The Trial

Carol Davis

 

 

 

NOTES FROM THE AUTHOR:

The usual disclaimers—the copyrights belong to 20th Century-Fox (and whoever else), and no profit is being made from this project, other than in some emotional satisfaction.  I did not create the songs mentioned in the story, and hope their lyricists will wink at some quotations meant to compliment their work.

To the reader: I ask that you make two small assumptions with me.  First, that the aired episode “The Interrogation” chronicled the last adventure in the series of 14.  Second, that the year 1980 as a launch date for the astronauts’ mission means that they left from an alternate Earth.  I prefer to nudge the story just slightly ahead, and regard it as beginning a few years from “now,” here on our Earth.  Either way, I’ve referred to other samples of advanced technology that would certainly exist in a world that’s discovered interstellar travel.

Many, many thanks to Gryph and Kass for their devoted work as beta readers, and to the members of F&F who suggested belongings for Sergeant Kull.

Lastly, Ariel’s name comes from the original (1974) version of this story, and has no connection with Tim Burton’s Ari.

Feedback is welcome, at fanficwriter1966@yahoo.com.  Please don’t post this story elsewhere without asking permission.

 

 

ONE

The Artist

_____________________________

 

“I could never be a poet,” Julian sighed.

Ariel smiled, knowing he wouldn’t see it, sitting where he was on the bench under the trellis.  Her right hand moved in an arc from lower left to upper right across the paper on her easel, leaving a smooth gray smudge of charcoal that would become a curve of mountainside.  “Why is that?” she asked after a moment.

“A phrase came into my head, and I thought it would be a fine beginning for a poem.  But I can’t think of a second line.  That’s not much of a poem, one line.”

“What’s the line?”

“‘The sweetness of ordinary days.’” Another sigh, then Julian confessed, “Maybe it’s already a poem.”

“And you’re stealing it from the poet.  Shame, shame.”

“Maybe I’m not.  Maybe it’s a truly original thought.”

Ariel tipped her head just enough to see him out of the corner of her eye.  “And what was it the Professor told you?  ‘There are no original ideas.’”

Chuckling softly to himself, Julian crossed the garden and crouched beside Ariel’s stool.  “Who knows.  I do know, if the Professor ever had an original thought, it must have been fifty years ago.  That old fool—”

“Is your mentor and your friend.”

“And yours as well.”  Leaning closer, Julian brushed a kiss against her cheek, then curled his hand around hers, holding the charcoal in mid-air a little way from the paper.  “That’s lovely.  Your best yet.”

The words didn’t affect her the way he’d thought they would.  To his dismay, she slipped away from his grasp and from the stool, clutching the stick of charcoal in her palm as she began to pace up and down.

“What’s the matter?”

“My father.  He insists on saying ‘artist’ in the same way he’d say ‘horse manure.’  He wants me to find a ‘useful’ job, like yours in the city attorney’s office, or like his, in the land office.”

Rising, Julian glanced toward the house to satisfy himself that they were alone.  Or at least relatively so, given the proximity of the shrieking children playing on the grassy hillside that ran down to the brook.  “With all due respect, your father can be an even bigger fool than the Professor.  Heaven protect us from anybody who’s lived long enough to think he knows everything.  There’s nothing wrong with your drawings, and there wouldn’t be even if you spent all your time working on them, which you do not.  Does he think your studies in language and history amount to nothing?  You bring beauty to the world, Ari.  You’re very talented, and I think it would be a crime not to put that talent to use.”  He paused, obviously considering something.  When Ariel raised a brow, he went on, “And it would be a crime not to enjoy this.”  Reaching inside his jacket with a flourish, he produced a roll of something that looked like stiff fabric, about as long as the span of his fingers.  With his back to the house he pulled away the cord that held the roll in place and gently opened it up.  “Do you like it?” he asked, already knowing he wouldn’t be able to wrestle it away from her if he tried.

“It’s gorgeous,” she gasped.  “Where did you get it?”

“A little barter with my friend in the Prefect’s office.  It’s yours.”

Of course it was.  She had it in her lap as she sat down again on the little stool, holding it open with both hands.  It was a landscape, similar in layout to the one she was sketching, but done in colored paints.  The colors were dulled and faded, but with some diligent and careful work, they could be restored.  She was already planning to do that—her intentions were written all over her face.

“How old is it, do you think?”

“Hundreds of years.  Maybe a thousand.”

Her nose wrinkled.  “You’re guessing.”

“Guilty as charged.”

“And the Prefect didn’t want it?”

Julian shook his head.  “He doesn’t care that much about pictures.  He prefers objects.  He gave it to Jimsa with his blessing.”

“Thank you.  It’s wonderful.”

“You could see more of them, you know.  If you’d ask the Prefect to take you to the old city with his team.”

“I know.”

“So will you ask him?”

“He won’t let me join his team.  I’m too young.”

“No, you’re not.  There must be three or four members of the team who are only a little older than you are.”

Gently, as if she were stroking a baby’s skin, her fingers moved against the surface of the painting.  “I just don’t see the harm in it, Julian.  We know where this came from, and who painted it.  What harm is there, in owning it?  Displaying it?”

“None, as far as I’m concerned.”

“It’s beautiful.  See the way the artist captured the light.  You can almost see movement in the trees.  I’ll have Lucien make me a frame for it.”

“One of his stick-and-glue masterpieces?”

“Of course.  They’re his art, as much as the drawings are mine.”  As carefully as they had unrolled it, Ariel rolled the painting up again and held it in both hands.  “If we had fifty of these, or a hundred, would it change anything?  Would the world be any different?  We could fill an entire museum with them, let everyone in Segundo enjoy them, and the sky wouldn’t come crashing down.  I just don’t see the relationship between owning something like this, and being a heretic, or a revolutionary.”  She was on her feet once more, pacing with enough agitation to make Julian hold back a smile.  She caught the expression anyway.  “Every night, I go to sleep wondering if tomorrow the world will make sense.  If you and I won’t be the only ones who don’t see catastrophe around every corner.”

Julian went to her, wrapped his arms around her and cradled her head on his shoulder.  “We aren’t the only ones, love.”

“I keep waiting.  For a miracle to fall out of the sky and strike them on their stubborn heads.”

She had barely finished speaking when a ball, hurled by one of the children on the hill, came soaring through the air and landed with a plop a few feet from where they were standing.  Ariel and Julian both looked at it, startled, for a moment, then in unison they began to laugh.  When the owner of the ball, Ariel’s eleven-year-old brother Lucien, came trotting up to retrieve it, he took in what he immediately accepted as another display of insanity from his sister and her fiancé, rolled his eyes, and announced with disdain, “You’re as crazy as humans.”

The two chimpanzees kept laughing long after Lucien had disappeared with the ball.

 

 

TWO

Don’t It Always Seem to Go

______________________________

 

One hundred.

Two hundred.

Three hundred?

God, how many? How many more?

With a grunt of discomfort, Peter Burke squirmed over onto his belly.  Shifted.  Shifted again, searching for a position that would let him drift off into sleep.  Or at least collapse into it.  For a moment he thought (maybe hoped was a better description) he’d found one.  Then a pebble underneath the thin bedroll announced its presence by digging into his hip.  He grunted again, but this time the sound was closer to anguish.

“Pete?” Alan Virdon’s voice came from a few yards away.  Almost a whisper.  Virdon was half asleep.

“I hate—” Burke said.

He sat up, wincing at the protest his overworked muscles made.  Looked around, at the huddled form of Galen, sleeping soundly under his piece of the heavy cloth they used as blankets.  At Virdon, his face dimly visible in the light of the guttering campfire, eyes at half-mast.  Burke tried swallowing his words, tried out the thought Calm down—there’s no reason to get upset, but his own blanket was wrapped around his lower body like a big tourniquet and the pebble under the bedroll was now stabbing into his butt.

“I hate sleeping on the ground,” he told Virdon (or the universe, maybe, since voicing complaints to Virdon never really got him anywhere).  Each word was bitten off, sharp, hard, as if he were eating chunks off a cake of lye soap.  “I hate being cold.  I hate wanting more, or something real, to eat.  My head hasn’t stopped pounding for two days.  I’d get down on my knees and give thanks to the universe if I could find an outhouse and not have to crap behind a bush.  If I do manage to fall asleep, I can get up in a couple hours and, wow, spend all day walking until my legs and my back are screaming.  If I’m lucky, we’ll find a village where I can do twelve hours of manual labor in exchange for a bowl of soup that’s really lukewarm water with a carrot and a bunch of leaves floating in it.”

Every word had brought him closer to rage.  Now he shoved himself up off the ground, flung the blanket aside, and stalked off toward the hills.

“Where are you going?” Galen asked softly as Burke passed him.

“To throw myself off a cliff.”

He had been sitting at the base of a tree, legs bent, slumped onto his knees, for maybe ten or fifteen minutes when a rustling in the brush on the hillside announced someone’s arrival.  It might have been a gorilla, or a mountain lion, or a busload of Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders—but it was only Galen.  Announced, Burke noted with another twist of the anger in his gut, by his fabulous chimpanzee aroma.  Head bowed, Galen found himself a seat on a nearby rock and sat in silence for a minute.

Go away, Burke thought fiercely.

Another moment of quiet, filled with the rustle of dry leaves, then Galen offered, “I’m sorry, Pete.”

“Why should you be sorry?”

The chimp thought that over.  “I don’t know.  It’s my world, I suppose.”

“You didn’t build it.”

“Yes, but—”

“Just leave me alone, Galen.  Would you?  Just leave me alone.”

Burke hadn’t looked at the chimp the whole time.  Now, out of the corner of his eye, he saw Galen get up from the rock, shake his head sadly, and begin to pick his way back down the hill.  Once Galen was gone, Burke closed his eyes, pillowed his head on his arms, and listened to the throb of his headache.  And to the tissue-paper rustle of the leaves.  The twitter of a bird.  The peculiar, hollow sound of the night wind.

A fragment of music pushed its way into his head.

. . . that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. . .

The headache crept down his neck, into his back, but he didn’t shift position, just sat there.

How many?

How many more . . .

He tried to remember what the music had sounded like back then, pouring out of the speakers in his car, mixed in with the rush of the wind.  Top down, sun warming his shoulders, pushing the silver Porsche as far over a hundred as he dared.  There’d been a stretch of straight, flat road where he could go almost twenty miles without seeing anything other than scrub brush and crows.  Faint whiffs of exhaust, sun-heated leather, a little dust whipped up by the speed of his passing. . .

. . . you don’t know what. . .

He remembered Jonesy’s face, contorted with the effort of not laughing, as the two of them ignored—Rocheford? Rockford?  Constipation in a lab coat, Jonesy had called him.  Jonesy’s hand shielded his mouth as he whispered, “You are So. Full. Of. Crap.”

“Wha—?”

Virdon, turning, trying to be The Serious Mission Commander.  “Is there a problem?”

There wasn’t any music here, or at least so little of it that it didn’t count.  He’d seen an ape at a village festival a few months back strumming something that was sort of a banjo, sort of a lute.  And there were humans in the outlying villages who would hum a little as they went about their daily chores.  But rock-and-roll?

He remembered being aboard ship, dressed in a white NASA uniform, strapped into the pilot’s seat, the one closest to the hatch.  He was the youngest of the three of them, the only one without a wife and kids, the only one not in as much of a rush to get home as he’d been to get “out there.”  Virdon and Jonesy had started counting the days left in the mission before the mission had really even gotten underway.  Not him, though.  From his perspective, he’d told the other two, there was more waiting for him “out there” than there was anywhere on Earth.

He remembered Jonesy’s voice, laughing.  “Yeah, right.  You’re not leaving anything behind.”

“I’m not.  No ties, no strings, that’s me.”

“Nobody here on Earth gives a rat’s backside about you.”

“Nope.  And that’s just the way I like it.  Nobody cares that I’m leaving, and nobody cares if I come back.”

“Nobody.”

“Not a solitary soul.”

“Yeah?  What about the BBs?”

Virdon asked, “BBs?”

“Burke’s Boosters,” Jonesy replied.  “His fan club.  Didn’t you see them?  They’ve got a whole section reserved for them in the bleachers.  They care if you come back, my friend,” he told Burke.  “They figure the sun rises and sets on you.”  Jonesy held up both hands, thumbs and forefingers forming a box framing Burke’s face for Virdon’s benefit.  “Bachelor boy, here, putting the heat back in the space program.  He’s the reason we made the cover of Time and Newsweek, not the mission.  Tell me something, hunk-a-hunk-a-burnin’-love: how much time did you spend on your hair before the press conference this morning?  An hour?”

Virdon interrupted what he was doing long enough to grin.  “He spends an hour on his hair just to answer the phone.”

“Har de har har,” Burke shot back.

“Point being,” Jonesy went on, “that you’ve got more women waiting for your glorious return than there are steps going up inside the Washington Monument.  Tell me you’re not gonna miss that sweet thing I saw you with last Saturday night.”

“She’ll just have to get along with a broken heart.”

“Not likely.  She’ll be there with bells on when we land, my friend.  Along with the three or four dozen others you suckered in.”

“I didn’t sucker—” Burke began, then cut himself off.

Laughing.  They all laughed.

He remembered the sounds.  An odd humming noise, then a creaking that grew louder and mixed in with the humming.  A sharp, brittle POP!  Metal stress.  Alarm claxons.  The crackle of electrical shorts.

Jonesy’s voice.  “Sweet Jesus, what’s happening?”

The sound of it. . .like the ship was a dishrag being wrung out in enormous hands.  Burke had been terrified then, the first pure terror he had ever felt.  The ship’s skin was tough, had to be, to resist impact with space debris zipping along at speeds that rivaled her own.  But under this kind of torque, the kind he could hear with every nerve ending in his body, the seals wouldn’t hold.  If the hull ruptured and they lost internal pressure. . .

He heard a shriek, but wasn’t sure if it came from him, or Jonesy, or Virdon, or the ship.  Didn’t matter, anyway; the shriek meant We’re screwed, we are so very, very screwed.

He heard Virdon say, as if from miles away instead of a few feet, “Homing device!  Jonesy!  Activate the homing device!” and with a clarity that surprised him, thought, We’ll never make it.

The ship screamed like a boiling teakettle.

In the moment before he lost consciousness, he heard his grandmother’s voice saying softly, close to his ear, Hail Mary, full of grace, blessed art thou. . .

That had been months ago.  How many, he wasn’t sure.  According to the ship’s chronometer, they’d crashed here, in what had once been California, on March 21, 3085, a millennium after the sunny, mildly humid morning they left Florida for the far reaches of space.  California didn’t have much in the way of seasons, but he’d expected winter, or at least a rainy season, to roll around eventually to help him calculate more of the “when” they were.  They had seen rain off and on since the crash, but nothing that could honestly be called a rainy season.  The monotonous days of walking, interrupted now and then by spells of work in one village or another, had blended into each other enough that he had truly lost track of time.

Marking time in weeks, looking forward to weekends, seemed like something he’d been told about but had never experienced.  Now the markers seemed to be those days when Urko, the territory’s gorilla Chief of Security, caught up with them.  On those days, the adrenaline ran high.  A dozen times now, they’d been lucky: had schemed, or fought, their way out of captivity, often with the help of someone (or several someones, both ape and human) they’d convinced that he and Virdon and Galen were fugitives, yes, but not criminals.  That he and Virdon would not bring about the downfall of civilization simply by being here, by being intelligent, by remembering the world they had come from: the world where humans ruled and apes lived in zoos or an African rain forest.

After the highs, invariably, came the lows.  More walking, more searching for a way home.  More working.  Day after indistinguishable day.  Had he and Virdon been here three months?  Six?  A year?

Since we came “home.”

Buuuuuurke, a voice crooned to him, but he pushed it away.

. . . Since Jonesy died.

Burke. . .tell me their names. . .

The song tried to trill itself inside his head again, but he refused to listen to it.  Then another song intruded, because of the thin silver light falling on his arms from up above.

. . . And let me play among the stars. . .

Alpha Centauri hadn’t seemed that far to go, all things considered: a couple months to get out there, a few weeks of survey time, and a couple months back.  They’d miss Christmas, a big deal to Virdon and Jones but none at all to Pete Burke.  If he’d been on Earth for Christmas, he would have done—what?  The same routine as in previous years: sleep late in the morning, then have dinner with whomever had decided he shouldn’t be alone on the holiday.  Theresa, maybe.  Or Trish.  Or Jonesy’s family, who’d hosted him the year before.

Missed my birthday, too, he mused.  The Big 3-Oh.  Trish, the “sweet thing” Jonesy had spotted that final Saturday night, would have tracked him down for that.  Trish, who had told him a while back if he didn’t learn to travel at speeds with less than three figures, he’d never live to see thirty.  Well, the laugh was certainly on Trisha Peterson now, because Pete Burke had lived to be a thousand and thirty.

Well, maybe not, since that thousand years was just a big hiccup into the future, thanks to the storm that had almost destroyed the ship.  He was 30…ish.  With no way to figure out when December 5 might be.  Or December 25.  Not that anyone cared about either one any more.  That’d be a blow to the Pope, he thought, and to his grandmother, who’d have attended Sunday Mass if she was in traction and they had to wheel her in on a stretcher.

No more Christmas.  No more Catholic Church.  No more calendar.

No more cars, no more movie premieres, no more pizza parlors, or elevators, or side-by-side refrigerators.

No more naps on the couch.

No more sitting down in a booth at Villa Roma to enjoy a heaping plate of pasta with Marie Valenti’s special sauce, chased down by a glass of wine and a helping of Marie’s cheesecake, placed in front of him by Marie or her husband Sal, who both said each time, making a ritual of it, “Eat, eat, Peter, you’re skin and bones.”

Marie.  The memory of her made him smile, fleetingly.  He remembered the affectionate touch of her soft hand, wisps of flour still in the creases of her knuckles, patting his own.  Remembered the scent of her, Italian spices mixed in with department store cologne.  Remembered her smile, never anything but genuine.  Marie and Sal.  And Trish, who would nibble on her knuckles when she was nervous.  Mom and Donald, down in Tampa; Alex up in Michigan; Libby and Doug in Phoenix.  Nonna, resting now in Jersey.

Big plates of pasta, and hot showers, and Sunday mornings of sleeping on his belly with the pillow over his head, listening to Gus next door banging pots and pans in the kitchen as he made breakfast for whomever had slept over.  Movies.  Birthday cakes, terrible ones when he was a kid, foam rubber with candles flickering on top, and his mother coaxing, “Make a wish, Petey.”

It had been peacetime there, back home, a long stretch of it.  His time in the Air Force had been an adventure, a preparation not for combat but for exploration, and the fulfillment of dreams.  Not dreams like Alan’s—the prototypical small boy peering through a telescope—but dreams Jonesy had nailed the day they first met.

“Great way to get the girls, huh, BB?”

“You bet.  They line up for miles for a ride with Mama Burke’s little boy.”

He had smirked, and Jonesy had laughed until his nose ran, standing there in the parking lot looking at Mama Burke’s little boy’s silver Porsche.  He didn’t drive it much, after gas hit seven bucks a gallon, but once in a while for special occasions it made a heck of an impact.  The car and the uniform drew women in like flies.

I believe people in love should tell each other everything, the voice in his mind coaxed, and he forced it into silence with a shudder of dread.

But here. . .

Here there was only Alan Virdon, who would keep dragging him along on this walking tour of California until one of them was dead.

. . .Don’t it always seem to go. . .

“The next time I see a gorilla, I’m gonna stand up and let him shoot me,” he murmured.

He sat there, not sleeping, not moving, until Virdon came to get him at dawn.

 

THREE

Frost

______________________________

 

“Is he all right?”

They’d been walking for three or four hours.  Virdon and Galen were almost side by side.  Burke was a dozen paces behind them, and the other two had glanced back every few minutes, unconsciously taking turns at it, just to make sure he was still there.  He was moving so quietly that without their checking on him, he could have sat down in the middle of the road at any point and stayed there, and his companions wouldn’t have known.

But he was behind them, still, putting one foot in front of the other, apparently not interested in anything other than keeping up their steady pace.  His eyes, not much more than slits above dark circles, were fixed on the road a few steps ahead.  He might as well have been alone.

Virdon half-smiled at Galen and replied softly, “Physically?  I suppose so,” although the words didn’t convince either one of them.  Neither of them could remember a day of walking like this—just walking, without being chased—when Burke hadn’t kept up a steady stream of sound.  Quips, comments, jokes, singing, humming.

“And otherwise?”

“I don’t know, Galen.”

“It’s been weeks since that brainwashing business.  He seemed fine at first, but these last few days—I’m worried about him, Alan.  He barely sleeps at all, and when he does, he has those nightmares.  He eats almost nothing, and he wouldn’t speak to anyone in Omar, even when they tried to be kind to him.  He has every right to be angry about what happened.  I certainly would be.  But I thought the farther away from Central City we got, he’d feel better, not worse.”  Galen hazarded another glance over his shoulder, sighing when Burke seemed not to care that he was being watched.  “This post-trauma—what did you call it?”

“Post traumatic stress disorder.”

Stress: from being systematically tortured by a radical chimpanzee scientist named Wanda, for information he wouldn’t, couldn’t, provide, about the humans who had helped them avoid capture these last few months.  Virdon had mentioned a couple of times the training military personnel from his time received to help them cope with abuse from enemy forces, but whether it had been that training, Burke’s own courage, his stubbornness, or maybe a combination of all three, that had helped the young man survive Wanda’s torture without surrendering either his sanity or any information that would harm someone else, Galen wasn’t sure.  He was sure, however, that he wouldn’t have held up as well as Burke had under the same circumstances.

On the other hand, he wasn’t sure Wanda would have attempted the brainwashing techniques on another ape, no matter how much information she thought might be locked inside Galen’s head.

“The nightmares, and his wanting to be by himself—they’re part of that?”

“Yes.”

“It was a human book that Wanda had.  Is it true, humans did this brainwashing to other humans?”

The blond man nodded and sighed.  “That, and worse.  We had a phrase: ‘man’s inhumanity to man.’  It was remarkable, some of the torment we unleashed on each other.”

“Why?” Galen asked.

“Why?”  Virdon stooped, grabbed up a handful of pebbles from the edge of the road, and began tossing them into the air as he walked.  “Power, I suppose.  Our doctors spent a lot of time trying to figure out personality, and the chemistry of the brain.  They thought sometimes it—the desire to inflict cruelty, and feeling satisfaction from it—came as a reaction to a lack of nurturing during infancy, or to massive amounts of stress, or a dozen other causes.  They called it ‘sociopathy.’  The absence of empathy for others.”  Stopping for a moment, Virdon bounced the largest of the pebbles up and down in his palm.  “They claimed that sociopaths were a very tiny portion of the population, but sometimes I wonder.  I remember a professor telling me in college that in all of recorded history, there had never been a year when there wasn’t a war going on somewhere.  At first we fought each other with sticks and stones.  The more time went on, and the more technology progressed, we found bigger and better ways to inflict pain and death on each other.  We always found a way to pick out enemies and punish them by declaring war on them.  Outright, or. . .subtly.  There was always someone who was different.  Someone who was the enemy.”

“And you, Alan—did you have enemies?”

Virdon blinked at the directness of the question.  “I got into some scraps as a kid.  But no, not really.  The only way I would have called someone ‘enemy’ would be if they wanted to harm my family.”

“Truly?”

“Don’t you know me well enough to answer that for yourself?”

“What about Urko?  If he your enemy?”

“Are you asking me if I’d kill him if I had the chance?”  Virdon flexed his shoulders, looked off into the distance to pick a target, and pitched the big pebble at it.  He and Galen watched as it landed with a plop in the dust.  “No,” he said finally.  “Not if I had any other choice.”

They watched as Burke trudged on past them as if he hadn’t noticed that they’d stopped.  Galen let the younger man get far enough past them to be out of easy earshot, then asked quietly, “What about Pete?”

“You can answer that.”

“I think he might,” Galen said ruefully.

“So do I.”  Virdon grimaced, seeing Burke keep moving aimlessly along, shoulders slumped, uninterested in anything that was going on around him.  “There’s anger in him, deep down.  He was raised by a couple of very volatile people who took a lot of their anger out on each other.”  When Galen peered at him curiously, he explained, “I was mission commander.  I had to evaluate psychological profiles.”  Galen didn’t reply, but there were more questions in his eyes.  “It was a very complicated time, Galen.  The world was overpopulated, and we had technology we didn’t really understand.  A lot of things were wrong.  A lot of us were wrong.  I suppose Urko and Zaius have a point in not wanting a repeat of all that.  On a purely logical level, I don’t blame them at all for the way they feel, except that they’re trotting right along in our footsteps.”

“Let me ask you something.”

“Shoot.”

Galen frowned at the astronaut’s use of that word, then went on, “If there was a way to bring your family here, to this time, to live in this world instead of yours, would you do it?”

“Not the way things are.”

“But if apes and humans found a way to get along.  Would you live here, with your family, rather than going back to that circus you called a world?  I don’t understand how you could be content to live in a world like that.  Yes, you had great scientific advances, but—”

“We’d opened Pandora’s Box?”

“If that means something bad, yes.”

Rather than throw the rest of the pebbles, Virdon bent down again and let the few that were left spill out of his hand onto the edge of the road.  “If apes and humans could co-exist peacefully, then, yes.  I suppose so.  I think we could find a way to be happy here.  Chris might miss his video games, and I think my wife would miss getting her hair frosted, but I think yes, if we had a little farm here—”

His voice trailed off.

“Your wife put frost on her hair?” Galen asked, confused.

“Yup.  At forty-two dollars a pop.”

Galen opened his mouth, intending to pursue the mystery, then grunted softly and shook his head.  “How did they cure it, Alan?” he asked instead.  “This ‘post traumatic stress disorder.’  Back in your time.”

“Medication.  Psychological counseling.  Sometimes there is no cure.  It depends on the individual.”

“Will he hate me, do you think?”

The words had come out so softly Virdon almost didn’t catch them.  “No, Galen, no.  Pete knows you’re his friend.  That you’d never do him any harm.”

Galen looked back once more, then turned to face Virdon.  “Does he?  Does he, really?”

 

* * * * *

 

They stopped at midday, as they normally did, to rest for a while.  A very recognizable burbling noise had alerted them to the presence of a stream running through a grove of trees: a perfect place to rest, refill canteens, enjoy the shade.  Under Galen’s bemused gaze Virdon pulled off his moccasins, rolled up the legs of his homespun trousers and dipped his feet into the cool water.  The sigh of pleasure he let out made Galen roll his eyes.  “Come on, Pete,” he called to the younger man.  “Feels great.”

Neither the blond man nor the chimp was surprised when Burke shook his head and set off walking downstream, picking his way along the bank.  When he was almost out of sight of the others, he sat on the ground, pulled off his moccasins, and waded in, then crouched down to splash water onto his face and the back of his neck.  After a couple of repeats of the splashing he cupped more water in the palms of his hands and drank a few swallows.  Then he waded out, picked out a tree, and sat at its foot the same way he’d chosen to rest the last couple of days: knees bent, arms crossed atop his knees, head pillowed on his arms.

As he had done the last couple of days, Galen portioned out lunch for the three of them and took Burke’s meal over to him: some of the bread they’d been given in the village of Omar, three days back; two small pieces of fruit; and a treat created by their host in Omar, a paste made from ground seeds that Virdon said tasted just like something called “peanut butter.”  Burke paid no attention to the delivery, and Galen left it beside him in silence before walking back over to where Virdon was still soaking his feet in the cool water.

It seems so long ago, Galen thought.  When things were normal.

“I know what you mean,” Virdon said.

Galen blinked at him.  “How did you—did I—you read my thoughts.”

Virdon chuckled, though without much humor.  “No, you said it out loud.  It seems like it’s been a thousand years.”

They sat without saying anything more, stretching the respite into something that was almost pleasant.  The bread, although it had grown somewhat stale, still tasted good, as did the “peanut butter.”  The fruit, bumped around a little in their backpacks, was bruised and overripe.  But still good.

Good, good, good.  Everything was good.

Except that it wasn’t really good at all, any way you looked at it.

“It’s a long way from here.”

Virdon tipped his head.  “Everything seems like a long way from wherever we are.  Did you have someplace specific in mind?”

“Segundo.”

“Segundo?  That’s a village?”

“A city.  Second largest in the territory.  Although”—Galen paused, looking around as if he suspected he’d be overheard—“it does depend on whom you ask.  Segundo has somewhat of a reputation.  I think the Council would prefer if it didn’t exist at all.”

“And why is that?”

Galen shrugged.  “According to Zaius, the whole place is populated by idiots.”

“I like it already.”

“It has a university of sorts, but I don’t think you could say the apes there are intellectual in the strictest sense.  They seem to pursue education without a particular goal in mind.  Learning for its own sake, I suppose.  ‘A hotbed of lazy muttonheads who spend their time trying to figure out why the sky is blue’ I think was the way Zaius put it.”  Galen flicked away an oper seed that had stuck to his hand and shifted into a more comfortable position before he went on.  “The reason I bring it up is, according to what I’ve heard, they have a reasonably tolerant attitude toward humans there, and very sporadic contact with the Council.  If we’re lucky, we might be able to stay there long enough for Pete to heal from this stress disorder.  If that’s possible.  Do you think it’s possible?  As I said, it’s quite a way from here, but if we could ‘hitch a ride’ at least part of the way, I think we could make it there—”

“Before we drop dead of exhaustion?”

Galen lowered his head.  “I’m rambling on.  I’m sorry.  I was going to suggest, perhaps there’s a doctor in Segundo who could help, but I don’t know that Pete would trust an ape doctor.”

“We all trusted Kira.”

“True.”

“How far is it, exactly?  South, north?  East?”

“It’s at the southern end of the valley.  As far away from Central City as it’s possible to get,” Galen added, before Virdon could voice the question.

“And they don’t get the latest news bulletins from the Council?”

“They may get them, but they apparently ignore most of them, at least according to my father.”  Galen didn’t need to remind Virdon about his father’s position on the High Council, nor of his father’s occasional disdain for the beliefs and practices of the Council.  Virdon accepted what went unsaid with a nod, and Galen continued, “The Prefect there has been in power for years, since I was a child, I think.  He had a falling out with Zaius, but according to Father, he has nothing to fear from the Council.  Segundo has a number of very wealthy landowners, and they’ll back Hadrian until their dying day, so they’ve proclaimed.  Every so often Zaius will pound the Council table over something that’s happened there, but that’s all he can do, just make noise.  The last few years, the Council has largely ignored Segundo altogether.”

“The path of least resistance?”

Galen puzzled that over, then nodded.  “Yes.”

“Sounds good to me.”

“I’ve never been there myself, but Father has, a while back.  He said it’s very bucolic.  He ventured the idea of moving there, but my mother wouldn’t hear of it.”

“What about Urko?  Any chance of him showing up there?”

“Well, I hesitate to say ‘never,’ but going by what my father has said, I think the locals would toss him out on his ear.”

“Then Segundo sounds like the Garden of Eden.  Comparatively speaking, anyway.  I’m in, Galen.”

Leaving the chimp to rest by himself for a few minutes, Virdon walked downstream and found himself a spot to sit near the tree Burke had chosen.  He sat there quietly for a few minutes, pulling petals off a wildflower and watching the stream splash against a cluster of small rocks. With no village nearby to remind him that in this world, for most humans every day was filled with backbreaking, largely unrewarding work, he could lull himself into thinking of picnics and camping trips with his family in places where streams were a source of amusement and not water for drinking and bathing and cooking.

At least he could if he didn’t look too closely at Burke, who hadn’t touched his lunch, in spite of having lost enough weight in the last three weeks that the angles of his face made Virdon wince.

