The Demon Within

Judy Messineo

 

 

 

This is a alternative ending to the episode 'The Interrogation'

 

* * * * * * * * * *

 

Wanda sighed as she looked at the human, his back to her now, curled up

in an almost fetal position on the table. So close; for a moment she

thought she had him. But he was strong, stronger than she ever would

have thought any human could be, and at the last moment she had seen

awareness in his eyes, and he had turned away from her to keep her from

seeing his vulnerability.

 

But the scientist loved a challenge, and this human intrigued her. She

tried to tell herself it was only professional curiosity, and that she

was doing work that would benefit them all in their need to control the

human animals that shared their world. But even she knew this was only

half the truth. This was a human unlike any she had ever encountered.

Most humans she had studied were weak-minded and easily led. But she

would not allow this one to best her. No mere human had ever done so

before, and he would not be the first. There were other things she had

yet to try-more extreme methods outlined in the book she had in her

possession-and since Zais had virtually given her free reign with this

human, she would try them all until she broke him completely and taught

him his place.

 

"Take him back to the cage," she instructed her assistants, paging ahead

in the book until she found what she was looking for. She scanned a few

pages, gave her two assistants a few additional instructions, and then

returned to her book as the two apes set out to obey her orders.

 

* * * * * * * * * *

 

For two days he hung in his cell, his wrists tied together, suspended

from a beam above him, his feet just barely touching the ground. At

first he struggled, until the ropes bit into his flesh and blood ran in

crooked rivulets down his arms and body, darkening the dirt floor at his

feet. Eventually he gave up the fight and tried not to move at all, and

the wounds in his wrists crusted over the ropes, only oozing now and

then when his cramped body force him into unwilling movement.

 

Any rest was denied to him, and the moment he felt himself begin to

drift he was viciously brought back to full consciousness with a sharp

jab to his ribs or back. Hunger gnawed at him, but it was soon

unbearable thirst that dominated his every moment. He worked to steel

his mind against both, forcing himself to think about something else-

anything else-to keep his mind off his physical pain. For a time he

thought about home, and all he missed. But that brought a mental pain

that rivaled the physical torment he was trying to distract himself

from, so he set about thinking about more obscure things: the names of

every teacher he had ever had from kindergarten through college; the

batting averages of the 1969 Mets; every girl he had ever kissed, and

where it took place.

 

This last one brought him again to a place that hurt to think about, and

he shook himself to try to clear his thoughts. The movement caused the

ropes to shift in the gashes in his wrists, and he groaned before he

could stop himself. The guard glanced up at him and grinned, and Pete

gritted his teeth against making any more sound. He had long since

given up trying to bargain with them. They obviously loved their work,

and it amused them to see the lowly human trying to bargain for his

worthless hide. So screw you, he thought angrily. You're not going to

see me break, you goddamn primate. Goddamn, fucking, bastard ape!

 

Anger was good-it helped pass some time. But it wasn't long before the

adrenaline rush of the emotion dissipated, and he was left again with

only pain to keep him company; pain and a chimpanzee who was salivating

for the chance to break one of his ribs.

 

On the morning of the third day, Wanda ordered him cut down. He knew it

was three days only because he had forced himself to keep track. It was

important, he knew, to keep his mind sharp for whatever lay ahead,

though he had felt his mind slipping; had given in to his body's

physical demand to be acknowledged time and time again. But eventually,

blessedly, he began to lose all feeling, first in his arms, and then the

rest of his body, so that when the ropes were slashed, he crumpled to

the ground immediately. He lay with his face in the dirt, unable to

even turn his head to breathe. Despite his best efforts, he drew in a

lungful if dirt, and his lungs responded to the insult by sending him

into a painful coughing fit. He was dimly aware of his body being

turned over as he struggled to regain his breath. When the coughing fit

finally abated, he opened his eyes to find the doctor kneeling beside

him, a cup in her hand. She raised his head and brought the cup to his

lips.

 

Up until that moment he had not given her the satisfaction of a single

utterance, but now he couldn't stifle the moan of absolute gratitude

that escaped his lips as she brought the cup to his mouth and encouraged

him to drink. He drained the glass in a few short gulps, closing his

eyes in bliss as the cooling liquid soothed his parched throat. She

lowered his head, sat back on her heels, and waited.

 

The cramps hit within seconds, and she watched, satisfied, as he

groaned, curling up in a ball, gasping as waves of pain washed through

is gut. And then the hallucinations began. At first they were

nameless, shapeless monsters from his childhood, without form. But

gradually they began to take shape-the faces of primates of all forms-

gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans. They stalked him, flew at his face,

clawed at his body, leaving long welts in his flesh. He fought them,

but there were too many; they surrounded him, cornered him so that there

was no place for him to hide. And then they were upon him, and he could

feel their teeth sinking into him, ripping flesh from bone. From

someplace far away he could hear his own voice, screaming, but it was

disconnected from his body, floating far above him. And still the teeth

tore into him, stripping away muscle and tendons, until all that was

left was raw bone.

 

And then, over his own disjointed and continual screams, came the sound

of teeth gnawing on bone.

 

* * * * * * * * * *

 

A voice droned in his head. He couldn't make out any words, just the

low and unceasing cadence that went on and on. He wanted to block it

out, but it was inside of him, and he could do nothing to stop it; there

was no way to eject it from his mind. On and on it went, pulling him

unwillingly along with it until he wanted to scream at it to shut up.

But the voice was in control. It invaded his thoughts and reshaped them

at will, and any attempt on his part to fight this intrusion resulted in

blinding pain that left him unable to breathe. Even so, fought it he

did for a time, for some part of him understood that this voice was

draining away his very essence. He struggled to form defiant thoughts,

pressing his palms against his temples as pain ripped through his head

with each attempt.

 

Despite his determination, however, he felt himself gradually weakening,

and when he no longer had the strength to fight, he let go and gave up

with a barely audible sob. Immediately, the pain stopped. The voice

owned him now, and he almost didn't care anymore. He was drifting away

into a dark oblivion, leaving the voice somewhere behind him, and he

knew if he could just get there, nothing else would matter.

 

A frigid blast shocked him back to reality. Sputtering, he opened his

eyes just as a second wall of icy water hit him full in the face. He

tried to cover his eyes only to discover his hands were once again bound

over his head. He was still in his cell, this time sitting with his

back against the far wall, his arms bound to the bars above his head.

Wanda stood in front of him, and as she saw awareness returning, she

leaned down, keenly scrutinizing his features. He wanted to spit in her

face, but somehow he dared not. Instead, he turned his head away from

her. She grabbed him roughly by the chin and yanked his head back.

Again, something undefinable stopped him from uttering the obscenity

that formed in his head.

 

"Are you ready to give me those names now?" she asked, and he found

himself thinking that if a chimpanzee could smirk, this is what it would

look like. His only answer was to narrow his eyes at her and press his

lips together. "Still defiant, I see." She almost looked pleased by

this, and her next words sent a chill down Pete's spine. "But we will

soon take care of that."

 

Then she left him, and he watched as her assistant took her place in the

cage. Screw them, he decided, fighting down the fear that she could

somehow hear is very thoughts. But there was no way he would willingly

sell out the few pathetic humans who had somehow found the courage,

despite their inborn terror of the apes, to help him and Alan.

 

Alan. Where the hell are you, anyway? It's time for the big rescue

scene, buddy. And make it soon, before I start saying things that get

people killed...

 

* * * * * * * * * *

 

True to her word, he was allowed no respite. Her assistants saw to it

that he was not allowed to close his eyes, and every time it looked like

he was drifting, he was rewarded with a swift kick to his ribs. Reality

began to blur; everything around him moved as though through thick

syrup-slow and ponderous and deliberate. Light and shadow moved across

the floor of his cell, and he was vaguely aware of a changing of the

guard at some point. Maybe it happened several times; he couldn't be

sure anymore. Any attempt at coherent thought was quickly swallowed up

in the murky world that had become his reality. His body ached for a

time, and then, strangely, it didn't. A sense of euphoria seized him at

one point, and even though he knew on some level that it probably wasn't

a good sign, he let it carry him for awhile.

 

He couldn't say how long it was before she came back; it could have just

as easily been five minutes as five days. His eyes could no longer

focus by then-the world had been reduced to moving shapes in dim light.

He felt himself slipping away, and even the savage kicks soon were

nothing more than a kind of detached pain. The single point of

awareness around which his mind could still focus was a powerful thirst,

and for some reason which he could no longer remember, this terrified

him beyond all else, so that when she knelt before him and brought the

cup to his lips, he resisted with every ounce of his remaining strength,

despite his desperate need for what she offered. But she thrust her

hands into his hair and gripped him so that he couldn't move, forcing

the water down his throat.

 

And then the pain, and they were back, and his world dissolved once more

into gnashing teeth and bloody flesh. When they had finished with him

the voice returned as well, and instinctively he knew it was more

dangerous than the apes who sought to tear him apart. It sought to own

him, to take his will and mold it to its own designs. It would enslave

him as surely as the ropes which held him captive. But even knowing

this he no longer fought against it. It was just easier and less

painful to give in. He would do whatever the voice commanded, and maybe

it would leave him alone; allow him to sink into that great, comforting

void.

 

He loosened all control of his mind, and consciously let his own free

will drift. He watched it go in the dark-bright ribbons, milky white,

floating away from him until they were beyond his sight. The voice was

still then, and he was allowed, finally, to rest.

 

* * * * * * * * * *

 

Allen and Galen crouched lower in the bushes as the two apes rode past

them on the road. This was the first time in the three days since they

had learned of where Pete was being held that the guards had left the

small compound. Alan tried not to think about what that could mean, but

his mind insisted on presenting the obvious possibility-that Pete was

dead, and there was no threat to leaving the female chimpanzee alone

with a dangerous human.

 

It had been quiet for two days now within the walls of the compound they

had determined held their friend. When they first crept close three

days ago, Alan had been certain he had heard screaming coming from

inside, but at the time the area had been crawling with Urko and his

goons, and there was no way for he and Galen to even dare to attempt a

rescue. After that there had been only silence, which was somehow more

chilling than the anguished screams. At least then he had known Pete

was still alive.

 

He pushed all such thoughts f rom his head and concentrated on the task

at hand. There was no way of knowing how long the guards would be gone.

It was now or never.

 

In the end, it was surprisingly easy. They had seen the female leave

the cave and go into her own quarters, taking one assistant with her.

That left only the other one, who they spied just inside Pete's cell,

half dozing on duty. Alan allowed himself to take one quick glance at

the still form which was tied to the bars on the far end of the cage,

and only the knowledge that no one would be left to guard a dead man

convinced him that Pete could still possibly be alive. He had been

stripped of his shirt, and bruises covered is chest and ribcage. His

eyes were open, but even from where Alan stood, he could tell nothing

registered behind them.

 

Galen nudged him and brought him back to the task at hand. With his

back to them, and his state of awareness, to was not hard to sneak up on

the guard, who went down easily enough. Leaving Galen to finish the

job, Alan moved quickly to his friend and knelt down in front of him.

 

"Pete?" When he got no response he lightly slapped him on the cheek.

