Won't he hear us?"
"He would not hear the Gorilla patrol at target practice when he plays with his little bits of junk."
Pete couldn't hold back his
"Little pieces of machines," Galen clarified.
"Well... some of them are metal."
"Do they have moving parts? Like turning wheels?" Even though Alan was the one obsessed with finding technology, Pete couldn't hold back a shiver of excitement. Little pieces of junk might indicate that anything useful had long ago been broken up into rubble, but it was always possible that there might be something still intact, a hidden computer for instance. Thoughts of home suddenly swamped him with wistful longing. For a chance to go home, for a chance to get Alan back to his family, he would risk a great deal.
"I don't know. I was never interested enough to look. He does have one thing, though. It's round and still shiny, with a hole in the center. He wears it on a thong around his neck. It doesn't have 'moving parts', though. It's just solid."
It almost sounded like a magnetic disk. Not that finding another disk would grant them a computer to read it on, but Alan would be sure to want it. Even if the knowledge stored on it was something completely innocuous, like someone's recipe collection, it would be proof that there had been a machine that could read Alan's treasured disk.
"I want to see it," he said.
Galen frowned. "Oh, now, Pete, we can't take the chance of that."
"Maybe not together.
But if he saw me by myself, he wouldn't have any way of knowing I'm a
fugitive, would he?
"He will be very unhappy if I disturb him, and for a human. He doesn't hate humans, but I don't think he's very interested in them. He's kind to his servant--in an indifferent kind of way, the way a child would be kind to a pet." He looked at Pete in alarm. "You mean to make trouble for me, don't you?" He didn't sound upset, just resigned.
"Oh, no, we won't make trouble," Galen promised. "Will we, Pete?"
"No, but there's gotta be a way to see that disk."
"I won't." Pete
couldn't believe his luck. Galen might recognize a disk if it was like
Alan's, but Pete would know if it was something similar but a little
different. He watched
He knocked on the door and waited for the summons. When a voice barked, "Come," he went into the room, the tray balanced in his hands.
"Your tea, Prefect," he said in the servant's voice he had practiced from time to time. He and Alan had been amused by the process, especially as Pete liked to ham it up like a character from an old movie. He couldn't do that now.
"Oh, excellent. Bring it here." The chimpanzee lifted his eyes from something that looked like the plastic casing of an old cassette player. "Do you know what this is?" he asked. He was not young. The fur around his muzzle was grizzled with years and there were so many wrinkles around his eyes that he looked like an ape version of Santa Claus. All he needed was a red hat with a white tassel.
"No, Prefect. It looks broken." He could see the edge of a Sony logo on it, but if he reacted to that, he would give himself away.
The prefect stroked the scraped, shattered plastic. "It's very old."
"Is it any good?" He set the teapot on the desk, and poured hot water into the cup.
"If you mean, does it work, of course not. It's definitely broken. You were right, son. Hmm, you're new, are you?"
"The sub-prefect is working on a report and sent me in his place, Prefect. I hope I've done right." Not too humble, Burke, you'll blow your cover.
"You've done fine." He waved a hand absent-mindedly, and the gesture shifted the chain around his neck and revealed the disk that hung on it. It was two or three times as big as Alan's, and thinner, nearly flat; newer technology? Silver with a rim of gold, it looked impressive, even if one didn't know about computer disks. There was writing on it that Pete couldn't read from where he stood.
Marton saw Pete's eyes linger on it. "Yes, it's particularly fine, isn't it? I found it in the ruins."
"The old city?" Pete asked.
"Yes, the old city. There are those who say that it was once a city of humans. What do you think of that?"
Pete pretended skepticism. "Humans couldn't build a city. Only apes do that."
Marton nodded, satisfied. "Of course not. Not now. But who knew what the world was like, long ago? Do you know what an archaeologist is?"
"No, Prefect." An ordinary human here wouldn't know, so Pete couldn't admit it, either. He tried not to be too obvious as he studied the fragments of the past laid out on the prefect's desk in neat order. The chimpanzee had attached small labels to each. Pete couldn't get close enough to read them.
"It is an ape who studies the past. And do you know why we should study the past?"
"So we can learn from it and not make the same mistakes twice," Pete said involuntarily. He knew he had made one the minute he said it.
Marton's eyes focused on him and all absent-mindedness fled. "How do you know that?" he demanded.
"Uh, common sense, your worship?" Swell. Now he'll think I'm a smartass.
"It is common
sense, you're right there. Well done of
"I'm the servant of a friend of his."
"Ah. Pity. You might be of use to me, once you learned that just because something is broken it does not mean it lacks value." He picked up an old wooden box, intricately carved with an inlaid ivory pattern of two elephants on the lid. "This is a pretty thing. You see these monstrous creatures. They were as big as a house."
Pete made his mouth fall open with astonishment. "That big?"
"They were called Heffelents. They could carry vast loads and humans would ride upon their backs. They were not vicious and could be domesticated. And I learned that by studying the past." He curved his hands around the box. "Here, stroke it. That was fine craftsmanship."
Pete curled his fingers
around the ancient box, turned it upside down to see a faint old sticker
clinging to it that read, "Made in
"It excites you," Marton said triumphantly. "If you weren't a human, I could make an archaeologist out of you. That box is thousands of years old."
Pete put all the skepticism he could into his voice, and struggled to keep it from quivering. "Not really?" He was glad he had come here instead of Alan. While this evoked memories of home, he was sure Alan's fervor would have shone from his eyes and given him away.
"I would never lie, not even to a human," Marton said. "Now, which of them are you, Virdon or Burke?"
The question made Pete jerk with astonishment. "What?" he said blankly. Marton must be a lot shrewder than he claimed.
"Oh, don't trouble to deny it. You think me an absent-minded old fool, but I saw the recognition in your eyes. This." He picked up the chunk of cassette player. "What is this? You know it."