“We’re going to head south,” he said after a while.  “To a place Galen knows, where we might be able to rest for a while.”

Burke replied without opening his eyes, “South?  Is that supposed to be a news flash?  Haven’t we been headed south for the last two weeks?  Or two hundred years?  I can’t tell the difference.”  He paused, then went on, “We’re sitting here doing nothing.  Is it Sunday?”

“Maybe.”

“Tell me when you’re ready, and we’ll walk.  And we’ll stop at a place that looks just like all the other places we’ve stopped.  Then we’ll walk some more.  There’s no novelty in it, Alan.  No need to make an announcement.”

“Say half an hour or so?”

Now Burke opened his eyes.  “Jeez, you know, the battery in my watch died.”

“Pete—”

“What do you want from me, Alan?  When you’re ready, I’ll get up and follow you.  I’ve been doing that ever since we got here.  Why change now?”  When Virdon didn’t reply, Burke persisted, “You’re my commanding officer.  You say ‘jump,’ I say ‘how high.’”

“All right, Pete, that’s enough.”

“Yeah, it is.  I just wish you believed it.”

Shaking his head, Virdon got up and walked back toward Galen.  He knew without looking that Burke had slumped back down into his “resting” position, and would eat no more than a bite or two of his food.

Wanda, damn you straight to hell, he thought.

 

 

FOUR

The Collector

_______________________________

 

The morning breeze drifted the scent of roses through the streets as Ariel made her way to the Prefect’s house.  An hour ago, when she’d left her own home, the air had been cooler and she’d wrapped a shawl around her shoulders.  Now, with the sun climbing higher above the hills, she didn’t need the extra warmth and she stopped for a minute to fold the cloth carefully and drape it over her arm.

Julian would laugh at her taking this long for what should have been no more than a twenty-minute trip.  But she loved these early morning hours when the streets were still quiet.  The few apes she passed along the way seemed to be in almost as reflective a mood as she was, and greeted her with broad smiles and cheerful hellos.  Later, she knew, everyone out in the streets would be in a rush, headed for their day’s work or chores.

There truly was no better place to live, she mused.  In her nineteen years she had traveled to enough of the outlying villages and towns to consider herself an expert on life in the southern territories.  Being away from the hustle and bustle of city life did have its occasional advantages, and she found it hard to argue with her father’s calling cousin Rafe’s home at the lakes a bit of paradise, but all things considered, she could never. . .

Deep in thought, she failed to notice a young chimp dashing across the street until they collided.

“Oh!” the youngster blurted.  “I’m sorry, ma’am!”

Ma’am? Ariel thought.

The young chimp—he couldn’t have been more than ten, from the look of him—took a step back and studied her up and down.  “I know you!  You’re Lucien’s mother.”

Ariel’s eyes widened.  “I’m Lucien’s sister.”

“Oh.”

“And you are?”

“Trevor.  Gaston is my brother.”

Gaston.  The noisiest of Lucien’s band of playmates.  Ariel sighed, thinking, Good gods, do I look old enough to be Lucien’s mother?  “Be a little more careful running around.  You could crash into one of the old ones.  They have very brittle bones, you know.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

And stop calling me ma’am!  “It was nice to meet you, Trevor.”

Without further ado, Trevor streaked off between two houses and disappeared.  Another sigh escaped as Ariel bent down to retrieve her shawl from where it lay crumpled in the road.  “I suppose next time I should bring the cart.  Or a suit of armor,” she murmured.

A few steps further on she nodded a good morning to Abel, the shopkeeper at her favorite fruit stand.  Apparently Abel had seen her collision with the speeding Trevor, because he smiled sympathetically and handed her a ripe oper whose golden skin was tinged with pink.  “Kissed by the gods,” Abel liked to say.  “These little ones,” he told her as he patted her shoulder.  “Never a thought past the end of their own noses.”

“We were like that,” Ariel replied.

“Never.  I was the most well-behaved of young apes.  My elders never failed to remark on it.”

Ariel took a bite of the oper and savored the sweet taste for a moment.  “I see.  And did they also remark on what a teller of falsehoods you were?”

Abel chuckled and reached for a broom to tidy up the small porch in front of his shop.  “Not at all.  My talent for fabrication didn’t appear until later years.  Where are you bound for this morning, my dear?”

“To see the Prefect.”

“On the most important of missions, I’m sure.”

“It is to me.”

“Then it must be important.  Here, wait a moment.”  Abel disappeared into the shop, and from its shadows Ariel could hear him rustling and bumping as he searched for something.  When he reappeared he wore a triumphant expression and held an unusual fruit in both hands.  “Give this to our honored Prefect with my compliments.  Tell him I thought he should have something special for breakfast on such a beautiful morning.”

Ariel frowned, studying the gift.  “What is it?”

“It’s called a grape fruit.”

“A grape fruit?” she scoffed.  “That looks nothing like a grape.  Grapes are tiny and purple.  This is yellow.  And. . .enormous.”

Abel pulled a soft cloth from the pocket of his smock and made a show of dusting the odd fruit.  “I know.  That was my reaction too.  But the trader who brought it to me from the western province was very insistent that its name is grape fruit.”  Finished with his chore at the same time Ariel finished her oper, he tucked the gift into her hands, then went on, “Tell the Prefect it’s most unusual.  It will make him do this.”  The merchant puckered his entire face into an expression that made Ariel burst into laughter.  “He can try it as it is, or he can put some sweet powder on top.”  Another thought made him ask, “Is it too heavy to carry?  I could send Mervis with it later.  Assuming the useless boy actually shows up to work rather than wandering off to the lake.”

“No, I’ll manage.  Thank you for the oper.”

“My pleasure always, my dear.”

The servant who opened the Prefect’s door was as goggle-eyed at his first glimpse of the grape fruit as Ariel had been.  In fact, Ariel thought, he had looked at her face for only a second before the yellow globe had his full attention.  He wasn’t bold enough to ask about it, though, and obviously hoped his master would allow him to touch it later.

Obviously, he was hoping a lot of things.

And writing epic stories about huge yellow fruits in his head.

Ariel cleared her throat.

The human’s head shot up and his cheeks flushed.  It made him resemble an oper.  “Yes, ma’am?”

Ariel’s shoulders slumped.  “Is the Prefect at home for Ariel, daughter of Toban?”

The human stepped aside, allowing her to enter the airy foyer of the Prefect’s home, then closed the door behind her.  “Please wait here.  I’ll see if the Prefect is available.”

To her relief, he didn’t tack another “ma’am” onto the end of that statement, just trotted off down the hall toward the back of the house.  With the grape fruit cradled safely in her arms, Ariel took a look around the foyer.  Like several of the newer homes in the city, the Prefect’s house boasted two stories, with a lovely staircase of polished wood rising out of the right side of the foyer.  The craftsman who had built the staircase, Ariel knew, was a master whose working time the Prefect had usurped for almost two months.  His efforts had been well worth the time and the expense, because the wood gleamed in the morning sun slanting in through the row of windows at the front of the house.  The floor beneath Ariel’s feet was of cut stone of varying colors that made it look like a game board.  To her left was a large room with more windows and a high, rounded ceiling.  Above the fireplace at its far end hung a beautiful portrait of the Prefect and his wife.

“A splendid likeness, isn’t it?”

Ariel turned, and juggled the grape fruit enough to extend a hand to the Prefect.  “Good morning, sir.”

“And to you, daughter of Toban.”  The Prefect winked.  “How is your father, that scoundrel?  I haven’t seen him in weeks.”

“He’s well.  Off to the lakes to visit his cousin.”

“Preparing for the games, no doubt.”

“Of course.”  The Prefect’s eyes had fallen on the yellow fruit.  Ariel extended it to him with both hands.  “A gift from Abel, sir.  He calls it a grape fruit.”  Prepared to offer the same bits of explanation Abel had given her, Ariel was surprised when the Prefect seemed to know exactly what he was receiving.  Written in his eyes was his plan for a grape fruit feast.  “Have you eaten these before?” she asked with a frown.

“Oh, yes.  A long time ago.  A neighbor of my parents had a grape fruit tree when I was a child.  But insects got to it, sadly, and that was the end of that.  I wasn’t aware there were other trees on the trade route, or I would have badgered Abel into finding me some of these before now.  Willum?  Willum!”

Summoned by the Prefect’s call, the human reappeared.

“Take this into the kitchen and ask Kayl to prepare it for me.  Sliced on a plate, the way she fixes the oranges.”

“Of course, Prefect.”

“Thank you.”

As Willum left them again, the Prefect ushered Ariel into the large room and pointed out one of a pair of comfortable-looking chairs near the fireplace.  He let her settle into it, then took the other and folded his hands in his lap.

“Sir—”

“I know your family well enough to know you’re not shy.  Out with it.”

This was her first private conversation with the governor of her home city.  Hadrian might well have a reputation for kindness and fairness to those he governed, both ape and human, but he was still the most important ape in the city, the one with the power to crush her request without even hearing her out.  For two days she had rehearsed this conversation in her mind, letting it take both positive and negative turns.  Oddly, in her mental versions of this morning, the Prefect had not sat quietly in his chair, waiting for her to speak.  He had kept things moving along, as Julian would say.  Growing nervous, she folded her hands together and took a deep breath.

“I’d like to be a member of your next expedition to the old city, your honor, sir.”

Hadrian grinned at her.

That hadn’t happened in her rehearsals, either.

“I would—”

His expression softened, and he held out a hand in a calming gesture.  “Don’t drive yourself into a panic, young Ariel.  As I said, I know your family.  And the Professor and I have had many a dinner, and long evenings in front of his fireplace, talking about his students.  He thinks very highly of you.”

“He does?”

“Of course he does.  Did you think not?”

“Um, well, no, sir.”

“Why is it that you want to go to Bakoor?  In your own words.”

Ariel’s mouth opened, then closed again.  It seemed to her that someone else had opened and closed it, as if she were a puppet.  Her heart pattered crazily for a minute, and she was sure that if she were a human, her face would be as red as an apple.  “I think we have a responsibility, sir,” she began slowly.  “To ourselves, as individuals, and to our society as a whole.  Not to ignore what came before, but to examine it in all its particulars, good and bad, and to learn from it.  The Professor taught us a phrase: ‘Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.’”

Hadrian smiled.  “His favorite.  He might as well have it embroidered on his tunic.”

“I believe—”

“You’re a lover of pictures, aren’t you?  Jimsa told me,” Hadrian explained before Ariel could ask.

“Not just pictures.”

“Artifacts of all sorts, then.  There’s much to be seen in Bakoor.”

“And made use of?”

Nodding, Hadrian got up from his chair and beckoned her over to a bookcase set into one wall.  From the top shelf of the case he selected an object: a white bowl of a material Ariel had never seen before.  To her delight (and some dismay) he thrust the bowl into her hands so that she could examine it more closely.  The smooth, cool surface, without a single blemish, both puzzled and intrigued her.

“What is it made of, sir?”

“I haven’t a clue.  But look.”  Hadrian took the bowl back, held it between his hands, and suddenly let go of it.  Ariel gasped as it hit the floor with a loud bong, rolled a little to one side, and quivered to a stop.

“It didn’t break!”

“No, it didn’t break.”  Hadrian retrieved it, let her see that it was still unblemished, then tucked it back into its place on the shelf.  “I dropped it by accident not long after I brought it home.  I must admit, I sat here like a child bouncing it on the floor, until my wife threatened to toss me out onto the street.  Here’s another beautiful piece, but this is different; this kind will break.”  Gently he placed into her hands an object as heavy as stone, but as clear as water.  When she looked closely, she could see that it was carved into the shape of a sleeping animal.  “It’s made of glass.  It’s a rabbit, see?”

“What is it for?”

“Decoration, I imagine.  I’d love to know where to find glass in its natural state.  We could make so much use of it.  And these—”

Metal spoons and knives, with exquisitely shaped handles.  Another piece of metal, round, flat in the center, shaped like lace around the outside.  Yet another piece, long and slim, with a wide, flat base and a small cup at the top.

“Humans made all these things,” Ariel breathed.

“I assume so.  Some day, I’ll show you our prize possession.  Also metal, and it weighs as much as a horse.”

Ariel puzzled that over, trying out, then discarding possibilities.  Finally, she recalled a bit of gossip passed on to her by the mother of one of Lucien’s classmates.  “It’s the tub, isn’t it?  The water tub with the odd feet like the talons of an eagle holding a ball.  I heard that it took four humans to carry it into the house.”

“Word gets around, doesn’t it?”

Before she could stop herself, Ariel went on, “And your wife bathes in it, just like a human.”

Hadrian grinned at her again.  “She does.”

“In water.”

“Warm water, scented with flowers.  She finds it very relaxing.  And not at all shameful.”  Still smiling, he returned to his chair and said as Ariel was settling herself back into her seat, “It’s not a holiday excursion, going to Bakoor.  It’s nearly ten miles, over rough roads, and there’s a lot of dust and dirt involved.  We sleep on pallets, in tents, or out underneath the stars.  Yes, there are marvels to be seen, but it’s not for someone who tires easily.”

“I don’t, sir.”

“You intend to marry young Julian, is that right?”

“Yes.”

“One of our finest young minds, according to the Professor.  He’ll end up being the territory attorney if he lives up to his potential.”

“Oh, he will, sir,” Ariel told him proudly.

“I hear he’s been negotiating for a piece of land up in the hills, near the grove of orange trees.  A beautiful spot for a home.  You’ll have a view of the whole city.  And I wouldn’t be surprised if eventually you have a home as grand as this.”

Ariel goggled at him.  “In my daydreams.”

“Daydreams sometimes give us something to aim for, don’t you think?”

“I suppose so, sir.”

Their conversation was interrupted by a sudden, shrill cry from outside, followed by a burst of loud sobbing.  Immediately, Hadrian was on his feet, headed for the back of the house.  Ariel followed him as he went out the rear door onto the terrace.  Out there, crumpled into a heap at the foot of the low stone wall that circled Hadrian’s property, was a small human girl with a badly scraped leg.  What had happened was apparent: she’d been trying to climb the wall and had slipped and fallen.  Two other human children stood nearby, the older of them calling and beckoning to Willum, who had come out another door.  But before Willum could reach the child, Hadrian had knelt beside her to examine her injured shin.

“Now, Isha,” the orangutan soothed, “you know about trying to climb on these rocks.”

The little girl continued to sob as her arms reached up to grasp the Prefect around his neck.  “I hurt me, Papa Hadrian,” she howled.

“I know you did.”

“I sorry.”

“I know you are.  Here, let’s let Willum take you to your mother.”

Gently, Hadrian turned the weeping child over to Willum and stood with Ariel to watch as Willum carried her off to one of the humans’ houses at the rear of the property.  The other children tagged along, sure they would find something worth gossiping about as the little one’s wounds were addressed.

When they were alone, Ariel ventured, “She called you ‘papa.’”

“Yes.”

“The children must be very fond of you.”

“They are.  And I am of them, ape and human alike.  They are alike, you know, in so many ways.”

“Yes.  I know.”

Hadrian paused, studying the young female’s expression.  “I dare say they’d have my head on a spike in Central City if they knew half of what goes on here.”

“I won’t—”

“Tell them?  Of course not.”  Another pause, then the Prefect said softly, “Times have changed, Ariel.  And they’ll change again.  Above anything else, I believe we’re powerless to prevent that.”

“We’re doomed to repeat history?”

Hadrian looked off into the distance, his face solemn, and said nothing.  After a long while he turned to look at Ariel again.  “Being a part of the expedition carries with it a great responsibility.  You may learn things you would prefer not to know.  More so, that other apes would prefer you did not know.  Segundo has lived under a veil of protection for a number of years now, but that may not always be so.  There might come a time when your life is at risk because of what you know.  Are you willing to take that chance?”  Before she could answer, he held up a finger to silence her.  “The small ones would say, ‘yes, yes, Papa, take me with you.  Show me the wonderful toys in Bakoor.’”

Ariel shook her head.  “Show me the truth, Prefect.  When I come back, I’ll show it to Julian.  And together we’ll stand with you, no matter what comes.”

The Prefect laughed softly.  “I do love it when the Professor is right.”

 

 

FIVE

The Yellow Brick Road

______________________________

 

“Would you look at that,” Virdon murmured.

Galen moved up to stand alongside him and studied the view ahead, trying to decide which part of it had his human friend so fascinated.  His sounds of curiosity made Virdon turn to look at him.

“The road, Galen.”

“What?  Oh, yes, the old road.  There are sections of it here and there.  Not very many.”

“That stretch looks like it runs for a couple of miles.”

Consumed by his own thoughts, Virdon took the lead again and picked his way down the scrubby hillside until he was standing at the edge of the run of pavement.  Up close, it didn’t look as well-preserved; sections of it were heaved up, either by earth movement or intruding tree roots, the whole thing was heavily pocked with potholes of varying sizes and depths, and a big arc of it off in the distance looked to have been eaten away by fast-running water in a flash flood.  But still, it was a paved road, a remnant of human civilization.

“I can see how it was possible to travel more quickly from place to place, along a road like this,” Galen offered.

Virdon huffed out a laugh.  “It was in a lot better shape in my time, Galen.”

“I assumed that.”

“The whole country was interconnected by highways like this.  North to south, east to west.”

“And did you do that?  Travel across the whole country by road?”

“I did once.”

Galen leaned over for a closer look at the surface of the pavement, reaching out to touch it with a tentative hand.  Out of the corner of his eye he could see Burke walking up to join them, his forehead still creased with the frown he’d worn almost non-stop for the past several days.  Burke kept moving until he was standing in the middle of the road, staring off to the north, hands stuck in the pockets of his homespun trousers, blinking repeatedly at the glare of the sun on the pale dirt surrounding, and lying on, the road.  He’d been there a minute or two when he wandered off to the shoulder of the road and bent down to retrieve something he’d spotted there.  When he’d lifted it high enough for Virdon to see what it was, the older man walked over to join him, with Galen bringing up the rear.

“What is it?” the chimp asked.  With a nod from Burke, he took it into his hands and turned it over and over.

It was surprisingly heavy.  A piece of metal, Galen realized, oddly shaped and bearing remnants of red, white, and blue paint.  Just barely visible were the remains of the number 5.

“Gotta speak to my Congressman,” Burke announced, aiming for a sarcastic tone but falling somewhat short of it.  He sounded more tired than anything else.  “California Highway Department’s doing a lousy job of upkeep.  Where are my tax dollars going, anyway?”

None of that made much sense to Galen, so he turned to Virdon for an explanation.  “What does the number mean?”

“This was Interstate 5.  In our time, it ran from—”

“Just north of L.A. all the way to Canada,” Burke said.

More mysteries.  “You mentioned this ‘L.A.’ place,” Galen recalled.  “That’s south, beyond the mountains.”

“Right.  The big ol’ nasty Forbidden Zone.”

“But Canada?  That’s a place as well?”

“Another country.”

“North of here,” Virdon added.  “This was California.  If you traveled north, you’d go through Oregon, then Washington State, then Canada.”

“Is it very far?”

“Fifteen hundred miles, maybe.”

To Galen, who had never been more than a few miles from his birthplace before his life interconnected with Virdon’s and Burke’s, that number seemed colossal.  “But you said to ‘go cross country’—that would be traveling east.”

“Yes.”

“And that was how far?”

“Twice as far.  Three thousand miles.”

“And you did that.  That’s astounding.  I don’t know of any ape who’s ever traveled that far.”

Virdon nodded in acknowledgment.  “You have to consider, though, Galen, that when I did it, I was in an automobile that could go a hundred miles an hour.  That’s a lot different from traveling on foot, or with a horse.  I could go from here to New York in less time than it would take you to get from here to Central City.”

The chimp thought that over for a minute, studying the battered metal sign as he did so.  Finally, he shook his head and handed the sign back to Burke.  “I don’t think I would want to travel that fast.”

“You never know, you might like it,” Virdon smiled.

“No, no.”

“You’re missing a lot, pal,” Burke said with an edge in his voice.  “The wind in your hair, bugs in your teeth.  It really makes you feel alive.”  His attention wasn’t on Galen; it was fixed somewhere off in the distance.  With his back to his two comrades he tossed the sign off into the dirt near where he’d found it.  “I traveled this road once.  I was at Edwards.  A friend of mine was up in Oregon, doing some work with the USGS near Mount Saint Helen’s.  I had a couple days’ leave, so I got on my bike and took off.  Just me and the road, all the way to Oregon.”

“On a bicycle?” Galen asked.

Burke snorted at him.  “Motorcycle.  Harley XL1200C.”  He paused, then swung around to look the chimp in the eye.  “What’s down there, really?  In the Forbidden Zone?”

“I don’t know.  I’ve never been there.  I told you that.”

“Nobody ever went, and e-mailed back some pictures?”

A glance from Virdon helped bolster Galen’s flagging tolerance for the continuing stream of references he couldn’t understand.  Still, it took a moment of effort for him to swallow the sharp retort he’d almost spoken.  “There are stories,” he said eventually.  “I believe there may have been drawings at one time, but I don’t know what became of them.  Maybe Zaius has them locked away somewhere.  As children we like to frighten each other with stories about great pits of fire—that someday the Forbidden Zone might rise up as if it were a living thing, and swallow all of the world.”  He smiled fleetingly at the memory, then went on, “Really, I don’t think there’s anything there at all.  Just desert.”

“There was desert in our time,” Virdon prodded him.  “To the east, beyond those mountains.”

“And then there was Vegas,” Burke put in.

“Vegas?” said Galen.

“Showgirls.  Twenty-four-hour gambling.  An Egyptian pyramid.  Theme hotels.  People dressed like Elvis Presley.  I’ll tell you, other people might have left their hearts in San Francisco, but I left a lot of my pay in Vegas.  Except for once.  Popped a handful of quarters in the slots and won forty-one hundred bucks.  Now that was a weekend.  The hotel comped me a suite, and I had three lobsters for dinner.  And after dinner, there was—what was her name, anyway?  Janine, Jolene, something like that.  Man, that girl could—”

He saw the expressions of his friends and stopped cold in mid-sentence.

“What?” he asked.

“I think you’ve lost your sanity,” Galen told him.

“Why?  Because I’m reminiscing about a weekend when I had plenty of food in my belly and no price on my head?”

Virdon went to the younger man and slung an arm around his shoulders.  “We ought to keep moving.”

“Oh, right.  So we can get to the place.”

“Segundo,” Galen said.

“The place,” Burke corrected him.  “That’s so radically different from all the other places.”

Virdon prodded him into moving southward, relieved when Burke didn’t protest.  He didn’t bother to look back but knew Galen’s frustration would be visible on his face.  Most of the time, the chimp accepted references to the astronauts’ time period with either good humor or puzzlement, and would ask for explanations until his mind seemed to have grown too full of these novelties to accommodate any more.  Today, certainly because of the tone Burke had used to talk about his memories, Galen seemed to have no patience at all for things he didn’t understand.

They’d been walking for a couple of hours when Galen’s sharper hearing picked up a familiar sound from behind them: the steady clop-clop of a horse’s hooves.  Moving quickly to the side of the road, he gestured for Virdon and Burke to join him, though neither man needed to be encouraged to hide once they’d caught the sound.  Crouching behind a thick clump of scrub brush, they watched until the source of the sound came into view: a chimpanzee in rural clothing at the reins of a wagon full of hay.

“Looks like that ride you thought we could catch,” Virdon smiled.

“Allow me,” Galen offered.

Without waiting for agreement from either of the two humans, he stepped into the road and cheerfully flagged the wagon to a stop.  “Good afternoon, friend!” he greeted the other chimp.

“Good day.”

“I see you’re traveling in my direction.”

“South.”

“Yes, yes.  Allow me to introduce myself.  I am a traveling—” He’d had the word on the tip of his tongue, something Virdon had told him about some time back that seemed perfect for this occasion.  What was it?  Mincer?  No—“minstrel.  I entertain, with humorous stories and songs.  My horse went lame the day before yesterday, and I had to leave the poor brute behind.  Could I impose upon you for a ride?  Seeing that you’re traveling in my direction.”

The chimp looked off to the side of the road.  “You have humans with you.”

“Yes, just the two.  They assist me with my entertainments.  Servants, really, but it makes them feel good to contribute to my work.  You understand.  They do love to perform.”  Out of the corner of his eye he caught the scowl that had earned from Burke.  “Silly creatures, aren’t they?  But I do try to humor them.”

The other chimp thought the situation over carefully, with more than one long look back at his wagonful of hay, as if he thought Galen and the humans would attempt to make off with it.  “I suppose it’s all right,” he sighed.  “But I’m only going as far as Kings.”

“That’s fine, that’s just fine.  Come along, you two.”  Bubbling with good spirits, not entirely for the other chimp’s benefit, Galen hopped onto the seat beside the farmer and gestured Virdon and Burke into the back of the wagon.  Neither man objected; a ride on a cushion of soft hay was as close to deluxe transportation as they could find in Galen’s world, and it was a chance to nap instead of trudging along a dusty road.  At least, it was a chance for Virdon to nap.  Burke, half-sitting in a corner of the wagon bed, closed his eyes intermittently but did nothing more than doze fitfully.  The rest of the time he kept an uneasy watch down the road behind them.

The farmer, for his part, did not seem to consider conversation an important part of his day.  He drove the wagon in silence broken only by an occasional cluck to his horse.

“Any news from Central City?” Galen ventured after a while.

The farmer snorted loudly.

More time passed without a word from their host, and Galen began to wonder if the other chimp might be hard of hearing.  Then, abruptly, the farmer spat, “Rules and laws.  They have no idea what life is like, what hardships there are for apes who make their living off the land.  No matter if there’s been no rain and the crop is a failure.  We still owe the tax.  We’re supposed to conjure it out of thin air!”  Stirred out of his silence, he was now in no better a mood than Burke.  “A minstrel?  I never heard of such a thing.”

“It brings me joy to make others laugh,” Galen told him.

The farmer snorted again.  “Sounds like nonsense to me.  Songs and stories, when there’s work to be done?  Crops to be harvested?  Insects to battle?  Water to be carried from the river?  Who has time for songs and stories?  Not anyone with good sense.”

To Galen, the road to Segundo suddenly seemed as long as if he were being forced to travel it on his hands and knees.

 

 

SIX

A Little Peace and Quiet

______________________________

 

Hadrian heard the small splashing sounds before he was halfway down the stairs and knew from them where he would find Reeka.  Shaking his head, he followed the sounds to the sunny room off the kitchen.  Sure enough, Reeka was reclining in her bath tub, a spray of small white flowers tucked above one ear, paddling at the scented water with the fingers of one hand.

“I feel terribly decadent,” she told him with a grin.

“Well, if the Prefect’s wife can’t indulge in a bit of that, then who can?”

She watched him take a seat on the stool near the doorway, then flicked her wet fingers to spray a little water at him.  “You’re being lazy yourself, aren’t you?  This late in the morning and you haven’t gone to the office yet?”

“I thought I deserved a little time to myself.”

“Help, help,” Reeka teased.  “Someone has stolen my husband and left a lazy stranger in his place.”

Matching her grin, Hadrian leaned back against the wall and stretched his legs out in front of him.  The oils Reeka had mixed into her bath made the room smell sweet, like the field of wildflowers up near the pond.  That and the warmth of the sunlight slanting in through the window made him feel pleasantly drowsy.

“When will you leave?” Reeka asked.

“Tomorrow, I think.  The team is anxious to go back to Bakoor.”

“The team?  And their leader is simply humoring them?”

“Of course.”

Reeka cupped a little of the water in her palm and studied it through half-closed eyes, watching the way it slipped back and forth when she tipped her hand.  “This year’s crop of opers is exceptional, don’t you think?  I don’t think I’ve ever tasted sweeter fruit.  And so many!  I had some oper jam on my bread this morning and it was like ambrosia from the gods.”  He smiled again, then they were both silent for a few minutes, listening to the usual morning sounds of the estate: clattering and soft conversation in the kitchen as Willum’s wife Kayl and her sister cleaned up the breakfast dishes and pots and prepared for the midday meal; the singing and laughter of the smaller children playing out near the humans’ houses; the distant noise of an axe cutting into wood.

“The little one seems to have recovered,” Hadrian said finally.  “No permanent damage.  She’s out there with the others, as if nothing happened at all.”

“It was only a scrape.”

“I remember Arn taking to his bed for a whole day after that spill off the horse.”

Reeka sighed.  “How we managed to produce an ape with such a never-ending love of the dramatic, I will never know.”  Before he could answer, she rose to her feet, shook herself a little, then reached for the thick, soft cloth Hadrian held out to her.  With a helpful hand from her husband she climbed out of the tub, wrapped herself in the cloth and snuggled into it.  The movement made the sprig of flowers slip away from her ear, but Hadrian caught it before it hit the floor and handed it back to her.  She made a show of drying herself off with the cloth, holding an edge of it under her eyes like a veil, enjoying the response she got from him.  Finally, she took her robe from its hook near the door, slipped it on, and tied its belt around her middle.

“The messenger brought a packet of papers for you when you were out in the field,” she confessed.  “When he didn’t find you at the office, he came here.  I left them on your table.”

“I saw them.”

An examination of his expression told her nothing.  “From the Council?”

“Yes.  The usual reminder that they are the ultimate authority in the land and Segundo exists under their sufferance.”

Reeka let out a small sound of relief.  “Nothing more specific than that.”

“They have to pound their chests every few months,” Hadrian reminded her.  “I can’t imagine any of them taking the trouble to travel all the way down here.  As long as they get their tax payments on time, they’ll leave us alone.”

“Still, I—”

“Don’t tempt fate, my dear.”  That said, Hadrian moved toward the doorway.  “I think I will go to the office for a little while.  I should finish the preparations for the trip to Bakoor.  We’ve added a new member to the team, you know: Toban’s daughter.  I’ve been wondering when she would work up the courage to ask me, and she finally did.  She’ll make a good addition.  Very curious, and very smart.  The Professor thinks the world of her.”

Reeka’s nose wrinkled.  “The Professor thinks the world of nearly every student who comes under his wing.”

“As well he should.”

“I think both of you are easily swayed by a little curiosity.”

Hadrian stopped in his tracks and laughed.  “Not something I would think you’d complain about.  After all, it was your curiosity that drew me to you.  Or have you forgotten being a young student eager to learn about the world?”

“That was long ago.”

He looked her up and down, then shook his head.  “I can still see that young female bent over her scrolls, sitting in the front of Markan’s classroom.  She hasn’t changed much.  Still inquisitive, still thoughtful.  Still willing to accept each new day as a fountain of possibilities.”  His expression shifted into a teasing leer, as if he was thinking not of her mind at all but something else.  Snorting softly, she swatted him with the drying cloth and urged him out the back door of the house.  “I’ll be home for the midday meal,” he told her over his shoulder.  “Don’t eat all the opers before I get back.”

 

* * * * *

 

He was greeted by ape and human alike as he walked the short distance to his office in the middle of Segundo’s business sector.  The fine morning seemed to have put everyone into a mellow mood; a few of the humans were singing as they went about their work.  Not that the singing was unusual—Hadrian enjoyed it and encouraged it, although it did attract a noticeable scowl from the gorillas more often than not.

And, as Hadrian expected, there was Sergeant Kull stalking up and down near the city hall, wearing a look that would have been appropriate if he had had nothing but sour milk for breakfast.

“Sergeant.”

“Sir,” Kull said, although it was more a grunt than a word.

“All is well, I assume?”

“The street cleaners were an hour late coming here.”

That might explain the scowl: an extra hour of stepping around (and smelling) ripe horse droppings.  “I’ll speak to their supervisor.  Anything else?”

Kull held his tongue.