The other man didn't even flinch. It was, Alan thought, as though he

wasn't even there. "The lights are on but nobody's home." The old

saying came to his mind, and it was all too fitting.

 

Galen had finished tying and gagging the unconscious guard, and appeared

at Alan's side. "Come on, let's just get him out of here," he said

nervously. Mentally, Alan shook himself, and drawing a dagger from his

belt, he sliced through the ropes. Pete fell limply forward, and with

Galen's help, Alan was able to drape him over his shoulder. Galen led

the way to the door, and after a quick and furtive glance around, the

two figures hurried out of the complex and made their way to the hidden

cave they had discovered and made ready several days before.

 

* * * * * * * * * *

 

There were voices talking quietly over him as he fought his way back to

consciousness. His body felt dead, heavy, unresponsive to his commands,

and it took great effort to force his eyes to open. A human face peered

anxiously down at him, and Pete had the nagging feeling he should know

this blonde man, but his mind couldn't produce an identity.

 

Relief flooded the blue eyes suspended above him. "It's about time," he

said gruffly, though the concern in the voice was unmistakable. "We

were starting to think you were going to sleep the rest of your life

away."

 

"Alan." The name came from the deepest recesses of his mind; he hadn't

even known it until he heard his own voice utter the word.

 

Alan's face broke out in a smile. "Galen, look who decided to rejoin

the world of the living," he said over his shoulder.

 

"It's about time," a second voice replied, echoing Alan's words of a

moment earlier, and suddenly a chimp's face materialized above Pete, a

cup in his hands. Where a minute ago Pete was certain he couldn't move,

life suddenly surged through his stiff limbs. He savagely knocked the

cup from the ape's hands, knowing only too well what was contained in

that seemingly benign offering. Alan and Galen stepped back,

momentarily startled, and Pete seized the opportunity to scramble to his

feet. The days of confinement had left him weak, however, and no sooner

had he gained his feet than his knees buckled, sending him crashing back

to the ground.

 

By this time the other two had recovered from their momentary surprise,

and Pete, realizing that they stood between him and the only means of

escape he could see-the bright entrance of the cave-backed away from

them on all fours.

 

"Pete, you're safe now." Galen took a step forward as he spoke, and

Pete correspondingly moved back until he bumped into the far wall of the

cave. He was trapped! He could go no farther. The panic of this

thought showed clearly on his face, and Alan stuck out his arm, stopping

Galen from taking another step forward. He crouched down so that he was

at eye level with Pete, trying to appear as non-threatening as possible.

 

"Pete, it's me, Alan. You know me," he coaxed gently. "I'm your

friend."

 

Again, that nagging feeling that this was the truth, that he did know

this human; that they were friends. But that's all it was. Anything

more tangible eluded his confused mind.

 

"No one is going to hurt you here, Pete," Alan tried again, and Pete

found himself believing the man, despite any real memory to back the

words up. But the other one-he was a chimp, and nothing at the moment

would convince Pete he was safe around him. His eyes darted to Galen,

who had made no further advances since Alan had stopped him. The chimp

looked troubled, but remained where he was and said nothing.

 

Alan didn't miss the exchange. "Galen, it's going to be a cold night.

Maybe you should see about a fire," he said, his eyes never leaving

Pete's face. Galen understood Alan's intent, and reluctantly he moved

away. Whatever had happened to Pete in the five days he had been a

captive had obviously instilled a deep mistrust of all primates, and his

presence was only making things worse. He left the cave to gather wood,

hoping Alan could get through to their friend.

 

When he returned to the cave twenty minutes later, his arms piled with

branches, Alan was waiting for him.

 

"How is he?" he asked, dropping the load at the mouth of the cave.

 

"He hasn't moved since you left. But he seems to have calmed down a

little at least." He crouched down and began to break the smaller twigs

for kindling. Galen crouched beside him, and they were silent for a few

minutes as they built the fire just inside the mouth of the cave.

 

"What do you suppose they did to him?" Galen finally asked in a quiet

voice. He kept watching the fledgling fire as he spoke, feeding small

sticks to the flames, avoiding all eye contact with the human.

 

"I'm not sure. From his condition, it seems like they wanted something

from him. Otherwise, why not just kill him?"

 

"It's probably us they wanted."

 

"I don't think so. I mean, we haven't seen anyone out looking for us.

And they had to know he wouldn't have that information anyway. How

could he know where we would go after he was captured? No," he

repeated, "they wanted something from him."

 

Pete's condition when they had freed him-the dehydration, the physical

and mental abuse he had obviously suffered, brought back a memory of one

of his buddies who had been a prisoner of war. But he had been held for

months, and the thought that Alan had now seemed unlikely in the short

span of five days. Still, who knows what she had done to him? It might

be possible that she had at least tried. "Mental reconditioning," he

said aloud.

 

"What? What's that?

"Reshaping how a person thinks. Some people call it brainwashing."

 

The chimp looked confused. "Brainwashing?"

 

"It's a mind control technique. You break down the defenses, physically

and mentally, and then you can implant whatever you want."

 

"I never heard of such a thing.

"It wasn't that uncommon in our time."

 

"And you wonder why humans are thought of as barbarians, animals?"

Galin retorted more sharply than he had intended.

 

Alan glanced up at him in surprise. "It was a chimpanzee that did this

to him," he reminded Galen quietly.

 

"I'm sorry," Galin muttered "I just can't believe that he's afraid of

me. Of me!"

 

"Just give it a little time," he implored his friend. "He just needs a

little time."

 

The two made no further attempt to communicate with Pete, having come to

the unspoken agreement to let him make the next move. Thirst and cold

finally made that decision for him, and several hours later he crept up

to where they sat, being careful to keep the fire between himself and

the chimp.

 

His eyes traveled to a cup in front of Allan, but he made no move to

take it. Without a word, Alan filled the cup with water and placed it

in front of Pete. As thirsty as he was, Pete couldn't bring himself to

touch it. Alan remembered his violent reaction when Galen had offered

him a drink earlier, and guessed that somehow this had played a part in

whatever torture they had used on his friend. Deliberately, he picked

up the cup, and aware of Pete's eyes following his every movement, he

took a long drink. Then he held the cup out to his friend, encouraging

him with a nod of his head. After a slight hesitation, Pete took the

cup and drained it in one noisy gulp. Alan refilled it twice more

before Pete's maddening thirst was finally slaked.

 

It was a little thing-or so it seemed to Alan-but it was the beginning

of the rebuilding of trust between them, and Alan was pleased when Pete

accepted a bowl of stew, devouring it as if he hadn't eaten in days.

And considering the deteriorated state of the man, this was probably the

case.

 

After he finished eating, he slunk back into the darkness of the cave.

He had not uttered a single sound, but he had trusted them enough to eat

and drink, and that, Alan decided, was a start. He had told Galen to

give it some time. Now he hoped he would have the patience to follow

his own advice.

 

* * * * * * * * * *

 

He came to consciousness slowly, keeping his eyes closed even after full

awareness returned. Had he been sleeping, or had he lost consciousness

again? It had to be the latter-sleep was forbidden. He kept his eyes

closed; maybe if they thought he was still out they would leave him

alone for a while longer.

 

Something was different, but he couldn't quite put his finger on what.

He shifted slightly, and realized then what it was. He was no longer

bound. In fact, he was lying on his side, one arm pillowing his head.

It was the way he always slept back when he was allowed such a luxury in

his life. He tried to figure out what that could mean. Maybe they were

finished with him. Or maybe he was just dreaming. But no, the ache in

his shoulders from the long hours of being tied up, the soreness of his

bruised ribs against the hard ground, that was all real enough.

 

Cautiously, he opened his eyes, experiencing a moment of panic when all

he saw was blackness until he realized he was staring at a wall six

inches from his face. As quietly as he could, he rolled onto his back,

turning his head to scan his surroundings, half expecting either Wanda

or a guard to be there, waiting with whatever new horror they had

thought up for him. But he was alone. That was enough to startle him

into pushing himself up to a sitting position. His eyes traveled around

the small cave, and he realized he had no idea where he was.

 

A movement at the mouth of the cave startled him, starting his heart

pounding. But it was only Alan who walked in, and he leaned back

against the wall, letting his breath out in a long sigh of relief. It

took a few seconds for the full impact to hit him. Alan? What was he

doing here? And then the man in question was beside him. Pete looked

up at him, broken memories of the night before slowly filtering into his

mind. Alan. And Galen. He was really out of that hell hole.

 

"You're awake," Alan stated the obvious.

 

"Sort of." His head still felt cloudy, and he brought his hands up to

rub his eyes, noticing for the first time that his wrists had been

bandaged. "I must have been really out of it-I didn't even feel you do

this."

 

"You've been 'out of it' for the last fourteen hours. How are you

feeling?"

 

"Like I could sleep another fourteen. I, uh, haven't gotten a whole lot

of rest lately."

 

"I could tell." He watched Pete closely, noting that his head seemed a

lot clearer this afternoon. Or at least the fear was gone, although he

hadn't encountered Galen yet.

 

As if on cue, the chimp walked in through the door. When he realized

Pete was awake he stopped, keeping his distance, not knowing what kind

of reaction he would get. Pete nodded easily to him. "Hey, Galen," he

said quietly.

 

A smile spread across Galen's face. "It's good to have you back, Pete."

 

"Yeah," he agreed. "But how? I don't remember..." His voice trailed

off without completing the thought. The last thing he did remember he

wished he could forget. "How long was I there?" he asked suddenly.

 

"Five days."

 

Five days. He could account for three. Maybe. After that, there was

nothing.

 

Alan put his hand on Pete's shoulder, pulling him back from his

thoughts. "Are you hungry?"

 

"Are you kidding?"

 

"I'll take that as a yes," Alan smiled.

 

As he had done the night before, Pete fell on the food like a starving

man suddenly coming upon a feast. Alan took the opportunity to take a

good look at him. He had dropped more weight than his thin frame could

afford, and despite the long rest he had just had, he still looked

exhausted. Nothing that a few days of rest and food couldn't fix.

Physically, at least, he would recover.

 

"Ambrosia," Pete murmured, finishing up a third helping.

 

"No, that's an oper," Galen reminded him.

 

"Whatever it is, it's the best breakfast I've had since...well, ever."

 

"Breakfast was two meals ago," Alan told him.

 

"Then I have some catching up to do."

 

"Yeah. We all do." There was a serious note in Alan's voice, and Pete

had the sense he wasn't going to like the turn the conversation was

about to take. He was right. "So what did she want from you, Pete?"

 

"Who knows?" he said evasively. "She's crazy."

 

"But she must have wanted something," Alan insisted. "They could have

killed you right from the start. To be honest, I thought they would."

 

"If Urko had had his way, they would have. He was overruled by Zais and

the High Council so Wanda could do her research," he spat out that last

word with contempt.

 

"What kind of research?"

 

"Weird stuff," he evaded again. "I told you, she wasn't all there."

 

"Pete, you were in pretty rough shape when we found you," Alan said,

treading lightly now. "And I'm not just talking physically. It might

help if you talked about it, told us what she did."