Pete hesitated. He could go on pretending, but it wouldn't do any good. "It's part of a Sony Walkman," he said. "It played a music cassette. A tape of recorded music on a reel."
"So it is true? Humans once ruled this world? Zaius and the Council might deny it vehemently, but you can't fool an archaeologist. I study the old ruins, and I know. I have seen too much to doubt it. Pictures, old books, human remains. Even books that prove my kind were once mere animals. I have even seen the book most Chimpanzees would consider the greatest abomination of all. In your time, did you know a human named Jane Goodall?"
"Well, not personally. She studied Chimpanzees in the wild."
"Yes. There was another, who studied Gorillas. Foosy? Fassy?"
"Dian Fossey," Pete remembered. Urko would hate her with a
savage passion, assuming he could ever be brought to admit what she had done
was real. He had never forgiven Pete for that poster of a caged Gorilla they
had found in the subway tunnel in the ruins of
"Fossey, yes, that is right. But those human females were scientists. They were not evil, simply trying to learn. They did not harm my kind, and would protect them, much as benevolent apes today will protect the humans in their care."
"What are you going to do with me?" Pete asked in a tight voice.
"Why, nothing. You think I would summon General Urko here? Oh my gracious, no. An alarming ape, Urko. His mind is narrow. For him, violence is the only answer, and I personally abhor violence. It is not my way. As long as you commit no crimes in Mellis, and you do not subvert the humans here, I have no reason to notify Urko. He would disrupt my life. Why are you here?" He stroked the computer disk he wore. "You wish for this?"
Pete nodded. "It might help us to get home," he said.
"Back to the past where you belong. Fine. You take it. You take it and go away. If you go to my ruins, do not destroy them, that is all I ask, that one favor."
Pete was still reeling from the shock of being found out. "In the ruins?"
nodded. "Destroy nothing. Those ruins are my life. Perhaps you don't
care about an elderly Chimpanzee, although
"Galen's my friend," Pete admitted. "I won't do anything to hurt Galen. I'm not here to destroy anything."
"Good, good. I--" He cocked his head, listening. Suddenly there were raised voices in the outer office.
Galen! Pete started for the door.
It burst open and a Gorilla charged into the room, a rifle in his hands. "Prefect, I am here to protect you from the fugitive human," he proclaimed.
"Easy, Mosk. I am in no need of protection. This servant simply brought me my tea." He gestured to the steaming cup on his desk. "What is this about?"
Mosk leveled the rifle at Pete. The barrel looked as big as a cannon. Ape rifles might be primitive, but they could do a lot of damage. Alan had been shot once and would have died if not for Galen's old friend Kira, who had operated on him.
"This is the human Burke. I recognized him when he came into town. He and the fugitive ape Galen, who is in your outer office."
"Galen? A fugitive ape? In my outer office? You don't say. Well, well, this is certainly interesting. Lower the rifle, Mosk. I will not have you shooting anyone in my office, not even a human." He spoke more gently. "I am in control here. There is no danger."
"You think I'm afraid?" Mosk spat. "Human, you are my prisoner."
"No, he's not." Galen pushed into the room behind the Gorilla, and before Pete could do more than register his presence, whacked the Gorilla over the head with a stick. Mosk jerked and staggered, and the rifle spurted from his hands. Pete flinched, expecting it to go off, but it didn't. Galen thrust the stick at Rand, who took it fastidiously and juggled it from hand to hand. Determinedly, Galen snatched up the rifle. He didn't point it at Mosk, but stood there clutching it uneasily. He must have seen rifles handled all his life, but he probably had never spent any time with one.
"Come on, Pete, we have to go," he pleaded.
"Stop him," barked Mosk from the floor. "Stop him, or you will regret it."
"Coward! I always knew you Chimpanzees were cowards." Mosk pushed himself upward and lunged at Galen, who backed away nervously, in a desperate attempt to keep the weapon out of Mosk's hands.
"Stop this, all of you," the prefect bellowed in a stentorian voice that even impressed the Gorilla. It didn't impress him enough to stop him, though. He lunged at Galen.
Torn between the immutable law prohibiting harming another ape and the need to protect himself and Pete, Galen jerked up the rifle and pointed it at Mosk, his eyes anguished. "Help me, Pete," he pleaded.
Mosk grabbed for the gun, and Galen, panicked and desperate, gripped for the trigger. Pete was certain he only meant to fire into the air to warn the gorilla back. But Mosk moved abruptly, too well conditioned by his training to run directly into a loaded weapon. His hand came down in an urgent sweep as Galen's finger tightened on the trigger. The gun went off, the sound resounding through the chamber, muffled by the thick stone and plaster walls.
It felt a giant fist punched Pete hard in the side. He spun around and slammed into the wall, and the breath went out of him in a massive whoosh. In the first stunned moment, there was no pain, just the pressure of the blow, but when he put his hand to the place of impact, he felt hot, sticky wetness spreading under his fingers.
"I'm...hit," he gasped.
Galen stared at him, horrified, then he cast away the gun as if it hurt him to touch it. "Oh, Pete...." he wailed and flung himself desperately at Pete. "I didn't mean it. I'm so sorry. You're bleeding." He glanced desperately over his shoulder at the frozen tableau he had left behind, then turned back to Pete, his face stricken and full of abject apology. He caught Pete's arms to steady him.
Everything seemed very
sharp and clear to Pete. In the doorway,
"No, Mosk. We have no need of weapons."
"Give it to me. It's mine."
"I am the prefect here. I shall confiscate it. This is not your business. This human is not the one you seek. Perhaps he looks like him, but then," he continued with a gentle, amused tolerance, "surely you have noticed that all humans look alike? One may have dark head fur, another blond, some may be tall or short, but they still resemble each other. It was my belief that two humans who are sought traveled with the fugitive, Galen, not one. Besides, this human is called Pete. He is the servant of Quillan here." He pointed at Galen. "I have known Quillan for many years, since he was a small ape." His very tone defied Galen to contradict him.