“Well?” Hadrian prompted.

“Those small humans,” the gorilla barked.

With a brow hiked in response to the sound, Hadrian replied, “Tossing berries at you again, were they?  You might try gathering some ammunition the next time.  Preparation is the core of any good defense, Sergeant.”

“I do not play with humans!” Kull roared, remembering midway through whom he was addressing and forcing his voice to drop to a reasonably respectful level.  “Sir.”

“They’re children.  Not wolves.”

“They act as if they were reared by wolves.”

Hadrian had a sudden mental picture of an infant Kull rolling in the dust with his nursery-mates under the watchful eye of several females, all of them chattering happily—and tossing berries.  Then the vision changed, to a small, angry version of Kull twisting the neck of a chicken.  Shuddering, he blinked the image away, and told the gorilla, “Children, Sergeant.  No matter what their species.  Please remember that, as long as you serve in my city.  No child is to be mistreated.”

“Yes, sir,” Kull grumbled.

Leaving Kull to complain only to himself, Hadrian completed the journey to his office, greeted his assistant and accepted the morning’s collection of messages and notes.  After closing the inner office door behind him, he pushed the curtains at each window as far open as they would go, then settled himself into the comfortable chair behind his desk.  He’d only been there a minute or two when thoughts of his meeting with Toban’s daughter filled his mind.  Yes, she would be a wonderful addition to the Bakoor expedition team.  Hadrian had seen several of her drawings, thanks to the Professor, and was sure that the young female’s eye for detail would serve the entire team well as they searched the ruins of Bakoor for artifacts.  She had been obviously thrilled by each piece from his collection, and he had seen in her eyes a wonder that had grown a bit jaded in his own.

What impressed him more than her curiosity was a trait the Professor felt essential for anyone involved in the reclamation of artifacts: her ability to keep her own counsel.  Unlike many of the females, she had no time for gossip, and preferred to spend her hours away from school either working on her drawings or instructing the little ones of the ape and human communities.

He would have to observe her closely during the expedition tomorrow and see how she reacted to her first glimpses into the old world.

See if she truly could keep her mouth shut.

The words my head on a spike drifted through Hadrian’s mind, and it took a good deal of effort to convince himself not to shudder.

 

 

SEVEN

Segundo

______________________________

 

The two astronauts and Galen were standing more or less side by side halfway up the slope that overlooked the city, mostly hidden from the view of anyone below by thick underbrush and a scattering of young trees.  After a breakfast of fruit and some of the bread they’d been given at a farmhouse they’d passed the day before, and their fill of cool water from a stream a few miles back, they were in theory ready to face the day: the third since their ride with the farmer.

“So this is Segundo,” Virdon commented.

A broad smile broke across Galen’s face.  “Yes.  Impressive, isn’t it?”

The city below spread as far as they could see in three directions, and judging by the number of humans and apes already moving about the streets at this early hour, it boasted a good-sized population.  Several hundred, Galen had heard.  But as the minutes passed and he examined the bustle below, he amended that: several hundred apes.  And several hundred humans.  Burke had noticed that too, judging by the look on his face, and was none too pleased about it.

“I thought we were going to a village,” he muttered.

“It’s okay, Pete,” Virdon replied, prompting Burke to stare at him.  The younger man’s eyes made Virdon think of a phrase his grandfather had once used: like two burned holes in a blanket.  At least, he reminded himself, Burke had eaten a little breakfast, though not more than just enough to keep himself moving.  Trying not to grimace at that, Virdon went on, “Galen says they treat humans well here.  We’ll be fine.”

“That’s true,” Galen chimed in.  “We wouldn’t have come here if I didn’t think it was safe.”

Burke didn’t buy that for a moment, just stood with his arms crossed tightly against his chest.  “Pete,” Virdon encouraged him, “you need a decent night’s sleep, and some food.”

“I’m fine.”

“Let’s aim for a little more than ‘fine,’ then.”

“You know,” Galen told Virdon, hoping to distract Burke, “I think it’s bigger than Central City.  Although, the Council’s egos being what they are, I suppose they would never admit that.”

“You go,” Burke said.  “I’ll make camp up here somewhere.”

“You are not going to stay up in the hills by yourself.  We’re going together, just as we always do.”

The chimpanzee wasn’t surprised when Burke didn’t answer him, but to his dismay he had lost Virdon’s attention as well.  As had happened so many times before, the older astronaut’s thoughts had drifted elsewhere.  Eventually Virdon noticed Galen waiting expectantly.

“My kingdom for a map,” the man smiled.

“Which means—?”

“I’d trade everything I own for a decent map.  So I could figure out where we are.”

Galen chuckled.  “And since you own so very much—”  The astronaut nodded in agreement.  Their bedrolls and a few odds and ends to help them survive from day to day didn’t add up to much in the way of worldly possessions.  “We do have maps, but I imagine they’re not what you have in mind.”  A quick glance around located a stick with a pointed end.  Galen brushed away the litter on a small patch of ground and began to use the stick to sketch out their surroundings.  “I wasn’t what one would call well-traveled before I met you two, but I do have a fairly good memory.  As best as I can recall, this is the lay of the land.  Central City is here, and here are the old human cities we visited.”

“Oakland and San Francisco,” Virdon nodded, crouching down for a closer look.

“And the sea is here.  Now, the valley runs down this way, with mountains on both sides, and the forest of the giant trees is here, I think.  Segundo is here, and beyond that, to the east and south, are more mountains.”

Nodding, Virdon took the stick and sketched in a few additions.  “Here, there was desert, for hundreds of miles.  Way over here was something we called the Grand Canyon.  You should visit that someday, Galen.  It’s spectacular.”

“You’re drawing it wrong,” Burke said.

“The Grand Canyon?” Galen frowned.  “We haven’t drawn it at all.”

Shaking his head, Burke crouched down and pointed to the spot in the dirt where Galen had placed the two ancient cities, then made a reversed “C” with the thumb and fingers of his right hand.  “San Francisco Bay was like this.  There was a bridge in between.”  He tapped the tip of his index finger against the tip of his thumb.  “You’ve got that opening way too wide.  And this”—he wiggled his thumb—“isn’t long enough.”

“Perhaps I’ve made a mistake,” Galen offered.  “I was only there that one time, and it’s been a while since I studied the Council’s maps.”

Virdon considered the drawing.  “A lot of San Francisco was built on landfill.  I suppose a good-sized earthquake might have submerged some of it.”

“So long, Golden Gate Bridge,” Burke replied.

“But we were in San Francisco,” Galen said, confused.

“We were in the southern part of it,” Virdon replied glumly.  “It went north for four or five miles beyond where we were.  At least it used to.”

Trying to press onward, to break Virdon out of this new melancholy, the chimp asked brightly, “Have you seen the giant trees?  They’re truly extraordinary.”

“The giant sequoias?  Yes, I’ve seen them.”

“I don’t know that word.  Say it again.”

“Sequoia.  It’s an old Native American word.  And Segundo is a Spanish word.  It means, or meant, ‘second.’  Which would be appropriate for the second largest city.”  Virdon intended to go on, but something else in Galen’s rough sketch caught his eye.  He took another long look down the slope at Segundo and asked, “Is there a human city near here?”

The chimp followed Virdon’s line of sight, then scratched idly above one ear as he thought.  “I think there must be.  I remember Zaius mentioning it once.  Wh—”  He cut himself off, smiling at his human friend as more of Zaius’s comments came to mind, along with memories of the party where the Chief Councilor had made them.  “You mean because of the building materials?  Hadrian—the Prefect—is well known as a scavenger.  It’s given him a rather, well, I suppose you’d say it makes him the butt of jokes from far and wide.  ‘Instead of building decent structures, the silly fool drags back blocks of stone from the ruins.’”

“Concrete.”

“Hmm?”

“It’s called concrete.  Hadrian apparently has his work force cut chunks of concrete from the ruins and haul them back here.  It might make him the butt of jokes, but it also makes his buildings very sturdy, provided he’s got them mortared together properly.”

“One good earthquake, and it’ll all come tumbling down.”

That had come from Burke.  Virdon glanced at him, but rather than keep watching him, and possibly set him off into another burst of temper, he returned his attention to the streets below.  “Galen,” he asked after a minute, “does the old city have a name?”

A few months back, Galen’s response would have been “What difference does it make?”  But he had traveled so many miles with Virdon that he could almost read the man’s mind.  Virdon might be looking at the apes and humans hurrying along the streets of Segundo, but he was seeing another place, one he was determined to return to if the journey took the rest of his life to complete.

To please his friend, Galen let his own mind shift into the past: to the party at Zaius’s home, a warm evening of good food, stimulating conversation, and the promise of a fine career in the Council for a bright young chimp not long out of school.  A fire had been crackling in the arched stone fireplace and laughter had filled the air.

“Bakoor,” Galen said.  “I’m sure that was it, because Zaius said it sounded like ‘backward.’”

Burke responded before Virdon could.  “You should’ve told the pompous ass it sounds like ‘Bakersfield.’”

The chimp looked to Virdon for confirmation, and the blond man nodded.  “Baker’s Field,” Galen mused.  “Did it have some connection with bakers?”  This time neither of the astronauts responded.  To his dismay Galen noticed where on the map Virdon’s eyes had fallen.  Burke had noticed it too, and was watching his commanding officer.  “That’s the Forbidden Zone, Alan,” Galen said firmly.  “There’s nothing there.  Nothing at all.”

“He wants to see it anyway,” Burke said.

“But why?”

“Here,” Virdon said, pointing.  “There was a company that manufactured aircraft.  They’d have computers.  Some of it might still be there.  If we could get beyond the Forbidden Zone—”

“There’s nothing there,” Galen insisted.  “A few apes have ventured down there, against all advice and good sense.  It’s just a black pit.  Rocks, and sand.  Really, Alan.  You won’t find what you’re looking for if we cross those mountains.  It might look close by, drawn in the dirt like that, but it would take weeks of hard climbing, with disappointment as a reward.  You won’t find any answers there, truly.”  Galen reached out to thump his knuckles against his friend’s chest.  “Let’s stick with the original plan: a nice visit to Segundo, a day or two to relax, and then you can drag us to Bakoor to see if the Prefect’s left anything of interest there.”  He was already on his feet, beckoning to the two humans.  “Come on, come on.  The longer we sit here, the longer we do without their hospitality.  I’m sure I can talk us into a decent meal and a place to rest in the household of some generous soul.”

Again, no answers.

“Food?” Galen suggested.

Virdon’s face had fallen into the mask of sorrow Galen had seen so many times.  Burke seemed simply distracted.

“Your family didn’t live there, Alan.”

Still nothing.

“I shouldn’t have said ‘black pit.’  That was thoughtless of me.”

Nothing.

“Did you know someone there?”

Finally, Virdon’s eyes shifted.  He said something that was barely more than a whisper; covered by the rustle of the breeze, it was lost.  Then, a little more loudly, he said, “Fifteen million people lived there, Galen.  That whole basin was populated, from here to here.  I flew into that airport many times.  Yes, I had friends there.”  His voice trailed off again and he shifted so that his back was to the map. “Damn it all,” he muttered.

Virdon’s pain seemed to rouse Burke out of his own mood.  He sat looking at Virdon for a minute, then offered quietly, “Look, Alan—the people you knew would have been gone a long time before whatever happened, happened.  That picture of New York that Farrow showed us was taken in 2503, so things were still okay then.  They lived their lives, Alan.  All of them lived their lives.”

Rather than accept that, or even reject it out loud, Virdon pushed himself up from the ground and walked rapidly away, cutting across the hillside.  Galen and Burke could barely see him when he finally stopped and sat down again and buried his face in his hands.

“Damn,” Burke said vehemently.

“We’ll keep searching,” Galen told him.  “Somewhere, there’s got to be—”

Burke stared at him.  “There’s no way home, Galen.  It doesn’t get any more possible the more he obsesses about it.  We might find a functioning computer somewhere, so he can find out what’s in the flight record, but nobody in this world has a nice, shiny spaceship in their closet, a way to launch it, and the fuel to run it.  Even if they did, we ran into some kind of cosmic storm a thousand years ago.  What’s to say it’s in the same place?  What’s to say it still exists at all?  Nobody in Vegas would take those odds, Galen.  There’s no way home.”

Galen shrugged a little.  “My mother used to tell me, if you have no dreams, then they can’t possibly come true.”

“She was probably talking about you growing up to be the next Chief Councilor.”

“But still—”

“Do you honestly think somebody’s hiding a spaceship somewhere?  We can’t even find anybody who’s got indoor plumbing.”

Burke got up, then, too, and rummaged around the hillside, kicking at small stones.

“There is always hope, Pete,” Galen told him.

“Of what?”

“Maybe not of finding a spaceship.  But we can cross the mountains.  Maybe not to the south, but to the north.  Maybe not all of your human cities were destroyed.  Maybe in one of them we’ll find something that will put Alan’s heart to rest.”  Galen paused, then added, “And yours.”

Burke noticed the inflection in his voice and scowled.  “What’s your point?”

“They treat humans well in Segundo.  I don’t think you need to be afraid here.  You can—what is it Alan called it?  Let down your guard a little.”

“I can’t let down my guard as long as I’m walking around on this lousy planet.”

“I suppose not.”  Galen watched the young man rub wearily at his eyes.  “Pete, if I could undo what happened to you, I would.”

“Yeah, I know that.”

With a sigh, the chimp walked over to Virdon.  “Alan,” he said, resting a hand on the man’s shoulder.  “Come on.  Let’s go see what Hadrian the Foolish has built down there.  Some good meals, and a safe place to rest—we’ll all feel better.  Please.”

He looked from one man to the other, but neither of them moved.  Even Virdon, now, was displaying no enthusiasm toward Segundo other than continuing to stare at it.  Galen was about to consider finding the two of them a cave to mope in by themselves when he recalled a trick his mother had used when he was barely more than a babe in arms.  Crossing his fingers, he began to move downhill a few steps at a time.  It took a bit of effort, but he avoided looking back over his shoulder.

It was a lovely city, he thought, with plenty of trees to shade the streets.  Some of them were flowering, white, red, purple.

He heard laughter from somewhere nearby, the familiar, cheerful hooting of chimps.

Please, he thought fervently, just come along.  Let me make the decision this time.

“Ar-VEN!” a female’s voice called out, and to his mind it sounded enough like his mother to foster a pang of regret and homesickness.

He kept moving, slowly, ears perked.

He’d gone a few yards when he heard movement behind him, the crunch of a footstep on dry leaves.  He took another step, then another, and almost missed Virdon saying quietly, “Pete.”

He had to turn then and look back.

Burke, as he had been a couple of minutes ago, was looking down into Segundo.  His face shifted enough times to tell Galen that he was struggling with himself—and enough to tell the chimp that he was honestly afraid.  Virdon, who had shaken off his own funk, walked over to join him and rested a hand on the younger man’s arm.  He leaned in and said something to Burke that made him flinch, then gripped his arm in a gesture of support and comfort.

Rather than linger, Galen threw all his stock into his mother’s trick.  She was, after all, the wisest female he knew.  Halfway to the bottom of the hill, he found a cluster of flowering clover and pretended to be fascinated by it.  “I need a name,” he called out idly, just loudly enough for the two men to hear him.  “I think I’m fresh out of ideas.  Does either of you have a good suggestion?”

Finally, finally, he could tell without looking that they were following him.  He made a mental note to tell his mother about his successful use of her system the next time he saw her.

Which would be soon, he promised himself.  Somehow, it would be soon.

“Columbus,” he heard Burke say.

“I suppose,” he called back, “that that means something unspeakably rude.”

He began moving again, slowly enough to let them fall into step on either side of him.  They weren’t moving rapidly, but at least they were moving.  Thank the gods for small favors, he thought.

“Columbus was an explorer,” Virdon said.

“Ah.  All right, then.”

“They named a holiday after him,” Burke added with an artificial tone in his voice, as if he were reading the words off a card.  “Every October.  Columbus Day.  Because he discovered America.  Even though the Vikings got here four hundred years before he did, and they never got a holiday.  Another disgusting display of anti-Scandinavian prejudice.”

Galen stopped walking and looked from one to the other.  Burke was wearing something that tried hard to be a smirk, but there was no sign of a matching gleam in Virdon’s eyes.

 “What are we waiting for?” Burke asked.

Columbus.  Columbus.  Co-lum-bus.  It didn’t sound rude, but neither had a few of the other ancient human words the astronauts had tricked him with.  In the end, being hungry, and curious about the storied Prefect Hadrian, won out.  “All right,” Galen sighed.  “I like it.  My name is Columbus, and I’m a traveling minstrel.  With two comical human assistants.”

“Sidekicks.”

The chimp felt very much like kicking something, but again, hunger won out.

 

* * * * *

 

From their seats at one of a quartet of tables on the wide back porch of the inn, Virdon and Burke could see Galen chattering happily away as the innkeeper served him lunch at a table inside the dining room.  As had happened many times before, the chimp’s natural gregariousness (and that of his chimpanzee fellows) had easily won him both a room for the night and all the meals he wanted.  What remained to be seen was whether his human “sidekicks” would be given anything more than a pile of hay in someone’s barn.

“Yes, they do have their own peculiar, not to mention unpleasant, preferences,” they could hear him prattling.  “But I find that it does make them more cooperative to let them eat meat once in a while, as distasteful as that is to think about.”

Burke made a face.  “If he says one more thing about chicken, I’m gonna go in there and tell him the chimps in our time thought a tasty treat was a stick covered with spit and termites.”

As if he had heard them, Galen looked in their direction and waved.

“Then I’m gonna tell him that some of them killed and ate monkeys,” Burke grumbled.

He and Virdon were alone on the porch, it apparently being not the normal time for the humans of Segundo to sit down to lunch—if indeed any of them usually ate at the inn at all.  Maybe, Virdon supposed, the inn was strictly a stopping-over place for visitors with human servants in tow, and not a “bring everyone in your household if nobody feels like cooking” establishment.  The privacy was both enjoyable and a roadblock, since it kept him from conversing with the local humans to uncover the ins and outs of life in Segundo, and specifically, whether or not the city ever received communications about fugitives from Central City.

Burke, for his part, had spent the last twenty minutes gazing out across the wide lawn in back of the inn, listening to most of Galen’s chatter without actually looking in the chimp’s direction, arms clamped across his chest, one foot tapping against the wooden floor of the porch.  Thanks to Galen’s insistence on greeting every ape he encountered, it had taken them a good couple of hours to reach this inn on the southwestern edge of Segundo, during which time Burke had been so hypervigilant that he barely seemed to blink.  Now he seemed to want to block out the world.

He and Virdon were so involved in their own thoughts that a “hello” startled both of them.

The greeting came from a girl in her late teens with long blonde hair tied back by a yellow ribbon.  To the surprise of both men, her head wasn’t lowered in the submissive posture they’d grown so used to seeing in humans, particularly one working in an establishment run by an ape.

“My name is Ella.  Welcome to Segundo.”

Virdon took the lead.  “Hello, Ella.  My name is John.”  He’d chosen to use his middle name this time, rather than invent something, and expected Burke to do the same.  “And this is my friend—”

“Pete,” Burke said firmly, without looking at either of them.

“Welcome,” Ella repeated.  “If you’re ready for your meal, we can offer you soup, or stew, or eggs.”

“You pick.  Surprise us,” Virdon told her with a smile.

The pinched expression on Burke’s face created a wrinkle between her eyes.  She took a closer look at him and gnawed her lower lip for a moment.  “Are you all right?”

“I’m just peachy,” he said.

Of course she had no clue what he meant.  She puzzled over the phrase, then seemed to decide to pretend he hadn’t said it and produced an expression that had once been called “tickled pink.”  “All right,” she announced happily.  “I’ll surprise you.”

And she did.

With a delighted flourish she placed in front of them a few minutes later twin bowls of soup, cups of water, and plates of something neither man had seen in a long time.  “I hope you like this,” she said as she arranged the dishes and some spoons.  “I helped make it.  It smells good, doesn’t it?  If you don’t like it, please tell me and I’ll bring you something else.”  With that she was gone, nothing left in her wake but the fading notes of a tune she’d begun to hum.

The astronauts sat there gaping at the plates for almost a minute.  Then Burke, who had been fully prepared to reject Ella’s offering the way he had pushed aside most of every other meal put in front of him for the last several days, said in a confused whisper, “That’s an omelet.”

Virdon poked at his with the lip of his spoon and said in almost the same tone, “It’s a cheese and green pepper omelet.”

Burke peered into his bowl of soup, then picked up his own spoon and explored its contents.

Then Ella was back, bearing another though smaller plate that she set on the table off to one side.  The fact that the two newcomers were staring at and playing with their food rather than eating it made her frown and take a closer look to see if perhaps something had spoiled.  “I’m sorry, is something wrong?  I can bring you something different.”

“No, no, Ella, this is fine,” Virdon said quickly.

Burke turned to the new plate and his eyes opened even wider.  “Cookies,” he told Virdon.

Finally, Ella understood, or thought she did.  “You must be from a small village where they don’t make foods like this.  Trust me, they taste good.  My mother is a very good cook, and no one has ever complained about her meals.”  She paused, turning toward the door into the inn, then tossed over her shoulder, just loudly enough for the two men to hear, “Except a gorilla or two.”

“Is this a hallucination?” Burke asked, still studying the plates of food.

Virdon had already begun to dig into his omelet.  “Seems like a strong possibility,” he said around a mouthful.  “If it’s not, you might want to look into the possibility of marrying Ella.”  When Burke had still made no move, Virdon pushed the younger man’s plate closer to him and said firmly, “For heaven’s sake, would you eat that?”

The sight and the aroma were too much.  At last, to Virdon’s enormous relief, Burke picked up his spoon and began to eat.

When the last few mouthfuls of his omelet had vanished, Virdon dipped into the bowl of soup, thick with vegetables and big chunks of chicken in a hearty, flavorful stock.  Even the water was a wonderful novelty, clear and cold and without the usual bits of dirt floating in it.

Burke bypassed the soup for the moment and bit into a sample of their dessert.  “Lemon cookies.  What, did they find a cookbook someplace?”

Virdon’s spoon stopped in midair.  “In Bakoor.”

He didn’t need to say anything more.  He was staring at his food as if it were a window to another time, another place.  “Maybe,” Burke conceded.

“If there was a cookbook, there could be other books.”

“Maybe.”

Galen was still jabbering away inside the inn and hadn’t touched more than half his own meal.  Burke found that out with a glance and without breaking stride in consuming his lunch.  “Give the life of the party, there, a few hours and he’ll find out everything you want to know, and a lot of stuff you don’t,” he said between bites.  Another glance told him that Virdon was no more swayed by that suggestion than he ever was.  “Alan,” Burke said a little more sharply.  “Give him a chance.  Let him find out anything that’s worth knowing.”

The vehemence in Burke’s tone made Virdon look at him.  What Virdon saw made him nod agreeably to avoid distracting the younger man.  Burke was eating as if what he was eating was nothing out of the ordinary, good enough to be unmemorable—the way he’d eaten before they left home.  His shoulders had relaxed and were no longer riding up in the vicinity of his ears.

“Sure,” Virdon conceded.  “And in the meantime, we can get to know the lovely and delightful Ella and see if she or her lovely and delightful mother can figure out how to broil a steak and brew up a keg of beer.”

“Yeah,” Burke said.  “Whatever.”

 

* * * * *

 

The sun had begun to lower in the western sky when Galen finally rejoined his companions.  He was pleased to find Burke in a remarkably improved mood, less so to note the return of a pensive expression to Virdon’s face.

“Now what?” he asked, not sure he wanted to know the answer.

“There be books in Bakoor,” Burke replied with a sigh.  “At least, we think there might be.”

The chimp held up both hands, palms out, to stop that line of assumptions in its tracks.  “Oh, no,” he said firmly.  “We are not hiking off to Bakoor tonight.  We’re all tired, and we’ve been offered comfortable places to sleep.  We’ll get a good night’s rest, and in the morning, we’ll discuss this.”  Before he went on, he glanced into the inn to assure himself that they weren’t being overheard.  “As much as I normally, and regrettably, surrender to letting you drag us in any direction you choose, this time I must put my foot down.  If you’ll give me half a chance, I’ll try to find out what’s in Bakoor.”

“That’s what I told him,” Burke commented.

Galen pointed a long finger at Virdon.  “I insist.  No matter what is or isn’t there, it will wait there a little longer.  Now, out there”—he shifted the finger to point out a row of small buildings maybe fifty yards behind the inn—“are your accommodations for the night.  My room is in the inn, so you’ll be on your own.  And if I hear any suggestion of your sneaking off in the middle of the night, I will hunt you down and tie you to the nearest tree.  You two have gotten me into difficulty far too many times.  If Bakoor has been there since your time, it will still be there in a week.  Am I understood?”

Burke said dryly, “Bakersfield.”

“Baker’s Field, then,” Galen groaned.  “Please, please, I’m begging you.  Get a good night’s sleep, and for once use a little common sense.”  When neither man replied, Galen groaned again, then set off toward the row of buildings.  “Come on,” he beckoned.  “In theory, at least, I’m responsible for approving the treatment of my servants.”

“Sidekicks,” Burke corrected him.

Galen stopped walking and tossed him a fierce look.  “Would you stop that?”

“Whatever you say, boss,” Burke said.

Galen had been instructed to use the cabin at the far right end of the row.  As he pushed its door open, he grumbled, “If I could lock you in, I would, except that you’d probably find a way to tunnel out.”  He led the way in, then stood aside so the astronauts could examine the little building.  Burke seemed uninterested in its furnishings, choosing instead to study the windows and the view beyond them.  Virdon took the other perspective, checking out the cabin’s contents after a brief look outside.

Like many of the smaller structures in Segundo, the cabin was constructed of wood, not mud, with walls and floor carefully sealed to keep out dampness and dust.  Two of the walls boasted large windows that could be covered with oiled canvas flaps to guard against rain or wind.  Its furnishings were simple: two beds, a small table and two chairs, a colorful braided rug, one lamp on the table and another on a stand near the beds, and a large pitcher of fresh water.

Each bed offered a thick pad, a pillow, and a blanket.  Those items looked rough from a distance, but each one proved to be soft (at least, compared to what the astronauts had grown ruefully accustomed to) and promised to contribute to a good night’s sleep.

“Well?” Galen asked.

Virdon chuckled softly.  “Compared to most of the places humans live in this world, this is the Hilton.”

Taking that to mean something good, Galen moved back outside.  Virdon joined him, and together they examined their surroundings.  Burke, they both knew, had been planning out escape routes—easy enough to find, given the size of the windows and the proximity of a deep copse of woods.  A few dozen steps in the other direction was the outhouse Burke had longed for several days ago.

After a glance over his shoulder to assure himself that Burke was still occupied, Galen asked quietly, “What did you tell him?  Up there on the hill.”

“That he owed it to Jonesy to keep fighting.”

“They were good friends.”

“Yes.”  A moment of thought prompted Virdon to add, “They were more alike than Pete and I are.  Jonesy loved a good practical joke.”

“You figure being tired makes me deaf?” Burke asked from inside the cabin.  He had barely finished the sentence when he reached the bottom of the two steps at the doorway.  “I’ll sleep here, all right?  Just stop talking about me when you think I can’t hear you.  I don’t like shrinks, and I sure as hell don’t like amateur shrinks.”

“We’re just trying to help, Pete,” Galen told him.

“Yeah, well, maybe you would’ve been better off if Jonesy survived and I was the one who bought it.  But you didn’t get a chance to find out.  So I figure you’ve got two choices now: we either split up, or you put up with me just the way I am.”

With that, he disappeared back into the cabin.  Galen took a step to follow him, but Virdon caught him by the arm and held him back.  “Let him be,” he cautioned the chimp.

“But—”

Virdon shook his head.  “Just let him be.”

 

* * * * *

 

That night, the nightmares came back.

After another hearty meal (this one, chicken stew with gravy, accompanied by loaves of warm, sweet bread and cups of milk) prepared by Ella’s talented mother and served to them by Ella at an outdoor table near the row of cabins, the astronauts were bid good night by Galen and left to settle in to rest.

Sleep came almost immediately.

Then came the dreams.

Burke felt himself spinning, around and around, until he lost all sense of up and down.  The ability to form a coherent thought seemed far beyond his reach.  Like everyone in the Alpha Centauri program, and everyone in the various space missions before that, he had been agonizingly tested for his reactions to multiple g- and zero-g forces, to lack of stimulus and over-stimulation, to sleep deprivation; basically, to every ugly thing the doctors could dream up.  He had passed the tests well enough to suit his superiors, but none of what they had dished out had prepared him for this: the spinning, the loud metallic bonging, the shrieking.

“I said, what are their NAMES??!”

The NASA doctors had tried to wash out of him the impulse (so much stronger in him than it was in Virdon, or Jones) to respond to questions like that with an enduringly popular phrase that began with the letter “F.”  Long ago, someone had decided that the best response to enemy interrogation, the one that ought to be automatic, was simply Name, Rank, Service Number.  Certainly not that other phrase, the one a small, blue-jeaned boy had learned from an older kid, one with a scar running alongside his nose.

. . . Their NAMES their NAMES their. . .

He was losing his grip on sanity, he thought; but then, sanity had disappeared the day of the crash, the day the ship had blundered into the magnetic storm, the day Jonesy died.  The day everything he’d known was left behind, and the only familiar thing left to him was the presence of Alan Virdon.

NAMES!!

Dear God, the shrieking.

Some part of him wanted to reach up and wrap his fingers around her throat, to squeeze and squeeze and squeeze until the shrieking had stopped, until he could see her eyes bulge, until he could feel her breathing, her movement, her life, stop.  Some part of him wanted to ball his hands into fists and smash them into her face until he could feel the bones crumble under the impact.

Some part of him wanted to scream back at her.  Animal!  Animal!

He could smell her, even when she left the room.  He could smell her, and his stomach turned until it took all the effort he could muster not to vomit.

I want their NAMES!

“Burke, Peter J.,” he murmured.  “Rank, major.  Number—”

NAMES!

God help me.  Please help me.  I know I didn’t listen to Nonna, and I should have been better at going to church, at listening, at believing.  I know I’ve gone down the wrong path.  But please, please, help me.  Make this stop.  Please just make this stop.

There were hands on him, manhandling (apehandling?) him, slamming into his head, knocking him to the ground.

He wanted to weep.

He wanted to seize the knife he could dimly see hanging at Urko’s belt and use it to cut his own throat.

“They were just people.”  Please.  “I don’t know, they were just people.”

And if you betray them, you’ll burn in hell forever.

Please help m—

“Pete.”

There were hands on him, grabbing him, pulling at him, but not those hands, not the hands that had that foul smell.

“Pete.  Wake up, Pete.”

Hands.

They tugged at him until he was sitting, eyes closed, wavering from side to side, still spinning, still hearing the gong, the shrieking, still fighting that old phrase, still hearing You’ll burn in hell.

Drenched in sweat, completely unaware of where he really was, or who it was that was holding him, he clung to Alan Virdon and sobbed.

 

 

EIGHT

Ruins

______________________________

 

As was his custom, on the morning of the expedition Hadrian hosted a breakfast at the inn for his team and a few guests from among their families and friends.  Food of every conceivable variety was brought out on great platters and for more than two hours the inn was filled with mouth-watering aromas and the sound of cheerful, enthusiastic voices.

For the first time Ariel was among those enjoying the splendid meal.  Feeling more than a little intimidated by the experience and knowledge of the others in the group, she chose a seat for herself near a wall and ate her breakfast with all the timidness of a small child.  Julian, sitting opposite her, said little, choosing instead to enjoy his breakfast and the simple pleasure of his fiancée’s company without words.