 

"Why? What difference does it make now?"

 

"Maybe none."

 

Pete didn't miss the part of that thought he had left unspoken. "I

don't remember much," he said with what he hoped was a casual shrug.

"Look, it's over, Alan. It's over, and I'm fine. Okay, I know I was a

little out of it last night," he conceded, "but I was just tired. I

hadn't slept for days."

 

"That was more than just fatigue, Pete."

 

"What is it you're trying to say?" he challenged. "Do I seem incoherent

to you right now?"

 

"No."

 

"Good. So let it go, okay?"  

 

Alan realized that pushing the issue right now was going to get him

nowhere. Pete was digging in; obviously he wasn't ready to talk about

it yet. "Okay," Alan reluctantly agreed.

 

Yeah, I'll let it go, he thought. For now.

 

* * * * * * * * * *

 

They were well hidden; he and Galen concealed within the thicket of

dense bushes on one side of the road, and Pete crouched low within

another clump on the other. Alan wished Pete hadn't gotten separated

from them, but as always when they were being pursued, everyone had to

take care of themselves, and they had each gone for the closest hiding

spot they could find.

 

He could see Pete's face from where he was, and though he was trying to

control it, Alan could see fear there. They were safe enough; it was

only that sadist of a scientist and her two chimp assistants, searching

the road for them. Alan knew the two assistants didn't posed much of a

threat; though they both carried guns, neither of them looked eager to

encounter any renegade humans. All he and Pete and Galen had to do was

sit tight for awhile.

 

The female shifted on her mount and peered into the bushes to her left.

Alan saw Pete tense up and crouch even lower to the ground. "You're

okay, Pete," he thought, trying to project the reassurance with his

mind. "Just don't move. Don't give yourself away and you'll be fine."

For a long moment he thought his attempt at telepathy had been

successful. Then one word, spoken softly but with authority, undid the

last two days of Alan's efforts.

 

"Burke," the female called out, and Alan, who had been keenly watching

his friend's face, saw Pete's eyes start to glaze over at the sound of

that voice. "Burke," she called again, and in that instant, Alan knew

his friend was lost. To his horror, Pete slowly crawled from his hiding

spot and stood up. Immediately, one of the assistants turn his gun on

him.

 

Alan made a move to come out from his own hiding spot, but he was

stopped by Galen's hand firmly clutching his arm. "You move and we're

all dead," he hissed, digging his fingers more deeply into the flesh of

Alan's forearm. If it had just been him, he may still have risked it,

but he didn't feel he had to right to risk Galen's life as well.

 

He watched, feeling sick, as Pete moved forward, almost in a trance,

until he was standing before the scientist's horse. She nodded almost

imperceptibly to the primate on her left, and he dismounted, taking a

rope from his saddle. Pete offered no resistance as his hands were

bound in front of him. The guard kept hold of the other end of the rope

as he remounted his horse.

 

"What about the other two?" the second chimp asked, eyeing both sides of

the road apprehensively.

 

"We have no need of them," she told him.

 

"But Urko said..."

 

She cut him off sharply. "You know nothing!" she spat at him. "This

one is all we need."

 

Despite the guns, it was all Galen could do to hang on to Alan as they

watched the three apes turn their horses back toward the compound, with

Pete, now tethered by the rope, following docilely behind.

 

"We will get him back," Galen assured him, trying to sound convincing.

 

"They won't be so careless this time," Alan countered.

 

But the real fear remained unspoken between them as they watched the

four disappear over a rise in the road; that even if they did manage to

get to Pete again, there would be nothing left of him to rescue.

 

A strange noise somewhere to his side caught Alan's attention. It

sounded like popcorn popping, a sound he hadn't heard since he had left

his own time. He looked around, trying to find the source. Slowly, he

realized it was coming from outside of himself-outside of the dream he

was just starting to come out of. He opened his eyes to the pre-dawn

and pinpointed what he was hearing-it was the sound of sap snapping in a

log on the smoldering fire.

 

A dream, that's all it was. Just to reassure himself, he propped

himself up on his elbow and looked across the cave to where Pete still

slept peacefully. Alan lowered himself back to the ground, bracing his

head on his arms, trying to shake the foreboding feeling dream had left

him with.

 

It had been a day and a half since they had brought Pete to the cave,

and Alan still had no clue what had happened to him in the days of his

captivity. Pete skillfully ducked any attempts to talk about it, even

in the most general terms. For the most part, he seemed all right,

though he still started occasionally when Galen came upon him

unexpectedly. But he checked his impulse to move away, his face showing

apology and embarrassment, and Galen tactfully pretended not to notice.

 

There was one part of Alan's dream that was very real, however, and that

was that Urko and his goons were still out there, looking for them.

They had pushed their luck already; it was time to get moving again.

 

Before Pete had been captured, they had been heading to a human

settlement about two day's walk from where they were now, seeking out a

young human who had purportedly found something in one of the ruins of

an old city-something big and made out of a strange metal. Alan, always

hopeful for a way home, had seized on the scant information, dragging a

skeptical Pete and tired Galen along with him to check it out. Now that

Pete was back with them, Alan's determination to resume this quest

returned in full force.

 

He got up and began to gather up their few belongings, stuffing them

into his backpack. After a few minutes, he became aware of Pete,

propped up on an elbow, watching him.

 

"Are we going somewhere?"

 

"It's not safe here," Alan replied. "Are you up to traveling?"

 

"Yeah, I'm good."

 

He avoided meeting Alan's eyes, concentrating instead on rolling up his

bedroll. He had caught Alan scrutinizing him several times in the last

few days, and it unnerved him. "Like he's waiting for me to self-

destruct or something," Pete thought. Not that that was so far-fetched.

He was reminded of his college chemistry class, when they had been

working with unstable compounds, and just the slightest variable--be it

a change in temperature, light or movement--would set the whole mixture

off. He felt like one of those unstable compounds now. But he wasn't

about to let Alan or Galen see that. He had to hold himself together

and hope whatever that crazy chimp had done to him would wear off in

time.

 

He looked up to find Alan watching him again. "You sure you're all

right?" the older man asked.

 

"I said I was," he replied impatiently. "Knowing you, you want to get

moving before it gets light out, so that means now," he added. There

was an edge to his voice, but before Alan had a chance to say anything

more, Pete moved away, heading to the entrance of the cave, effectively

ending the conversation.

 

* * * * * * * * * *

 

The mid-morning sun beat down on them. They had been traveling for

about four hours, and Alan could see fatigue settling in on Pete's face.

His strength had not returned yet, and Alan was about to suggest a break

when Pete broke the silence that had remained between the three of them

for the last few hours.

 

"How long are we going to do this?"

 

"It should be only another day and a half," Alan began, but Pete cut him

off.

 

"That's not what I mean." Alan waited patiently for him to continue.

Pete sighed. "Has it occurred to you that all we've done since we

landed here is run?"

 

"Do you have a better idea?"

 

"As a matter of fact, I do. Let's stop."

 

"Stop." Alan repeated the word as if he didn't know what it meant.

 

"Yeah, stop. Stop looking for the impossible, stop kidding ourselves

that we're ever going home. Stop running and accept the fact that

*this* is home now."

 

"Even if I accepted that, Pete--and I don't--Urko isn't going to stop

looking for us."

 

"So we'll find a nice, quiet, out of the way village and settle in.

We've been able to evade him pretty well so far. How hard could it be?"

 

Alan stopped walking and turned to face Pete. "And do what, exactly?

Become farmers? I might be able to do that, but aren't you the one

always telling me that you're a city boy? Do you really think you would

be happy living that kind of life?"

 

"All I know is that I'm tired of running, Alan. I just want to live a

normal life."

 

"You call it normal, living as a human in this world?" he asked somewhat

incredulously.

 

"Why not? It's what we are."

 

Galen had been listening to their argument with a growing sense of

unease. There had been so many times when he had wished for exactly the

life Pete was describing--peaceful, settled, with a roof over his head

every night and decent food on his table every day. To not live in

constant fear that Urko lay in wait for them over the next hill or

around the next curve in the road. Pete, too, had hinted towards that

on a few occasions, usually as they were getting ready to leave

someplace where they had been befriended and accepted. But there was

something different in his voice now, and he had a faraway look on his

face as he spoke that Galen was sure Alan was too caught up in the

argument to notice.

 

"It's better than living like this," Pete was insisting.

 

"At least this way we still have our freedom."

 

"Oh, yeah, some freedom this is!"

 

"Would you rather be a slave?" Pete muttered something under his breath

and started to stalk away, but Alan chased after him, grabbing him

roughly by the arm. "Answer the question, Pete? Is that your

definition of a 'normal' life now?"

 

Galen pointedly cleared his throat. "If anyone cares what I think," he

interjected, "I think you two are making enough noise to pinpoint our

exact location to Urko or any other ape that is within an hour of us."

 

Pete shook free of Alan's grasp and stalked away. When Alan would have

gone after him again, Galen stepped in front of him, preventing him.

"Let him go, Alan," he implored. "You both need to calm down."

 

"I just don't get him. He can't possibly believe he'd be happy living

like that."

 

"He's just tired."

 

"No, it's more than that. There's something...I don't know...off with

him."

 

Galen neither agreed with nor denied that fact. "You're the one that

said we just needed to give him some time," he reminded his human

friend.

 

"Yeah, I did." He glanced over at Pete. The younger man was sitting

under a tree, leaning back against the trunk, his eyes closed. "I just

get the feeling there's something going on with him," he repeated.

"Damn it, Galen, I wish he would talk to us."

 

"He will when he's ready," Galen replied, hoping he sounded more

convincing than he felt.

 

Pete had brought his hands up to his head, and was pressing his palms

against his temples. He didn't hear them approach.

 

"Headache?"

 

He looked up, momentarily startled. "No. Not really. Look, Alan, I'm

sorry," he said, starting to get to his feet. "We can keep going."

 

Alan laid a hand on his shoulder to keep him from getting up. "Don't

worry about it. Let's take a break." He sat down across from him and

handed him the canteen, Galen settling down beside them. "It's not like

I didn't know you thought about it," Alan said carefully after an

awkward silence. "You've mentioned settling down somewhere before. I

just didn't know you felt that strongly about it."

 

"I guess I didn't, either. Oh, hell, Alan, I don't know what I want,"

he added, flashing them a rueful grin. "But you do, so I guess we'll go

with that for now."

 

Alan nodded, throwing a sideways glance at Galen. The chimp met his

eyes briefly, and the look that passed between them wasn't missed by

their companion. He narrowed his eyes at them. "What was that about?"

 

"What?"

 

"Don't patronize me, Alan."

 

Alan sighed wearily. "C'mon, Pete. Let's just let it go."

 

But he was not to be put off that easily. He looked from one of them to

the other. "All I said was I was tired of being hunted down like an

animal. What's so unreasonable about that?"

 

"Nothing."

 

"But that's not what you two seem to think."

 

"Pete," Galen began, but Pete waved him off. He abruptly stood up,

looking for a moment like he didn't know what to do with himself. Alan

and Galen both stood as well, watching him somewhat warily.