Mosk must never have heard Pete's full name. He didn't protest. He'd heard Galen use the name 'Pete' automatically; Marton's words were very convincing.
Galen didn't listen to any of that. With shaking hands, he tugged up Pete's shirt to examine the wound.
The weird clarity Pete felt probably wouldn't last, so he decided to take advantage of it. "Listen, Quillan, I know it was an accident. It's all right." He hoped Mosk wouldn't have caught the minute hesitation before using the name Marton had invented. His knees weakened and he leaned dizzily against the wall.
"Pete, you must lie down. I will bandage you."
"Very worried about hurting a mere human," Mosk scoffed. "Chimpanzees are weak."
"Quillan has always been kind to his servants," Marton sniffed impatiently. "Consequently, he has always been very well served. He is not an ape who would hurt so much as an insect."
Mosk's snout wrinkled in contempt. "One of that kind." He tapped his temple with one fingertip in a gesture that had been old even in Pete's time.
"This is not the human you seek," Marton insisted in that mild voice that made the one he was speaking to feel like an idiot. He almost sounded like Obi-wan Kenobi using the Force on the stormtroopers in Mos Eisley. These are not the droids you are looking for, Pete thought muzzily. "I shall not report you to your supervisor, however. Instead, I will commend you for being attentive and loyal, even if mistaken. When I go to Central City next month, I will speak to General Urko of your devotion. You are just such a gorilla he will appreciate."
Pete wasn't sure if he had really heard the faint trace of irony in Marton's voice, but Mosk certainly didn't. "You think the General would wish my service?" He was either a sucker or very ambitious--or both.
"It will depend upon Quillan," Marton continued. "You see, he is very well connected. He has kin on the High Council. Do you imagine an ape connected to the Council would ever aid a fugitive?"
Mosk shifted nervously on his feet, his beady little eyes uneasy. Gorillas didn't seem to be great thinkers at the best of times. "The Council?" he echoed doubtfully. Maybe he'd never heard that Galen's father was Councillor Yalu.
Galen paid no attention to
the conversation. He helped Pete to lie on the floor, and looked around
desperately for something to stop the bleeding. After a second,
Galen jerked in surprise as the supplies appeared before him. He was in no fit state to play the game. Pete willed him not to make a mistake. He lifted one hand--why did it shake so much?--and curled it around Galen's wrist.
Galen refused to meet his eyes. Instead, he applied himself to cleaning the wound. It sent a wave of agony through Pete that was way out of proportion to the gentleness of the touch. He drew a sharp breath in a frantic attempt not to cry out. Galen flinched.
"I am sorry, Pete. I'm trying not to hurt you."
Mosk made a disgusted sound, but he must have believed that someone with connections to the council would not hesitate to use them to create trouble for an ambitious Gorilla. He shuffled his feet and edged toward the door.
Marton moved with him and draped an arm around the Gorilla's shoulders. "Leave your weapon here, Mosk. I shall return it to you tomorrow if all is well. If the human recovers, I will not speak to your commander about this...er, mistake."
Pete wasn't sure he wasn't playing a double game. If he spoke of this to anyone more intelligent, they would be sure to know Pete's full name. A little conversation with any of his cohorts might give the show away. Pete hated to think of the Prefect getting in trouble for his help. He kind of liked the old Chimpanzee.
Galen steeled himself to finish cleaning the wound. Pete wondered where on earth they would find a surgeon willing to operate on a human. He didn't trust the vets that worked on most humans. They were little better than butchers, especially since there were plenty of humans to use as slaves. Convenient to save a useful human, but if not, who would care?
"How is he, Quillan?" Marton never for a moment forgot his role.
"I don't think he has a bullet inside," Galen said with a whoosh of relief. "I think it merely grazed his size. But there is a long wound that is bleeding badly. He will be weak, and sometimes wounds take poison."
Pete shivered. It wasn't as if there were antibiotics available. He couldn't even coach Galen in the proper care and cleansing of wounds, not with Mosk listening to everything they said.
"Come," Marton urged Mosk. "Let us go out, you and I. I quite frankly find all this blood alarming. I would not have had such a thing happen in my office. I will give you a drink. I feel certain both of us have need of one." He steered the Gorilla from his office.
Galen didn't even glance at
him. "Be very careful,
"Oh, of course." He crinkled up his muzzle, abashed, and then raised his voice. "Prefect, I will close the door. I do not wish to alarm you with the sight of this blood." He sounded like he was every bit as alarmed as the Prefect had claimed to be, but Pete was pretty sure that remarkable ape had only faked his distress. He was an ally in a million--unless his words were meant to deceive Galen and Pete. Right now he might be rushing to the headquarters of the Gorilla patrol for reinforcements.
"Will he...cover for us, Rand?" he asked.
Appealed to, the sub-prefect jumped. "Cover?" he asked blankly.
"Will he betray us to the Gorilla commander?" Galen asked without looking up from his care of the wound.
"Oh, no, never. Marton...does not think highly of most Gorillas. He says the ones stationed here are unthinking thugs, and he and the commander often disagree. Mosk is not very intelligent, but he is stubborn. He was sent here mostly because he is known for causing trouble thoughtlessly and they felt he could get into less trouble in a remote location. His commander will probably disbelieve him, even if Mosk risks telling him what happened." He shivered. "But it would be better if you would go away before he does so."
"Yeah, I think so too," Pete agreed. He wasn't sure his legs had enough starch to walk as far as the door.
"Oh, Pete, I am so very sorry." Galen sat at his side, his eyes anguished. "I would never hurt you on purpose. You must hate me."
Galen's distress was so obvious that Pete rushed to comfort him. "Come on, Galen, I don't hate you. It was an accident. We all know that. I know you'd never hurt me on purpose."