They had expected the breakfast to be a delicious feast, each new course something to be savored.  Both of them had eaten at the inn before (in fact, they had celebrated their betrothal here) but the sheer magnitude of this meal made it memorable.

When Ella brought a platter of crushed apples on pastry, Julian peered at it and groaned.  “If I eat that, I won’t be able to walk.”

“I’ll send one of the boys for your carriage,” the girl offered.

Shaking his head, Julian rubbed his belly.  Before he could stop it, he had issued a loud belch that made the two females, ape and human, giggle.  They sounded remarkably alike.

“Will you find wonderful things?” Ella asked Ariel.

“I hope so.”

“I hope you’ll tell me about it.”

“Oh, I will.  I’m sure I’ll have many stories to tell, and certain males whose names I will not mention tire of talking with me after not very much time.”  About to take another bite, Ariel put down the piece of fruit she had been nibbling in favor of examining Ella’s expression.  The girl was looking out the back door, toward the row of buildings that housed visiting humans, wearing a frown that seemed to have come out of nowhere.  “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, Mistress Ariel.”

“Ella—truth only, remember?”

The girl looked around to see who might be listening to their conversation and found no one.  Still, she moved a step closer to Ariel and confided, “One of us was sick last night.”

“One of the humans?”

Ella nodded.

“Did you send for the doctor?” Julian asked.

“His master said he did not want the doctor.”  Another furtive look around reassured the girl that still, no one other than the three of them was interested in anything she might say.  The rest of the crowd was all too concerned, and too excited, with the prospects of today’s trip to Bakoor.  Beyond that, Ariel’s face would have told them that this was merely a few words among three young ones who had known each other almost since birth.  “He’s not from Segundo,” Ella went on, her voice barely above a murmur.  “He came here yesterday with an ape called Columbus.”

“And he was sick?”

“In the night.  He cried out.  And I think he—”  The girl made a gesture that anyone of any culture would have known meant vomiting.  “There was that smell in the room.  Please, Mistress, can you help?  I think something is wrong.”

Ariel asked, “Where is he now?”

Ella pointed toward the back of the inn.  Nodding, Ariel got up from her chair and moved toward the Prefect’s table.  Still intimidated, but driven by a new sense of purpose, she waited for the first break in Hadrian’s conversation, then said quickly, “Sir, is there enough time for me to help Ella with a small problem?”

“Of course, my dear, of course.  But don’t be long.  We’ll be headed out shortly.”

The two females shared a look that said Thank you for not asking what’s wrong, then moved toward the back door.  Julian went that far with them, then Ariel gestured for him to return to their table.

“Are you sure?” he asked.  “You don’t know this ape.  He may not want you interfering in his affairs.”

“Let me find out what’s wrong.  I won’t interfere.”

Julian hesitated, then nodded, watching from the doorway as the two females walked across the grass.

They found the two astronauts and Galen near the brook that ran along the eastern border of the cluster of cabins.  Ariel stopped walking some distance away, and held Ella back as well, so she could examine the tableau the three strangers presented: the ape talking animatedly, gesturing toward the center of the city; a blond human listening and nodding his agreement; and a dark-haired human sitting with his knees drawn up and his shoulders slumped.  Nothing about the picture said anything good to her.

Galen caught sight of their approach before Virdon did, and indicated with a look that their conversation should be interrupted.  By the time the two females had gotten close enough to see his face, he had painted on a broad, friendly smile.  “Good morning, Ella,” he told the girl.  “And—?”

“Ariel,” the female chimp told him.  “And you are Columbus?”  He had no time to reply before she continued in a chipper tone, “Welcome to Segundo.  I hope you’ve had a pleasant experience so far.”

If anything, Galen’s smile got a little wider.  “And getting better by the moment.”

Ariel took a look at the two humans as if she were doing nothing more than sizing up her surroundings.  “We’re proud of our city.  It’s a good place to live.”

“From what I’ve seen, I wouldn’t disagree.”

“Will you be staying with us for a while?”

Galen shrugged.  “A few days, I think.”

“Wonderful!  We’ll see each other again, then.  I’m leaving in a few minutes, on a journey with the Prefect and some other students, but I’ll be back in three days.  If there’s anything you need, please tell Ella, and she’ll make sure it’s taken care of.”  That gave her an excuse to look at Ella, who confirmed with the subtlest of nods that the dark-haired human sitting nearby was the one she’d talked about.

“This is Pete, and John,” Ella offered cheerfully.

Ariel beamed at them as if she were humoring the girl.  “Hello, Pete, and John.  Welcome to Segundo.”  Then, in a perfectly natural follow-up to the greeting, she reached toward each of them, intending to pat each man on the arm.  Virdon accepted the touch with a nod, meeting her eyes for a moment, then looking away, using the deference toward an ape he had learned through experience.  Burke, however, avoided her eyes completely and shifted just enough to put himself out of her reach.  “Well, the Prefect is waiting,” she told Galen.  “I’ll look forward to continuing our conversation when I get back.”

“As will I,” Galen replied.

“Until later, then.”

Ariel led the way back toward the inn, gesturing Ella into silence until they were well out of earshot of the three newcomers.  Enough out of sight, too, for Ariel to shudder without fear of being seen by the ape Columbus.  With a long sigh, Ariel rubbed the back of her neck with her fingers, knowing it wouldn’t do much to ease the ache that had begun to grow there.

“Do you think—?” the girl asked when she could wait no longer.

Julian, who had stepped down off the porch, reached them as Ariel replied.  “That he’s been mistreated?” she said.  “They may as well have painted a sign.  He looks like he’s been starved.  The other one, too.  There’s a whole row of scars on his arm.”

Julian reached out and rapped her shoulder gently with his knuckles in a show of sympathy.  “I’m sorry, Ari.”

“For me?  Don’t be sorry for me.  That human is the one who’s been suffering.”

Ella winced.  “What should we do, Mistress?”

That broke Ariel out of a furious string of thoughts, mostly involving a variety of punishments for the stranger Columbus.  “‘We’ mustn’t do anything.”

Julian nodded his agreement.  “He’s only a visitor, Ella.  He isn’t bound by our laws and ordinances.  Our police can’t do anything unless he mistreats the humans while he’s here, and someone sees him doing it.”

“But does that mean—”

“Now, now.”  The chimp reached out to touch the girl’s hand.  “You’re a good, kind girl, and I know you have a soft heart.  But you mustn’t get into the middle of this.”  He stopped, but was prodded into continuing by a steely look from Ariel.  “All right, all right.  I’ll keep an eye on this Columbus.”

“And what will you do?” the girl persisted.  “If he beats the humans?”

“He’ll be asked to leave Segundo.”

Ella’s shoulders sagged.  “Isn’t there something more you can do, Master Julian?”

“Wait until I come back,” Ariel told her.  “It’s just three days.  If Columbus and his humans are still here, I’ll talk to my father about it.”

“Yes, Mistress,” Ella said reluctantly.

“Be careful, Ella.”

“Yes, Mistress.”

Not much less heartsick than Ella was, Ariel reached out to stroke the girl’s hair.  “I hope we live long enough to see an end to this kind of thing.  But there are too many apes outside Segundo who still believe in the old ways.”

“We’ll do what we can,” Julian promised the girl.

 

* * * * *

 

Some time after Ariel and the rest of the expedition team had climbed aboard the Prefect’s wagons and disappeared down the road to Bakoor, and Julian had gone off to his day’s work in the city attorney’s office, Ella returned to the brook.  To her surprise, since she had not seen the ape Columbus and the blond man leave, she found Burke alone, dropping pebbles into the water.  Feeling a boldness that also surprised her, she gathered her skirt in one hand and sat down beside him.  He ignored her at first, and she sat there quietly for a couple of minutes, watching the water.

“I’m sorry you were sick last night,” she ventured after a while.

“Not your fault.”

“Then it was not my cooking.”

Burke glanced at her and shook his head.  “Nope.”

“Where is your master?  And the other man?”

“Taking a look around town.”

They sat in silence for a while.  Ella leaned forward at one point, looking for the tiny silvery fish she knew inhabited the brook, smiling happily when she spotted a few.  “This is a good place to live,” she said at last.

“Is it?”

“Oh, yes.”

“Terrific.”

Ella frowned at the unfamiliar word but let it go by.  When he said nothing more, she reached into the deep pocket of her skirt and brought out something she’d taken from the kitchen, wrapped in a piece of cloth.  “I brought this for you.”

He turned to her, ready to reject the gift, but stopped short.  For a moment, looking into his eyes was another girl, also blonde but with shorter hair, holding out a copy of a magazine with his picture on the cover and a ballpoint pen.  Her eyes had met his only for an instant, then dropped to the ground as she mumbled something, the only word of which he could make out was “Major.”  “Pete,” he’d told her.  “My name’s Pete.”

Then the apparition vanished and he was left looking at Ella, still holding whatever it was she’d wrapped in the cloth.  Smiling, she pressed it into his hand and kept watching as he unwrapped it.  “It’s raisin cake,” she explained.

“Yeah, I see that.”

“Do you like cake?”

Rather than answer, he tried a bite.  “It’s good.”

“I’m glad you like it.”

He finished the treat, shook the crumbs out of the cloth and handed it back to her with a nod of thanks.  “Look, Ella—”

“Does he beat you very often?” she blurted.

Burke’s eyes widened.  “What?  No.”

“They don’t allow that here.  Apes can go to jail for beating humans.”

“Seriously?  Ga— somebody told me that humans are treated pretty well here, but I didn’t know it went that far.”

“The Prefect won’t allow it.  Would you like something more to eat?  You didn’t have any breakfast.  You must be hungry.  If your stomach feels better.  I know sometimes if I get sick, I don’t feel like eating for a while.”

The sheer volume of words almost made him smile.  He opened his mouth to respond, but she took the lack of protest as a request and before he could actually say anything she had run off toward the inn.  A couple of minutes later she was back, bearing a plate of food that she deposited in his lap.  By that time he had decided that he was indeed hungry, and rather than resist the offering and the continued attention that came with it, he took the spoon she handed him and began to eat.

“Does your master not want you to talk to other humans?” she asked.

“Why?” he responded around a mouthful.

“Because you didn’t want to talk to me.”

Burke shook his head, both in denial of the question and in amusement.  “He doesn’t care.  He’d rather have me talk to other humans than to him, sometimes.”

“Is your stomach all right?”

“Yeah, it’s okay.”  The memory of that other girl drifted back into his mind as he ate.  After he had autographed the magazine, he had grasped her hand, intending nothing more than a polite handshake.  To his astonishment, the girl had looked as if she were within half a breath of wetting her pants.  Her eyes came up just for a second as he turned to go.  He expected to find embarrassment in them, or admiration, or lust, or something, and was bewildered when he found nothing in them but terror.  Unable to even begin to understand, he had laughed it off that evening while sharing a couple of beers with Jonesy: just BB, taking no prisoners once again.

“Jesus, Pete, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.”

“What for?  All I did was shake her hand.  Give me a break.”

He’d gulped down another swig of beer and licked the foam off his upper lip.  Jonesy, obviously, hadn’t liked his response, but then Jonesy had a daughter and that might have explained. . .something.  Except that it didn’t, and looking at his friend in the dim light of the tavern, Peter Burke was indeed ashamed of himself.

And for a moment, he was ashamed of himself now.  In spite of it, he thought he would give anything to be back there, facing the girl with the wrinkled copy of Time.  Then the image of her was gone again, the girl whose name he had never learned, and he was left with Ella, who was. . . So freaking earnest.

Rather than say anything more, he took the opportunity to take a closer look at the girl herself.  Today her hair was fastened back with a green ribbon, matching the predominant color in her dress.  The dress itself wasn’t homespun like those of most of the human women Burke had seen in his travels, but a finer weave, almost as high a quality as that worn by the apes.  Something else about her intrigued him, and it took him a moment to identify it.  “You smell like lemons.”

“We put it in the water.  Lemon oil.”

“In the water.  You mean—do you take baths here?”

She lowered her eyes.  “And where you come from, humans do not.”

“Touché,” Burke said.

“What does that mean?  I don’t know that word.”

“It means—where I come from, we put a lot of stock in cleanliness.  But I’ve been washing in streams, with no soap.  Or with soap that would peel off five layers of skin but leave all the dirt and the sweat intact.  It doesn’t quite do the job.  Yeah, I smell bad.  I probably smell worse than I’ve ever smelled in my life, other than that time I had the flu for three weeks.”

Ella gaped at him, then, unable to do anything else, burst out laughing.

“Little lady,” Burke said wryly, “if you’ve got a bathtub in this town, lead me to it.”

Her laughter stopped, replaced by a sorrowful frown.

“What’s the matter?” Burke asked.

“I couldn’t take you there.  Not without permission from your master.  What if he should come back here and find you gone?”

She could not have guessed the reason his expression began to mirror the somberness of her own.  She hadn’t been with him during these last restless months, when the sudden disappearance of Virdon, or Galen, or himself most likely meant that the missing party had been captured by Urko’s police.  Try as he might, he was unable to think of more than two or three occasions during all those months when there had been a harmless explanation for a sudden absence.

“How about if I ask him?” Burke proposed.

“That would be all right, then.  If he gives permission.”

Burke pushed himself to his feet, then held out a hand to help Ella.  The gesture made her smile shyly and spend a long moment studying the ground.

“What?” he asked.

“You should ask for permission for clean clothes, too.”

After a brief sniff of his shirt, Burke agreed.  “Good plan.”

“Goreg could get them for you, but he would want you to do extra work in exchange.”

“Not a problem.  Whatever needs doing.  Although I’d rather avoid anything connected with stuff that comes out the back end of an animal, if it’s all the same to you.”

“You say very odd things,” Ella told him.

“Yeah, I get that a lot.”

“There is work.  In the kitchen.  But we would have to get—”

“I know.  Permission.  Give me time to go find my master and I’ll meet you there on the porch.  Okay?”  Still shyly, she nodded, which made him smile again.  “Thanks, Ella.  I’ll be back soon.”  He took a step, aiming in the direction Galen and Virdon had taken.

“Pete?”

He stopped.  “What?”

“I’m sorry you were sick.”

Humans had been kind to him in this world more often that he could remember, but something about her touched him more than any of those other gestures of generosity had.  A couple of steps brought him back to her, and impulsively he pulled her into a warm hug.  “So am I,” he told her, then let her go and set off across the grass toward the road.

 

* * * * *

 

“Oh, my,” Ariel gasped.

Hadrian, standing a dozen steps from the wagon, turned to look at her, smiling at the memory of his own first look at Bakoor.  How many years ago was it?  Longer than this young chimp had been alive.

The rest of the team, experienced at conducting digs that would yield maximum results during the brief time they had available, was already busy unloading equipment, tents, kegs of water, and other paraphernalia.  Two or three of them paused long enough to grin at Ariel’s wide-eyed stare before they returned to their hustling back and forth from the wagons.

“I had no idea it was so large.”

The Prefect nodded.  “A good deal larger than Segundo.  It’s hard to tell from here, since the land is so flat, but it goes on and on.”

Keeping her voice low, Ariel asked, “How many humans do you suppose lived here, sir?”

“How many?”  Hadrian stepped back to take himself out of the path of two hustling chimps, pulling Ariel along with him.  Together, they walked a hundred yards along the rubble-strewn remains of a city street, each of them making silent observations about the shattered buildings they passed.  “I don’t know.  Thousands, perhaps.  Tens of thousands?  I’ve heard stories about their giant cities.  The population of some of those numbered in the millions.”

Ariel stopped walking and gaped at him.  “Millions?”

“Sobering, isn’t it?  And they’re all gone now.  They’ve been gone a long time.  But they left behind all these remnants of their civilization for us to study.  Come, I’ll show you something.  My favorite introduction to Bakoor for new arrivals.  Watch your step, now.  It’s tricky underfoot.  And overhead.”

It took them a few minutes to reach the place, and once there, they had to squeeze through a narrow passageway formed by fallen sections of a wall.

“I came to this building on my first trip to Bakoor,” Hadrian explained, “but never noticed this.  The next time I returned, part of the roof had fallen in, allowing the sunlight to shine where it hadn’t before.  And I saw this.”  He gestured, then stood back to allow Ariel to study the curiosity on her own.  It was a picture, bigger than any of the walls of his house, formed by tiny colored tiles.  Two humans (a male and a female) were depicted in it, apparently standing on a body of water with the help of narrow slats of wood fastened to their feet.  Each of them held a sort of handle connected to a rope, which in turn was connected to a boat some distance in front of them.  And each of them seemed blissfully happy, standing there in the splashing water, dressed in bits of clothing that covered very little of their bodies.

“How odd,” Ariel said.  “What are they doing?”

“I have no idea.”

“How can they stand on the water like that, without falling in?”

Hadrian shrugged.  “I suppose it has something to do with the pieces of wood.”

The young chimp clucked her disagreement.  “I can’t imagine any human having balance so good that they could stand on such small pieces of wood and not fall into the water.  There must be something underneath, holding them up.”

“Perhaps.”

“What was this building, do you think?”  Without waiting for an answer, Ariel moved toward an archway leading further inside.  To the right of the arch was a metal plaque, badly eroded and tarnished with age.  Fascinated, she used the cuff of her sleeve to wipe away some of the surface dust, then bent close to read.  “Pacific Bank and Trust.  Established 1994.”

Again, Hadrian led the way, this time into the depths of the ruined building.  Cautioning her once more to be careful, he threaded his way around heaps of crumbling stone, moving slowly to avoid kicking up too much dust.  When he reached the spot he had in mind, he crouched down and beckoned her to join him.  To Ariel, it looked like nothing more than another pile of debris, but with an impish smile the Prefect squirreled his hand down into a nest of rubble, wiggled it around, and pulled it out with his fingers curled around something.

“Hold out your hand.”

She did so, and he dropped into her palm a dozen or more tarnished bits of metal.

“You look like the old story,” Hadrian chuckled.  “About the chimp with eyes as big as windmills.”

“These are human money.”

“Coins.  Yes.”

She perched on a flat chunk of stone and lay most of the coins in her lap so she could more carefully examine a few of them.  “They have pictures.  Of humans.  Were they important humans, do you think?”

“I’m sure of it.  It would take a lot of effort to carve such a small portrait onto a piece of metal like that.  Not worth the trouble for someone unimportant.  If you like them, I’ll give you some after we’ve inventoried everything.”

They had been back on the street only a couple of minutes when one of the other students, a chimp a little older than Ariel, dressed in an already-dusty tunic, ran to meet them, almost breathless with excitement.  He was too excited to offer an explanation, so Hadrian and Ariel followed him back to the building in which he’d been digging.  “Tools,” he gasped.  “Of every possible kind.  I think this must have been a shop where the humans bartered them.”  Two other chimps were hard at work, lifting the rare items out of their beds beneath piles of stone.  Most of the tools had thick wooden handles, but some were all metal.  From another corner of the dig, a young orangutan brought out the wooden bowl he’d been using to contain small finds.  In it lay dozens of small bits of metal, round and flat with holes in the center.

“What are these, Prefect?” he asked.

“Are they coins?” Ariel put in.  “They have no faces on them.”

Hadrian shrugged.  “I imagine so.  Take some if you like.  They’re harmless.  I imagine little Lucien would enjoy using them as game pieces.”

“Here, sir,” another young orang called out.  “Look at this.”  When Hadrian, Ariel still at his heels, joined him, he pointed out a nest of bits of smooth white material, somewhat like the bowl the Prefect kept in his bookcase.  Some of the pieces were as large as his hand, others hardly bigger than kernels of corn.

“Yes, yes,” Hadrian told the enthusiastic young ape.  “Pretty, but not of much use.  Why don’t you try that direction?”  He pointed.  “Tomar seems to think there’s something of interest over there.”

The orang didn’t wait to be told twice.

Hadrian stood watching his team for a few minutes, then turned and walked back toward the wagons.  He poured himself a cool drink of water, nibbled at a piece of fruit, then found a seat on an upturned wooden box.  He’d been there for a while when Ariel came out of the building and approached him.  “Well, daughter of Toban,” he said.  “Is it worth the trip?”

“Oh, yes, sir.  But it’s almost. . .too much.  There seems to be something to dig up almost everywhere.”

“And—?”

Ariel ran a hand along the side of the wagon.  “All of these things, left behind by the humans.  We don’t even know what most of it is.  What they used it for.  That seems—”

“What?”

“Sad.”

“I know.”

For lack of something better to do, Ariel poured some water into a cup, but rather than drink it, simply held the cup between her hands.

“Have you changed your mind?” Hadrian asked her.

“No.  No, sir.  I think I just need a little time.”

“Take all the time you need.”

Once again, one of the chimps came running out, gasping with excitement.  As he neared the Prefect and Ariel, they could see that mixed in with the excitement was a bit of something else.

“What is it?” Hadrian asked.

“Books, sir,” the chimp told him.  “We found books.”

 

 

NINE

Suspicion

______________________________

 

Virdon chuckled softly to himself.

The blond man wasn’t looking at Galen; in fact, he seemed to be focused on a cluster of fruit trees on the far side of the street, but the chimp knew without asking that he was the source of Virdon’s amusement.  “What now?” he asked with a sigh.

“When he was small, my son had a toy—a stuffed bear with a sound chip inside it.  When you pushed a button on its belly, it said ten different phrases.”  Virdon paused, trying to contain a louder laugh.  “‘Good morning.’ ‘Hello, neighbor.’ ‘Lovely day, isn’t it?’”

Galen, who had been greeting fellow apes along the way with those phrases, simply looked at him poker-faced.

“Sorry, Galen.”

The chimp snorted and kept walking.  They’d come out to have a good look around the city, to see what it might have to offer to three road-weary fugitives, and he was determined to continue the informal survey no matter how much Virdon might be determined to keep up his and Burke’s unfortunately common pastime of teasing him to make the time go by.  “I shall have to tell my mother that she went through the difficulty of having me so that my primary purpose in life could be to serve as a source of mirth for you and Pete.”

Virdon snorted back at him.

Laughter from another source made them stop again, just in time to avoid being bowled over by a group of shrieking children aiming for the park at the end of the street.  All four were dressed in play clothes and all four were small, no more than three years old.

Two of them were human and two were apes.

“Now, there’s something you don’t see every day,” Virdon mused.

Dancing around each other, the children went squealing on their way.  Suddenly, their teacher emerged at a run from in between two buildings.  The female chimp was obviously harried and exhausted, and she gasped for breath as she tried to catch up with her charges.  “Children!” she called after them.  “Children, you must wait for me.”

“Good luck,” Virdon told her, though she was already past earshot.

He and Galen stood watching as she finally reached the gaggle of little ones and guided them towards a contraption that the astronaut had once known as a jungle gym.  The chimps were first up, reaching down to offer a handhold to the human boy and girl.  Their noise didn’t stop for an instant as they played.  The teacher, completely out of energy, sank onto a nearby bench and began to fan her face with one hand.

Originally, the two fugitives had been walking toward the city center, but now they changed course, each aiming independently toward the park.  Galen nodded and smiled at the teacher as they passed her, but in her distress she barely seemed to notice him.  He and Virdon found an unoccupied bench not far from the jungle gym, and Galen lounged on it like a true ape of leisure.  Virdon at first slumped a little, like the natural posture of many of the humans he had met in this world, then leaned further forward and propped his elbows on his knees.

“Zaius,” Galen observed after a while, “would have apoplexy.”

Virdon didn’t respond immediately.  “Here,” he whispered.

Galen looked at him quizzically.

“You asked if I would bring my family to this world.  Here.  If Segundo is like this all the time, yes, I’d—”

“Alan.”

“It seems like a good place, Galen.  Like there’s hope here.”

“Alan—” The chimp cut himself off, allowing a pair of orangutans in official-looking clothing to walk on by.  Both orangs offered him a nod of greeting but didn’t interrupt their conversation.  When they were far enough away, Galen turned to his friend.  “You really mustn’t torment yourself like this.  It doesn’t help your family, and it doesn’t help you.”  Before Virdon could answer, Galen gestured to cut him off.  “Can you think of it—I’m not sure how to say this.”  He had to take a minute to put his thoughts together, during which he kept Virdon silent.  “There’s a thousand years between then and now.  Yes, as Pete said, they lived the rest of their lives without you.  So did many generations after them.  But can you—I think you must—keep them in your heart as they were on the day you left.”

“Frozen in amber?” Virdon whispered.

“What?”

“Amber.  Yellow-looking stuff.  Fossilized tree sap.”

Galen still had no idea what the man was talking about, and as he had many times before, he let it go by.  “Remember that day, Alan.  Don’t invent the days that came after.  You have no idea what happened then.”

“I can—”

“No, you can’t.  It’s all just a story in your head.”

The astronaut sat up, but his shoulders were still slumped.  Once more, Galen cut him off before he could speak.

“The way I see it, you can do one of three things.  You can take command, as you were trained to do.  You can lead us, me and Pete, to this place you’re sure exists, the one with the computers.  You can give up your search entirely, and make a new life for yourself.  Or you can wallow in misery and accomplish nothing.”

“I lost my family, Galen.”

“As I’ve lost mine!” the chimp countered.  “Yes, my parents, and my other relations, are alive and well in Central City.  But I can’t go there.  I can’t drop in for a visit.  I can’t exchange letters with them.  We might as well be in two different worlds.  They still love me, and I them, but they’re as lost to me as your family is to you.  I lost them because of a choice I made.  And yes, they’re angry, and hurt, because of that choice.  But it was the only choice I could make, because of who I am.  Don’t you see, Alan?  We’re the same.  We’re caught in the same regrettable circumstance.  And I’m asking you, don’t let yourself sink into this wretched swamp of self-pity and misplaced blame.  It does no one any good.  And it certainly doesn’t change anything.  Maybe you’ll find a way home to your loved ones, and maybe you won’t.  Don’t lose sight of who you were.  They wouldn’t want that.”

Virdon didn’t answer, just stared at the ground in front of his feet.

“Do you want that for them?  Do you want them to have spent the rest of their lives drowning in sorrow?”

“No.”

“You’ve already made them a promise: that you’ll return to them if and when you can.”

The “if” didn’t land well.  Virdon frowned at him.

Two of the children had abandoned the jungle gym in favor of rope swings suspended from the sturdy limbs of a tree.  “Higher!  Higher!” one of the little humans squealed.  “Look, Omar, I can swing higher than you!”  Far above them, perched on one of the uppermost branches, a crow began to squawk a complaint at having the serenity of his tree disturbed.  Moments later he was joined by other birds.  The children’s ruckus became louder and louder until the park was a cacophony of sound.

Virdon and Galen were bemusedly observing the little ones, each lost in his own thoughts, when Burke came up to them and sat down at the end of their bench.  When neither of them said anything, he stretched his legs out in front of him and folded his arms across his chest.  After a while, he said to no one in particular, “Bath.  Clean clothes.  Need permission.”

He was trying to sound like good old Pete, the one with the wry wit, the one who could tough his way through the worst of situations because the worst of situations was usually fodder for a dozen entertaining stories afterwards.  The intention failed, though, and there was a tremor in his voice born of his having walked nearly a mile through the streets of Segundo, surrounded by apes and humans he did not know.

Or trust.

Neither Virdon nor Galen answered him, but they both heard the quaver in his voice.

 “Noisy place,” he quipped.  “Worse than Penn Station at rush hour.”

“Are you all right?” Virdon asked him.

“Yeah.  Sure.  Why wouldn’t I be?  I had a good breakfast and didn’t barf it up.  I’m great.”

The children had given up on the swings and moved on to a spirited session of ring-around-the-rosey.  Virdon tipped his head in their direction, smiling.  Galen, for his part, studied them curiously.

“Apes and humans playing together,” Burke acknowledged.  “One of the sure signs of the Apocalypse.”  By the time he finished the sentence, his body began to mirror the shaking in his voice.  “It’s kinda cold here, isn’t it.  With the wind.  Must be the altitude.”  Forcing a smile, he wrapped his arms around himself.

“Pete,” Virdon said, reaching toward him.

Burke shook his head and slid a little further down the bench.  Again, he tried for a lighthearted tone, and this time the effort was a little more successful.  “Galen, sir, king of the minstrels and master of the universe, I need your permission to take a bath.”

Prompted by Virdon into playing along, Galen sniffed the air.  “Please do.”

“I think they meant, you need to come back there and tell them I have your permission.”

Galen looked from one man to the other, the look on his face easy for anyone observing him to misinterpret.

“It’s a pain having slaves, isn’t it?” Burke asked him.  “You—”

His friends turned to see what had made him stop talking so abruptly.  A hundred feet away, at the edge of the park, the gorilla Kull had paused his patrol of the area to stare.  Even from a hundred feet away, the dark scowl on his face was plain.  Burke, unable to get up, seemed to be trying to sink into the bench until he actually became part of the wood.

“Do you think he knows us, Galen?” Virdon hissed.

“Let’s not jump to any conclusions.  He may simply not be fond of strangers.  Let’s just wait and see what he—”

The three of them sat as frozen as marble statues as Kull began to stalk into the park.  There was nowhere, really, for them to run.

“There is a rule about noise in the park!” the gorilla shouted.

Not at them.  He was addressing the chimpanzee teacher, and moving in her direction.

“Thank the gods,” Galen wheezed.

Virdon was already up off the bench.  “I think we should head back to the inn, so you can give permission to whoever’s in charge of bath-taking, for me and Pete.  I might not have needed a bath five minutes ago, but I do now.”  He paused; “good old Pete” would have taken the opportunity to point out that Virdon had indeed needed a bath five minutes ago, but the current Pete still sat trembling at the end of the bench.  “It’s okay,” he encouraged his friend.  “We’ve completed conclusion-jumping for today.”

Burke peered up at him.  “Shouldn’t’ve come out here,” he muttered.  “Somebody’s gonna spot us.”

And somebody had.  Julian, on his way back to the city attorney’s office after an errand of delivering papers to the tax office, had taken a short cut through the park to enjoy the new plantings of blue and white flowers near the fountain and spotted the three visitors to town well before they saw him.  As he drew closer, he couldn’t help but take note of Burke, huddled on the bench, and Galen standing over him, with Virdon a few steps away looking around as if keeping watch for his master.  Whether the ape had actually struck the dark-haired human, Julian couldn’t tell, but the man certainly did look frightened and nervous.

A small voice in his head trilled Stay out of it, stay out of it, but given his promise to Ariel, that really wouldn’t work out well.  Not if Ari came back from her journey and discovered that he’d broken his promise.  That might prompt her to think he’d be less than loyal to future vows.  Despite a tickle of foreboding that arose in his stomach, he changed course and headed for the strangers.

“Hello, there,” he called out cheerfully.

The voice made Galen jump.  He swung around, painting a smile onto his face as he did so.

“Columbus, isn’t it?  You met my fiancée, Ariel, this morning.  I’m Julian.”

“Oh, yes, yes.”  Galen nodded in acknowledgment of the greeting.  “You have a lovely city here.  And a lovely fiancée,” he added.

“I take it you’re having a look around.”

“Yes, indeed.  Segundo certainly does offer all the amenities.”

“We try.”

“Tell me something.  My servant, here”—Galen nodded at Pete—“tells me that you offer baths to humans.”

“That’s true.”

“That’s rather unusual.”

“Well,” Julian said with a shrug, trying for an air of nonchalance, “call it an experiment.  We find that by feeding them well, offering them a little time to rest and play, and to bathe themselves, that they really are much more content.  They seem to object a lot less to doing a day’s work if they know that at the end of the day, they have a good meal and a comfortable bed waiting for them.  The bathing in warm water helps, too, to ease aches and pains.”  The chimp took a moment to study Burke and Virdon, not bothering to hide what he hoped would look like honest curiosity.  Accustomed to the humans of Segundo, he wrinkled his nose at the aroma they gave off and the condition of their clothing.  “These two, are they very cooperative?”