 

He began to pace. "I'm sick of always being on the run, and somehow

that makes me irrational. But you," he said, stopping in front of

Alan, jabbing a finger into his chest, "you keep chasing after some

stupid idea that we're going to get home, and that's perfectly rational,

right, Alan?"

 

He resumed his pacing. Alan tried to intercept him, but he deftly

sidestepped the effort. "Take it easy, Pete," Alan implored, "No one

said anything like that." But his words only seemed to increase Pete's

level of agitation.

 

He turned on Galen then. "And what the hell are you doing here?" he

demanded.  "You could be living a good life, and here you are, chasing

around after his stupid fantasies! And even if by some miracle we ever

did get back to our own time, do you have any idea what your life would

be like there? You think it's bad for humans here-just wait until we

show up with a talking ape! That would be a lot of fun. But yeah," he

muttered, more to himself than to them, "I'm the crazy one here."

 

"No one thinks you're crazy," Alan repeated.

 

"Sure, Alan. Whatever you say. You wanted to go, so let's just go."

 

He slung his backpack over his shoulder and resumed walking in the

direction they had been heading, setting a quick pace. Without a word,

the other two followed, jogging a bit to catch up to his long strides.

They could hear him muttering under his breath, almost as though he was

having a conversation with himself, and not a very pleasant one from the

sound of it. But leery about provoking another outburst from him,

neither said a word to him.

 

There was no way Galen could keep up without keeping to a steady jog, so

he and Alan gradually fell behind, keeping the other man within shouting

distance, hoping he would tire and slow his pace on his own.

 

"I haven't seen that many mood swings in such a short amount of time

since my wife was pregnant."

 

"Is that a joke?"

 

"Well, it was supposed to be."

 

"I don't understand how you can be joking right now. I don't find

anything funny about the way he's acting."

 

"I don't either," he conceded. "I just don't know what else to do about

it, Galen."

 

"Alan, you said it yourself-something is off with him, and we both know

what we're talking about here."

 

There was no way he could deny it. Pete had been saying strange things

through the morning, things that were definitely not characteristic of

the usually upbeat, easy-going man. He had remarked, just after they

left the cave, that he didn't know why they were bothering to try to

find this kid, because he was just a human, and couldn't have much of

use to tell them. Later in the morning, as they watched a few apes

confiscate a load of grain from human farmers, he had matter-of-factly

stated that it was their right, after all, and humans needed to accept

that.

 

"So what do you suggest we do?" Alan asked now in frustration. "Two

minutes ago you were telling me to leave him alone."

 

"I know, but maybe that's not for the best. Maybe you should talk to

him."

 

"Me? Why me? You talk to him."

 

"I think it would be better coming from you."

 

"Nice cop out, Galen. And in his present state of mind, that's going to

be a piece of cake."

 

"A piece of cake?"

 

"I mean it's going to be difficult, if not impossible, at least when

he's like this. But it looks like we might have a more immediate

problem," he added, nodding to where Pete had stopped just shy of the

top of a small hill. He had crouched low to the ground, and turning

around, his eyes searched them out. With a nod of his head, he

indicated that there was something on the other side.

 

Alan and Galen cautiously moved forward until they had reached him.

"What's up?" Alan asked quietly.

 

"Apes. Four of them. On horseback."

 

"Urko?"

 

"No, but they look like some of his goons."

 

They flattened themselves against the side of the hill and peered

cautiously over the edge. Two of the apes had dismounted, and were

talking with a human they had encountered on the road. Pieces of the

conversation reached them, and they didn't need to hear much to know

they were the subject of the inquisition. The man kept shaking his head

no, and they finally allowed him to move on. After further discussion,

the two remounted and the four of them spurred their horses and took off

down the road.

 

"I like it better when they're behind us, not ahead of us," Pete

commented as they watched the apes disappear around a curve in the road.

"So what now?"

 

"We keep going," Alan replied.

 

"Carefully," Galen said. "They're out spreading the word ahead of us."

 

"And you know we can't trust any humans we come across to keep our

passing quiet," Alan added dryly.

 

Pete gave him a strange look. "Why would you say something like that?"

 

"I just figured I'd beat you to it."

 

"What does that mean? You know as well as I do that we wouldn't have

survived this long without getting a lot of human help along the way."

 

Alan debated whether it was worth another argument to push the issue,

finally deciding the risk was worth seeing what kind of reaction he

would get. "I know that. I just wasn't sure you remembered it, from

some of the comments you've been making today."

 

"What comments? What are you talking about?"

 

Alan just stared at him, suddenly faced with two equally disturbing

choices: Pete making the comments in the first place, or truly not

remembering that he did. Both possibilities left him profoundly uneasy.

 

"I think it's clear now," Galen interjected, equally disturbed by the

turn the conversation had taken, and wanting to end it. He had been

watching the road through that exchange, and it appeared that the

gorillas were not going to double back. He led the way, and they made

their way down the hill, crossed to the other side, and melted into the

woods beyond.

 

They traveled on without much talking after that, but the conversation

followed them all for the remainder of the afternoon. Pete searched

back through the day, trying to think of anything he might have said

that resembled the kind of remarks Alan had talked about, and came up

empty. He could think of no reason Alan would make something like that

up, though-to what end? None of it made any sense to him.

 

He put up a wall of silence that neither of the other two was willing to

try to breach for the moment. Their lives, since they had unexpectedly

crash landed in this world, had consisted of running, hiding, just

trying to survive, but always, the three of them had been able to depend

on each other. It was the only thing that had been a constant in the

last hard months. Now, independently, both Galen and Alan found

themselves wondering if that was still true.

 

They made camp that night without a fire, not wanting to attract any

attention-primate or human. Alan took a long pull on the canteen,

passing it to Galen, breaking the long silence at last. "I wonder how

they knew which way we were heading. We've been keeping well away from

the roads."

 

Pete watched him steadily for the space of a few seconds before he

answered. "You think I told them, don't you?"

 

Alan was genuinely surprised. "No. That never even crossed my mind."

 

"They've been following us from the start," Galen reminded them both,

hoping to stave off another argument.

 

"But we've been really careful about covering our tracks," Pete

countered. "It usually takes them longer than four hours to figure out

which way we've gone, right?" Neither Alan or Galen answered fast

enough for Pete's satisfaction. "You do, don't you? You think I told

them."

 

Here we go again, Alan thought with dismay. "No one said that, Pete."

 

He narrowed his eyes at Alan, trying to decide if he believed that claim

or not. Clearly unconvinced, he let his breath out in a long sigh.

"Why should you believe me, when I don't know if I even believe me." He

looked from one of them to the other. "The truth is, I don't know what

I might have said," he finally admitted.

 

He was giving them an opening, and this time, Alan wasted no time in

taking it. "What do you remember?"

 

"Not a lot. And that's the truth, Alan. You said I was there for five

days, right? Well, there are whole chunks of that time I have no memory

of at all. I could have given them the secrets of nuclear fission for

all I know."

 

"Pete, you don't know the secrets of nuclear fission," Alan said with a

smile, trying to lighten the moment.

 

He was gratified when amusement crept into Pete's face. "Well, at least

that's safe."

 

"So why don't you tell me whatever you do remember."

 

It was a place he clearly didn't want to go, but he suddenly felt the

need to redeem his credibility with them. He drew a deep breath and

gathered his thoughts. "She wanted names, the names of all the humans

who helped us since we got here. When I wouldn't tell her, she put me

on this...this rotating table. And they just spun me around-for hours,

it seemed like, until I couldn't think anymore." A vision of Wanda,

leaning in for a kiss, came to his mind, and he visibly shuddered. She

had almost had him at that moment. "I guess I was pretty disoriented,"

he said weakly, trying to banish the vision from his mind.

 

"And then what?" Alan prompted, trying to move him off of what was

obviously a distressing memory.

 

"They tied me to a beam of the ceiling in the cell, with my arms above

my head. My feet were just barely touching the floor."

 

Alan thought about the condition of his wrists when they had found him,

and another piece of the puzzle fell into place. Pete had come to a

halting stop, and Alan gently prompted him once more.

 

"They just left me there, for a few days, I think," he said, hating the

sound of fear in his own voice. "They wouldn't let me sleep, wouldn't

give me any water. Just left me hanging there. I tried to think about

things that would keep my mind busy-keep my mind there, you know?"

 

Alan placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. "Yeah, I know."

 

"I think they might have let me down a few times to...well, you know,

but even that I don't remember that clearly. All I know is that by the

time she came back, Alan, I would have done anything to just close my

eyes for a few minutes, or for a drink of water," he said in a low

voice, somewhat shamed at having to admit that. "I guess I'm not much

of a soldier, huh?" Alan would have disputed that, but Pete went on

before he had the chance. "But she didn't ask me anything then. She

just gave me a drink of water." He shuddered again. "It might have

been better if I had just died of thirst."

 

"Something in the water," Alan guessed, remembering the first night they

had Pete back.

 

"Yeah. Some kind of hallucinogen, I think. After that everything just

gets murky."

 

He stopped again, and this time no amount of prodding from Alan could

get him to say more. He pleaded amnesia, not wanting to tell them about

the voice. There were times when he thought he could still feel it in

his head, pushing him. Yeah, they would really believe he was crazy if

they knew that. And in truth, he was afraid to speak of it; afraid of

not only of the power he had allowed it to exerted over him, but of

angering whatever force it represented. Some part of his mind knew this

was irrational, but the fear was real enough to override any attempts at

rationality.

 

Alan knew Pete was holding something back, and that whatever it was,

this was the key to his erratic behavior. But all his subtle and not so

subtle urging was only serving to cause Pete to retreat further into

himself, so he backed off once more for the time being. His greatest

wish was that he would never have to bring it up again-that maybe Pete

opening up a little here had helped him work out whatever demons he had

taken with him from his captivity; that maybe time and distance would

bring him back to his old self.

 

Even he knew this was a long shot, but at this point, he was willing to

bet the odds. Pete's adamant resistance to any further discussion made

it clear he really had no other choice anyway.

 

* * * * * * * * * *

 

Urko seemed to stay just ahead of them, and they were forced to change

direction again and again, swinging wide of his path as they attempted

to go around him. But always, after walking miles out of their way,

they would come upon his soldiers again, blocking their way.

 

As Alan and Galen grew increasingly frustrated, Pete began to withdraw

into a deepening silence. He was certain now that he had, indeed, given

their destination away at some point during the long blocks of time he

could not remember. But a realization even more troubling than that had

begun to occupy his mind.

 

He was losing time.

 

They had started out at dawn the next morning, and without him knowing

how, the noon sun was suddenly overhead, and he had no memory of the

time in between. He was brought back to the present by a hand grabbing

him by the arm. "I meant now, Pete," Alan said.

 

"What?" he responded, totally disoriented. He glanced from Alan to

Galen, confused.

 

"I said we're going to stop and rest for a while," Alan replied

patiently.

 

Pete blinked a few times, looking around. When had the terrain changed

from the open hills they started out in that morning to the sparse woods

they were now standing in?  

 

"C'mon."