"Will Alan?" Galen moaned. "Oh, Pete, I know he will hate me for hurting you."
"We've got to send for Alan," Pete said. "He can help me get out of Dodge."
Galen doubtfully. "Pete, this is Mellis. We
have never been to a place called Dodge. Oh,
Pete wanted to correct him, to reassure him that he was not delirious, but he wondered if he wasn't far off it. Even lying flat, he felt dizzy and weak. His side was so sore that every movement of Galen's fingers drove knives of agony into him. He'd lost a lot of blood. Even if the wound was only a long graze, he was in no state to run for it.
He couldn't think. He could only gaze up reassuringly at his stricken friend. Galen was hurting even more than Pete was, although it was a different kind of pain.
"What should we
Pete knew the answer to that. "You have to...get Alan," he said with his last strength. "He'll know...what to do. Then he lost the struggle with consciousness and spiraled away into darkness, conscious only of Galen crying his name.
Alan Virdon paced impatiently back and forth in the concealing trees, pausing every few steps to squint through them down toward the settlement of Mellis. Stupid! Splitting the team was a bad idea, a really, really bad idea. He could understand why the sight of a Chimpanzee traveling with two humans might ring alarm bells with the local regiment of Gorillas, but there should have been another way. They couldn't keep letting Galen scout it out on his own, though. He might be recognized, and there'd be no one to rescue him. But Pete could be rash, could act without thinking, and he wasn't as careful as Alan. To make it worse, Alan's friends were going right into the Prefect's office, and if anyone was likely to recognize Galen, it might be his cousin's boss.
How much longer would it take? They'd been gone over an hour. Something must be wrong. Alan craned his neck for a better look. If you two got yourself in trouble.... Galen had been sure his cousin would help them‑‑but would he? He might still feel friendship toward Galen, but he wasn't likely to believe that humans were equal to apes. One wrong word, even an accidental one would betray Alan's two friends, and it would be tough to stage a solo rescue.
Someone was coming. Virdon hesitated, then ducked into the deeper trees as he saw the newcomer, a very tall, thin Chimpanzee. If there had been an ape equivalent of the NBA, this guy would be the local Wilt Chamberlain. He was walking slowly, squinting into the underbrush as if looking for something, but he didn't carry any weapons. He couldn't be hunting for one missing astronaut, could he? Alan crouched lower in the bushes and prayed for invisibility.
"Alan? Are you there, Alan?" the tall chimp called out in a light, careless voice. He caught himself and glanced over his shoulder to make sure no other apes were near enough to overhear him. "Galen sent me to fetch you. Come out, please. It's much too hot a day for traipsing about the hills." He fanned himself with his hand. "Galen says come now. Pete is hurt."
Hurt? Virdon's stomach twisted. Hurt how? Was this a trick? He hesitated. If Galen had really sent this strange ape, if Pete were really hurt....
"I mean you no harm. Galen would have come himself, but he would not leave his friend. An ape with a human friend...." He made a tut-tutting sound. "Very strange, the times we live in. Very strange indeed. And the Prefect helping to deceive the Gorilla? That I like. I like it very much. A shrewd man, the Prefect. Who would have guessed he could be so clever?" He heaved an exasperated sigh. "Oh, please, Alan, come out. I do not like nature. I like to be safe in a village. Galen will owe me greatly for this."
"How badly is he hurt?" Alan called without emerging from his hiding place.
The skinny chimp jumped. "Oh, you startled me. Please, do not do that again. But come out. There was so much blood. Who would have thought a human would have so much blood in him."
Alan felt the color draining right out of his face. That sounded bad. He needed to get down there to Pete right away. "He's not...dead?" he asked reluctantly as he left the thicket and came face to face with the NBA ape.
"He was shot. Galen didn't mean to shoot him, of course. I don't think Galen knows how to use a rifle. You must come quickly and tell him you forgive him." The chimp caught Alan's arm and tugged hard. "Hurry."
Alan planted his feet. "Galen shot Pete? You're lying. It's a trick. Galen wouldn't shoot anybody."
"I said it was an accident. I think he only meant to fire the rifle in the air. Come, hurry, come. We have no vet in the village. We don't know what to do."
Alan pushed aside the improbable tale. More likely, another ape had shot Pete and had chosen to blame Galen for it. Galen was so loyal to Alan and Pete that he would never intentionally hurt one of them. He might take a stand if he felt it was warranted, the way he had when Alan had once revealed himself to be an astronaut from the past to a village girl, but that had been an ethical stance. To hurt Pete with a gun--no, it could never have happened. Alan decided he would worry about that after he'd done what he could for Pete. He braced himself for worse news. "Is Pete really alive?"
The tall Chimpanzee stared down at him in surprise. He probably hadn't expected a human to worry. "Yes, of course he is alive. We wouldn't need you so quickly if he were dead. The bullet did not go into his body. It just cut him and made him bleed. He is very weak." He shuddered. "All that bare, hairless skin, red with blood."
"Yeah, blood the same color as yours," Virdon snapped. "I want to know how I'm supposed to get down there without giving us away." He was so worried he almost overrode caution, but he wouldn't help Pete, who was hurt and probably unable to run, if he walked openly into the village. That might be what had happened to Pete in the first place. Maybe this was the ape who had shot him.
"Well, I did think of that. I may act the fool, but I am not one. We will go the back way. The light is fading. It will be dark soon. Everyone will be in their houses, eating the evening meal. Come, quickly. There is a branching path, and it circles the village."
Alan had to take the chance. He and Pete could care for each other's minor wounds, and they had taught Galen to do as much, but something more serious--at least it didn't sound as bad as the time he had been shot. But all that blood loss couldn't be good. "Was Pete conscious?" he asked.
"At first, he was. Hurry. Walk faster. Yes, at first he kept telling Galen that it was not his fault. Galen did not believe him, I think. I was afraid he would weep, he was so guilty and unhappy. I have never seen my cousin look like that."