Galen snorted softly.  “Well—”

The single word told Julian everything he needed to know.  “Tell Goreg at the inn that I’ll take care of any cost,” he said pleasantly.  “Tell the same to the shopkeeper on the north street.  He’ll give you some new clothing for both of them.  There’s no point in their bathing if they’re going to put the same old clothes back on.”

“That’s very generous of you.”

“My pleasure.  And. . .perhaps you’d join me for dinner at the inn?  I’d like to hear about your experiences traveling around the territory.  Ariel is away for three days, and I find my evenings are dull without her.”

“Of course.”

“Goodbye until dinnertime, then.”

It didn’t occur to Galen until Julian had left the park that the younger chimp had insulted him by implying he didn’t take proper care of his servants.  Miffed, Galen beckoned impatiently to the astronauts and set off in the direction of the inn.  That left Virdon to coax Burke up off the bench and start him walking.  They were far enough behind Galen that when Burke muttered, “He doesn’t like us,” Galen didn’t hear him.

“Who, Julian?  I noticed that too.  Only I think it’s Galen he doesn’t like.”

“Why?  Aren’t they the same species?” Burke said crossly.

Virdon considered that, then shrugged.  “I don’t know.  Either way, we can take advantage of his generosity while Galen wins him over with his abundant charm over the dinner table.”

“Yeah, sure.”

Both men glanced toward Kull, who had given up on harassing the teacher and was headed back toward the perimeter of the park.  He was some distance from them now.  “We need to be careful of him,” Virdon murmured.

 

* * * * *

 

When given Julian’s name as a reference, the owner of the clothing shop on the north street was not only willing but giddy about giving new clothes to the very welcome visitor Columbus and his two human servants.  He was the polar opposite of the chimpanzee farmer who had given them a ride two days before, and by the time he had outfitted the three newcomers, they had heard chapter and verse of the history of Segundo, and the shopkeeper’s family’s role in it.

“That was an experience,” Virdon said as they walked back to the inn.

“Even for a chimpanzee, he’s very outgoing,” Galen admitted.

Prompted by subtle looks from his human friend, Galen had attempted to swing the rather one-sided conversation over to the subject of Bakoor, but the shop owner, vehemently expressing his dislike of dust and filth, announced that he’d never been there, intended never to go, and had little interest in “the old trash the Prefect drags back from there.”  Apparently that extended even to building materials, since the walls of the shop were wooden and made no use of scavenged concrete.

Of course, Virdon was not content to let the subject rest.  When the shopkeeper’s back was turned, he gestured animatedly to Galen to encourage him to keep trying.

To no success.  Books of pictures and stories?  A waste of time.  The stories involved apes who were long dead, or had never lived at all.

“I suppose you’re right,” Galen admitted.

“What is it you do?” the shopkeeper asked.

Galen offered him a broad smile.  “I tell stories.”

“Hmmppff,” said the shopkeeper.

Goreg the innkeeper was waiting for them when they arrived back at the inn.  Before they’d crossed the threshold, Goreg had observed their packages of new clothes and gestured them toward the back door.  “Ella told me you wanted baths.  It’s in the larger building, there, with the blue walls,” he said, pointing.  “The fire’s been going for some time, so the water should be hot by now.  When you’re finished,” he added, addressing Virdon and Burke, “Marta will give you chores to do.  There are vegetables to be gathered and prepared.  And tomorrow, the cabins need whitewashing.”

Galen nodded his consent.  “They’re really very good painters, both of them.  No wasted whitewash.”

“Good,” said Goreg.

“In fact, they’re very good workers no matter what the task.”

“Hmm.  That’s good to know.  Oh, by the way, I mentioned your name to the president of the literary study group.  They’re having their weekly meeting tonight and they would be delighted to add you to the agenda.  They had never heard of a minstrel, but I assured them that they would be highly entertained.”

“Oh, yes,” Galen preened.  “We—”

Goreg frowned at him.  “It’s a very distinguished society.  They don’t have humans at the meetings.”  That said, Goreg went off to greet a guest at the front door, leaving the three fugitives alone on the back porch.  Galen, sputtering softly, looked at the two men, but Virdon was busily studying an area of chipped paint on a support post, and Burke was gazing off across the grass, gnawing idly at his thumbnail.

“Don’t worry,” Burke said after a moment.  “We’ve got all afternoon to teach you how to be entertaining.  Except, oh, we have to work.”

“I’ll come up with something,” Galen told him archly.

 

 

TEN

The Book

______________________________

 

Three mornings later, Virdon was awakened by a gentle knocking at the cabin door.  Still drowsy, he called out, “Just a minute.”  After he had yanked on the shirt and trousers that were now his, thanks to Julian’s generosity, he padded barefoot across the room and opened the door.  As he’d expected, the visitor was Ella, bearing a tray of breakfast.  Her eyes went immediately to the bed in the far corner, where Burke lay tangled in the covers in the midst of a burst of restless sleep.  Virdon beckoned her inside, and with a sigh she set the tray on the table, leaving the cloth covers on top of the dishes to keep them warm.  “I heard sounds in the night,” she said quietly.

“You can hear sounds from out here, all the way over in the inn?  You must have ears like a bat.”

Ella frowned, but not in response to the strange reference.  After a moment of gnawing on her lower lip, she confessed, “I walk sometimes at night.  I like to come out and look at the stars and listen to the night birds.”

“So you’ve been spying on us?”  Her eyes dropped and she bit her lip hard enough to make herself wince.  Virdon reached out to touch her arm, shaking his head in denial.  “No, no, it’s all right.  I know you meant no harm.  We could probably use a little extra looking after.  You’ve taken very good care of us, Ella, and we thank you for it.”

“I wish I could help Pete.”

“He’ll be all right.  It’s just bad dreams.”

She was as convinced by that as if Virdon had told her the full moon would break free of whatever held it in the sky and land with a plop in the middle of the lawn.  “Apes should not be cruel to humans,” she announced.

“No, they shouldn’t.”

“Meema says bad dreams can be worse than things that happen when you’re awake.”

“Who is Meema?”

“One of the old ones.  The oldest in Segundo, I think.  She’s very wise.”

“And she’s right about the dreams.”  Virdon’s mind wandered back to a long string of interrupted nights when he and Sally had been summoned by screaming from Chris’s room.  Shaking with terror, Chris had insisted that a green monster with huge claws and a taste for little boys lived in his closet and had been scratching at the closet door, anxious for a meal.  It had taken weeks of experimentation and two visits to the base psychologist before the four-year-old had resumed a routine of sleeping quietly with a chubby arm curled around his Teddy Luvs U.  “But trust me.  Each night, it gets a little better.  I think all the good food and the attention from you and your mother have really helped.  He enjoys working in the kitchen with you.”

Ella still wasn’t swayed.  “You should eat your breakfast before it gets cold.  I have to go.  Goreg is preparing another feast for the Prefect.  They’ll be back from the expedition soon.”

“Expedition?”

“To the old city.”

He’d learned that already, thanks to Galen’s conversational skills, but this was a chance for Virdon to find out more, without the bother of ape intermediaries.  “Is that where your mistress went?  She said she was going with the Prefect.”

Ella nodded.  “She’s very brilliant.  The Professor recommended her to be part of the group of students who work with the Prefect.  She said she would tell me all about what she found.  Humans aren’t allowed in the old city, so I won’t ever be able to go there.  But if Mistress Ariel tells me, it’s as good as being there.  She said she might even draw a picture for me.”

“That would be wonderful.”

Another glance toward Burke’s bed told her their voices weren’t disturbing him, so she went on, “Have you ever seen an old city?”

“Two of them, in fact.  San Francisco and Oakland.  They’re near each other, but quite a distance from here.”

“Were there wonderful things there?”

Virdon pulled in a long breath.  “Yes.  We didn’t have much chance to look at them, though.”

“Maybe, after Mistress Ariel tells me the stories, I can tell them to you.”

“I’d like that.”  Virdon paused, then asked, “You love her very much, don’t you?”

“We grew up together.  My father was a member of her father’s household.”

“Was?  Where is your father now?”

“He died in an accident.  A long time ago,” the girl said abruptly.  “You should eat your breakfast now.  I can bring more later, for Pete, if this is cold when he wakes up.”

“Thank you.”

Before Virdon could say anything more, she had slipped back out of the cabin.  Through the open doorway he watched her hurry across the grass back to the inn.  When she had disappeared from sight he closed the door and sat down to enjoy the meal she’d brought, and to mull over what she’d told him.

“She’s quite the little chatterbox, isn’t she?” Burke asked.

Virdon turned to look at him as he poured syrup onto a stack of golden pancakes.  “How long have you been awake?”

“Long enough.”

“We’ve got pancakes and scrambled eggs.”

“Swell.  Don’t take advantage of her, Alan.  She’s just a kid.”

“I could say the same thing to you.”

Miffed and bleary-eyed, Burke got out of bed, poured himself a cup of water from the pitcher and swigged it down.  “I don’t have any intentions like that and you know it.  If you want information from Ariel, why don’t you ask Ariel?  Every chimp I’ve ever met was willing to chatter from sunup to sundown.  If she’s excited about being on the Prefect’s little archaeological team, I’m sure she’ll be thrilled to provide details.  If not to you, then to Galen.  Just leave Ella alone.  You’ll get her into trouble with the apes.”  Virdon didn’t answer him, so Burke pressed, “Alan?  Are you listening to me?”

Around a mouthful, the blond man replied, “I think Ella’s mother said something about needing vegetables prepared this morning.  Shelling peas, shucking corn.”

“So?”

“The back porch of the inn seems like a good place to do it.”

Burke peered at his friend.  “And the ‘when’ would be, starting a few minutes before the Prefect shows up for his celebratory mega-meal.”

“Exactly.”

The younger man raked a hand through his hair to comb it, then pulled on his clothes.  As he tugged the shirt over his head, he asked, “Okay, so a dumb rule like ‘no humans allowed in the old city’ has never stopped you before.  But if the Prefect and his students have been to Bakoor a bunch of times, what do you think you’re gonna find there?  If there’s anything interesting, he’s probably already found it.”

“I’m hoping he has.”

“And that he’ll tack a list to the door of his office?”  Burke slid into a chair and began helping himself to some breakfast.  “He’s not running the public library there, you know.  This place might be a little sloppy with the rules regarding humans, but I’m pretty sure ‘no sharing of contraband’ is still one of them.”

“I just want answers, Pete.”

“No you don’t.  You want miracles.  No matter what you have to sacrifice to get them.  And I’m telling you, leave Ella out of the loop.  She’s a good kid, and she has a nice life here, all things considered.  If you get her into trouble—”

“What?”

Burke stopped his spoon in mid-air.  “Then I think you and I are done.”

 

* * * * *

 

Hadrian had briefed his team long before they reached the inn.  The artifacts they had uncovered in Bakoor were all carefully wrapped, boxed in wooden crates, and neatly stacked on one of the larger wagons for delivery to the Prefect’s office, where they would be kept under lock and key until Hadrian had had a chance to sort through and catalogue them.  Once that was done, he would decide which items could be shown or put to use in the city.  Some were as harmless as the unbreakable white bowl he had shown Ariel—even Zaius, he thought, could not convince anyone that possession of a bowl could bring about the downfall of their civilization—while others. . .

Each of the team members had been hand-picked over the years by either Hadrian or the Professor, or both of them.  Each one was tireless, creative, intelligent; and each one knew the value of keeping quiet when the situation called for it.  Hadrian had been making official expeditions to the old city for eighteen years, and in all that time no one had ever let the wrong information slip.

He did not expect anyone to do so this time, either.

A new and very mouth-watering aroma filled the inn when he arrived there, prompting him to interrupt the instructions he was issuing and sniff the air.

“Welcome back, sir,” Ella greeted him cheerfully.

“What is that smell?” he asked.  “Something new you and your mother have created?”

Rather than answer, she hurried into the kitchen and returned with a large platter.  “Here it is, sir.”

Out on the porch, Virdon said to Burke, “Pizza?”

Burke shrugged and went on shelling peas.  “They had dough, they had cheese, they had tomato-ish things and something that was pretty close to oregano.  And they had a brick oven.  Ella’s mother is a quick study.  Marie Valenti would have been ashamed of me if I didn’t pass on the family recipes.”  In answer to Virdon’s questioning look, he said, “I spent three summers working at Villa Roma in Jersey City.”

Virdon shifted in his chair enough to peer into the dining room.  “I think you’ve won the Prefect’s heart.”

Or at least, the elder orangutan’s interest.  All thoughts of the expedition and the wagonload of treasures had vanished from his mind as he sat examining a hearty slice of this new dish.  A bit of melted cheese stuck to the plate, forming a long, stubborn string as he lifted the food with his fingers, following Ella’s instructions.  The farther up he lifted the food, the farther the string stretched.  Finally, he began to chuckle, then to laugh out loud.

“What is this called?” he asked the girl.

“Pete-sa,” she replied, still convinced that the newcomer had named the dish after himself.

“And the recipe for this is in the book?”

“No, sir.  From a visitor.  He said to be careful, sir, not to take a bite until the cheese has cooled a little.”

Hadrian brought the Pete-sa close to his nose and took a long, happy sniff.  “A most useful visitor, Ella.  Do your best to keep him around.”  After testing the cheese with the tip of a finger, he finally took a bite, chewed it carefully and pronounced himself pleased with an enormous grin.

After the Prefect had been supplied with several bowls and platters of his favorite dishes, Ella was able to turn to Ariel, sitting at a small corner table in the front of the large dining room.  Like the rest of the team, Ariel was dusty and a little sleepy-eyed.  Ella smiled happily at her as she presented a plate she had carefully prepared for her mistress, but the smile collapsed when she got a closer look at Ariel’s expression.

“Mistress?” she ventured.

“I’m all right, Ella.  It was a very long journey.  I’m glad to be home.  Here, I’ve brought you something.”  Ariel fished out of her pocket the item Hadrian had given them all permission to distribute to whomever they chose: one of the small metal discs with the hole in the center.

The girl was thrilled.  “Thank you, Mistress.”

“I thought if you put it on a cord, you could wear it as a necklace.”

“I will.”

Ariel took a long drink of fruit juice that did little to quench the continuing dryness in her throat, then went on, “We have to meet with the Prefect tomorrow to talk about the expedition.  After that, I can tell you about some of the things we saw.”

“Was it wonderful?”

“Yes.”  Ariel paused.  “It was many things.”

“I missed you, Mistress Ariel.”

The chimp smiled and patted the girl’s hand.  “I missed you, too, Ella.  Tell me: how is your friend Pete?”

With a glance toward the porch, Ella replied, “He still makes sounds in the night.  John says he has bad dreams.  Don’t worry, I did what you said—I don’t talk to them if their master is nearby.”  Ariel grimaced but let the girl continue.  “I haven’t seen his master be cruel to him, but his life must be bad if he has the bad dreams every night.”

“Is he all right during the day?”

“He works with Mother and me in the kitchen.  When he’s there, just with us, he laughs and tells funny stories.  But he doesn’t seem to like being around apes very much.”

“Has he eaten?”

“Yes.  He likes everything we cook.”

“That’s good.”

Ella’s attention drifted toward the kitchen.  “The pump got stuck, so no water would come out.  Mother asked Pete if he would try, and he did, but when he did this”—she mimed the movement—“his shoulder pained him.  He said he had a pulled muscle from an accident.”  She waited for Ariel to respond, but Ariel said nothing, just groaned.  “I asked him what village they come from, but all he would say is that it’s very far away.”  Ella’s voice was softer when she added, “I would like to find out where it is, so I can make sure never to go there.  I don’t think they treat humans very well there at all.”

Ariel smiled again at the girl and stroked her arm.  “You like Pete very much, don’t you?”

“He makes me laugh.”

“Why don’t you bring him some of Meema’s tea tonight, before he goes to bed?  It always helped me when I had the bad dreams as a little one.  You, too, as I remember.”

That made Ella brighten a little.  “I will, Mistress.  That’s a good idea.  Thank you.”

“And tell me, has Master Julian kept an eye on things?”

“Oh, yes.  He ate dinner with Columbus three nights ago and he’s been here three times since.”  The sight of her mother in the kitchen doorway, urgently beckoning to her, caught Ella’s attention.  She waved back and took a step in that direction, then stopped and asked, barely above a whisper, “Mistress?  Is there a way—could your father—”  She had to suck in a deep breath before she could continue.  “When Columbus leaves here, is there a way your father could take Pete and John into your household?”

That caught Ariel unaware.  “Why—I don’t think Columbus would leave without his servants.”

“But could you try?”

“We’ll see.  Let me talk to Julian and see what he’s found out.”

“Yes, Mistress.”

Ella hurried away then, leaving Ariel to contemplate a breakfast she no longer had any appetite for.  She sat gazing at the food for a few minutes, then got up from her seat and walked to the Prefect’s table, her shoulders feeling heavier with each step she took.  “Sir,” she told Hadrian, “thank you for hosting this meal.  But I can barely keep my eyes open.  I think I need to reacquaint myself with my bed.”

Hadrian had noticed her conversation with Ella and offered a curious frown.  “Is everything all right?”

“Yes, it’s fine.”

“Go, then.  Sleep well.  I look forward to seeing you at the meeting tomorrow.”

He watched her shuffle out the door, as did Jimsa, one of his assistants, the chimp responsible for the bartered painting that had been Julian’s gift to Ariel nearly a month ago.  “The first visit to Bakoor does tend to be overwhelming,” Jimsa observed.  “Especially seeing the bones.  She’s a very tender-hearted female.”

“I don’t think being tender-hearted or female has much to do with it,” Hadrian replied.

“True.”

“Get started with the cataloguing as quickly as you can, would you?  There are several items I want to have a closer look at before the meeting tomorrow.”

Jimsa understood.  “The crate with the blue mark.”

“Yes, that one.”

 

* * * * *

 

The contents of “that one” made Hadrian’s hand tremble like the palsy some of the elder apes suffered.

He had found caches of books before, one of them very close to where the collection of tools lay, but those had been just cookbooks and treasuries of pictures of human homes, with instructions on how best to choose “color schemes” and arrange furniture.  Another set was composed of dictionaries, and another, several volumes on how to “prepare your income tax.”  Hadrian had spent an entire afternoon mulling over the ancient human preoccupation with money but had not bothered taking any of those books out of Bakoor.

This new collection he knew was trouble the moment he laid eyes on it.

This one had not been part of the merchandise of a shop (those were easy to distinguish, because they contained numerous copies of the same book); instead, it seemed to have belonged to an individual, much like the group of books locked in the base of the cabinet of Hadrian’s study.  Here, there was one copy of each book, and as he scanned the titles, the Prefect felt badly chilled in spite of the warmth of the afternoon.  Trying to sound curious rather than concerned, he had sent away the three chimps who had uncovered the cache, claiming he wanted time to sit quietly and thumb through them himself while the younger apes worked on other new areas of the dig.  In the end, he had summoned Jimsa, and together they had placed the books into a crate and sealed it.

Perhaps, he thought, he should have found a way to bury the books so that they would never be uncovered again, but the words of his friend the Professor had echoed in his mind: Learn from history.

So he had brought the books home to Segundo.

Looking at them again, in the privacy and relative comfort of the storeroom, made his stomach churn until he could taste the spices from the Pete-sa.  Almost unconsciously he rubbed his belly until a belch erupted; then he felt a bit better.  Moving quietly, as if he were afraid of wakening someone (or something), he selected a book, carried it over to the study table, and opened it.

“Fools,” he murmured.  “The poor, damned fools.”

A clatter in the outer office startled him.  With a speed that surprised him, he replaced the book inside the crate, dropped the lid down, and left the storeroom to seek out the source of the noise.  To his dismay he found the gorilla Kull in the outer office, one hand on the gun at his hip and bristling authority.

“I thought I heard an intruder,” Kull barked.

“It was me, you idiot,” Hadrian snapped back.  “Didn’t you see the wagon out front?”

Whether there was a wagon out front, or anywhere at all, was irrelevant to the gorilla.  He held his ground.

“Get out of here, Sergeant.  I’ll call you if I need you.”

Without a word, Kull spun on his heel and stalked out of the building, boot heels clacking against the floor.  An instant later, Jimsa rushed in, coming from his cubbyhole at the far end of the suite of offices.  He took note of the Prefect’s expression and the lingering aura of gorilla, and asked with a frown, “Is everything all right, sir?”

“I doubt it,” Hadrian told him.

“Did he—?”

“No.  He didn’t get farther than this room.”  With a hand over his heart, the Prefect sank into what was normally his secretary’s chair and took several long, deep breaths.  “When we leave tonight, we need to make sure all the doors are locked.  I don’t want that fool blundering in here and pawing through the artifacts.”

Jimsa tried reading his superior’s expression and didn’t get far.  “Do you think he’d send word to Central City about the things we brought back?”

“He sends word to Central City all the time.  Thank the gods, they think he’s as much a loudmouthed nuisance as we do.  That’s why they stationed him here—so they can ignore him.”

“Are you sure, sir?” Jimsa ventured.

“I’m never sure.”  Hadrian thought the situation over for a minute, then changed his mind.  “The storeroom that never locks properly, the small one with the desk.  Let’s put one of the crates in there and unfasten the lid.  We’ll scatter some tools around, and leave a few notes, making it sound as though the crate contains something remarkable.”

“Which one?”

“The one with the coins.  He’ll fall over himself rushing some of those off to Central City.”

“And then?”

“Zaius has seen coins before.  He has a collection of them himself.  I’ve seen him spend hours sitting there polishing them.  He won’t care that we have some, unless they’re new to him.”  Another thought occurred to Hadrian, one that made him smile.  “In that case, we can probably use them to win ourselves another few months of being left alone.”

Jimsa asked mildly, “You’re saying the Chief Councilor can be bought.”

Hadrian gazed steadily at the chimp.  “Unfortunately, son, everyone can be bought.”

 

 

ELEVEN

Dark Corners

______________________________

 

In spite of the Prefect’s well-kept policy of secrecy; in spite of his position on the back porch, out of earshot of most of the conversations in the dining room; in spite of Pete Burke’s annoyance with his commanding officer’s devotion to his cause; and in spite of being occupied most of the day with inn-improvement chores, a word had found its way to Alan Virdon.  That one word prevented him from crawling into bed at nightfall.  Kept him wide awake, sitting in the doorway of the cabin, staring off across the grass.  Created images in his mind: images of home, of Sally and Chris, of being debriefed by higher-ups who would mock him for describing a civilization run by apes.  He would, he thought, welcome the mockery.  He would welcome every moment of sitting before a board of inquiry, a Congressional committee, the President himself.  He would happily answer anything they wanted to throw at him.  The very idea of being grilled by a long row of men in uniform made him grin foolishly.

He was barely aware of Pete and Galen speaking to him, then dismissing him with almost matching tones of disgust.  Barely aware of the sweet night breeze, cool enough on his skin to raise goosebumps on his arms.

In his mind, he was one very large step closer to home, because of one word: catalogue.

The Prefect, he had learned third or fourth or seventeenth hand, was fanatical about order as far as it related to his belongings.  His home was a textbook example of “a place for everything, and everything in its place.”  His office, according to—well, someone—made his home look like the aftermath of a tornado.  And because he intended one day to author a scholarly text on the artifacts of Bakoor, his obsession with order when it came to those artifacts took the form of lists.  Lists of what, where, when, why and how.  Lists of measurements, color, shape.

The very idea of Hadrian’s obsessive lists almost made Alan Virdon drool.

Ella, as part of her never-ending quest to please Burke, had delivered after dinner a mug of fragrant tea for him and a pitcher of fruit juice for Virdon.  Only half-aware of Burke’s rattling snoring, Virdon left the doorway long enough to pour himself a drink, then sat back down to sip it.  The sugar in the juice would keep him awake, he thought, the opposite of what the tea seemed to have done for Burke.  Maybe it was the soothing effect of another warm bath, or the pleasure he’d found in teaching Ella and her mother how to make pizza, or the pleasure of eating the pizza; or maybe it was just the cumulative effect of several days in the relative calm of Segundo, but whatever the cause, after more than a week of nightmare-laden, restless nights, Burke finally seemed to be sleeping soundly.  Which was a blessing, because it kept him from harassing Virdon.

When the juice was gone, Virdon set the cup down beside him and began tipping his head back and forth to ease the stiffness in his neck.

The Prefect’s office was maybe two miles away.

“Dad?” he heard Chris say.

He had lowered the sports section of the Sunday paper, interrupting an article on the upcoming Super Bowl (Sally would kill him if she knew how much he’d wagered on the game), and cocked an eyebrow at his son.  “Hmm?”

“How come you and Mom only had me?”

“We figured we got it right the first time.”  He’d winked at Chris, but Chris wasn’t buying.  Gesturing the boy into a seat beside him on the sofa, he explained quietly, “Your mom had some trouble when you were born.  It was pretty rough on her.  We talked about it for a long time, and we decided that it would be the best thing if we didn’t try to have another baby.  But that’s okay, because we have you, and you’re the best son we could have hoped for.”  Chris didn’t answer, so Virdon went on, “I’m sorry we couldn’t give you the chance to have a brother or sister.  But sometimes, we have to make the choice that’s best for everybody.”

The choice that’s best for everybody.

“I can’t not go, Sally,” he’d told her.

“I know that.”

Possibly, but she wouldn’t look at him.  Declining his offer of help with the zipper on her dress, she had moved into the walk-in closet of their bedroom to take off the dress, hang it up, and pull a robe on over her slip.

“It’ll be fine.  We’ll be home before Valentine’s Day.  How about if we make reservations at that little inn in the Poconos?  The one with the ugly curtains?  We haven’t been there in a long time.  Seeing a little snow would be fun.”

“A little snow?  In the Poconos in February?”

“Okay, a lot of snow.”

She went on into the bathroom and ran warm water into the washbasin, barely acknowledging that she knew he was standing behind her in the doorway, leaning against the frame.  “I’m sorry, Alan,” she said as she fastened her hair back with a clip and reached for the jar of makeup remover.  “I don’t mean to be so—”  She cut herself off and stared at his reflection in the mirror over the sink.  “It’s just that, it’s so far away.”

“Not that long ago, they thought Ohio was far away.  It’s just perspective, Sal.”

To his dismay, she burst into tears, sinking down onto the edge of the bathtub and burying her face in her hands.  He knelt in front of her, gathering her hands into his, trying to comfort her, but she went on crying for several minutes.  Finally, her breathing shifted into the odd gulping that comes after tears.  Only then would she let him gather her into his arms and hold her, sitting on the floor with his back against the side of the tub.  Pete Burke, he thought, would try to make a joke about hormones—and would probably earn himself a good smack in the side of the head for his troubles.  Whether hormones were the cause of Sally’s outburst or not (and he doubted it), she was more upset than she had been prior to any of his previous missions.

“I’ll be back,” he told her softly.  “Listen, why don’t you give that designer a call while I’m gone?  Come up with a whole new look for the living room, like you were talking about.  Surprise me when I get home.”

She sniffled into his shoulder.  “I could do it all in blue.”

When they’d moved in, the house had been mostly blue, an ugly shade that was almost turquoise.  “I don’t care if you do it all in orange and kelly green plaid.  Whatever you think.  Go nuts.”

“Al—”

“Ssshhh.”  He turned her head so that he could cover her mouth with his own. When he finally withdrew from the kiss, he told her, “I’ll be back.  Till then, you and the Skateboard King will be with me every step of the way.”

What color did she choose? he wondered.

How long did she wait?

Slowly, he stood up, and listened with his own breath almost held to the sound of Burke’s muffled snoring.  He whispered Burke’s name and got no response.  Then he turned and looked toward the inn, where the window of Galen’s room on the upper floor was dark.

He made no noise at all as he eased the door shut and crept away from the cabin.

 

* * * * *

 

Even with simple ingredients like bread and cheese, Galen thought, humans could come up with a concoction that would make him uncomfortable for days.  This “pizza” stuff (which he knew Burke hadn’t named for himself, even though the size of the man’s ego certainly didn’t preclude that) had made him burp every few minutes for the last five hours.  The quantity of it that both Virdon and Burke had wolfed down would seem to guarantee them a belly full of gas for days, but neither of them seemed to be bothered by any sort of indigestion, probably because all that meat eating had petrified their insides.

With a sigh Galen climbed out of bed and began to pace slowly back and forth across his room, hoping that the motion might encourage his own insides to settle down.

He supposed he ought to be grateful for the miracle of the pizza, because it seemed to please Burke to be able to offer something to the little community at the inn other than his questionable skills at manual labor.  He seemed to enjoy fussing with the dough, showing Ella and her mother how to choose the seasonings and blend them into the “tomato sauce,” and particularly, demonstrating how to twirl the flattened dough in the air.  In the kitchen, in the warmth from the oven, splattered with flour and basking in the attention of the two women, he seemed at home.

Yes, that was the only way to put it: he seemed at home.

In the dark, Galen could see his mother’s smile as she placed bowls and platters of hearty, warm food in front of him and his father.  Often, at dinnertime, she refused help from the servants, choosing instead to prepare the meal herself and taking great joy in feeding her two males.

Galen closed his eyes and tried to hear her voice asking if he had had a good day.

So near, and yet so far, he thought.

What was it that Alan had said?  That back in his time, they could travel from Segundo to Central City in just a few hours.  By air, even faster than that.  Remembering the thrill he’d felt sailing through the sky in Virdon’s hang glider, he imagined landing the contraption in the street in front of his parents’ home and calling out, “Hello!  I’m home!”

Home.

Would there ever be such a thing again, for him?  Ever?

He reached for the cup of water he’d left sitting on the corner table and sipped it.  Over the course of these last few months (or had it been more than a few?) he’d grown used to drinking water from streams and wells, much of it clouded with bits of dirt or fish scales or the gods knew what else.  Here in Segundo, the drinking water was carefully strained through several layers of cloth, leaving it clear and without (as Burke put it) “chunks of stuff.”  It tasted sweet and cool, even though it had been sitting on the table for a couple of hours and by rights should have been tepid.

At least, he reminded himself, coming to Segundo had accomplished what he’d hoped it would, and Pete was feeling better.  Still holding the cup, he wandered back to the window and looked out across the back lawn to Virdon’s and Burke’s cabin.

And saw Virdon walking steadily away.

“What—?” he murmured.

The question didn’t really have many optional answers.  Groaning, Galen put the cup down, bent down to pull on his shoes, and reached for his jacket.  He was halfway down the stairs when a cramp seized him, forcing him to double over and hold onto his belly.  It eased up after a minute and he scurried down the rest of the steps, only to be stopped again within arm’s reach of the front door.  “Delicacy, indeed,” he muttered angrily.  A third cramp told him that there would be no chasing after Virdon without a prior visit to the outhouse.  Grumbling every step of the way, he was halted at the outhouse door by an elderly chimp who explained—and took his sweet time doing it—that he had bad knees, made all that much worse by the dampness of the night, and would certainly appreciate the assistance of a kind young chimp in getting back to his room.

By the time Galen had carried out the mission of mercy, struggled in growing misery back to the outhouse, and finally completed his business there, almost twenty minutes had gone by since his glimpse of Virdon sneaking away from the cabin.  Without a horse, the best he could do was make his way to the Prefect’s office at a rapid trot, aware every step of the way that if he was stopped he would have no believable explanation for rushing through the streets of Segundo in the middle of the night.

“If the two of you would just learn some patience!” he complained.