 

"Yeah, okay," he said vaguely, allowing himself to be led back to where

Galen waited. He sat on the ground, absently accepting a piece of fruit

from the chimp, trying to regain his bearings. Alan caught his eye.

 

"You okay?

 

"Yeah, fine."

 

But it was a lie. He turned away from them, staring off to the

distance, not wanting them to see how much this terrified him-more,

even, than the memory loss he suffered in his days of captivity. Then,

at least, there had been good reason for it. He realized, too, that it

had probably been happening for a few days now, and that would explain

the conversation with Alan that had left him so puzzled yesterday

afternoon.

 

"Do you still think west is the best direction?"

 

There was a long pause before Pete realized Alan was addressing him.

"You're asking me?"

 

"Well, yeah. You're the one that wanted to go this way."

 

"Insisted we go this way," Galan corrected.

 

He was leading them? To where? And why? He massaged his temples,

desperately searching his mind for some shred of an answer. His efforts

were rewarded with nothing but empty hours.

 

"I...I'm not sure anymore," he stuttered. "Maybe one of you should

decide."

 

In the end, they continued on the way they had been traveling, Pete

making certain either Galen or Alan was always in the lead. He spent

the rest of that day concentrating on staying in the moment, not daring

to let his mind wander in the least. He was so focused on this that he

wasn't paying as close attention to the terrain as he should have been,

and at one point, he stumbled over a distended tree root, losing his

footing and falling forward, landing hard. Dazed, he started to get

back to his feet, and would have walked on had Alan not grabbed him,

pushing him back to the ground.

 

Alan swore softly. "Keep it elevated," he ordered, pulling off his

backpack off and searching the contents frantically. He yanked a piece

of cloth from the pack, and using his teeth, began to rip it into

strips. Pete had not moved, and when Alan realized this he grabbed the

other man's arm and raised it himself. "Keep it up, or you'll bleed to

death before I can get it stopped."

 

Only then did he realize he had ripped a four inch gash in his arm. He

stared stupidly at the blood coursing down the now upraised limb,

wondering why he didn't feel any pain. He was almost relieved when

sensation hit him full force; better to experience the sudden and

intense pain than to feel nothing. He gritted he teeth as Alan applied

a tourniquet above the wound, and then proceeded to bind it.

 

"You really did a number on it," Alan commented, loosening the

tourniquet periodically to allow circulation to continue to the injured

limb. "Looks like we stop here for the night."

 

"Sorry about that," Pete said hoarsely.

 

"We would have been stopping soon anyway," Alan said, noting the pale,

sweat covered face. The cut wasn't that bad, and he hadn't lost nearly

enough blood to be going into shock, but it almost looked like that's

what was happening. "Lay back and take it easy."

 

Pete followed his directions without complaint. He was feeling shocky,

but it wasn't the physical kind of shock Alan was worried about. This

was the mental variety-the shock of fear that he was truly losing it.   

 

He worked hard to keep it all together after that, focusing on staying

alert both mentally and physically. But despite great effort, time

continued to slip away from him in the following days. Alan or Galen

would bring him back with a comment or a touch, and he would realize

that he didn't know where they were, or how long he had been "gone".

Even more terrifying was the fact that neither of them seemed to even

notice. From things they said, he knew that he had conversed with them

during these mental lapses. Or someone had, anyway. He knew for

certain it wasn't him, and the strain of trying to keep this from them

was wearing him down.

 

That Urko continued to stay one step ahead of them only added to his

stress. It was as if he knew where they were going before they did, and

that, too, had Pete worried. Late in the afternoon of the fourth day,

tired from yet another long detour, they were once again stopped short

by soldiers. They watched, concealed in nearby woods, as apes patrolled

the road they had hoped to parallel.

 

Galen shook his head in dismay. "It's like he knows where we're going

before we get there," he said, echoing Pete's earlier thoughts. "How is

that possible?"

 

"He's either making really good guesses, which isn't like Urko, or he's

just getting lucky, which is more likely," Alan replied.

 

Pete shook his head. No, it wasn't luck. He saw that clearly all of a

sudden; understood what had been happening to him. And it would

continue to happen as long as he allowed it.

 

"I can't do this anymore," he said suddenly. He stood up and started to

take a step forward, out of the cover of the trees. Galen and Alan

reacted instinctively, grabbing him and dragging him back.

 

The dream from the cave flashed through Alan's mind. "What the hell are

you doing?" he hissed as Pete fought the restraint.

 

"It's no use. You have to let me go, Alan," Pete replied fiercely,

still struggling against them.

 

They were making too much noise-any moment now they would attract

unwelcomed attention. Alan had no choice, and no time to second guess

his actions. He clapped a hand over Pete's mouth, roughly throwing him

to the ground. "Be quiet! You're going to get us all killed!"

 

"I know," Pete agreed, his voice muffled by the hand. "That's my

point."

 

Neither Alan nor Galen knew what he was talking about, but both

recognized this was not the place to discuss it. Keeping Pete firmly

between them, they led him deeper into the woods, away from the road,

releasing their grip on him only when they judged they were well out of

earshot.

 

Pete immediately sank to the ground. "This is my fault," he told them.

 

"No, it isn't," Galen said, looking confused.

 

He looked up at the chimp, and though he said nothing, they could see

that he was unconvinced.

 

"Galen is right. Even if you told them where we were heading, we've

changed directions a half a dozen times in the last few days. It

doesn't explain how they're always there ahead of us."

 

Yes, it does, he countered, but only in his head. He couldn't tell them

what he finally knew to be the truth-that he was leading Urko right to

them, again and again. No, not him, not exactly. She was guiding Urko,

through him, because she was somehow here, with him.

 

She's here. And she's not going to go away.

 

"Who? Who's here, Pete?"

 

He looked up at Alan, startled to realize that he had mumbled those last

two thoughts aloud. He shook his head at the question, but Alan was

determined not to be put off any longer. He knelt down in front of

Pete, forcing Pete to look at him.

 

"You almost gave us up back there. Now you're going to talk to me," he

demanded, but Pete continued to maintain his silence. Alan scrutinized

his friend's face. He had backed off before, and it had obviously done

none of them any good. Painful as it might be, it was time to force the

issue. "You said she was here," he said, forcing a hard edge into his

voice. "We're not moving until you tell me what you meant by that."

 

When Pete started to shake his head again, Alan grabbed him by the chin,

pushing his head back against the trunk of the tree, forcing him to be

still. "Now, Pete," he reiterated harshly. For a moment, he was afraid

the strong-armed tactics would backfire, but then Pete sagged back

against the tree, defeat etched in his features.

 

No matter what they would think of him now, they had a right to know

this, to understand the position he had put them in. "She's here," he

said again, so quietly Alan had to lean in to catch the words. He could

see that Alan still didn't understand. "Wanda," he explained. "She's

here."

 

"Where?" Alan asked, confused.

 

Pete brought his hand up to his head. "Here," he said simply.

 

Alan sat back and stared at him, his worst fears coming to pass. They

may have gotten Pete out of there before she had been able to finish the

job, but some of the conditioning had obviously taken hold.

 

Pete nodded at him, gratified to see what he perceived as comprehension

in his friend's face. Alan understood now; he wouldn't have to

elaborate. "I'm endangering you and Galen. You can see that now. You

have to let me go."

 

"That's the last thing we're going to do," Alan replied, more to himself

than to Pete.

 

"You have no choice. I have no choice! Don't you understand-I can't

control it anymore."

 

"Pete, I don't know what's going on in your head, but whatever you think

is happening, it's not real."

 

Pete vehemently shook his head. "You don't know," he whispered.

 

"Listen to me, it's not real," Alan, tried again. "She's not here, and

she never was." But Pete continued to shake his head, and there was no

doubt as to the depth of his belief. What they thought didn't matter-he

was thoroughly convinced of it. Alan considered for a moment, trying to

figure out the best way to get through to him. "Do you remember your

military training?" he asked suddenly. "About what can happen if you're

captured by the enemy?"

 

"You mean like name, rank and serial number-things like that? What's

that got to do with anything?" Pete responded impatiently. Now that he

had come clean with them, he wasn't going to let Alan confuse the issue

or ignore what he knew was the necessary next step. "Don't try to

change the subject."

 

"Just hear me out. Do you remember what they taught you about what a

captor might do to try to break you? Withholding food, water, sleep.

Torture. Does any of this sound familiar?"

 

"You're talking about mental reconditioning."

 

"Exactly."

 

Alan waited, and after a short pause he saw comprehension of what he was

suggesting begin to spread across his friend's face.

 

"You think...Wanda...she...?"

 

"It all fits."

 

He stared at Alan a moment longer, digesting that. Then he closed his

eyes, leaning his head back. "Oh, God," he whispered. "Oh, God, I'm an

idiot."

 

"No, you're not. You had no control over what was happening to you. I

think you held up pretty well, considering what she put you through.

She had to resort to drugging you to even begin to break you down. And

even then, she didn't succeed."

 

"What if she did, Alan?" he asked in a low voice.

 

"We wouldn't be having this conversation. The fact that we are proves

she didn't."

 

Pete thought back over the last five days, from the moment he woke up in

the cave and didn't know them, to all that had transpired since then,

and wondered how Alan could be so sure. How can they trust me now? he

thought. If I were them, I wouldn't trust me.  

 

Alan seemed to read his mind. "Knowing it gives you the edge, Pete," he

assured him. "You can fight it now."

 

He wanted to believe that, but there was still the matter of losing

time. He had been trying to fight that, and had been losing that

battle. It was on the tip of his tongue to tell them about it, but he

held back. Already they had more than ample reason to suspect his

mental soundness. Divulging this information would only confirm for

them that he was, very literally, losing his mind, and for increasingly

lengthened periods of time.

 

"It looks like that might have opened up," Alan broke into his thoughts,

indicating with a nod of his head the red staining the bandages on his

arm. "Better let me have a look at it."

 

He submitted to the examination wordlessly, it didn't escape his notice

that Alan seemed to be relieved by their conversation. He thinks

everything is okay now, Pete thought, like I'm okay now. Once again he

was tempted to tell them the whole truth, and once again he resisted the

urge. Maybe Alan was right-maybe realizing what had been done to him

would end the blackouts. On some level, he knew he was grasping at

straws, but he stubbornly clung to the hope.

 

"It doesn't look too bad," Alan said, re-bandaging the cut. "And

there's no sign of infection. How are the wrists?"

 

"Good." He held up his hands for Alan to see. "Almost healed."

 

Galen had been leaning over Alan's shoulder, watching. "You know," he

said now, "if he did tell them where we're going, even if we do get to

that village, we'll be walking into an ambush."

 

"Yeah, I thought of that, too. I guess that kid will have to wait."

 

"Just do me a favor and don't tell me where we're going," Pete implored.

"Yeah, I know," he added quickly, before Alan could say anything. "I

know what you're going to say. But humor me and don't tell me anyway,

okay?"

 

"It would be kind of hard to tell you what I don't know myself. Let's

call it a night. We could all use a good night's sleep."