The trail led them through
a forested area that had
Alan was practically running. "Just shut up and get me to Pete," he insisted. He had no time for the ape's affectations.
Alan eyed him suspiciously. He couldn't quite see this ape luring him in with doubts about what he'd been raised and conditioned to believe. The story about Pete might be a deception, but all this babble sounded natural. Alan knew he had to be on his guard, that he might be walking into a trap that had already swallowed his friends, but he had to go. Maybe they'd conned Galen into thinking he was responsible, somehow. Alan still didn't quite believe that part of the story.
The trail opened out into a
small clearing behind the biggest house in the village. There were no apes in
sight, but if any should come out into the main square, they could hardly
avoid seeing Alan. "This is the office of the Prefect,"
ducked into the building.
"Oh my god, Pete!"
Burke lay on the desk at the far edge of the room, his face white and lax, his eyes shut. A tidy bandage covered the wound at his side--depending on the angle of the shot, that might not be too bad, but he couldn't tell just from the bandage. He had been stripped down to his shorts and Galen, who hovered miserably at his side, was mopping away the last smears of blood on his abdomen and hip. When Virdon cried out, the Chimpanzee lifted his eyes, then he bowed his head.
"Oh, Alan, I am so sorry," he mourned. "I didn't mean to do it."
Alan jerked backward in disbelief. "You mean it's true? You shot Pete? I thought he was lying, that maybe he'd done it and wanted to pass the buck."
"Oh, no, I did it. I never meant to. It was an accident. I wish it had never happened. Oh, Alan, Pete will never forgive me."
"That is not true," said the elderly ape in the patient tones that suggested he was repeating himself. "He already has forgiven you. He told you it was not your fault. He said it was an accident. We all heard him. He meant it. He is an intelligent human. He will understand."
"But I shot Pete," Galen persisted, his voice full of self-loathing.
For an instant, Alan wanted to hate him. He wanted to rage at him, maybe even punch him out. How could Galen do this to Pete, who trusted him, who considered him his friend? He had never expected betrayal from Galen. He would never have protected himself against the possibility.
Virdon's thoughts must have been vivid on his face because Galen gasped, "Oh," as if he'd been gut-punched. "Alan, you hate me. I knew you would. But it's all right. I deserve it. I hate myself." He turned quickly back to his sponging, then hesitated as if afraid Alan would drive him from Pete's side. His shoulders stiffening, he continued to clean away the blood. God, there was so much of it....
"All I believe is that Pete's hurt," Alan said tightly. He took two quick strides to the desk and dropped a hand on Burke's forehead. He felt cold and clammy. "God, he's going into shock. We need to keep him warm. Elevate his feet."
"Elevate his feet?" echoed the elderly ape. "Why?"
Virdon didn't take the time to explain basic human first aid to the Chimpanzees. Instead he looked around and found a small box on a nearby chair. Scarcely aware of the pile of ancient artifacts that lay scattered near it on the floor, he grabbed it and carried it back to the desk. He lifted Pete's feet and placed them on it, then he grabbed up a folded quilt and spread it over his friend. Pete made a faint, contented sound as the warmth penetrated. The reaction heartened Alan. He couldn't be that deeply unconscious. "Pete?" he prompted hopefully. No response.
"He'll need fluids to make up for the blood he lost," he instructed. "Water, a nourishing broth, something like that." He turned to the elderly ape. "Will you help me?"
"Of course I will, Virdon. But we must be quick. I discouraged Mosk--the gorilla who recognized Burke. He may not completely believe he is mistaken, but I think he will be silent, for now. Eventually he will talk, so it would be best if you and Galen take your friend out of here. I know of a safe hiding place, where he may recover his strength. Galen and Rand will carry him to the wagon."
Alan took hold of Pete's hand and gripped it tightly in both of his. He felt a surge of stark panic. "How bad is it?" he asked. "Level with me."
"Level...." The ape puzzled over the term.
"He means he wants you to tell him the truth," Galen offered in a small, unhappy voice. "It is merely a phrase they used in the time they come from."
"Galen?" Pete asked in a shaky voice.
"Pete? You're awake?" Alan gazed down at him hopefully. But Pete's eyes were still closed. He shifted restlessly under his blanket. "Hang in there, buddy," Alan soothed. "It's all right." All right? How the hell could it be all right?
Galen stepped away from Alan. Every line in his body spelled dejection, guilt, and shame.
"Tell him, Marton,"
"The culprit was Mosk, an ambitious if not overly bright gorilla of the local garrison," Marton replied. "He saw Galen and Burke come here and recognized them. He burst into my office with his rifle. Galen attacked him, and he dropped the rifle."
Virdon stared at Galen, who didn't look up. He fussed over Pete, twitching the blanket straight, and combing fingers through the tousled dark hair, then, when he sensed Alan's eyes on him, he yanked his hand away.
"Galen tried to get the rifle so that Mosk couldn't shoot him. He didn't know how to use it," continued Marton, who must be the prefect. "It went off. It was clearly an accident, you see. But Galen was very upset. I do not know him, but even I, a stranger to him, can see how much he hated hurting his friend, even by accident." He offered a flask. "Water for your friend. I liked Burke. We had a most enlightening discussion about the need to learn from history."
That didn't sound like Pete's usual conversational style. Alan squinted at him consideringly, but he could sense no lies or deception in the old ape's face. When had he learned to read ape expressions? In the beginning, they had all looked alike to him.
"Help me prop him up," he said automatically to Galen, who brightened at the command. A part of Alan wanted to recant the request, but he didn't. How could he blame Galen for an accident?
He slid his arm under Pete's shoulders and supported him against his chest. Pete's head rolled limply against Alan's shoulder, but he tensed slightly--from pain?--and tried to collect himself. "Uh...whazzit...." he muttered faintly.
"I've got some water for you, Pete," Alan said. "Just take a little drink for me, okay?"