The approach of a carriage made him duck for cover in a thick clump of shrubbery near the city hall.  In his distress, the amount of time it took the carriage to cross the wide city square seemed to stretch into infinity.  Finally, finally, it was gone, and Galen rushed out of his hiding spot and ran nearly full out the rest of the distance to the Prefect’s office.

Of course, there was no sign of Virdon at the front of the building.  Unlike the city hall, which had decorative torches burning on either side of the front entrance, the Prefect’s office entry was unlit, allowing Galen some privacy in which to try the door and find it locked.  Not that that meant Virdon hadn’t gotten in somehow and re-locked the door behind him; even so, it was more likely that the astronaut had gone around back.  Unfortunately the office was flanked on both sides by other municipal buildings, with the narrowest of alleys in between—a passage too slim for Virdon, and for Galen, to sneak through.  That left going all the way around the block of buildings.

The land in back was heavily clustered with trees whose thick foliage blocked most of the moonlight.  Galen made his way through them as quickly as he dared, trying to avoid tripping over an unseen root or rock.  Days seemed to have gone by before he was within sight of the rear wall of the Prefect’s building.

“Alan!” he hissed.  “Alan, are you here?”

He didn’t entirely expect anyone to answer, and no one did.  Grunting in dismay, he crept closer and called Virdon’s name once more.  Again, he got no answer.  Here, thanks to the infernal trees, he could see almost nothing.  Summoning his courage (or, he thought, his stupidity), he hustled forward, gained a few yards, then tripped over something—a large something—in the dark and fell flat on his face.

The fall knocked the wind out of him, and several seconds had gone by before he was able to catch his breath enough to crawl onto his hands and knees.  Strange—the thing he had tripped over had seemed warm.  Not a rock or a root.  Too big to be either of those, anyway.  Confused, and frightened for a moment that what he had tripped over was his friend, he shifted around and began to grope in the dark.  That took long enough that his eyes began to adjust to the dim light.  Immediately he wished they had not.  There, prone on the ground, lay the gorilla police officer who had accosted the young teacher in the park.  The back of his head was clotted with blood, and Galen knew without checking any further that the ape was dead.

Burke would have offered any number of colorful phrases in response to a situation like this, but Galen settled for a heartfelt “Oh, dear.”

Lost for something better to do, he sat down to finish catching his breath and caught sight of something lying alongside the gorilla: a book.  One of the Prefect’s treasures from Bakoor, no doubt.  Why the gorilla had stolen it, Galen didn’t know and honestly didn’t care.  The only thought in his mind was Take it for Alan, and get out of here.  There seemed to be plenty of time to do that—the city square was quiet, and other than the carriage, he had encountered no one.  Convinced, he reached for the book and pulled it into his lap.

Then a light flashed into his face, blinding him.

“Don’t move!” a voice commanded him.

This time, he followed Burke’s lead and moaned, “Oh, hell.”

 

 

TWELVE

Murder

______________________________

 

“He what?” Burke mumbled.

“He’s in jail.”

Rousing Burke had been like dragging a 165-pound rock up from the bottom of a pond.  He had been sleeping so soundly that at first Virdon had considered letting him be, but the more noise he heard from the inn, the more sensible it seemed to have Burke conscious.  Wary of startling him into a violent reaction, Virdon had called Burke’s name a number of times from a few feet away, then, when the younger man started to stir, he had grasped Burke’s hand, hoping Burke could tell even in the fog of sleep that the touch was human and not simian.  He might have, but still he woke with a start and backed toward the head of the bed, into the corner of the room, mumbling something about Urko.  Finally (and even without a clock Virdon could tell the process had taken five or ten minutes) he came to enough to understand that he and Virdon were alone.

Now, rubbing at his eyes, he squinted at Virdon in the dim light.  “Wha—jail?”

“It’s Galen.”

“Galen’s in jail?”

“Pete—it would help a great deal if you’d wake up.”

Burke shook his head hard a couple of times, but that didn’t do much to clear out the fuzz in his mind.  Still confused, he peered at Virdon and said, “Wait a minute.  Why is Galen in jail?”

“For murdering the gorilla we saw in the park.”

“Mur—Urko?  Is Urko here?”

“Urko’s three hundred miles away.”

Straining for patience, Virdon poured a cup of water from the pitcher on the little bedside table and held it out to Burke.  Burke took it, but rather than drink it, he tossed the water into his own face.  It started to run off his chin as he asked, “Are you sure?”

“We’re in Segundo, Pete.”

“I know where we are.  I’m asking you—”

“The gorillas haven’t come here.  Nobody’s come here.  There was some commotion at the inn a little while ago, but it seems to have died down.”

Burke peered at his friend as if he were looking down a long tunnel.  “When did this happen?  How long have I been asleep?”

“I don’t know.  A few hours.”

“Did he do it?”

“Of course not.”

The lamp Virdon had lit provided enough light for Burke to see his face.  His expression answered Burke’s next question before he could ask it: no, Virdon didn’t know the identity of the guilty party.  “Of course not?” Burke echoed.  “Alan, he killed a gorilla in Central City the day after we met him.  I wouldn’t exactly say it was outside the realm of possibility.”  Virdon scowled at him but said nothing.  Holding both hands palm out, Burke surrendered, “Okay, okay, he didn’t do it.  So who did?  And how do you know all this, if nobody’s been here?”

“I saw it.”

“The murder?”

“No!” Virdon snapped.

“You keep losing me, Alan.  Let’s just start at the beginning.”  With water still dripping onto his chest, Burke got out of bed and groped around for his clothes, grabbing at the bedframe when a wave of wooziness hit him.  “Somebody killed that gorilla—which is a damn shame, I must say.  It wasn’t Galen, but the ever-popular ‘they’ think he did, so they arrested him.  Do I have it now?”

“Yes.”

“Where did this happen?”

“Outside the Prefect’s office.”

“And—”  Burke cut himself off.  “Ah, jeez, Alan.  I went to sleep, and you went on a midnight raid of the Prefect’s office with Galen?”

“Not with Galen.  By myself.”

“And Galen got himself arrested for murdering a police officer.  Obviously the trip was a wild success.”

“The jail’s lit up like opening night on Broadway,” Virdon said, more to himself than to Burke.  “There are gorilla police all around the place, and there’s only one way in: through the front door.  I couldn’t get any closer than across the street without someone seeing me, let alone get inside.  I had to give up and leave when more and more apes started arriving.  I think he’s okay for now—they treated him all right while they were bringing him in.  In the morning—”

“What?  You’re gonna go in there with guns blazing and bust him out?”

“We find somebody to help us.”

A banging sound erupted from somewhere nearby.  The suddenness of it made Burke flinch.  “Alan, we’ve got to get out of here.  They’ll find out about this in Central City.  A dead gorilla cop, and a chimpanzee, new in town, with two humans?  Urko’s going to hear about it and come down here on the next train.”

Virdon shook his head.  “It’d take almost a week for a messenger to get to Central City, and another week for Urko or anybody else to ride back here.  Beyond that, if I were the Prefect, I don’t think I’d be in a hurry to admit to the High Council that I let a murder happen on my watch.”

In the flickering light of the oil lamp, Burke stared at his friend.  “Alan, I can’t go through it again.”

“I know, Pete.  It’s all right.”

“If they take me again—”

“I won’t let that happen.  But we have to help Galen.”

To Virdon’s dismay, the younger man turned away.

 

* * * * *

 

Before he had met Virdon and Burke, Galen had been locked up exactly. . .never.  Since then, he’d been locked up more times than he could count.  Of course, one could consider that one way or another he had always managed to get out of wherever he happened to be locked up, usually thanks to the ineptitude of the apes guarding him, or the sheer audacity (Burke called it “balls”) of the two astronauts, or both.  So one could reasonably assume that this particular incarceration would end up the same way.  Also, this particular incarceration, happily, had not gotten underway with his being tossed around, or beaten, or bounced off any solid surfaces by irate gorillas.  In fact, the gorillas seemed to be not much more than badly annoyed that he had apparently killed one of their own, a novelty Galen was unable to explain.

However, there did seem to be a lot of muttering going on out in the corridor.  And muttering amongst a group of gorillas was never a good sign.

But for the moment, at least, he was safely locked inside a cell, with a cot to sit on and no bruises to nurse.

What would happen from here, he had no clue.

Looking down at his hands reminded him that they were still stained with the gorilla’s blood, and the contents of the cell offered no way to wash them off.  He supposed, marking the thought with a sigh, that that dead gorilla was going to stick to him for a while in more than one sense; at least until Virdon and Burke had found a way to get him out of here and they had fled Segundo, the way they’d fled so many other places.

Segundo: a place, Burke had said, just like all the other places.

He supposed—no, he hoped—Burke was still asleep, since Virdon had left the cabin alone.  Which raised the question of whether the dead gorilla would still be alive if the two men had raided the Prefect’s office together.  Galen very much doubted that.

“Alan, what have you done?” he groaned.

Then cut himself off.  You’re quite a reliable friend, he told himself, if you assume he’s the one who killed that gorilla.  What evidence do you have?  You have. . .

“Trouble,” he muttered.  “Everywhere we go, there’s more trouble.  Day in and day out.  And it’s always because of those two.”

A loud snort from outside the cell alerted to him to the fact that he was being watched by a most unusual stranger: a silverback gorilla, smaller than any gorilla Galen had ever met, dressed in a crisp, clean uniform decorated with several medals.

“Do you talk to yourself often?” the stranger asked.

Most unusual, indeed.  Small as he might be, he projected more authority than Urko, which was really saying something.

“No, sir,” Galen replied.

“You’re polite, I’ll say that.”  The stranger turned to address someone out of Galen’s sight line.  “Unlock the cell.  Take him to the interrogation room.”

“Yes, Chief.”

Five minutes later Galen found himself seated at one side of a battered wooden table that occupied the center of a windowless room at the rear of the jail.  The stranger seated himself on the opposite side and folded his hands on the tabletop.  Behind him, the gorilla officer who had brought Galen down here locked the door, sealing Galen and the silverback inside.

“I am Chief Marko,” the silverback said, almost pleasantly.  “And you are—?”

“Columbus.”

“What brings you to Segundo, Columbus?”

“Just passing through.  Sir.  I’m staying at the inn, as a guest of Goreg.”

“The inn?  That’s quite a distance from here.  What brings you to the city center in the middle of the night?”

Galen had been inside the cell by himself just long enough to come up with an explanation.  “I was looking for one of my servants, sir.  He has an unfortunate habit of wandering off during the night.  Sleepwalking.  He hadn’t done it for quite some time, so I hoped he might be cured.  But tonight, off he went again.  I managed to follow his trail to this area of the city, then I lost track of him.”

“And you thought you might find him by striking Sergeant Kull in the head with a jagged rock.”

“Oh, no, sir.  When I stumbled over the gorilla, he was already dead.”

“Who did hit him with the rock, then, if you didn’t?”

“I don’t know, sir.”

Chief Marko sat back in his chair and considered Galen for a moment.  “You can stop calling me ‘sir.’  It makes you sound like a parrot.  You might be interested to know that my officers searched the entire area and found no humans.  They found no one at all, in fact, other than you.  And Sergeant Kull.  Sergeant Kull’s remains, I should say.”  His gaze fixed solidly on Galen, Marko reached into the deep pocket of his tunic and pulled out the book Galen had last seen when it was snatched out of his hands behind the Prefect’s office.  “This seems to have been of interest to someone.  I haven’t bothered waking the Prefect at this hour, but I’m sure he’ll confirm that it belongs to him.  In the meanwhile, I’m going to go ahead and make some assumptions: that this came from inside the Prefect’s office, and that it’s one of the artifacts he brought back from the old city.”

“I suppose that would be reasonable to assume.”

“Let me give you the benefit of the doubt for the moment, and assume Kull took it out of the Prefect’s office.  Why do you suppose Sergeant Kull wanted this book?”

“I really couldn’t say.”

Marko placed the book on the table and pushed it across to Galen.  It was a slim volume, barely thicker than Galen’s thumb, bound in faded, flaking brown leather.  Several words were embossed on the cover in gold lettering: ATLAS OF THE UNITED STATES, CANADA, AND MEXICO.  Silently, Marko slid the tip of a finger under the edge of the cover and flipped the book open.

Oh, Alan, Galen thought as his stomach turned over.

 

* * * * *

 

Three hours remained to the night.  During that time, word of what had happened spread like a fever through Segundo.  In one house after another, lamps and lanterns were lit and apes and humans alike whispered to one another.  Ape had killed ape.

The commandment against murder had been broken many times, throughout the provinces, for reasons both officially sanctioned and not.  Punishment for a crime, a fit of passion, avenging a wrong.  Reasons both good and bad, although according to the ancient scrolls, there was no good reason.

Such a thing had happened in Segundo before, several years ago, as the result of a business deal gone awry.  Perhaps that had been the case here, too, since one of the Prefect’s books, one of very high value, had been found in the possession of the criminal.  Still, how could a book, no matter what its worth in barter, drive an ape to take the life of another?

A book?  What sort of a book?  What sort of a book could it possibly be, that it would drive an ape to murder?

Murder.

The word was whispered between neighbors, between husband and wife, overheard by children.  Ape had killed ape.

For a book.

The idea shocked and horrified many, beyond all reason—until they discovered that the victim had been police sergeant Kull.

The teacher Kull had berated in the park returned to her bed with a smile on her face.

Two young chimpanzee brothers Kull had terrified after the berry-throwing incident hid under their blankets and chittered softly, looking forward to days of mischief uninterrupted by the humorless gorilla.

A number of shopkeepers Kull had harassed on almost a daily basis looked forward to a business day of pleasant transactions and fine profits.

But surely there was no excuse for murder.

Except for a good reason.  A very good reason.  This ape, it was whispered, must have had a good reason to strike down Sergeant Kull.  Kull was unbalanced, they said.  Everyone knew the tales of his odd behavior.

In those few hours remaining to the night, no one in Segundo regretted their loss.

Even the Prefect, roused from sleep by a neighbor, sat in silence in front of his fireplace and did not mourn the death of Kull.  He did, however, worry about the void Kull had left behind.

 

* * * * *

 

“You are a minstrel,” Marko said after a glance at his notes.

“Yes.”

“What villages have you entertained in?”

After a moment of consideration, Galen named several of the villages he, Virdon and Burke had visited over the past few months.

“You stayed there without incident.”

That was a whole other kettle of fish.  Incident?  Oh, there had been plenty of incidents.  There had been incidents of every form imaginable, most of them provoked by some foolish and ill-considered act on the part of either Virdon or Burke.  Or both of them being foolish and ill-considered together.  “Oh, yes,” Galen lied.

Marko looked up from his notes and smiled.  He seemed to be smiling, though, in recollection of something that had nothing to do with Galen.

“The apes there gave you shelter and food as payment for your performance.”

“Yes.”

“Which brings up the question of this.”  Marko pushed the Atlas into the center of the table.  It had fallen open to its center seam, displaying a large, many-colored picture titled UNITED STATES.  Struggling to keep nothing more than a pleasant smile on his face, Galen tried mightily at the same time to etch every detail of the picture into his mind.  Whether Virdon had had a chance to study the book before Kull’s death, he didn’t know, but there was no point in wasting an opportunity like this.  How Virdon had discovered the Prefect had this book was a mystery, but a book of maps—wild horses could not have kept the man away.

“Traveling from village to village,” Marko mused, “staying in each place no longer than a few days.  Perhaps what you trade in is not entertainment but stolen goods.”

“Never,” Galen said firmly.

“Then what is your interest in this book?”

“I have no interest in the book.  As I said, it was lying next to the gorilla when I found him.  I picked it up out of curiosity, nothing more.”

“And yet you keep staring at it.”

“In wonderment.”

“At what?”

“The fine quality of the drawing.”

“Which would make it an excellent item to barter in exchange for, oh, say—a new horse?”

Galen gaped at the gorilla.  “A horse?  In exchange for an old picture book, no matter how pretty the drawings are?  That would be a very uneven trade.”

“Possibly,” said Marko.

 

* * * * *

 

Not long after first light, a knock sounded at Burke and Virdon’s cabin door.  Expecting Ella, who had faithfully delivered breakfast every morning since their arrival in Segundo, Virdon interrupted his agitated pacing of the small room, as well as the leaden silence that had hung between him and Burke, and opened the door to find not Burke’s devoted teenaged admirer but her mother, carrying a tray of food and drink.  With barely a glance at his face, Marta walked past him into the cabin.  Both men watched her curiously as she placed bowls of porridge, a pitcher of milk, and some sliced fruit on their table, but she ignored them until she was finished.

“Marta—” Virdon began.

She shook her head to silence him.  “Master Goreg insists that you stay in your cabin today.  He says it will disrupt business at the inn if you’re seen there.  He would have put you out, but Chief Marko says you must stay here until he can decide what to do with you.”

“We didn’t—”

Again, she cut him off.  “I blame no human for the actions of his master,” she said firmly.

Something in her tone was wrong, offbeat.  She almost sounded as if she had rehearsed the statement in front of a mirror.  It took Virdon a minute to read her expression.  “Is that what happened to your husband?” he guessed.

She winced, then said, “Yes.”

“Will you tell me?”

Rather than answer, she picked up the pitcher and poured milk into the two cups she’d brought.  Not until that was done did she speak.  “An ape named Krael accused Master Toban of being responsible for the death of one of his horses.  He said Master Toban sold him bad fruit.  Master Toban denied it, and the vet said the horse had died of something else, but Krael didn’t believe that.  He waited until the next time my husband brought a delivery from Toban, and he killed him.  He said it was an accident, that my husband had fallen from the wagon and broke his neck.  But it was not an accident.”

“I’m very sorry, Marta.  For you and for Ella.”

“So where is Ella?” Burke asked.

“I thought she should do her other chores this morning.”

“Then you’re not here to deliver a hearty dose of condemnation along with the oatmeal.”  When Marta frowned at that, Burke said, “You know we wouldn’t do anything to hurt Ella,” with a pointed glance at Virdon.

“Yes, I know that.”

“But you’re keeping her away from us.”  Burke pushed himself up from his seat on his bed and took a look out the window that faced toward the inn.  “There’s a whole crowd of apes up there.  Somebody putting together a lynch mob?”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“That somebody in town wants to take justice into their own hands.”

Marta puzzled that over, then shook her head.  “I don’t think so.  I think they would let Chief Marko do his work.”

She was still holding the milk pitcher.  Virdon took it away from her, then urged her into a chair and positioned the other one so he sat facing her.  She frowned at him but made no effort to resist being seated or remaining in the two men’s company.  In fact, she seemed to have anticipated being questioned.  “Marta, what happens now?” Virdon asked urgently.  “To Columbus?”

“A trial.  In front of the panel, and the Prefect.”

“When?”

“Soon, I think.  A few days.”

“A few days?” Burke echoed.  “That’s kinda taking the right to a speedy trial to extremes, isn’t it?”

Virdon cut in, “What if they find him guilty?”

“There’s a prison outside the city.  He would be kept there.”  Marta stopped, but Virdon’s expression prompted her to add, “How long depends on the crime.  For murder I think they would keep him there until he dies.”

“They wouldn’t execute him?” Burke asked.

That made her frown.  “Not an ape.”

“What if a human did it?  Murdered that gorilla.”

“For a human there would be no trial.  A human would be hanged.”  Then she misinterpreted something in Burke’s expression and told him, “They wouldn’t punish you for what your master did, as long as you had no part in it.”

Virdon was lost in thought for a moment.  “Marta, we need to get in to see him.”

She shook her head.  “If Chief Marko’s police found you out on the street, they would lock you up.  You have to stay here.”

“Then could you bring him a message?”

“No.  Humans aren’t allowed in the jail.  They changed the rule after a prisoner tricked a human into setting him free.  I’m sorry.”  Ella’s mother looked from one man to the other with an expression that brought out her resemblance to her daughter.  Both men were obviously upset, but having been in Burke’s amiable company for several days, as well as being on the receiving end of the many “Pete-and-John” tales Ella had relayed, she had plenty of reason to go on misunderstanding the reason why.  “You don’t need to worry,” she assured them kindly.  “Ella has already talked to Mistress Ariel.  If you’re taken away from your master after the trial, I’m sure Master Toban—Mistress Ariel’s father—will take you into his household.  No human could hope for better than that.  It’s a wonderful household, and he’s very good to all his humans.  I lived there for a long time, until my husband died.  After that, being there made me too unhappy, so I came here to work.”  Thinking she had soothed all their concerns, she patted Virdon’s hand and got up from the chair.  “I have to go.  Please don’t worry.”

“Marta?” Burke said.  She and Virdon both turned to him, but all he said was, “Thanks.”  After she had gone, and the door was closed behind her, he told Virdon grimly, “I was gonna say ‘he didn’t do it,’ but I was afraid I’d spontaneously combust.”

“He didn’t do it,” Virdon insisted.

Burke laughed softly, without humor.  “Old chestnut,” he explained.  “You might be saying ‘no, no,’ but there’s ‘yes, yes’ in your eyes.  Face it, Alan.  You didn’t see what happened, so maybe it’s true.  He really might have done it, for the same reason he took on that gorilla in Central City: to protect us.”

Virdon couldn’t argue.

 

* * * * *

 

“Do I need to remind you not to destroy my property?”

“No, Goreg.”

“This is a business establishment.  Try not to disturb my guests.  Some of them are still asleep.  Complete your search, and go.”  Goreg met the gorilla’s gaze and offered an enticement for him to hurry.  “There’s apple cake.  Fresh this morning.”

For a search of a larger area, three or four gorillas might have been sent, but Columbus’s room at the inn was so small that a single officer could do the job.  Goreg already knew from gossip around town that he had gotten lucky: this particular officer preferred to search by examining each crack and crevice with his eyes and his fingers rather than by flinging things into the air and letting them crash to the floor.  With Goreg watching from the doorway, the gorilla studied each drawer of the small storage cabinet, peered into the dark recesses of the cabinet once the drawers were set aside, checked the seams of the mattress to see if any stitching had been pulled loose, and lay on his back on the floor to study the underside of the bed frame.  He found nothing in the room other than a change of clothes, a small knife, a wooden bowl and spoon, and a rolled-up sleeping pad and blanket.

“Not only is there nothing illegal here, this ape has no possessions at all,” he told Goreg.  “He must be a pauper.”

Goreg considered that, then replied, “There is one other place you should search.”

Early as it might be, Goreg and the gorilla still attracted a crowd of onlookers as they crossed the yard to the cluster of cabins out back, including Marta, who had returned to the inn after her breakfast delivery to Virdon and Burke only a few minutes earlier.  Without bothering to knock, Goreg thrust open the door of the cabin he had assigned to Columbus’s humans and impatiently beckoned them outside.

“What’s going on?” Virdon asked him.

“Don’t waste time.  Come on, come on, and let the officer do his work.”

The two astronauts had little choice but to obey.  Once outside, they stood on the grass several paces from the cabin.  Goreg, still concerned about the treatment of his property, paid no attention to them and did not see Burke begin to inch away.

“Take it easy, Pete,” Virdon murmured to the younger man.

“I can’t—”

Virdon gripped him by the upper arm.  “It’s all right.  There’s nothing in there they could arrest us for.”

They both thought at the same moment: Except one thing.

The gorilla found it almost immediately, in the leather pouch Virdon normally wore tied around his waist: a small, round, metal device about two inches across and half an inch thick—the flight record disk from Virdon and Burke’s ship.  Virdon had carried it with him since a week after the crash, believing it held the information necessary for him to return home.  The gorilla peered curiously at it, turning it over and over in his hands.  Grumbling softly, he brought the mysterious metal object outside and displayed it to the two humans.  “What is this?” he demanded.

“I don’t know, sir,” Virdon replied.  “I found it in the dirt.”

“Here in Segundo?”

“No, sir.  Months ago, a long way from here.  I like it because it shines.”

“Hmmpff,” the gorilla grunted, and thrust Virdon’s precious flight disk into his pocket.

“Sir,” Virdon said as mildly as he could manage, “it’s really nothing.  Can’t I have it?”

“Your master has committed a serious crime.  Anything of interest goes to the chief of police for his inspection.”  The human’s genuinely distressed look touched a chord in the officer, whose own children enjoyed playing with shiny objects, some of which vaguely resembled this human’s toy and had undoubtedly filtered their way into Segundo because of the Prefect’s junk-collecting excursions.  “If the chief agrees it is nothing, he may let you have it back,” he offered.

The human still looked disappointed.  “Thank you, sir.”

The other human, on the other hand, looked nervous and upset.  Stepping closer, the gorilla peered into his face.  “What is the matter with you?”

“He’s been mistreated,” Goreg grumbled.  “He’s very skittish.”

The gorilla muttered a comment on that, but whether it was positive or negative, no one around him could tell.  “Go on, back into your quarters,” he instructed the two humans.  “And stay out of trouble.”

“Officer, please,” Virdon ventured.  “Is there any way we could see our master?  We’re very confused by all of this.  We need to know what he would like us to do.”

Goreg, scowling, gave him a push toward the cabin.  “Your master is a prisoner of the city.  He has no say in what happens to the two of you until after his trial.  If he is found guilty, he has no say at all.  Now, you heard the officer: go into the cabin, and stay there, out of trouble.”  When Virdon hesitated, Goreg pointed to the door and barked, “Now!”  Finally, the two humans capitulated, and Goreg yanked the door shut, muttering, “Humans.”

The gorilla nodded his gratitude.  “Now,” he said to Goreg, “you mentioned cake?”

 

* * * * *

 

Galen had been awake for twenty-four hours.  His body wanted very much not to make it twenty-five.  Slowly, steadily, his eyelids drooped shut.  He could, he thought, sleep sitting up if he had to.

The police chief cleared his throat.

Galen’s eyes shot open.  Marko was smiling at him again, hands folded together on the tabletop.  Had Marko said something?  For that matter, had Galen himself said something?  Left without an answer to that, Galen broached the subject that had been very much on his sleepy mind the last few minutes.  “My two servants—”

“They’re being well cared for.  If I were you, I’d worry about my own hide and not theirs.  You could be imprisoned for a very long time.  Do you understand that?  The rest of your life locked inside a cell?  The last ape we had under life imprisonment killed himself after five years, rather than endure it any longer.”

Galen shuddered.  “Believe me, I take the matter of my own freedom very seriously.”

“Would you like to be held prisoner in a room this size for the rest of your life?”

“No, sir.”

“Then you should consider being more cooperative.”

“Chief,” Galen sighed, “I’ve told you everything I know.”

“Which is nothing.”  Marko laughed.  It made him sound like a small animal with something caught in its throat.  “The officer who searched your room at the inn said you have no possessions other than a bedroll.”

“It’s easier to travel that way.  I can pack up very quickly.”

“Or flee very quickly.”

With a small moan, Galen pressed his hands to his face.  It occurred to him that closing his eyes might not be a good idea; they might not open again.  “All I really have in this world is those two humans,” he said.

“You could end up with less than that.”

“Could I at least send them a message?”

“Certainly,” the gorilla replied amiably.  “I’ll deliver it myself.”

That called for some frantic reshuffling; Galen had fully expected Marko to refuse the request, most likely with a shout of protest.  After a minute of tossing around several possibilities, all of which refused to jell properly because his brain kept telling him Put your head down on the table and go to sleep now, before you fall out of this chair, he settled on, “Tell them—tell them I think it’s time for John to see a doctor about his sleepwalking problem.”

“Consider it done.”  Marko stood up and straightened his tunic.  “As to the question of your own hide, you do know you’re allowed to request counsel at your trial.”

“Counsel?”

“A lawyer,” the gorilla said, as if he were addressing a small child.

“I don’t know any—” Galen began, then cut himself off.  “Wait a moment.  Yes I do.”

 

 

THIRTEEN

An Ape of Good Character

______________________________

 

“I can’t do it,” Julian protested.  When Ariel didn’t reply, he sputtered on, “I handle property disputes and taxes.”

“But you studied all areas of the law.”

“Briefly.”

“You’re as qualified as anyone else in the city attorney’s office.”

“Where I have only been working for one year.”

Ariel sighed, “Julian.”

“Even if I did have experience at this sort of thing, they found him sitting next to the body, holding a stolen book, with blood on his hands.”

“If you think you can’t handle it, ask the Professor for help.”

Julian gave her a piercing look.  “I can handle it.  I just don’t trust that chimp.  He’s. . .shifty.”

“‘Shifty’?”

“I spent hours with him while you were gone.  Hours of listening to him chatter, and I still don’t know anything about him.  He talks about fruit, and the condition of roads, and tells odd stories about talking animals.  A turtle and a rabbit having a race!  But do I know anything about his family, or his home, or how he became a minstrel, whatever in the world a minstrel is?  No.  By the way, unless I’m mistaken, you’re the one who mistrusted him in the first place.  Have you changed your mind?  Now you believe he’s being falsely blamed?”

“No, but I believe any ape has the right to be represented at trial.  That’s one of the foundations of our government.  Beyond that, Julian, it would be good for your career.  No matter what happens, if you do your best work, the city fathers will remember that.  This could help you move up on the ladder much faster than settling property disputes.”

“And what if my seniors say no?”

“The Prefect has already said yes.  If the panel accepts you as attorney for Columbus, your seniors will have to agree.  And since my father is on the panel this term—”

“What about payment?  Columbus has nothing to barter.”

“Yes he does,” said Ariel.

Julian stopped pacing to look her in the eye.  “So that’s it.  If I win the case, the humans belong to me as payment for my services.  And if I lose, the humans go to the highest bidder, more than likely your father.  What if Columbus doesn’t agree to that?”

“What choice does he have?”

“None, I suppose.”

“You’ll do just fine.  No one in Segundo has any more experience at this than you do.  No one’s been murdered here since we were little children.  And Columbus specifically asked for you.”  Julian’s expression didn’t show any more conviction than it had ten minutes ago.  With a soft murmur of support, Ariel embraced him and rested her head on his shoulder.  “Give it a chance.  The Professor will help you.  Who knows, Columbus may have a perfectly reasonable explanation.  Regardless of the way he treats his humans, he may not be a murderer.”

“And all I have to do is get that explanation out of him, when Chief Marko couldn’t.”

“Maybe Chief Marko wasn’t persuasive enough.”

“Chief Marko could persuade the river to run uphill.”

“Julian.”

“All right, all right.  I’ll talk to Columbus, and if I feel there’s a shred of a chance of getting somewhere with this, I’ll go to the Professor.”  He took a step toward the door, then stopped.  “I know who has the power of persuasion in this room, and it isn’t me.”  He expected her to respond with a quip and was surprised when she didn’t.  “You’ve been quiet since you got back from the old city.  Is everything all right?”

Ariel came up with a smile, but it flickered and went out after a few seconds.  “I’ll be fine.”

“You’ll be fine?  You’re not fine now?  What is it?”

Looking everywhere but at him, she sank into her mother’s favorite rocking chair and folded her hands in her lap.  Growing progressively more worried, Julian crouched in front of her and took her hands into his own.  He had to offer several murmurs of support before she gave in and began to talk.

“I knew about the remains.  The bones of the humans who lived in Bakoor.  The Professor told us, and the Prefect warned me before he took me to the place where they lie.  So I thought I was prepared, and I thought it would have no more effect on me than looking at their buildings and the things they used.  But, oh, Julian, it was so heartbreaking,” she moaned, her eyes welling with tears.  “There were several of them, all in one place, as if they had huddled together out of fear of the sickness.  They must have been overcome there, and died.”

“It was a long time ago, love.”

“I know.  But while I stood there, I imagined the place as they must have seen it.  When the walls weren’t tumbled down, when they were alive and happy.”

Julian said wryly, “You don’t know they were happy.”