 

* * * * * * * * * *

 

He had a headache. It began that night and remained constant throughout

the following two days. He pictured he and Wanda facing off, fighting a

war for his mind, and judging from the way his head hurt, he didn't

imagine that it was a battle he was on the winning end of. Then again,

maybe he was, for he suffered no more losses of time, and he judged that

a headache was a small price to pay for such a great return.

 

They had decided to double back the way they had come, hoping that Urko

would continue on his path towards the village, and so far, it looked

like that was the case. They saw no sign of him. Their new course

meant, however, that they would be passing the compound where Pete had

been held. They planned to skirt the area by a wide margin, and

logically, he knew Wanda probably wasn't even there anymore, but he

nonetheless couldn't quite thwart the sense of uneasiness that grew in

him as they drew ever closer.

 

On the morning of the third day, Alan was in the lead, just cresting a

hill, when he stopped so suddenly the other two stumbled into him.

 

"Jeeze, warn us when you're going to throw on the brakes like that,"

Pete complained an instant before Alan launched himself at them,

knocking them back. "What the hell...?" he sputtered as he and Galen

hit the ground.

 

"Urko," Alan hissed.

 

"Damn! Do you think he saw us?"

 

They ventured a look over the hill, where the group of apes milled on

the road, squinting in their direction. Suddenly one of them pointed

right at them. "I'd say that was a yes. Let's move!"

 

The three of them sprinted back down the hill, Galen taking a path to

the left, and Alan and Pete going right. The two men dove over a small

rise and stopped long enough to see Galen lose his footing and go down,

rolling several times before he came to a stop. By the time he did,

Urko was practically on top of him, and Alan and Pete watched helplessly

as he got to his feet, his arms raised in surrender. With a wave of his

arm, Urko directed the rest of them to fan out and find the two humans.

 

"We don't stand a chance here, Alan."

 

Alan glanced around the small hollow they had taken refuge in. A fallen

tree partially concealed them, and he wedged himself in closer to it,

pulling Pete down with him. "We might. They could miss us."

 

"What about Galen?"

 

He shook his head, feeling like he was living in a rerun-first he had

been forced to watch them take Pete, and now Galen, and both times he

was powerless to do anything to help them. "Well, they won't try to

brainwash him, at least. Quiet, they're getting close."

 

They watched the legs of a horse pass within four feet of their hiding

spot. "This is no good," Pete said when the soldier was out of earshot.

"We can't leave Galen alone with them."

 

"Just sit tight. We can go after him later."

 

But Pete didn't seem to be listening to him. "This is no good," he said

again, and started to climb up out of the hollow.

 

Alan grabbed him and dragged him back down. "Pete!" There was a hollow

look in his eyes, and Alan shook him roughly several times. "Listen to

me," he whispered desperately, shaking him again. "Are you thinking you

did this-that you brought them to us again somehow? You didn't, Pete.

You had nothing to do with this!"

 

At the sound of a second horse approaching he threw himself on top of

the younger man, smothering any movement he might be thinking of making.

He held onto him tightly, hardly daring to breathe until the soldier had

moved on. Pete hadn't moved at all during this second close encounter,

and Alan loosened his hold by degrees. When Pete remained where he was

Alan breathed a sigh of relief and let him go entirely.

 

"Damn it, don't ever do that to me again."

 

But before the words were even out of his mouth, Pete simply stood up

and walked out into the open. Alan made a lunging grab at him, failing

by inches. Pete stood calmly waiting as he was surrounded by soldiers.

Alan's own movement had been spotted as well, and when several guns were

pointed in his direction, he sighed resolutely and climbed to his feet,

hands up in a gesture of submission.

 

Urko, rode up, sharply reigning his horse to a fast stop. "Tie them,"

he ordered, looking extremely pleased with himself. These two

astronauts and that traitorous chimp had been frustrating him for

months, but he had them now, and he would make sure they paid for making

him look like a fool again and again. He was half tempted to just kill

them-he could easily justify it by claiming they had been trying to

escape. But that would be over too quickly. No, he had something else

in mind; a public execution, one which he would triumphantly preside

over. He intended to use their deaths as a warning to any other stupid,

misguided humans who may have been influenced by their defiance.  

 

Alan watched Pete as their hands were roughly yanked behind them and

bound with leather straps, not knowing whether to be furious or

terrified by what had just happened. Pete stood impassively during the

ordeal, no emotion showing on his face to give Alan a clue as to which

was the more appropriate reaction. Maybe he had a plan, some ulterior

motives for giving them up so readily. But any hope of that was dashed

when Pete didn't even spare him a glance as they were herded up the hill

to join Galen, who waited nervously for them on the road.

 

* * * * * * * * * *

 

He opened his eyes to darkness. It took several minutes before his

vision adjusted enough for him make out the shape of someone sitting

close by; several more before he recognized the form to be Alan's.

 

"Where are we?"

 

"Same place we were ten minutes ago."

 

Pete looked around. "Which is?" he asked, already suspecting the

answer, but hoping for a different one.

 

"I'm not in the mood for this, Pete," Alan began to reply, but one look

at his friend's face stopped him short. It was a serious question, for

which he was expecting an answer. They had been talking periodically

since they had been locked up, and yet Alan could tell Pete suddenly

didn't seem to know where he was.

 

Pete stood up and walked to the bars. "She got us, didn't she?" It was

more of a statement than a question; he recognized the place now only

too well.

 

Alan came up beside him. "What's going on with you?"

 

But Pete countered with a question of his own. "How long have we been

here?"

 

"I'd estimate about eight hours." He took Pete by the shoulders and

turned him, studying his face. "Ten minutes ago we were talking about

ways to resist her. Are you telling me you don't remember that?"

 

"Eight hours," he repeated. "That's the longest I've ever been gone."

 

"Gone? What are you talking about?" He watched as Pete moved to the

other side of the cell and slid down the wall, pushing himself as

deeply into the corner as he could possibly go. "My God," he breathed,

"you really don't remember?"

 

Pete searched his mind, trying to pinpoint his last memory. "I remember

seeing them on the road, and hiding from them." Then another picture

came to his mind, and he looked up at Alan, horrified. "Oh, God. I

gave us up, didn't I?"

 

Alan sat down beside him. "Yeah, you did, buddy," he replied quietly.

"They had Galen, and they were closing in on us anyway," he added,

trying to soften the blow.

 

"Galen. Where is he?"

"I don't know. They separated us. I think he's still here somewhere,

though. Don't you remember hearing the guards talking about him?"

 

"No."

 

"I don't believe this. You don't remember anything after we were

caught?"

 

But Pete's mind was fixed on something else at the moment. "What about

us? What are they going to do to us?" Alan's silence was all the

answer he needed. "I can't do this again, Alan," he said, unable to

keep the rising panic from his voice.

 

"Take it easy, Pete. Nothing's happened yet. When we got you out of

here the first time, she packed up her whole lab and moved back to

wherever it is she works from. She's not even here yet. We have some

time before she arrives. We'll think of something." He steered the

conversation back to the previous topic, as much to get Pete's mind off

the immediate future as to satisfy his own need for answers. "What did

you mean when you said that was the longest you were ever gone? Are you

saying this has happened before?"

 

Reluctantly, Pete nodded. "On and off since we left the cave."

 

"Why didn't you tell me?"

 

"You already thought I was going crazy. I guess I didn't want to

confirm it. And it had kind of stopped for a while-at least, I thought

it had."

 

"Damn it, you still should have told me."

 

"What difference does it make now? You should have let me go when I

wanted to. Then they would only have me."

 

"Then I would have to plan another daring rescue. And contrary to how

easy I make it look, it takes a lot out of me," he joked.

 

But Pete wasn't about to be diverted by his attempts to lighten the

mood. "Anything is better than being here, Alan," he warned darkly.

"And if we don't find a way out of here before she...before it

starts...I'd rather be dead than go through that again."

 

"Don't talk like that. We'll think of something. Something besides

being dead, I mean."

 

But morning came, and no great inspiration hit them. They were

surprised when an ape brought them breakfast, but Pete refused to touch

anything, and prevented Alan from eating or drinking as well. And then,

an hour or so later, Pete's nightmare walked through the outer door.

 

"Well, Burke, we meet again," she said pleasantly. Instinctively, Pete

took a step back before he could stop himself. Alan could tell he was

working hard to keep the fear off his face, with some success. "I was

so disappointed that you left before I was finished. But don't worry,

we'll make sure that doesn't happen again." A small sound escape from

his throat before he clamped his mouth shut. She smiled at him. "I see

you're eager to get started. And since we've got such a good

understanding between us already, I think I'll start with you. Or maybe

finish with you is a better way of putting it."

 

She was clearly pleased with herself, and the combination of her taunts

and Pete's desperate attempt to control his fear put Alan over the top.

 

"And you call humans barbarians," he spat at her. "What does what

you've done-what you're planning to do-make you? I've never seen a

human, in my time or yours, get so much pleasure out of torturing

another being."

 

"What I'm doing is research, to learn how to control the violent

impulses of the human animal," she said tightly.

 

"Oh, come off it. Research! You're the animal here! You're the

barbarian!"

 

"Alan, stop it," Pete said in a low voice, scrutinizing Wanda closely.

 

"You call yourself a scientist? Sadist is more like it! I think you

actually enjoy what you're doing."

 

"Alan," Pete tried again, but neither of them were paying any attention

to him now.

 

"It's necessary," she insisted. "Human have proven to be violent

creatures. They must be controlled."

 

"And what you're doing-that isn't violent, is that it?"

 

"Alan!" This time Pete got his attention, and Alan turned to look at

him. "Stop," he ordered in a voice so forceful that out of sheer

surprise, Alan was immediately quiet. Pete slowly moved across the cell

until he stood beside him, but his eyes were fixed on Wanda. "She's

right. It's necessary."

 

"What? Pete..."

 

He shook off the hand Alan had placed on his arm. "No, she's right," he

repeated. "I didn't realize it until now, but I learned a lot when I

was here before. If you think there's more I need to learn, I'll learn

it," he added, addressing her directly now. "We can start right now if

you want."

 

Alan was gaping at him now, too stunned to utter a word. Wanda,

likewise, was caught off-guard by his sudden capitulation, and tilted

her head, regarding him suspiciously.

 

"You remember what it is you're volunteering for?" she asked, watching

him keenly.

 

"Yes," he replied simply.

 

"And you want more of that?"

 

"If you think it's necessary," he replied, stepping up to the door of

the cell, "then I'm ready."

 

A long second passed. "Very well. Guard, come and open the cage."

 

Alan grabbed him again. "Good Lord, Pete, what the hell are you doing?"

Guards stepped in then, and pulled him away, shoving him roughly back.

They escorted Pete from the cell. Alan flung himself against the cell

door as it shut against him, calling out to his friend, but Pete never

even turned around. Dumfounded, he sagged against the bars, watching

helplessly as the outer door closed and Pete was gone from his sight.

 

* * * * * * * * * *

 

"It's a trick," Urko insisted, pounding his fist against the table.

 

"I don't think so," Wanda replied calmly.

 

"You don't know these two like I do. They're not like other humans."

 

"Maybe that was true before, but my experiment...