Galen handed him the flask, then curled his hand around Pete's arm to steady him. The movement was achingly tentative, as if he expected Alan to lash out at him for it, but Alan didn't. Instead he coaxed Pete to drink.
At first, the water sloshed against his face, then he opened his mouth and took it in. He swallowed, then drank as if he were very thirsty. But after a few swallows, he made a protesting sound and averted his head.
"Come on, Pete, a little more. You need the fluids," Alan urged him. "It's okay. You're safe. I'm here now." God, that sounded stupid.
But it worked. Pete shifted his head and instinctively burrowed into Alan's shoulder, the way Chris used to do when he was sick. Alan knew he should probably lay him down again, but for a moment, he just held on, offering him what reassurance and comfort he could. Galen, his face full of pain, gazed down at Alan penitently, then he let go of Pete's arm. His fingers ghosted over Pete's hair in a gentle touch the was probably meant to reassure him as much as to soothe Burke. Pete smiled faintly.
"A-al?" he ventured.
"Right here. You're gonna be just fine."
"If you...say so." The words were a mere breath, with too much pain in them, but there was a faint flash of humor, too, enough to reassure Alan more than anything else might have done.
He tightened his arm around Pete's shoulders in an urgent hug, then he settled him down on the desktop, and he and Galen tucked the blanket into place.
Alan curled his fingers around Pete's wrist, both to monitor his pulse, and to keep a connection with him. He caught the elderly ape's eyes. "You've been a great help to us. Thank you."
"I believe the proper response is 'you're welcome'," Marton replied. "You have need of my contrivance, Virdon. I must remove you and your friends from this place. Be warned that if you encounter anyone else in this village, you must call Galen Quillan. You will tell anyone who asks that you are my servant, hired for your knowledge because you once lived near a ruined city." He touched the disk he wore, and Alan felt questions pile in on him. Pete was more important--but that disk....
To his astonishment, Marton lifted the thong free, and worked it around Pete's neck. "I promised this to him, before Mosk interfered. He said it might help you to return to the place you belong. Apes are not yet ready to understand that humans are their intellectual equals. Perhaps they will never be ready. I do not care to acknowledge it myself, but I know, from the ruins and artifacts I study that this is so. Zaius himself knows, but he fears humans, fears the power they once possessed and the destructive urges they may still possess. Pete said that we study history so that we can learn from it. I do not think that to shut away an entire segment of the population is to learn anything but the worst of your kind, but mine is not a popular view. I only know I will continue to study, because knowledge is valuable. Whether it is right or wrong to suppress knowledge for a common good, I cannot say. It is not an easy subject."
"No, it never is. Humans worried about those same issues in my time," Alan agreed. He glanced down at Pete, whose eyes were slitted open. He didn't seem fully conscious, but he responded to Alan's, "Pete?"
"I know. Just lie there and rest. We'll get you out of here to safety."
"I have a wagon and a
"Why are you helping
us?" Alan asked as
Galen lifted his eyes briefly, studied Alan, glanced at Marton, then he returned to fussing over Pete.
looked Virdon right in the eye. "Because it is
the right thing to do. You have not harmed me. What 'harm' you bring to our
civilization is the exposure to new thoughts, new ideas. Like birth, such
exposure is painful. Also like birth, there is no going back, no turning away
from the new life. I am old. I might not live to see the changes begun with
you two. Right now, you are only ripples in a small corner of the pond.
Eventually, the entire surface of the water will churn with shock. Maybe it
is right that it be so. Besides,
Alan shook his head. He liked the old Chimpanzee. "A wise man--be he human or ape--learns from his years."
"True. But will a Gorilla like Urko ever believe that? He might keep the peace, but at what cost? Our integrity as a species?"
Alan frowned. At best, either species could be wonderful, self-sacrificing, driven to aspire to the heights. But neither apes nor humans had a monopoly on the darker side of life. "I understand," he said.
"I ask only one thing of you for this aid I give you."
"And that is?"
"Young Galen here is breaking his heart over what he has done. His integrity is beyond question, as is his love for the two of you. Do not reject him for something he did in an attempt to protect his friend."
"Marton, I...." Galen began, then his voice trailed off.
Alan gazed at the abject chimpanzee, then down at Pete, who squinted at him vaguely. He was trying to follow the conversation, but he wasn't fully awake yet. The sight of Pete injured, lying there in his own blood, had shocked Alan profoundly. Pete was his closest friend, his only link with home. To lose him...god, it would be too easy to lose him. Things could go wrong: an infection, an illness that needed modern medicine. Appendicitis. A broken bone. A more serious gunshot wound. They'd weathered too many crises already. Alan himself had been shot worse than this. Pete had been captured and tortured. They might lose each other; it would be far too easy. Trapped here, without Pete at his side--it didn't bear thinking of.
But Galen, too, was part of the family they had become. They'd nearly lost him once, too, to a scorpion bite. He looked almost as small and helpless now as he had that time, afraid he had alienated himself from the only ones who accepted him.
Suddenly Virdon felt like a world-class heel.
"I won't reject him, Prefect," he said quickly. "Galen, I'm sorry."
"No, Alan, oh, no. You shouldn't apologize to me. I should apologize to you."
"To Pete," Alan said involuntarily, then he held up his hand quickly. "No, I didn't mean it that way. I'm sure you already did, and, knowing Pete, he already told you it was okay."
"Oh, Alan, he did. But how can it be okay? Just look at him." He shuddered involuntarily.
Alan looked down at Pete, whose eyes were open a little wider. He was still pretty much out of it or he'd have been jumping in by now. Pete wasn't one to keep his opinions to himself, even when it would have been smart to do so.
Galen edged up beside him and they studied Pete together, united in their worry. Involuntarily, Alan dropped his hand on the younger man's shoulder. "We'll get him out of here safe," he said. "We'll make sure he's all right."