“But going about their daily lives—”

“Ari, you’re the most compassionate soul I know.  There’s nothing you can do for those humans.  They’ve been gone for hundreds of years.  Do what the Professor says: study what they left behind, and learn from it how to make our world better.”

“From old broken walls and heaps of bones.”

She had begun to look haunted, her eyes focused on something that wasn’t in her parents’ cheerful sitting room.  As Julian held her hands, the tears began to spill down over her face.  “Ari, Ari, don’t do this,” he told her gently.

“Is it wrong to mourn them?”

“It is if it cripples you.  You can’t undo the past.”

“I went there to see pictures,” she said.  “Their tools, and their toys.  And to imagine what their lives must have been like.”

“They did it to themselves, Ari.  All of it, even the sickness.”

“I know.”

Julian glanced around the room, looking for something he could use to distract Ariel.  He found it hanging on the wall above the fireplace.  “Lucien made a frame for your picture.  It looks wonderful.  His best one yet.”

“He was very careful about choosing the wood,” she sniffled.

“Rael in my office has a servant who’s very good at carpentry.  Maybe I should take Lucien over there one afternoon.  They could learn from each other.”

Another wan smile.  “That would be nice.”

“Ari—”

She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and, from somewhere, came up with a more convincing smile.  From her pocket she produced a cloth to wipe her nose.  “I’ll be all right.  I just didn’t expect it to be so overwhelming.  We have a meeting this afternoon to talk with the Prefect about what we found.  I’m sure after I’ve heard the others talk about their experiences, I can put it all into perspective.”

“Maybe your imagination is too vivid for your own good.”

“And maybe I imagine things that were never there.”  The funk apparently gone, she pushed herself up out of the chair, straightened her skirt, and reached for Julian’s hand to urge him to his feet.  “You should go,” she instructed him, brushing imaginary lint off his shoulders.  “Meema says everything happens for a reason.  So I assume there’s some divine purpose in Columbus choosing you to serve as his counsel.”

“Meema finds divine purpose in chicken feathers.”

Ari’s eyes twinkled.  “Maybe she’s right.”

An hour later Julian found himself sitting at one side of the old wooden table in the interrogation room, with the prisoner Columbus on the other.  Apparently many an ape had sat in this chair before him, because the seat was worn smooth and comfortable.  The prisoner, on the other hand, was anything but comfortable.

“Thank you for coming,” Columbus offered.

“Then you agree to my terms for representing you?”

The prisoner’s expression shifted into something that looked like regret.  “I very much need your help, Julian, regardless of the price.”

Julian paused.  He considered mentioning that he was not honestly qualified enough to demand much of a price, let alone one as steep as ownership of two servants, but let the thought go by.  “Then tell me what happened.”

As Julian had expected he would, Columbus repeated the story he had told Chief Marko.  Julian would have found it as peculiar as the chief had if he had not visited Ella at the inn before coming to the jail.  Yes, the girl told him, during her nightly quiet time watching the stars, she had seen the human John leave his cabin alone.  Whether he was sleepwalking or not, she could not say.  At her mother’s urging she had gone to bed shortly after that and had not seen Columbus leave or John return—though obviously John had returned at some point because he was in the cabin now.

“We need to send for someone who can vouch for your good character,” Julian said, more thinking out loud than addressing Columbus.

“That would be difficult, I’m afraid.”

“Why?”

“Well, traveling as I do, I tend not to stay in any one place for very long.  It makes building relationships difficult.”

“For your entire life?”

“By and large.”

“Someone who knew you as a child, then.  Where were you born?”

“Ah, well—I’m afraid it was destroyed in a storm.”

“What was?”

“The village.  Where I was born.”

“The entire village?”

“It was a terrible tragedy.”

“And I suppose everyone who knew you perished in this storm.”

“It—”

“—Was a terrible tragedy.  I know.  Then what you’re saying to me is, the only living beings on this planet who are well acquainted with you at all are the two humans?”

Columbus nodded.

Julian, flummoxed, said nothing.

“Would they be allowed to speak at the trial?” Columbus asked.

Julian groaned at the ridiculous idea.  “They would, if I requested it.  But the panel would give it about as much weight as testimony from a child, or the feeble-minded.  Think about it—you want testimony that you’re an ape of good character from your two human servants, one of whom cowers away from every ape who comes near him?”

“He was tort—mistreated.”

Julian peered at him.  “You were going to say ‘tortured’?”

“Mistreated.  Not by me.”

“By whom, then?”

“I would rather not say.”

“Do you see my problem, here?”

“More than you know.”

Suddenly weary, Julian got up from the old chair.  “I’ll do my best to help you.  I’ll be honest with you—I’m doing this more for my own benefit than yours, because I don’t think there’s a prayer of your being honest with me.  I need to prove your innocence, not just stand up there and say, ‘He didn’t do it.’  If I were you, I would think my story over carefully, because you could have the Lawgiver himself representing you, and what you’re saying would still sound like a lie.”  Something in Columbus’s face made him stop and take a closer look.  The other chimp had begun to look sorrowful, but sorrowful about what, Julian wasn’t sure.  “You have to take this seriously, you know,” Julian sighed.  “Your freedom is at stake.  For someone who has spent his entire life wandering around the countryside, I would think that would matter.”

“It does matter,” Columbus said softly.

Julian leaned in and said into the other chimp’s face.  “Then tell me the truth.”

“I did.  I was looking for my servant, and I tripped over the gorilla’s dead body.  I had no part in his death.”

“All right,” Julian sighed.  “All right.”

 

* * * * *

 

“Young Julian, by the gods!  Sit down, sit down.”

Julian had little choice but to sit, even though he knew from the moment he crossed the threshold into Loman’s house that this would not be a short visit.  The elder chimp had been a friend of Julian’s grandfather and was well known among the university circle as the ape who could talk the ears off a deaf hog.  And surely enough, Julian had barely settled into the padded chair Loman had practically dumped him into when the old fellow thrust a cup of tea into his hands.  He’d come to the house expecting to be here an hour.  Now he began to wonder if he would be able to escape anytime today.

Loman, thrilled beyond reason at this unexpected visit, snuggled his backside into his favorite chair and reached for a cup of the fragrant tea.  “Tell me, tell me, how are your parents?  I haven’t seen them around the city in weeks.  Have they gone into hiding?”

They might have, if only in self-defense, Julian thought.  “They’re fine, sir.”

“And that rascal of a brother of yours?”

“He’s fine too.”

“I hear he made himself quite the barter on a new horse.  It’s that beautiful chestnut, isn’t it?  The rascal, what did he offer in trade?”

“The leather collar he brought from the western province.”

Loman gasped, but whether he was impressed or horrified, Julian couldn’t tell.  Clucking his tongue, the elder chimp began to gaze around the room as if he were the visitor and not Julian.

“Sir—” Julian ventured.

“And you, you scoundrel!  You’re to be married soon, to Toban’s daughter.”

“Yes, sir, I am.”

“And what did you barter for her?”  Loman hooted with laughter at his own joke.

“Sir, I don’t mean to seem rude, but I came to ask you about the literary society meeting the other night.  If I could just ask a question or two, then we could—”

“What about it?”

“Did a chimpanzee named Columbus attend the meeting?”

Loman snorted loudly.  “An odd one, that one.  He said he was a storyteller.  We have a storyteller at every meeting, as you know, since your grandfather was one of the founders of the society.  I’m sure he told you about our meetings.  They haven’t been the same since your grandfather died, I must say.  He was the very life and soul of the society.”  He was about to continue when he caught sight of the distressed crease between Julian’s eyes and heaved a sigh that seemed to come all the way up from the soles of his feet.  “He tells very peculiar stories, I must say.  This Columbus, not your grandfather.”

“Yes, sir, I understood that.”

“He tried to tell us something about an ape coming into an inn with a duck tucked under his arm.  And another one about a chimp, an orangutan, and a gorilla riding together in a wagon to the gates of the heavens.  It all made no sense.  Where is he now, do you know?  I need to sit the young fellow down and get him to explain what in the world he was talking about.”

Julian grimaced.  “He’s in jail.”

“Jail?  What for?”

“He’s accused of murdering a gorilla.  Sergeant Kull.”

“Kull?” Loman sputtered.  “That sorry excuse for an ape?  Let me talk to him.”

“To Kull, sir?  He’s dead.”

Loman groaned and shoved his teacup aside.  “No, not Kull, you ninny, to the storyteller.”

“I don’t think that’s allowed.”

“Why not?”

“Because he’s in jail.”

“I’ve known Chief Marko since he was hanging onto his mother’s ankles looking to be nursed.  He’ll let me in.”  It took a minute of struggle for the elder chimp to get back up out of his chair, ignoring the looks and gestures he got from Julian the whole time.  “Come along, we’ll go down to the jail and get this whole sorry situation straightened out.”  Halfway to the door, Loman stopped and peered at Julian.  “What’s your interest in him, anyway?”

“He’s asked me to be his attorney.”

“Good gods, boy, what possessed him to do that?”

“I’m beginning to wonder,” Julian sighed.

 

* * * * *

 

“My ears are bleeding.”

Ella, bearing a tray of juice and snacks, looked at Julian in shock and nearly dropped the tray onto his table.  “What happened to you, Master Julian?  Should I get the doctor?”

“No, no, I was—never mind, Ella, it’s all right.”

Ariel nodded agreement with that and gestured the girl away, indicating with a smile that Ella had done nothing wrong.  The girl was trying to examine Julian’s ears, puzzled when she found no sign of bleeding.  To distract her, Ariel gestured at the metal disk with the hole in the center, now hanging on a cord around Ella’s neck, and offered Ella a broad smile.  Finally, Ella took the hint and returned to the kitchen, still confused.

“I tried everything I could think of to shake him,” Julian went on, “but he doddered his way over to the jail with me two steps behind him.  He moves very quickly for someone that old.”

“Did he get in?”

“Almost.  The Prefect was coming out of a meeting with Chief Marko, and he managed to talk Loman into joining him for lunch.”  Shaking his head, Julian fingered some of the treats Ella had brought over and decided against sampling any of them.  “After I got rid of him, I went over to the clothing shop on the north street and talked to the shopkeeper.  According to him, Columbus was obsessed with the old city.  He wanted to know when the Prefect goes there and what he finds.  Specifically, if he ever finds any books.  The shopkeeper tried to change the subject, but Columbus asked him several times about books.”

“Oh, dear,” Ariel said.

Julian’s expression shifted.  He had glanced past Ariel to look out the back door.

“What?” she asked.

“Chief Marko.  He’s headed toward the cabin Goreg assigned to Columbus’s two humans.”  Ariel got up from her chair a moment after Julian rose from his, but he gestured her away.  “No, stay here.  I’ll find out what’s going on.”

He met the silverback gorilla halfway across the lawn.  “Julian,” Marko said with a nod.

“I’d like to be present if you’re going to question the humans.”

Marko agreed with a mild grunt.

“Maybe I should bring them outside,” the chimpanzee offered.  “It might be a little less alarming if they see me first, and  they don’t feel as if they’re being cornered.”

“Go ahead.”

Julian picked up his pace a little and reached the cabin first.  Apparently the humans had seen them coming, because Virdon opened the door before Julian could grasp the latch to open it.  “John,” Julian explained, “this is Marko, the chief of police.  He wants to ask you and Pete some questions.  Why don’t you come outside?  We can sit over there.”  Smiling, he pointed to the long table flanked by narrow benches where Virdon and Burke had eaten several meals during the last few days.  “Don’t worry, you’re not in any trouble.”

Virdon nodded his agreement and moved out of the doorway to stand on the grass.  Burke took more coaxing, coming outdoors only when Julian hissed at him in agitation.

As Julian expected, Burke seated himself facing outward on a bench so that he could get away easily, without stumbling.  He said nothing to either ape, but Virdon greeted Marko with a mild hello and a nod of deference before he sat down.  Unlike Burke, Virdon sat facing the table.  The two apes sat opposite him.

“Which one of you is John?” Marko asked.

Virdon told him, “I am.”

“I have a message for you, from your master.  He says it’s time for you to see a doctor about your sleepwalking problem.”

“Sleep—?”  Virdon thought that over for a moment, then, suddenly, understood.  “Oh.  Yes, sir.  He’s probably right.”

“Is that what you were doing last night?  Sleepwalking?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Did you get as far as the city center?”

Julian put in quietly, “If he was sleepwalking, sir, he wouldn’t know where he was.  He would have been asleep.”

Marko peered at him.

“Sorry, sir,” Julian murmured.

“I thought for a minute you were going to start representing humans as well as apes.”

“Representing?” Virdon echoed.

“I’ve agreed to be your master’s attorney at his trial,” Julian explained.  “Why, I’m not sure.  Maybe I take after my great-uncle Cyrus.  He was crazier than a loon.”

Marko scowled at the chimp, then at the human.  “Sleepwalking,” he pressed.

“I’m not sure where I walked, sir,” Virdon told him.  “When I woke up, I was near the stream, but the area wasn’t familiar.  It took me some time to find my way back here.”

“Did you ask anyone for help?”

“No, sir.”

“And did you see your master while you were trying to find your way back?”

“No, sir.”

The gorilla grumbled softly to himself and reached into the pocket of his tunic.  Something was curled inside his fist when he brought the hand back out.  He kept the fist closed for a moment, lying in the center of the table, then opened it to release Virdon’s flight disk.  “What is that?”

“A toy, sir.”

“That’s all it is?”

“Yes, sir.  I told your officer, I found it in the dirt outside a village far away, a long time ago.”

“It doesn’t belong to your master.”

“No, sir.”

Marko leaned toward Burke and pointed to the disk.  “Does that belong to your master?”

Burke shook his head curtly, then indicated Virdon.  “It’s his.”

To a dismay Virdon didn’t bother to hide, Marko buried the disk in his pocket again and spent a long couple of minutes studying the two men, particularly the way Virdon kept glancing at the pocket containing the disk.  “Take off your shirt,” he told the blond man.

“Sir?”

“You heard me.”

“Could I ask why?”

“To satisfy my curiosity.”

Julian nodded his agreement.  Slowly, Virdon got up from the bench and pulled off his shirt.  Obviously mulling something over, Marko got up and circled the man several times, looking him up and down.  When he was done circling, Marko pointed to the well-healed but still very noticeable scar on Virdon’s midsection and asked, “What is that from?”

“An accident, sir.”

“What sort of accident?”

“I fell.”

“And impaled yourself?”

Virdon frowned, as if he didn’t understand the word.  Burke, bristling, said sharply, “An ape shot him.”

Julian gaped at the two of them, astonished.  “Is that true?”

Virdon tossed his friend a critical look and admitted, “Yes.”

Rather than respond to that, Marko ignored it and turned to Burke.  “You, too.  Take your shirt off.”

Burke didn’t move.

“It’s all right, Pete,” Julian encouraged him.  “He’s not going to hurt you.  He wants—”

“I know what he wants,” Burke said sharply.

“Then—”

His face drawn into hard lines, Burke got up from the bench and yanked off his shirt.  He turned around rapidly so Marko could see his back and his chest before the gorilla could bother circling him.

“Hold out your hands,” Marko said.

When Burke did so, both the gorilla and Julian could see the scars on his wrists, remnants of having been tightly bound while in Wanda’s custody.  They could also see a jagged scar on his back, the result of a mad scramble down a hillside covered with thorned bushes, where he had been gouged by a broken branch, and a number of other mostly-healed bruises and scrapes.  He stood there with one foot impatiently tapping the ground as they studied him.  Neither ape seemed very sympathetic, although Virdon did—and, abruptly, Virdon’s attitude angered him far more than anything he was or wasn’t getting from the apes.  Furious, he reached down and yanked off his pants, then turned around once more.  “All right?” he demanded of Marko.  “Anything else you want to see?”

“Take it easy, Pete,” Virdon cautioned him.

He and Julian both expected Marko to be angry, or at the very least, annoyed.  Instead, the gorilla snuffled quietly and said to Burke, “Put your clothes back on.”

“You want to treat us like animals, why bother giving us clothes at all?” Burked snapped back.

Virdon was little more than arm’s length from the younger man, close enough to speak without raising his voice.  “At ease, mister,” he told Burke.

“Are you kidding?  Do you know where we are?”

“I know you’re standing there naked.  Put your clothes back on.”

“If he—”

“I said, AT EASE,” Virdon barked.

Burke stood there slack-jawed for a moment, then sullenly picked up his clothing and pulled it back on.  Virdon, too, put his shirt back on, aware of how much he had startled everyone at the table.  Once his shirt was tucked into place, he returned his attention to Marko, although out of the corner of his eye he could see that Burke was growing, if anything, even more upset.

“How long has Columbus been your master?” Marko asked as he sat back down on the bench.

“I’m not sure.  About a year, I think.”

“He bought you, did he?”

“No.”  Virdon hesitated.  “We were separated from our previous master, and we couldn’t find him.  Columbus decided to take us on as his servants after he learned that our previous master had died and we had no place to go.”

“Your master’s heirs had no objection to that?”

“No, sir.”

“What was his name?”

“Arthur.”

A loud snort from Burke made both Marko and Julian look at him, but neither ape could make any sense out of the expression on his face.  “Was it this Arthur who mistreated you?”  Again, Virdon hesitated.  “If he’s dead, he won’t object to your telling the truth,” Marko prodded.  “Was he the one who beat you?”

“He wasn’t kind to us.”

“But Columbus has been kind to you.”

Virdon caught something in Marko’s eyes that the gorilla might or might not have intended him to see.  “He’s never mistreated us.”

Without warning, Marko swung a long arm at Burke.  The blow had almost connected when Burke seized the gorilla’s arm at the wrist and held on, twisting it a few degrees.  His expression told Marko he intended to snap the arm (or at least try to) if Marko provoked him any further.  With Burke still holding onto his wrist, Marko leaned forward to look Virdon in the eye.  “Someone has,” he said sharply.  Then he turned back to Burke and glared at him until Burke surrendered to good sense and let go.

Unnerved by the display, Julian ventured, “With all due respect, Chief, was it necessary to hit him to prove your point?”

“I didn’t hit him.”

Burke, whose ire was not at all diminished, snapped, “We said it wasn’t Columbus.  But it was a chimp.  With the aid of a bunch of gorillas.”

“Give me their names and I’ll investigate the situation.”

“And then what?”

“Calm down, Pete,” Julian said firmly.  “This is the police chief.”

“Yeah, I heard that.  And I asked the police chief what he was going to do about a bunch of apes who tortured me in the name of science,” the astronaut sneered.  “Who figured it was okay to treat me like an animal so they could learn something that they could use as an excuse to murder a bunch of innocent people.”

Unnoticed by anyone in the little group at the table, Ariel, with a gently restraining arm around a trembling Ella, had been watching from the back porch of the inn.  The girl shrieked aloud when Marko swung at Burke, but Ariel held onto her, gripping one of the porch’s support posts with her other hand.  To both females, the combination of a gorilla with a gun and a human gone past all control could add up to nothing good.

“Mistress,” Ella pleaded.

Ariel waited for Julian to handle the situation.  When Julian failed to—at least not in any sense she could see—she let go of the post and Ella and hurried down across the grass to intervene.  Burke’s outburst had barely ended when she reached Julian and said urgently into his ear, “I’ll have Marta take him to Meema.  Right now, Julian, please, please.  Take responsibility for him so we can take him to Meema, before he gets himself into terrible trouble.”

Marko broke the stare that had been his response to Burke’s words and turned to the two chimpanzees.  “Do something about him,” he commanded.  “Before I have to put him in a cage.”

 

 

FOURTEEN

Aid and Comfort

_____________________________

 

The world around Pete Burke, as he rode in Ariel’s carriage, was both nightmarishly foggy and hyperclear.  How he had gotten into the carriage in the first place, he wasn’t sure.  He remembered shouting at the gorilla, and the gorilla saying something about a cage.  And he thought he remembered running, aiming toward the woods on the far bank of the stream, until something slammed into him and he was thrown to the ground.  Somewhere along the line, things had disconnected very badly, leaving him feeling as if he were walking inside a dream.

He thought he remembered lying face down in the dirt, pinned there by a weight he vaguely understood was Virdon.  And Virdon’s voice, full of pain, warning him, “They’re going to lock you up, Pete.”

Lock me up.

Voices.  Lots of voices, saying safe place and take care of him and one saying hospital.  He had been sprawled there in the dirt for what seemed like a long time, until Virdon sat him up and someone pressed into his hands the blue mug that Ella had designated as his.  There was tea in it, gone cold, but they made him drink it anyway.  When whoever it was had said hospital, and doctor, he’d tried to scramble away, but Virdon had caught him again.

His head was throbbing now, but whether that was because he’d hit something when he fell or simply because he’d had nothing to eat or drink since dinner last night except Ella’s tea, he wasn’t sure.  He wasn’t sure of anything, any more, except that he and Virdon and Galen were now separated and that he should have kept his mouth shut.

Because now they’re going to lock me up.

If not for the presence of Ella’s mother beside him on the carriage seat, he would have tried again to run.  The “where” of it didn’t matter, partly because he knew they would find him sooner or later.  He had been running for months, or years, or however long it had been since the crash, and they had always found him.  Still, he thought, he should at least try to get away.  That would help Galen, if one of them were free to put together a plan of escape.  Not Alan, because Alan was too worried about books and about getting his disk back.  It would be easy enough to jump out of the carriage and run that way, between those buildings.  But if he did that, maybe they would hurt Marta.  If he escaped, they would have to punish someone, and since she was here with him, charged with the responsibility of delivering him to be locked up, surely she was the one they’d blame if he ran.

So it would be easier if he just went along with what they wanted.  It wouldn’t be so bad, this time, because Wanda had given up on him.  This time they’d do the operation, the one to make him docile.

“Pete.”

He started.  “Wha—”

The carriage had stopped moving.  She was trying to tell him it was time to get out, that they’d arrived at the place where—

But it wasn’t a hospital, or a jail.  It looked like a house.  A very large one, as houses in this world went, with a wide front door and landscaped shrubs and flowers along the driveway leading up to that door.

Maybe it was a very well-disguised hospital.

Marta tugged at his arm until he surrendered and climbed down from the carriage.  Once they were out, the driver clucked at the horse, set the vehicle in motion again, and drove it back toward the main road.  Smiling as if she thought everything was just fine and dandy, Marta grasped his hand and walked him around the side of the house, through a garden, to a back door that was standing open to admit fresh air.  He resisted her then, planting his feet as solidly as he could and shaking his head.

Arthur, Alan had said.  He’d told the gorilla that General Arthur, one of their superiors at NASA, was their former master.  That was funny, and he tried to laugh, but the noise that came out didn’t sound like a laugh.

Marta tightened her grip on his hand.

Maybe it was time to give in.  And give up.

They’d escaped so many times, from Urko, from the other gorillas, only to be found again.  There’d be no end to that, ever.  So maybe it was time to stop.  To let them operate on him, to make him docile.  With a little luck, maybe he’d die in the process.

His mind skipped another beat.  When he opened his eyes, he was indoors, in a wide, low-ceilinged room an entire wall of which was occupied by a brick fireplace.  The flicker of the flames made him blink, and he had to focus before he could hear the crackling sound they made.  He supposed it was warm, the fire, but he was just far enough away that the heat didn’t reach him.  Marta was no longer holding his hand.  He looked around and found her a few steps away, pouring water into a cup.  When she held the cup out to him he took it.

“You’ll be all right now,” she told him.  “You’re safe here.”

She gestured at something behind him, and without bothering to see what it was, he sat down, peered into the cup for a moment, then swilled down its contents.  When it was empty he handed it back to Marta, grinning at her.  She seemed sad, which was odd, since this was her party and everyone was obviously having a great time.

“Let him rest,” a voice said.

Rest?  No, it wasn’t time to pack it in yet.  The night was young and the party had just gotten underway.

Marta put her hands on him again, taking hold of his shirt and pulling it up over his head.  Ah, so that was it.  Marta had been around the old Burke charm long enough and had decided to make the big move.  Ella probably wouldn’t like that too much, but hey, she could join in on the fun.  It wouldn’t be the first time he’d made a couple of ladies happy at the same time.  But no, Marta had found him another shirt (he could tell this one was new, because it smelled better) and was fitting his arms into it.  Then she tipped him over.  He must’ve had way too much to drink already, even though he’d just arrived, because he went over like—like what?  A tree?  A teddy bear?  He grinned again, and reached out for her, but she wasn’t there, wasn’t anywhere in the room.

“Where—?” he mumbled.

Now he could feel the warmth of the fire.  The cot underneath him was covered with a soft pad, and his head had landed in approximately the right spot on a pillow that smelled of dog.

Dog?

He squinted.  Sure enough, lying there on the hearth was a brown dog with white hair around its muzzle.

He tried to sit up, but his limbs were too heavy to move.  Tired.  So, so tired.  Shouldn’t have been, because he had slept last night.  Hadn’t he?  Yes, until Alan had wakened him to tell him something about Galen.  Galen, Galen.  Was somewhere else.

He heard a soft scraping sound he couldn’t identify.  Then something warm was tucked around him, and another something warm rested on his head and began stroking his hair.

“Sleep now,” the not-Marta voice said.

He slept.

 

* * * * *

 

“Marko could have shot him, you know.”

Virdon shifted his head to look at the chimp.  The image was still as clear as a photograph in his mind: Burke shifting in the blink of an eye from angry to terrified, turning and bolting across the grass toward the woods.  He had seen Marko start to stand up, but nothing more.  Before Marko reached his feet, Virdon had run after his friend, caught him and tackled him to the ground.  Almost half an hour had gone by since then and he still was not certain whether he had been simply trying to catch Burke, or put himself between Burke and Marko’s gun.

Maybe, he thought, he should have gone along with Burke hours ago, and fled off to the hills to find safety in a some cave, the way they’d done dozens of times before.  It would have given them a little flexibility of movement.  Now they had none.

Wearily, he propped his head up with his hands.  He’d spent the entire morning trying to think of a way to free Galen, but the more he thought, success seemed less and less likely.  Burke, for his part, had done everything from ignoring Virdon to balking outright.

“I know,” he told Julian.

“For that matter, he could have shot both of you.”

“I know that too.”

The chimpanzee, who had begun to wonder if getting out of bed this morning had truly been a good idea, looked at him with an expression that was a long way from agreeable.  They were alone now, had been for a few minutes: Chief Marko had gone back to the jail, Ariel to keep her scheduled meeting with the Prefect’s expedition team, Burke with Marta to the safety of Ariel’s family home.  “What did he say to you?” Julian asked.

“Marko?”

“Pete.  He was mumbling something.”

Virdon looked the chimp in the eye.  “He called me a son of a bitch.”

“What—” Julian shook his head, negating the question.  “What happened to him?  I’ve never seen a human act like that.”

“He panicked.”

“He acted like he was rabid.  What in the world—what happened to him?”

“He was tortured.  And I swear to you on my life, Julian, it was not Columbus who did it.”

Julian made a soft clucking sound.  “I saw him.  The way he is with you two.  Ariel saw it too.  And Ella.  Poor Ella was afraid of your master days ago.”

“You were wrong.  Columbus has never raised a hand to either of us.”

“But someone shot you.”

“Yes.”

“Will you tell me who?”

“It was an accident.”

With a groan Julian gazed out across the grass in the direction Burke had taken.  “I didn’t have any humans this morning,” he said, more to himself than to Virdon.  “ I live alone, and I manage perfectly well without servants.  I assumed that would change after Ariel and I are married, because she’s used to having half a dozen servants looking after her.  But me?  I’m a perfectly independent ape with no need of humans roaming around picking up after me.  That was this morning.  Now it’s afternoon, and I have two humans in my charge, one of whom has ‘panicked.’”

“Julian.”

“What?” Julian said, not at all interested.

“Let me help you.”

Now there was a novelty, Julian thought.  Obviously Virdon didn’t mean help with delivering a note or a package.  For that matter, everything about the man had changed during the minute Julian’s attention had been focused elsewhere.  He seemed to sit a little straighter (although his shoulders were still bowed from exhaustion, and from bearing the weight of what had happened to his friend) and his brow was furrowed not with confusion but with something that looked like purpose.  His gaze, coming out of eyes clear enough to look like green jewels, bored into Julian like a drill.  It made him look like no servant Julian had ever seen before.

“Help me with what?” Julian frowned.

“The case.  You said you’re representing Columbus.  I can help you.”

A smile crinkled Julian’s face.  Humoring the man, he replied, “And how do you propose to do that?”

Virdon glanced around.  They truly were by themselves; no one, either ape or human, was within a hundred yards of them.  Satisfied, he rested his forearms on the table and leaned a little in Julian’s direction.  Julian, almost unconsciously, mirrored the movement.  “My wife is an attorney,” Virdon said.  “She worked on a number of criminal cases when we were first married, but she gave it up after our son was born because it was too stressful for her.  I think I can remember enough of what she told me to be of some help to you.  You’ll have to walk me through what the laws are here, but I imagine a lot of them are similar to what was on the books back home.”

“Back home,” Julian echoed.

“Yes.”

“And where would that be?”

“Houston, Texas.”

“And in this Houston Texas place, your wife is a lawyer.  Would I be correct in assuming your wife is not an ape?”

“She’s a human.  Her name is Sally.”

“Sally.  Sally the lawyer.”

“Yes.”

“You’re mocking me,” Julian said.

Virdon said nothing, just gazed steadily at the chimp from the other side of the table.

“Dear gods, you’re not mocking me,” Julian said in wonderment.  “Who are you?”

The man took a deep breath and sat up straighter, shaking off the slump in his shoulders.  “In for a penny, in for a pound,” he sighed.  “My name is Alan Virdon.  I’m a lieutenant colonel in the United States Air Force.  The man Marta took away is Major Peter Burke.  We’re not anyone’s servants.  The chimp they have in custody, his name isn’t Columbus, it’s Galen, and he’s not our master, he’s our very good friend.”  He paused then to see if any of those names rang a bell with Julian.  They didn’t seem to, so he continued, “Major Burke and I crash-landed near Central City I’m guessing about a year ago, along with another man, who was killed.”

“You crashed.  In a wagon?”

“No.  In a sort of flying machine.”

“A machine that flies.”

“Yes.”

“I see.”

“Pete and I are not servants,” Virdon repeated.  “We both have college degrees.”

“This Houston Texas place—where is it?”

“About fifteen hundred miles east of here.  At least, that’s where it used to be.”

“Did it move?”

“No.  Julian, I’m not from this world.  I’m not from this time.  Pete Burke and I came here from a thousand years in the past.”

“I think I need to talk to the Professor,” Julian said.

 

* * * * *

 

Dear Mother: I hope this letter finds you well.  I, unfortunately, have been taken prisoner once again, although I will admit that, as a pleasant novelty, I have enough food and water and this cell is reasonably clean.  I have not seen any rats, or any crawling things other than the large spider that has constructed a most impressive web in the corner farthest from the door.  There are no windows, but the front wall of the cell is entirely composed of iron bars and I can see some daylight coming from a window at the far end of the corridor.

Apparently I am the only prisoner in the jail at the moment.  The guards take advantage of their light workload by playing games in the corridor which I am able to observe if I stand close to the door.  Every so often one of them will make a show of putting me in my place by smacking the bars with a variety of objects, some of which break on impact.  To my delight they seem to abstain from drinking while on duty and have shown no inclination toward breaking me on impact.

I understand that my trial begins in three days, after one of the panel members returns from his trip to the lakes.  I do have legal representation but given that I can tell him almost nothing, I question his ability to talk the judicial panel into finding me innocent.  If I am found guilty, more than likely I will be locked up until I grow cobwebs myself.

If I am found guilty, cobwebs may be the least of my problems.

I do hope you and father avoided catching cold these last few months

“—and I have begun to wish I had never set eyes on an astronaut,” Galen sighed.