 

"Your experiment!" Urko scoffed. "I am sick of hearing of your

experiment! I tell you, he is tricking you somehow."

 

"Is it not true that he surrendered to you of his own will? Even as

Virdon tried to stop him?" Urko grunted, but reluctantly confirmed it.

"Why do you suppose he would do that?"

 

"I don't know!" he groaned in frustration, realizing he was going to

lose this argument.

 

"I spent four hours interrogating him, and I am satisfied that he could

not have fooled me. You forget that I spent many hours with him the

last time, before the conditioning began. This is not the same human."

 

"Bah! You're a fool if you believe that." She picked up a piece of

paper and handed it to him. "What's this?"

 

"The names of all human who helped Burke and Virdon since they arrived

here."

 

Urko's eyes widened in surprise. "He gave you these?"

 

"I told you my methods worked," she replied smugly.

 

"How do you know he didn't lie? These could be made up names-all lies."

 

"It's your job, I believe, to check that out. At any rate, the Zais and

the council gave me their unanimous approval to continue my research, so

there is nothing you can do here. I suggest you do your job and allow

me to do mine."

 

Urko was furious at being dismissed this way, but he had just come from

the council, where despite his vehement protests, they had confirmed

what Wanda just said. Fools! They were all fools! And he intended to

prove it to them. He would take the damn list, and when he could show

that there were no such humans as Burke claimed, they would at last give

him what he had wanted since these astronauts had invaded his world-

their deaths.

 

He stormed from the room, almost running over Pete, who was waiting on

the other side. His hands were bound in front of him and a guard stood

beside him-Wanda, despite her words to Urko, was being cautious-and he

stepped back quickly to avoid a collision.

 

"Sorry," he mumbled.

 

Urko scowled at him, and using every inch of his massive bulk, backed

him up against the wall. "You don't fool me, Burke. I'll be back for

you as soon as I can prove you deserve to die."

 

"That's enough," Wanda said from the doorway.

 

Urko kept him pinned to the wall for another few seconds before finally

letting him go. Pete let his breath out as he watched the gorilla stalk

away, certain that if Wanda hadn't stepped in he would be in bad shape

right now.

 

She motioned for him to come in. "You wished to speak with me?"

 

"Yes." He stood before her, head down, waiting.

 

"Then speak."

 

"You're beginning Virdon's conditioning tomorrow?"

 

"That's correct."

 

"I would like to assist you, if you'll let me."

 

She looked surprised. "You would do that to your friend?"

 

"I would do that for my friend," he amended. "I know him," he rushed to

explain. "I know what will work with him and what won't. I think...I

think I could be a big help to you."

 

She considered him for a moment. This human could be her biggest

triumph. Her success with him would solidify her reputation as a great

scientist, and she wanted that more than she had ever wanted anything.

But still she hesitated, Urko's words still in her mind. His

transformation seemed genuine, but she decided she would test him first,

just to make certain.

 

"Very well. If you want to assist me with Virdon you may begin right

now," she told him.

 

Pete nodded. "Just tell me what you want me to do."

 

* * * * * * * * * *

 

The long hours of the day dragged on, leaving Alan little to do but

think. In his mind, he had sifted through every moment since they had

rescued Pete, and now, hours later, he was still unable to reconcile the

terror he knew Pete had been consumed with about Wanda and this place

with the sudden turnaround that had taken place the last time he had

seen his friend.

 

"Lost time," Pete had told him before Wanda had showed up that morning.

"Hours that I can't account for, can't remember at all." And yet,

neither he nor Galen had even realized it was happening, had never seen

the shift in his level of consciousness. Is that what had happened that

morning? Was he "gone" again, as he put it? Or was it an act to

somehow throw her off guard? If it was an act, it was a damn good one,

and as much as he wanted to believe it, Alan couldn't fathom how Pete

would be able to pull that off. What had been done to him here was too

horrific for him to believe Pete would volunteer for more, no matter

what he may have had in mind.

 

That left him with the worst possible scenario-that being back here had

solidified the conditioning, Pete was truly lost now, and that he would

soon follow. And what would become of Galen? If left in Urko's hands,

it would surely be death, and at this point, Alan wasn't sure which of

their fates was worse.

 

He blamed himself more than Pete for the situation they were now in. It

had been a serious error in judgment not to force him to talk about his

experiences here. Hell, he had dreamed this whole scenario, right up to

Pete's unfathomable capitulation. He knew something was seriously wrong

with his friend, but he had stupidly ignored his ever more erratic

behavior, hoping Pete would find a way to overcome whatever it was that

was driving him on his own. He couldn't even claim ignorance as to what

that driving force was-Pete had defined it for them in no uncertain

terms. And still, after that one conversation, Alan had not pursued the

matter, had not even brought up the subject of Wanda again, as if her

presence could be banished by simply acknowledging it. How could he

have been so stupid? He had failed them all, and whatever lay ahead was

his own responsibility.

 

A sound at the outer door captured his attention, and he stood up,

surprised to see Pete coming into the room, carrying a bowl and a cup.

 

"Pete!" he cried out, grabbing onto the bars of the cell. "Are you all

right?"

 

"I'm fine, Alan. Step away from the bars." Alan searched his friend's

face, but saw nothing there that gave him hope. "Move back," he ordered

again, and reluctantly, Alan complied.

 

The guard unlocked the cell, and Pete stepped in, showing no surprise or

emotion when the cage was relocked behind him. "I brought you something

to eat," he said, holding out the bowl to Alan.

 

Alan watched over Pete's shoulder, waiting until the guard had left the

room. "Are you really okay?" he asked urgently, keeping his voice low.

 

"I'm fine," Pete replied in a normal tone of voice. "Now eat." Again

he attempted to hand the food to Alan, but Alan looked from the bowl to

Pete and didn't move. Understanding crossed Pete's face. "There's

nothing wrong with it," he assured Alan. "I'll show you." He sampled a

vegetable from the bowl himself, following up with a sip from the cup.

"You see? It's okay. Now eat. We begin your conditioning tomorrow,

and you are going to need your strength."

 

"We?"

 

"Yes. I'm going to be assisting Wanda."

 

"You're going to help her?" he asked incredulously.

 

"I'm going to help you," Pete countered. Again, Alan searched his face

looking for a double meaning in that statement, and again he saw nothing

there to reassure him.

 

"How?" he asked bitterly. "By torturing me the way she tortured you?"

 

"Alan, you have to trust me on this. It's for the best."

 

"Best for who?" he demanded, not bothering now to keep his voice down.

"I'd rather be dead than turn into what you've become."

 

"Don't say things like that. If she fails, that's exactly what's going

to happen. I'm your friend. I only want what's best for you," he added

pointedly.

 

For an instant, Alan imagined he saw something in Pete's face-some kind

of hidden message he was trying to convey. Then the features smoothed

out, and whatever he thought he saw was gone, replaced by that maddening

calmness once more.

 

He shook his head at Pete, unsure now. "Do you have a plan?" he

ventured, his voice dropping low again.

 

"Yes, I do," Pete replied, but again he spoke in normal tones and Alan's

hopes sank. "I plan on teaching you what Wanda has taught me, so that

we can leave this place and live a normal, human life."

 

"Then you're going to be leaving alone," Alan informed him, defeated.

 

"I hope not. But of course, that's all up to you, Alan. Don't fight

tomorrow, and we'll have a chance for that." He placed the bowl and

cup on the floor of the cell and prepared to call the guard.

 

Alan tried one last desperate attempt. "Don't do this, Pete," he

begged, his voice dropping low again. "You have to fight it, fight what

she's done to you."

 

Pete gently extricated himself from the death grip Alan had on his arm.

"Fighting it will only make things worse. Alan, I'm asking you, as your

friend, not to do that. Please. It will be better for all of us if you

don't." Again there was something in his face, an emphasis in his voice

that caused Alan to pause, but Pete turned away from him quickly then,

and called to the guard.

 

Just outside the doorway, Wanda nodded her head in satisfaction. Burke

believed he was alone with Virdon, and he had not said or done anything

that changed her conviction that his conditioning was completely

successful. On the contrary, he had seemed to begin Virdon's

conditioning on his own by urging him to accept it, not to fight what

was coming. Altogether, he presented a very calm and soothing presence,

one that would be of great assistance to her, not only in Virdon's

coming ordeal, but perhaps even beyond, as she continued her human

experiments. Perhaps she had found an assistant to replace those stupid

apes she was saddled with now, who understood nothing of her work.

 

Burke called again for the guard, and she nodded to him, giving the ape

permission to go and release him. "Put him in the small room off of my

quarters for the night," she directed.

 

"With a guard?"

 

She considered for a moment. "Yes, post a guard outside his door," she

decided. Better safe than sorry. Though she hardly thought it

necessary any more, she was too close to success to take any unnecessary

risks now.

 

* * * * * * * * * *

 

Pete sat on the cot in his small room, rubbing his temples, exhausted

from the events of the day. Without a doubt, this had been the hardest

thing he had ever had to do, and he hoped he would have the strength to

see it through.

 

Surrender had been a split second decision, arrived at when he realized

that he would never survive another conditioning session with Wanda. He

knew he would die in the process, and so the risk had seemed worth

taking. He would give her what she wanted, and then maybe he would have

a chance to get out of this alive. Maybe they would have a chance. He

would die himself before he allowed her to use her barbaric methods on

Alan. Either way, he and Alan would come to the end of this together.

 

Alan. He was ready to give up on Pete, and Pete regretted that there

was nothing he could do to clue his friend in on his plans. He knew

Wanda had been testing him by leaving him alone with Alan; knew she was

listening outside the door to see what he would do. He had tried to

subtly give Alan some hints, but dared not allow even the slightest slip

that would instill any doubt in the scientist's mind, so he wasn't sure

if Alan had caught any of them. He could only hope that somehow, he

had. Everything depended on Alan not putting up too much of a struggle.

 

It was the one variable he couldn't control, and thinking about it made

him nervous, so he pushed Alan from his mind and focused instead on what

lay ahead. It dawned on him that he was thinking more clearly now than

he ever had at any time during the past week, and the irony of that fact

didn't escape him. He had assumed that being back here, in Wanda's

presence, would be the end of what little control he had maintained over

his mind, and he was astonished to discover that it had actually had the

opposite effect. It must be true that you had to face your demons in

order to conquer them. Standing in that cell, listening to her as she

tried to justify her "work" to Alan, he had looked his demon squarely in

the face, and discovered that she was just another ape, no more, no

less. They had bested apes time and again along the way, and he was

determined to somehow do so again.

 

He managed to get Urko and most of his soldiers out of the way by

sending them on a wild goose chase, searching for non-existent humans.

He'd been careful to name villages that were no nearer than at least two

days ride from them, to buy some time. When Urko discovered no one on

the list at the first village, Pete was sure he would not continue on,

but would return quickly to make known the deception. Still, that gave

him time to extricate them from the compound and get a few day's head

start on the gorilla.

 

Wanda continued to keep him under guard, but that actually worked to his

advantage. From months of watching the deferential treatment humans

paid to their ape superiors, he was easily able to mimic their behavior.