"'m okay," Pete muttered.
"Oh, Pete, you're not okay." Galen looked lost and forlorn. "But whatever I can do...."
"Does this mean...the two of you...will wait on me...and do whatever...I say?" Pete waggled his eyebrows hopefully.
Relief flowed through Alan so hard it was all he could do to stay on his feet.
"We will, I promise," Galen vowed.
Alan nudged him with his elbow. "I wouldn't," he said quickly. "You'd be creating a monster."
Both Chimps stared at him doubtfully. "A monster?" Galen echoed in astonishment.
"Hmm, an ancient human saying, no doubt." Marton was quick on the uptake. "Perhaps you mean that--such behavior would spoil him and turn him into...a petty tyrant?" The prefect was quick. He added, "I have studied human writings."
Alan turned to stare at him. "You have? Where? Do you have books from my time?"
"I have seen them, yes. Zaius confiscated the ones I told him about."
His phrasing penetrated even Galen's absorption in the crisis. "There are others?"
"There are. I will show you." He went over to a cabinet and produced three books. Alan felt his blood race. Maybe something useful would come of this, something beside the flat disk that hung around Pete's neck. If only he could find something useful, a scientific journal, even a history of the time since the astronauts' journey into the future.
He took the books from the prefect and stared at them, then he felt a laugh bubble up inside. The first book was a Hardy Boys mystery. That would perplex the ape all right. The second was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Well, it would give them a kind of slice of life. And the third was Erich Segal's Love Story. Definitely human books, definitely from Alan's time. But about as much use in returning home as the shattered remains of the Icarus.
"You may have them," Marton offered benevolently.
Maybe it would be a hoot to read them. He pictured the three of them sitting around a campfire. Pete would probably appropriate the Hardy Boys book. Alan would settle for Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. That left Love Story for Galen.
Love means never having to say you're sorry....
Alan threw back his head and roared with laughter.
Galen picked up the damp cloth, poured water over it, and wrung it out. Very gently, he mopped Pete's face with it. Behind him, a small fire danced and flickered, with the occasional pop and crackle of sizzling twigs, producing a dancing light that illuminated the three friends' faces but left the corners of the room in shadow.
"I'm not gonna break, y'know," Pete grumped at him. His side was sore as blazes and he had about enough energy to sit up with help to eat the dinner Alan had fixed for him and to drink the water his two friends forced down him at intervals. He was awfully thirsty--Alan said that was because of the blood loss--but he didn't have enough strength to keep drinking so much. Felt like it went right through him, anyway. They'd poured gallons of water down his throat, stuffed him with so much food that he felt like a Thanksgiving turkey ready for baking, and fussed over him like he was fine china.
"You came too close, Pete," Alan insisted. "We don't have proper antibiotics, so we have to make sure we keep the wound clean. The medicines the prefect gave us seem to be working. No trace of infection so far. I've got my fingers crossed." He held up both hands, displaying ostentatiously crossed fingers.
"You don't have a fever, Pete," Galen added. He was still diffident, and his eyes were shadowed. At least Alan was behaving more normally around him, the two of them united in their determination to help Pete recover. While he felt so weak and crummy, it was kind of nice to have them hover like this.
"Natural remedies," Alan added. "The prefect is a smart guy."
Pete nodded in agreement. "Yeah, I figured that out fast. He came on with this kind of lazy intellect game, not so much testing me but seeing how I'd react. I don't think he had a clue who I was at first. I guess I blew it and gave myself away to him." He grimaced.
"He is very
intelligent," Galen admitted. "
Pete had to admit that was
probably true. He'd listened to Galen and
The cousins had talked
softly so as not to disturb Pete, while Alan sat cross-legged beside him and
steadied him when the cart jostled him. Besides comparing notes about the
prefect and what had happened, a lot of time was spent with
Pete gazed up at Galen, who hovered over him, mopping at his face with the damp cloth. "Hey, Galen, I'm okay," he said. "Yeah, I think your cousin is pretty smart, too. He and Marton were each playing their own games. It's a way to survive. Now they know they don't have to play them with each other. They'll stand together against the gorillas if Mosk makes a stink."
"What would cause Mosk to stink?" Galen's eyes opened very wide.
Alan caught Pete's gaze and grinned. The normal amusement at Galen's reaction to yet another weird human phrase was muted. He was still worried. Pete was half afraid he'd forgiven Galen rationally but not emotionally.
"Just another saying," the three of them finished in chorus. Galen risked a faint smile. Pete liked the automatic reaction; proof the three of them were still a team. God, poor Galen, trying to cope with that unfamiliar rifle, to keep it away from Mosk. Stupid, bigoted gorilla. He'd probably have been a skinhead back home, if he'd been human. Not a deep thinker, easily led, ambitious in all the wrong ways.
"I hope Mosk doesn't make trouble for your cousin," Pete said. "No matter how the Prefect snowed him--" He saw Galen's eyes widen. "Fooled him--he'll probably be suspicious."
"He can be as suspicious as he likes, but we're out of there. He can't prove anything," Alan replied.
"He can prove I hit him over the head with a stick," Galen admitted sheepishly. "I hit him hard enough to leave a lump, I think."
"You hit him with a stick?" Alan echoed. He didn't look like he'd heard that part before, or, if he had, it hadn't registered.
Galen squeezed his damp rag convulsively in his hands and refused to look at either human. "He was pointing his rifle at Pete. I was afraid he would shoot him. Instead, I was the one who shot him."
Pete could feel his guilt radiating off him. "Galen, it's okay. I know you didn't mean to shoot me."
"But you were still hurt. I don't know about guns. I don't want to hurt anybody. I should have just kicked the rifle away so Mosk couldn't get it. But he was stronger than I was and I thought I should make sure he couldn't get it." He hunched his shoulders unhappily. "I was afraid he would kill Pete, and I just couldn't think. When Pete was hit...." He shuddered. "I think it was the worst thing I'd ever done."
"Then you're a lucky ape, Galen," Pete said involuntarily.
Alan and Galen stared at him in astonishment. Neither of them had expected that. Their twin expressions of shock and disbelief were almost comical.
"What the hell do you mean, lucky?" Alan demanded. Galen was speechless.
"If the worst thing you ever did was accidental while trying to protect a friend, that says a lot for the kind of person, uh, ape you are."
There was a moment of stunned silence, then Alan's face lit up in a smile. "Gotta say, Pete, being shot's made you awfully philosophical."
"Maybe it was having my life rushing before my eyes?" He tried to speak lightly. Galen didn't understand quite what that meant. He was still staring at Pete in a kind of shock. Pete continued hastily. "No, listen, Al, it's okay. We all know it was an accident. Don't we?"
Alan hesitated, then he looked over at Galen. "Yeah," he agreed. "I do know that. Galen, I'm sorry for coming down on you so hard back there. It wasn't fair."
"I deserved it," Galen mumbled.
Peter waved his hands to refute the statement. "No. No way. You didn't. Only way we're gonna get on your case is if you shot me on purpose."
Galen stared at him in horror. "Shot you on purpose? Oh, Pete, I never would."
"See? Put holes in the fabulous Burke anatomy? 'Course not." He grinned. "Come on, Galen, it's okay. Believe it."
Galen hesitated, but he must have seen the confirmation on Pete's face. He heaved a shuddering sigh of pure relief and his eyes glistened with unshed tears. Poor old Galen, as loyal a friend as you could hope for--Pete was lucky; he had two such friends. Galen had been hurting, probably worse than Pete's side hurt. Pete didn't want that, not for an instant.
"Aw, come on, Galen, don't do that," he reproached gently. Collecting all his strength, he sat up carefully and pulled the Chimpanzee against him in a reassuring hug. Over Galen's shoulder, he caught Alan's eye and nodded encouragingly.
Alan leaned in and rumpled the fur on Galen's head. "I guess Pete's trying to turn this into a love-in," he said. "But he's right. It's gonna be okay. We've got to stick together."
Galen sniffled against Pete's neck, then he caught himself and the tension eased out of his muscles. He returned the hug lightly so as not to put any pressure on the wound. Pete held on another minute, then he let go and the other two assisted him to lie down. Galen's face revealed too many emotions, but relief warred for first place with his worry about Pete. Good. He'd be okay.
"Hey, Al," said Pete brightly. "Now that we've settled that, want to have a look at our new disk?"
"Disk?" Alan's face changed ludicrously. "I completely forgot about it."
"You forgot the disk?" Galen turned to stare at him.
Pete saw another, 'it's my fault' simply begging to be spoken and pitched in quickly before Galen could utter it. "I was center stage for a while, is all. Here you go, Alan, it's all yours." He pulled the thong over his head and held out the dangling disk to Alan, who snatched it eagerly. Pete got a flash of one shiny side and one side with lettering on it.
Alan stared at the shiny side a second, then he flipped it over, practically trembling with excitement. All at once, his face fell ludicrously.
"What is wrong, Alan?" Galen worried.
"You know what this is?" Alan waved the disk in the air as if nothing could be more disgusting.
"A disk...." Galen began.
"Yeah, but it's not a data disk. It's some kind of music record. It's the soundtrack of Star Wars."
Galen's eyes lifted involuntarily to the nearest window, seeking the night sky. "The stars fight wars with each other?" he blurted out.
"Nope, Star Wars is a movie," Pete explained hastily. "We've told you about movies before?"
"Like that hollow gram we saw in the ruined city? Oh, wait, I remember. A story all in pictures that move and talk. I wish I could see a 'movie' one day. What is a soundtrack?"
Pete explained hastily, his eyes on Alan, who set aside the disk with sudden revulsion. Hope trickled out of him; his very posture spoke of disappointment. He busied himself by adding a few sticks to the fire, his face lowered. In the orange glow of dancing light, he looked sad and lonely.
"Hey, Alan," Pete said softly. "Just because that disk only holds music doesn't mean there aren't others here that we can use. We can start looking in the morning. Or you and Galen can look while I sleep in for once. How's that sound? Marton had all kinds of artifacts in his office that he'd found here, all neatly labeled. Only technological one I saw was a Sony cassette player, and it was broken, but that doesn't mean there aren't other things here. There might be hidden rooms with computers. We'll look." He reached out and patted Alan's shoulder.
"We'll look thoroughly," Galen agreed. "If there is anything here, we will find it for you."
Alan gave them an abstracted grin, then he shook off his mood and produced a more genuine one. The sadness and isolation melted away and his eyes warmed. "Thanks, Pete, Galen," he said, and Pete knew it was for more than the possibilities and the offer of help, it was for the support his friends offered. "I'll take you up on that in the morning. For now, Pete, try to sleep. Keeping you talking isn't the best cure. Galen and I will take turns keeping watch, to make sure the gorillas don't try to follow us here."
Galen glanced uneasily at the window again and only relaxed when he realized the night was still. Sounds would carry a long distance in the ruins. They would hear the Gorillas coming in plenty of time, if they came at all. Pete hoped the light from their campfire wouldn't give them away. But there were a cluster of buildings around them that would prevent the light from showing very far.
"I will watch first," Galen offered. "Is that all right, Alan?"
Virdon glanced down at Pete, who nodded encouragingly. Then Alan clapped the chimpanzee on the shoulder. "Yeah, you do that. Wake me in a couple of hours." He unrolled the bedroll Marton had provided--he'd stocked them very well, including new clothes for Pete to replace the bloodstained ones--and spread it out next to Pete.
Galen went over to sit near the window where he could see a slice of the street. "Sleep well," he encouraged, then his voice grew thoughtful. "Alan?" he asked doubtfully.
"What on earth is a love-in?"