As a result, the guards had grown careless around him as the day

progressed, seeing him as only another harmless human. From listening

to them talk, he learned that only the five original guards had stayed

behind, three of whom would be leaving at dawn. At Wanda's insistence,

one was heading for the high council to report her stunning success with

his conditioning to Zais. The other two Urko had directed to check out

another village Pete had named, which lay a day in the opposite

direction from where he and the rest of his soldiers were heading. That

would leave only two, and Pete was comfortable with those odds.

 

He had also learned where Galen was being held, and now he was

determined to get to him during the night, so the chimp would be ready

when the time came. When all had been quiet for several hours, he

cautiously pushed open the door of his room, and as expected, found the

guard asleep. He carefully passed the slumbering ape and made his way

to the door of Galen's cell. Peering in the small open window, he spied

the chimp sleeping in the corner.

 

"Psst. Galen," he whispered. Galen stirred in his sleep. "Galen, wake

up," he tried again a little louder, and the chimp opened his eyes and

raised his head, peering around in the dark. "Over here, by the door."

 

"Pete?" he asked uncertainly.

 

"Yeah, it's me."

 

"Pete!"

 

"Shh, keep it down."

 

Galen moved to the door. "How did you get here?" he whispered. "Are

you all right? Where's Alan?"

 

"One question at a time," Pete smiled. "I snuck away, I'm fine and Alan

is still locked up." This generated a whole slew of new questions in

Galen's mind, but Pete cut him off before he could ask any of them.

"Look, I don't have much time. Tomorrow morning I'm going to try to get

us out of here. I don't know how much time I'll be able to buy for us,

so be ready; we'll have to move fast."

 

"What are you planning to do?"

 

"It would take too long to explain right now."

 

"But Urko..."

 

"I have that covered. Galen, you're going to have to trust me," he

said, fully aware of what he was asking in light of his recent behavior.

But there was no help for it-he was pushing his luck as it was. "I have

to get back before they miss me." He started to move away down the

hallway.

 

"Wait, Pete."

 

Pete moved back to the door. "What?"

 

"Nothing. I just wanted to..."

 

He let the thought trail off, but Pete understood what he wanted without

hearing the rest of it. "I'm all right, Galen," he assured him. "I

mean I'm really all right. And I'm going to get us out of this mess I

got us into. So sit tight and be ready when I come back." And with

that, he slipped silently away, leaving Galen with more questions than

answers.

 

Ten minutes later, after one more quick stop, Pete was back in his room,

and the ape who's job it was to guard him had never even stirred.

 

* * * * * * * * * *

 

Pete spent a sleepless night, thinking of all that could possibly go

wrong, so it was a great relief to him when he saw the three guards

leave from the window of his room. It was well after dawn when Wanda

finally sent for him.

 

He followed the guard to the interrogation room, where she was preparing

for what lay ahead. He made an effort to look like he was paying

attention as she explained what she expected of him, but his mind was on

Alan, and what he was going to have to do before he could put his plan

into action. It was all out of his hands at the moment. He could feel

the tension building inside of himself, barely contained, as the second

guard brought Alan into the room.

 

"On the table," Wanda ordered. The minute the two apes tried to

restrain him, Alan started to fight. Pete joined in the struggle

immediately, roughly holding Alan's arms and legs down so that he could

be strapped in, but Alan fought so fiercely that he nearly slipped from

their grasp several times. Damn it, Virdon, ease up, Pete pleaded with

him in his head. If it took much longer they would probably have to

knock him out in order to subdue him, and that would be the end of all

his well laid plans. But to his relief, the three of them finally

managed to hold him down long enough to secure him to the table.

 

"I told you you would only make things harder on yourself if you fought

it," Pete reprimanded him. But he had to turn away when Alan's eyes met

his, and he was hit full force with the anger and betrayal he saw in

them.

 

Don't think about it, he told himself sternly. Focus on what you have

to do. He reigned in his emotions and turned back to where Alan now

lay, still struggling against the bindings. "Stop, Alan," he reproached

him, pulling the restrains even tighter. "You're just going to hurt

yourself."

 

"Right. I should just lay here and let you do it for me, is that it?"

 

"I was hoping he was going to make this easier," he said to Wanda, his

voice steeped in disappointment.

 

He had felt her watching him since Alan entered the room, and he prayed

now that he had been convincing. Her next words seemed to confirm that

he had. "We'll soon change that," she assured him with a smile. "You

weren't any more cooperative in the beginning."

 

"I know," he admitted, sounding a touch ashamed.

 

"But you've turned into quite a good little lap dog now, Pete," Alan

said scornfully.

 

Pete drew in a deep breath and worked to maintain his control. Alan's

barbs were hitting home, but he let nothing show on his face. He

couldn't afford to get distracted. He set his mind now on the one thing

he hadn't figured out how to manage-how to get the other two apes out of

the room. Unexpectedly, Wanda solved the problem for him.

 

"We won't be needing you any more today," she said, dismissing them from

the room. They looked at her uncertainly, but she waved an impatient

hand at them. "Go. We have him under control." The two exchanged

doubtful looks, but left the room. If the very idea didn't repulse him

so much, Pete could have kissed her for making it so easy.

 

"I have something new I want to try today," she told him, opening her

book and laying it on the table. "It may take more time-it's a little

more complicated that what I used before."

 

"Yes, ma'am," he murmured, watching her keenly. She bent over the book,

studying it, and he saw his opportunity. He moved slowly to the other

side of the room, his eyes trained on her as he reached behind him to a

small table against the wall. His fingers touched on what he was

looking for, and he grasped the handle of the blade he had hidden there

the night before and slid it into his belt at his back, letting his

hands drop to his side just as she finished reading and looked up at

him.

 

"Shall we begin?"

 

He came to stand behind her on the pretext of looking at the page she

had been studying. "I don't think so," he said quietly, pulling the

knife and placing it against her throat.

 

"Burke, what is this? What are you doing?" she asked, clearly stunned.

 

"You make one more sound and it will be your last," he warned. He

guided her to the turntable. "Undo the restraints." When she hesitated

he pressed the blade deeper into her neck, and she immediately began to

fumble with the bindings. As soon as he had one hand free, Alan quickly

finished the job himself.

 

"My God, Pete, if you were trying to scare the hell out of me, you did a

damn good job of it," he told him, climbing off the table.

 

"I guess I never told you about the time I played Hamlet in high school.

My favorite part was when he pretended to go mad."

 

Alan move to the door, opening it a crack and peering out. "I bet you

brought the house down. What now?"

 

Pete looked around the room for something to use to restrain Wanda. His

eyes fell on the turntable, and he turned to grin at Alan, who

immediately guessed what he had in mind.

 

"A taste of her own medicine?"

 

"I think that would be fitting, don't you?"

 

"You won't get away with this," she said, panic in her voice as they

strapped her in.

 

"Oh, Wanda, that's not very original," Pete chided, sounding

disappointed. "I would have thought someone with your education could

come up with something better than that." Whatever she was about to

reply was muffled as Pete shoved a gag in her mouth. "Think about it

and get back to me," he told her, tying it behind her head.

 

He was about to join Alan at the door when he suddenly stopped and

turned back to look at her. Her eyes widened with fear, and he wondered

if that was what he had looked like to her when their roles had been

reversed. He was not normally a vengeful man, so he was unprepared for

the depth of emotion that he suddenly found himself gripped in.

 

Without even knowing he was going to do it, he grasped the edge of the

table and gave it a hard spin. He stood watching for a few seconds,

then did it again, making it go faster. "Fun, isn't it?" he asked her

in a dark tone. He shoved the table a third time, and then a fourth,

increasing the speed each time. "You don't look like you're enjoying

this, Wanda," he remarked, feigning surprise.

 

"Pete," Alan said softly, shaking his head.

 

"Oh, c'mon, Alan, she treated me to this fun for hours." He leaned in

towards her. "Have you had enough?" he asked, mimicking the words she

had thrown at him again and again as she stood where he was standing

now. "No? You want more?" He shoved the table again.

 

Then Alan was beside him, gently tugging at his arm. "Pete, let it go

now. We have more important things to think about."

 

He stood watching her silently for a moment longer, getting no pleasure

from the misery he saw on her face. "Yeah," he murmured, shaking

himself mentally. "Yeah, you're right." He hesitated yet again, and

then abruptly, he reached out and stopped the table. Their eyes met-

hers disoriented, his somber. "If I had the time, and I didn't think it

would bring the guards running, I'd destroy this thing so you could

never use it on anyone again. But at least now, finally, it's being put

to good use. Get comfortable, Wanda, it's going to be hours before they

find you here."

 

"And hopefully we'll be long gone by then," Alan said pointedly, trying

to get him to focus on their present situation. "Do you have any idea

how many guards there are?"

 

Pete spared her one last look, then turned his back on her, finally and

permanently dismissing her from his mind. "Two," he told Alan, coming

to stand beside him.

 

"Just two? You're sure about that?"

 

"I'm sure. Urko is off chasing phantoms. I'll explain later," he added

in response to Alan's quizzical look. "Right now we have to find the

guard who has the key, and then get Galen."

 

They surprised the two guards in the hallway, where they were bent over,

playing some kind of game in the dirt. Their guns were propped up on

the wall beside them, and Alan grabbed one and pointed it at them before

they could even react. Pete picked up the other gun and prodded them to

their feet, amazed at how easy it had all been. Even with all the hours

he had spent planning this escape, he never imagined it would go off so

well. It was about time things went their way for a change.

 

"Move," he ordered the apes, backing it up with a jab of the gun. He

directed them to the far end of the hallway, where Galen was waiting for

them, his face pressed up to the window of the cell door. Pete lifted

the key ring from the belt of one of the guards, glancing at Galen as he

unlocked the door. "You look surprised to see us. Didn't you believe

me last night?"

 

"Well...I...yes, of course," Galen stuttered, then had the good grace to

look embarrassed.

 

Pete laughed as he swung the door open. "I don't blame you, Galen.

Considering everything that's happened, I probably wouldn't have

believed me, either. Well, in with the bad, out with the good." He

stepped aside to let Galen out and then shoved the two guards inside.

Slamming and locking the door, he tossed the keys down the hallway.

Then he turned and looked at his two friends. "Would either of you mind

terribly if we got the hell out of here now?"

 

"Uh, uh," Galen grunted, and the two humans looked at each other,

smiling at the uncharacteristically primitive sound coming from their

normally articulate friend. "Go, go!" the chimp urged, pushing Pete

ahead of him down the hallway.

 

"We're going, Galen. No need to run us over."

 

They stepped out of the cave and into bright sunlight, stopping for a

brief moment to savor the warmth. "I don't know how you did it, Pete,

but I have to say I'm impressed," Galen admitted as they started moving

again.

 

"Some of the most notable geniuses in history were touched with a little

insanity," Pete informed him gravely.

 

Alan smacked him lightly on the back of the head. "Last week you were

crazy. Now you're a genius. What are you going to be next week?"

 

"Free," he said, grinning at them.

 

Alan smiled back at him. "Amen to that," he replied, and the three of

them headed off toward the nearby woods, disappearing from sight.

 

 

The End