 

* * * * *

 

Julian pointed.  “Up there.”

Even with his eyes shielded by his hand against the glare of the afternoon sun, Virdon had to squint in the direction the chimp was indicating.  They had ridden in Julian’s carriage as far up into the hills as the road extended.  Ahead of them lay a terrifically long flight of stone steps winding up the hillside.  During the night, from the right perspective, it would look as if they were climbing to the moon.

“He’s a hermit?” Virdon guessed.

“Not really.  He says he likes having a bird’s-eye view of the city.”

Without further preamble, Julian set off climbing the steps.  Virdon followed, a couple of steps behind.  Halfway up Julian stopped and turned, pointing out the view to Virdon, although more as a way of explaining his earlier statement than to turn this into any kind of a pleasure trip.  The view was indeed impressive, all the more so because the area they stood in was quiet and secluded.  After a moment of appreciation they both used to catch their breath, the chimp turned to finish the climb.  By the time they reached the top, Virdon’s calves were aching from the workout he’d put them through.

The Professor’s domain boasted a natural amphitheater to which had been added two rows of small stone benches, offering seating for a dozen or so.  Slightly to the north of that was a log house with a stone chimney and, remarkably, glass windows on either side of the door.  A wooden bird feeder hung  from a tree limb not far from the house; around it fluttered half a dozen birds, all of which streaked off to shelter when Julian and Virdon approached.  Their chirping continued to fill the air, and from somewhere came the sound of humming.

“This Professor,” Virdon said.  “He teaches all the law students in Segundo?”

“Not law students specifically.  Historians, artists, scientists.  He welcomes only a few each year.  First we need a recommendation from our teachers in the city.  The Prefect reviews those, and holds interviews with us and our parents.  If everyone agrees, we get a seat here.”  Julian pointed to the stone benches.  “I started coming here when I was ten.  Ariel came the following year.”

The humming had grown louder, then shifted into a lilting, somewhat off-key singing.  Something about it caught Virdon’s attention, but it was still faint enough that he turned away from it in favor of continuing his conversation with Julian.  “Then he doesn’t teach at the university.”

Julian’s face twitched.  “No.  I think that would attract a little too much attention.  His students understand when we come here that this is—”

The Professor, alerted to their arrival by the fluttering of the birds, opened the door of his home and stepped out into the sunlight.

“—Special,” Julian said.

“Julian.  The Prefect sent word that I’d probably be seeing you today.  I’m surprised it took this long.”

“I tried talking to some witnesses on my own.  I can’t say it went very well.  Professor, this is John.  He’s one of the accused ape’s servants.  Or…not.”

Smiling, the Professor stepped forward and extended a hand to Virdon.  “Close your mouth, son, before you start trapping flies,” he chuckled.

“You’re human,” Virdon said.

“Last time I checked.”

They found seats in the amphitheater, all in the same row, the Professor in the middle.  Virdon’s eyes hadn’t left the Professor since he’d walked out of the house, and he endured the scrutiny with good humor and not a little curiosity of his own.  He looked to be well into his sixties, with hair gone completely white and skin deeply tanned by long hours in the sun.  His shirt, trousers and shoes were all brown and looked well-worn into the stage of soft comfort that comes not long before fabric falls apart.  On the third finger of his right hand he wore a gold ring with a raised crest.

“Professor,” Julian said abruptly, “he says his wife is an attorney.”

After only a moment’s pause, the old man replied, “Good for her.”

“But how is that possible?” Julian sputtered.

The Professor cracked a grin that spread from ear to ear.  “They should’ve named you Horatio.  Do me a favor and run into the house and pour us something to drink, would you?  I think there’s some pie, there, too, left over from yesterday.”  The chimp hesitated, then nodded agreement and dashed off toward the house, anxious to be gone for as little time as possible.  “They’re all good kids, and bright, the ones who come up here,” the Professor told Virdon.  “But I swear every last one of them is from Missouri.  If I had a dollar for every time one of them has said ‘oh, I don’t believe that,’ I could buy myself a state or two.”

“I know what you mean,” Virdon smiled.

  “I like the system of single names they have around here,” the Professor observed after a minute.  “It simplifies things.”  Once more, he extended his hand to Virdon.  This time Virdon shook it, and the Professor held onto it for a moment.  He was testing something, although what that might be, Virdon didn’t know.  “McMillen Patterson, Ph.D.  Using that single-name thing, they call me Professor.  Yours isn’t really ‘John,’ I take it.”

“Alan Virdon.”

“And your relationship to the accused?”

“Friend.”

“I see.  Your wife?  Is she here with you?”

“No.  She’s—no.”

The old man took a long look into Virdon’s eyes.  He had looked into a lot of eyes over the years, and had seen many things reflected in them, both good and bad.  In Virdon’s green eyes he saw hope.  A frantic, desperate version of it, but hope all the same.  Something else he found there made him laugh softly, then a bit louder.  “You look like babies do when they come across another baby.  ‘Oh, God in heaven, there’s another one just like me.’  Although if I had a mirror I suppose I could find a hint of that in myself.  I must say it’s a delightful surprise.”

Virdon’s thoughts drifted back a little, to the singing he’d heard when he reached the hilltop.  “‘Daisy, Daisy, give me an answer, do,’” he murmured.

“‘Bicycle Built For Two,’” the Professor nodded.  “It suits my limited vocal capabilities.  I’m also rather fond of ‘Come, Josephine, In My Flying Machine.’  The youngsters think that’s a hoot.”  The Professor turned his face to the sun for a moment, then told Virdon, “Ask it.”

“How did you—where did you come from?”

For the Professor, that was an answer as well as a question.  “Julian doesn’t know,” he cautioned.  “None of them do.  They think I was taught by a kindly brotherhood of apes, in a territory far to the north.  They don’t really go up that way, because they don’t like the snow, so they’ve got no idea what’s up there and what isn’t.  The story works well enough, so I let them go on believing it.  Telling them the truth would cause more trouble than it’s worth, in the long run.  I just teach them what I can, and hope some of it sticks.”

“Does everyone in Segundo know you’re a human?”

“Hardly.  When I go down there, I pretend I’m the Professor’s servant.  It eliminates a lot of—”

Julian came flying back out of the house carrying a round wooden tray on which sat three cups and three roughly cut sections of pie.  He set the tray down so abruptly that some of the liquid slopped out of two of the cups.

“No points for finesse on that one,” the Professor commented.

“I’m sorry, sir,” the chimp gasped, out of breath.

“The Prefect tells me you’ve bitten off more than you can chew.  Tell me about your client.”

To help compose himself after his dash around the compound, Julian reached for a cup and took a long drink.  During the moment his head was bent, the Professor glanced at Virdon and mouthed a single word: Later.  When Virdon greeted that with a grimace, the older man smiled at him and nodded.  “First things first,” he said mildly, and Julian, as he settled back into his seat, thought the Professor had spoken to him.

“He comes from nowhere,” Julian groaned.  “He knows no one.  He wants me to help him, but he’s made it nearly impossible for me to do that.  How can I prove someone is innocent when he’s a blank slate?”

“When did you ever reject a challenge?” the Professor countered.

“A challenge is one thing.  This is—”

Virdon put in, “Who he is, and where he comes from, doesn’t have anything to do with his guilt or innocence.”

“I suppose he comes from the past, too,” the chimp sputtered.

“No.  He’s from this world.”

The Professor, who had selected a piece of pie and had taken his first bite as Virdon was speaking, heard “the past” from Julian and coughed.  He coughed enough to make Julian look at him in alarm, but he waved the chimp away and washed down the half-chewed mouthful of pie with a sip of juice.  “Alan Virdon,” he mused when he had recovered enough to speak normally.  “I thought that sounded familiar.  This troublesome chimpanzee with no past—his name wouldn’t be Galen, would it?”

“Galen?” Julius squeaked.  “Who’s Galen?”

Again, the Professor tilted his head and let the warm afternoon sunlight fall on his skin.  He closed his eyes for a minute, gently moving in time to the trill of the birds.  “The Prefect told me some time ago about a privileged communication from Central City regarding two humans and a chimpanzee that the members of the Council would very much like to get their hands on.  The two humans, it said, claim to be from the distant past.  As I recall, one of the them was named Virdon.  That would be you?” he asked his guest.  When Virdon nodded, he asked, “Where’s the other one?”

Julian’s entire face was sculpted into a frown.  “He’s been taken to Toban’s, so Meema can look after him.  What is this all about?  Why does the Council want them?”

“Treason,” said the Professor.

“Oh, good.  Now I’m defending a traitor?”

Virdon gestured to calm the chimp.  “They charged Galen with treason only because he decided to help me and Pete.  The Council, Zaius in particular, wanted to get information out of us and then have us killed.”

“Information about what?”

“Where we come from.”

“The past?”

“Yes.”

“Then it was the Council who abused Pete?”

“Someone working on their behalf.”

If it was possible for a chimpanzee to look green, then Julian did.  “Is that what Pete was ranting about?”

“Partly.  Galen helped us escape.  We’ve been on the run ever since.  That’s why we had to give you different names, and why Galen couldn’t tell you anything about his past.”

“Because he thought I’d turn you in to the authorities?  How can you be so sure I won’t do that now?”

“Does the Council know the Professor is a human?”

“The Council doesn’t even know I exist,” the older man said.

“And we would never put him in danger by telling the wrong apes about him,” Julius insisted.  “The Professor is our teacher, and our friend.  He’s broken no law.”

The Professor offered mildly, “A couple of commandments, maybe.”

Julian ignored that in favor of continuing a spiel he had issued more than once.  “Beyond that—Central City might as well be in another world.  If it were up to the Council, there wouldn’t be a human left walking around, which is—well, it’s just wrong.  Humans have survived for this long by the grace of the gods.  Whether they continue to survive should not be the choice of any ape, or group of apes.  If some humans are more intelligent than others, certainly that was a divine decision also.”  The Professor was about to speak, but Julian went on, “And, now, don’t pretend your ego is big enough for you to insist that you molded my thoughts that way.  Humans had a safe haven in Segundo long before you arrived.”

“And will long after I’m gone, with any luck.”

Virdon asked the chimp somberly, “What do you know about the past?  The history of this world?”

“That it used to belong to the humans, you mean?”

“Yes.”

“The Professor told us that civilizations have come and gone throughout the history of the world,” Julian said with a glance at his teacher.  “That it’s part of the natural cycle of things, and living in fear of it happening again is like being afraid of the sunset.”

“Do you believe that?”

“I don’t know what I believe,” the chimp said stubbornly.

“Then believe it just enough to help Galen.”

 Something occurred to Julian then, and he asked Virdon with a frown, “You said you and Pete ‘crashed’ here.”

“In a spacecraft.  A machine used for traveling in outer space.  We ran into a magnetic storm and lost control.”

Julian began to giggle, then laugh, then guffaw.  He laughed so hard that tears dribbled down his face and his nose began to run.  “I’m going to wake up,” he said when he had gotten control of himself enough to form words.  “I’ll be in my bed, and I’ll wonder what it was I ate to make my brain invent all of this.  You and Pete came here from a thousand years in the past, in a machine that flies around out there.”  He pointed to the sky, then wiped at his eyes with the back of his hand.  “Oh, that’s glorious.  How bad of a fever do you suppose I have?”

“It’s all true,” Virdon told him.

“No, it’s worse than Columbus—Galen—Columbus—whatever his name is, telling me nothing at all.  You either have no past, or you have a past that’s something out of a fever dream.  This is all insanity, you realize that.”

Then the chimpanzee caught sight of the expression on the Professor’s face.  He looked at the old man for a long while, silently begging him to make sense out of nonsense.  Finally, when those words didn’t come, and obviously would not come any time soon, he drew himself up a little straighter and composed himself into something he hoped looked more dignified, more suited to the responsibility he had agreed to take on—or had been fast-talked into agreeing to take on.  I should have been studying tax assessments today, he thought ruefully.  “You’re right,” he said slowly.  “None of that has any bearing on whether he’s is guilty or innocent.”

“No, it doesn’t.”

The Professor added, “And all of it is better left unsaid in front of the panel.  Focus on what’s really at issue, Julian.  Did the ape Columbus kill Sergeant Kull, or didn’t he?”

Two pairs of eyes landed on Virdon.

“I don’t know,” he said quietly.

 

 

FIFTEEN

A Little Knowledge

______________________________

 

Hadrian sat with his hands folded under his chin.  One of the team members was still speaking, but the Prefect had not absorbed anything she was saying for the last four or five minutes.

 Once in a great while Hadrian believed that the Council in Central City made sense—that digging too deeply into the world of the humans, the world the humans had destroyed, would bring only heartache and destruction into the world of the apes.

Then again, maybe it was just books that were the problem.  None of the other items he’d hauled back from Bakoor had created much of a disturbance.  The tools, the building blocks, the dishes, the little wooden children’s toys, the lengths of finely crafted chain, even Reeka’s bath tub.  One item in particular had not only failed to create dissent in Segundo, its arrival had created a feverish demand for more.  Eyeglasses.  How the elderly among them had cheered at being able to see clearly again.  And how they grumbled at there not being a larger supply until Hadrian’s team uncovered the remains of an eyeglasses shop with much of its inventory still intact.

But the books. . .

No, Hadrian thought, not all the books.  The recipe book Marta used in the kitchen at the inn had caused no upheaval.  Nor did the children’s storybook that told the tale of a mischievous rabbit named Buzzy.

“Prefect?”

He blinked.  Jimsa was looking at him.  So were the others.

“Sorry,” he murmured.  “My mind was wandering.  Already planning ahead to our next expedition.”

So much had gone wrong in such a short time.  He and Jimsa had moved the crate of coins and other small items into the storeroom with the broken lock.  A few notes about the coins had already been prepared; Hadrian had quickly scribbled out another two pages and left the papers on the desk, weighted down by a couple of coins.  Then he and Jimsa had left the office, and he had gone home to enjoy a little time talking with Reeka before sleep.  It seemed that he’d barely fallen asleep when one of Marko’s officers came to pound on his door.

Marko still had the book that had been found with Kull’s body, the volume of maps.  Why Kull had stolen it rather than the coins, either alone or with the aid of the chimpanzee Columbus, was a mystery, since the thing was nothing more than a collection of pictures that very well might have been the product of someone’s imagination.  Yes, “United States” had been the humans’ name for their territory, but no one could prove that that territory had stretched from one sea to another—or even that there was another sea, far off to the east.  The other pages in the book showed individual “states,” but again, were they real or imagined?

He knew what Zaius would say: that possession of the book was treasonous, because what it contained would stir up dissent among the humans.  Hadrian was wearied by Zaius’s rantings every spring when he had to listen to them in Central City; now they just seemed like nonsense.  How could such a thing as the book of maps be used as the foundation for an uprising?  Anyone who wanted to stir up dissent, Hadrian thought, might as well use Marta’s recipe book.

Again, Jimsa interrupted his thoughts.  “Sir, Ariel would like to talk about the bones.”

He looked across the room at the young female.  Books and bones, bones and books.  He honestly did not want to hear about either one, but the members of his team needed to have their say and ask their questions.  “Yes.  I thought she might.  Tarek, you were the one who uncovered them.  Would you like to speak first?  Tell us how you felt on that day, to make such a disturbing discovery.”

Tarek was a senior team member now, but had not been then.  His eyes met the Prefect’s, and they remembered together the dim light of the afternoon and the mist of rain that for once kept down the dust of the old city.  The team had been digging in the ruins of a wooden building filled with rows of polished wooden benches.  Some of the benches had small pieces of brass fastened to them, lettered with messages like “In Memory of Samuel Martin, Sr.”  Earlier in the day, another team member had uncovered a whole nest of broken bits of colored glass, and until the sun disappeared behind the rain clouds the team members had amused themselves peering at the light through the pretty glass.

Then, not long after the midday meal break, Tarek had stuck his trowel into the dirt and flipped into the misty air a fragment of bone.

“I felt that I had disturbed a graveyard,” he said now, his head bowed in respect.  “For a moment, I thought what I had done was so terrible that the gods would punish me.  But then I wanted to see it all.  I wanted to understand the story these bones told.  I knew when I saw the first skull that they were humans, and I wanted them to teach me, even though they’d been dead a very long time.  I felt that they still had a message, and that to ignore the message would be a greater wrong than uncovering their resting place.”

“They died of the sickness?” Ariel asked.

“We believe they did.  From the evidence we’ve found, it seems that the city was deserted during the great epidemic, except for small groups of humans who must have refused to leave, or were too sick to leave.  After, the earthquakes and the fires created the ruins we see now.”  Tarek looked around the room, taking in the face of each team member, some of whom had been in Bakoor that day years ago.  “We decided to leave the bones where they lay, and to show them to each new member of the team so that he or she can better understand where we dig.  Understand that Bakoor was the home of these humans, a place where they lived and worked, and not just a pile of rubble.”

“Then is it right to take their belongings?”

“The objects we’ve brought back as curiosities came from what we’ve identified as shops,” Hadrian put in.  “They were not the personal belongings of any of the humans.”

“Even the things you showed me?  The ones in your home?”

“I use those to remind me of what was.  That the humans had their treasures, as we have ours.  To remind me, every time I look at those things, that not all the humans were violent and warlike.  I believe very few of them were.  I believe that what happened was the result of events that spun out of control, and was not something the humans wished for.”  Hadrian paused and looked around at the younger apes.  “Who would wish for destruction on that scale?  Only a mad creature.”  He pushed himself up from his chair and walked around the room, reaching out to touch some of the members of the team, offering a pat on the arm or an encouraging thump of his knuckles against the younger ape’s chest.  “The humans ruled for thousands of years.  During that time they discovered, or invented, many wonderful things.  I consider it foolish to say ‘a human invented this, so it must be forbidden.’  Stop to think: apes did not invent bowls.  Should we refuse to eat our food out of bowls, because humans used them first?”

One of the chimpanzees, a serious pacifist named Brell, said firmly, “I think we should have refused to use guns.”

“So do I, Brell.”

“The wheel!” called out another team member.  “Apes did not invent the wheel.  Should we give up wagons and carriages?”

“Chief Councilor Zaius would tell us apes did invent the wheel!” laughed another.

“Prefect,” said Brell, “where would we be if all the humans were slaughtered, and we insisted to our descendants that the humans had never existed at all?”

A hush fell over the room.

“They made a mistake,” Hadrian said.  “They made many mistakes.  They slaughtered each other, and they blighted huge areas of the world.  But they are all gone now, the ones who waged the war and the ones who let them do it.  Most of the children they left behind are gentle and loving, both to each other and to us.  They are industrious, and they bear us no ill will unless we mistreat them.  I believe we would be the poorer for not having known them.”

“Are they beasts, Prefect?”

Hadrian thought of the little girl Isha, sobbing in his arms after her tumble off the wall.  Truly, he could not convince himself that she was any different than his daughter Nila, who had died of a fever in her third year.

“I think,” he said slowly, “that anyone who calls another thinking being ‘beast’ ought to take a hard look at himself.”

“They should take a hard look at the ape Columbus.”

That made Hadrian blink.  He looked around for the ape who had voiced that comment and found Nathen, one of the newest members of the group.  “This room is not the place to judge Columbus.  He is a stranger in Segundo, but he will have the same day in court we would guarantee to any ape, three days from now.  In the meantime, Chief Marko and young Julian, who has agreed to serve as attorney for Columbus”—he glanced at Ariel, who shyly lowered her eyes as she beamed with pride—“are working to uncover the truth about what happened last night.”

“The truth is, he killed a gorilla.  Another ape.”

Hadrian wrinkled his nose.  “Until the panel has issued their decision, that is only speculation.  Don’t confuse it with science.”

“But isn’t it true, Prefect, that the most simple explanation is usually the correct one?”

“Sometimes.”

“But—”

“Hush,” Hadrian said.

“Yes, Prefect,” Nathen muttered.

With a last look at the dissatisfied ape, Hadrian returned to his seat and picked up the parchment on which he’d written his notes of this session.

Head bent, he did not see the expression on Jimsa’s face.

 

 

SIXTEEN

Meema

______________________________

 

Burke was roused out of sleep a little before sundown by the sound of two voices.  One of them was the not-Marta voice, and the other was more familiar than that.  He opened his eyes, still drowsy, and was shocked fully awake by the sight of another pair of brown eyes peering earnestly into his.

“Bandit, come here,” Ella said sharply.

Obediently, the dog shuffled across the room to stand gazing up at the girl, a thin thread of drool hanging off his lower lip.

“He’s not dangerous,” she told Burke.

Gingerly, Burke pushed himself into a sitting position, then shoved his hair back off his face with the fingers of one hand and shook his head in an attempt to clear out the remaining fuzz in his brain.  That was a mistake; the sudden movement sent a jab of pain ricocheting between his temples.  “Where am I?” he mumbled.

“Master Toban’s house.”

“Toban?  Who’s that?”

“Mistress Ariel’s father.  And this is Bandit.  He belongs to Meema.  He’s very old, and very lazy.  He’s a dog.”

The pain made Burke squeeze his eyes shut and wish fervently for a bottle of aspirin.  Or some fast-acting poison.  “I know.  I had one when I was a kid.”

“Are there many dogs in the village you come from?  We have only this one.”

“Lots of ’em.”

“Do they all look like Bandit?”

Gently, slowly, Burke shook his head.  “No.  All sizes, all colors, all shapes.  Some were small enough to hold in your hands.  Some were almost as big as me.  Listen—they’re not sending me to a hospital?”

“The hospital is only for apes.”

“Somebody kept saying ‘doctor.’”

“There’s a good doctor who helps humans.  He fixed my ankle when I broke it.  But John said the doctor would upset you.”

Hesitantly Ella passed him a cup.  “More tea?” Burke asked.

“No.  It’s oper juice.  I shouldn’t have given you any tea.  I’m sorry, Pete.”

Burke interrupted drinking the juice and frowned at her over the cup.  “Why?”

“Mistress Ariel suggested that I give you some of Meema’s tea, for your bad dreams.  When we were small, it helped us sleep.  I didn’t know that Meema only put a little tea in a lot of water.  I think I gave you too much.  I’m sorry.”

Suddenly, a lot of things made sense, although a lot still didn’t.  An image flashed into his mind then: another female, smiling as if in friendship, extending a cup and encouraging him to drink, to slake his terrible thirst.  “What’s in it?  The tea?” he demanded.

Ella flinched.  “Herbs.  Meema gathers them.  I don’t know what they’re called.”

“You drugged me.”

“I don’t know what that means.  It was just Meema’s tea.  I didn’t mean to hurt you.  I’m sorry.”

The vision was already gone, but in his mind he’d seen himself with his hands wrapped around her neck, choking her, punishing her for what she’d done.  Throttling her, thumbs pressed into her windpipe, driving her to the floor and crushing her there until she was dead.  No. . .not her.  The other one.  The one with the smiling face, beady little eyes peering at him through the lenses of her glasses.  Ella’s words drove the image away and replaced it with a fiery pain in his neck born of the way he was clenching his fists and his shoulders.  She’s not here, he told himself fiercely.  She’s not here.  Not here.  Not here.

He reached out to the girl, but again, she drew back.  “Ella—”

“I didn’t mean to hurt you,” she whispered.

Her misery broke what remained of his anger.  He buried his face in his hands.  “It wasn’t you.  There was someone else.”

“The one who beat you?”

“Yeah.”

“Mother told me you get angry because of what was done to you.  I understand.”

After a minute he lifted his head.  “I’m sorry, Ella.”

“You’ll feel better after you stay here a little while.  Meema will take good care of you, and no one will hurt you.  Master Toban would never harm a human, or let anyone else harm you.  You can trust him, and Meema.”

“Is she gonna mickey my tea?”

“What does that mean?”

“Put stuff in it to ‘help’ me.”

“Not if you ask her not to.”

“How about if we both ask her,” he said blearily.  “Double my chances.”

The girl nodded.  “All right.”

She was close enough that he couldn’t help but notice the accessory she’d added to her clothing.  Confused, he asked, “Why are you wearing a washer around your neck?”

“What is a washer?”

He pointed.  “That.”

“Mistress Ariel brought me this from the old city,” she explained eagerly, holding the object in the palm of her hand.  Then, remembering what he’d called it, she returned his frown and said, “It has nothing to do with washing.  Mistress Ariel says it’s a coin.  Old human money.”

“Coins are different.  That’s a washer.  It was used for—”

The disgusted look Ella tossed him made him reel back, a move that did nothing for the well-being of his head.  “Just because you and John have seen an old city and I haven’t, that doesn’t mean I’m ignorant,” she informed him curtly.

“I’m sorry.  You’re not ignorant.”

“This coin has nothing to do with washing.”

“You’re right.”

“You don’t have to tease me just because I gave you too much tea.  I told you I made a mistake.  I won’t do it any more.”

“I’m sorry,” he said again, a little too loudly.

More than ready to dismiss the subject, she pointed to the table.  “There’s food for you and Meema.  I have to go back to the inn now, to help my mother serve the dinner.  I just came to see if you were all right.”

Burke caught her by the hand before she could leave and pushed himself to his feet, reeling when pain slammed through his head.  “Ella, where’s John?” he muttered, sinking back down onto the cot.

“At the inn.”

“I want to go back there.”

As if that statement had summoned her—and probably it had—the owner of the not-Marta voice appeared in the doorway.  Dismissing Ella with an affectionate, but brief, gesture and a kiss on the cheek, she moved further into the room and sat in the chair she had occupied when Burke had first arrived, a battered rocker set close to the fireplace.

“So, are you Meema?” Burke asked without any real interest.

“I am.”

The chair creaked softly as she rocked it back and forth.  She had to be the best part of three hundred years old, Burke thought.  Her face was as deeply lined as a dry stream bed.  Her hair was pure white and hung straight and smooth around her shoulders.  She wore a tunic, woven in a pattern of gold and brown, whose cuffs reached almost to her fingers, and a black skirt whose hem brushed the floor.  As she rocked, the dog shuffled over to join her and rested his head in her lap.  A fond smile drifted across her face as she tenderly scratched the top of the dog’s head.

“He is like me,” she told Burke.  “One of only a few.”

“You’re Native American.”

“We were called that long ago.”

“Look, Meema, I need to go back to the inn.  My friend is still there.  And our master is—”

“In the jail.  I know.”

“Is this house far from the inn?  I can walk.”

She ignored him in favor of continuing to pet the dog.  She was silent for so long that Burke began to consider simply getting up and walking out, though how fast he could do that depended on whether and how violently his head continued to pound.  The possibility that it might explode like an overripe pumpkin hitting a sidewalk didn’t seem very remote.  He had begun to shift his weight in preparation for standing up when Meema asked, “Where is your family?”

“I don’t have a family.”

Her eyes narrowed a little.  “Truth only,” she said.

“What?”

“I see them in your eyes.”

The dog turned around to look at him, as if to say, She’s got your number, pal.  Don’t waste your breath arguing.

“I don’t—”

“Pete.  Peter.  It’s an old name.  Very old.”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“John.  Another old name.”

Burke let his weight settle back on the cot.  He had two choices, he figured: get up and leave, and try to find his way back to the inn alone, or try to muddle through what promised to be a hideously long conversation, none of which would be to his benefit.  Neither option offered much relief for the small explosions inside his head, and he silently cursed Ella and her good intentions.  For the moment, not moving seemed to be the lesser of two evils.  “My father died of cancer when I was fifteen,” he told Meema grudgingly.  “My mother married somebody else and moved to Florida.  I’ve seen her maybe three times in the last ten years.  I have a stepbrother I’ve seen once in the last ten years.  Like I said, I don’t have a family.”

Rather than respond to that, Meema pointed to the dishes Ella had left on the table.  When he didn’t move she pointed again, this time with a jab of her finger.  With a shrug of resignation Burke gave one plate to her and kept the other for himself.  A little nourishment wouldn’t hurt, he thought, although whether he could keep it down or not was another question.  Like everything Ella and her mother prepared, the food smelled good, but he didn’t bother to identify any of it before he began to eat it, giving fleeting thanks when it stayed down.

Neither he nor Meema said anything until their plates were empty.  At that point she handed her plate back to him and waved him toward a basin of water that he used to clean the dishes, then dried them with the cloth Ella had used to keep the food warm.

“Now what?” he asked Meema.  “Floor need mopping?”

She waved him back into his seat on the cot.  It wasn’t until he was settled there that he realized his legs were still wobbly.

“Tell me about John,” she said.

“Why?”

“Because he is the one you run toward.  And you would give your life to help him find what he seeks.”

“How—”

“I see it in your eyes.”

“Because they’re the windows of my soul, is that it?  Look, I have to get back to the inn.  I’ve been gone too long already.  We have to do something to get Galen out of the slammer, and then we’re back on the road.”  Too late, he realized he had spoken the wrong name.  No harm done, he tried to tell himself.  This nutty old lady didn’t seem too interested in the big wide world of reality anyway.  He pushed himself to his feet again, grateful that the meal seemed to have helped his equilibrium and eased the banging in his head.  He was halfway to the door when he noticed that the dog had moved and was blocking the way out.  “Come on, buddy,” he said, beckoning.  “Come on back and lie down where it’s warm.”

The dog sat there like a statue.

“C’mon, that’s a good dog, get out of the way.”  Burke tried to edge around him, but for a small-ish animal he certainly could block a doorway.  Burke tried to nudge him back toward the fire, but the dog simply fastened his jaws around Burke’s knee and held on.  “Look, call the dog, would you?” he begged Meema.  Something in her expression told him he wasn’t going to get another word out of her until he sat back down.  “I can’t stay here,” he insisted.

Meema closed her eyes and resumed rocking back and forth.

After ten minutes of trying to wrestle his leg away from Bandit, he gave up and returned to the cot.

“Tell me about John,” Meema said again, without opening her eyes.

“He’s—”

“John is not his name.”

“It’s Alan.  John is his middle name.”

She tossed that around silently, then nodded.  “He chose you to come to this place with him.”

“He recommended me, yeah.”

“There was another.  Also with an old name.”

She’ll be there with bells on, my friend.”  Jonesy. . . “Daniel.”

Another nod.  “And the brother you left behind?”

“Doug.  Douglas.”

“Your mother?”

“Katherine.”

“Your father?”

“Michael.”

Finally, she opened her eyes.  They were such a deep brown that in the fading evening light they looked black.  “And the one you betrayed?”

Burke hissed out a breath.  “I didn’t betray anybody.”

Meema simply gazed at him.

“This isn’t really—I don’t know what they told you to do, but all this is none of your business.”

“Sleep, then.”  She nodded at the cot.

“What about your family?” he shot back.  “Why don’t you tell me about them?”

“Go to sleep, Peter.”

“And what’re you gonna do?  Sleep there in the chair?  If I try to leave during the night, you’ll sic the dog on me again?”

It took every bit of effort he could muster to push himself to his feet again.  His dinner, which had tasted all right going down, churned unpleasantly in his stomach, and the pain in his head burned hot enough to make him wince.  The dog peered at him curiously, and to Burke’s mind it looked as though the canine was smiling.  Smugly.  Slowly, Burke sank down onto the cot once more.

There was a lamp on a shelf near the door, but neither of them made a move to light it.  As the minutes wore on, the room grew darker, filling with shadows until Burke could barely make out the shape of the woman in the rocking chair.  He closed his eyes to rest them and began to slump down on the cot, shifting upright again when the slouch shot a jab of pain through his neck.  The darkness was making him drowsy, and staying awake was taking more effort than he could muster.

“Hi, Pete!”

I want their names. . .their names. . .their names. . .

“I can’t sleep,” he said miserably.  “When I sleep, I go back there.”

“I missed you.”

He was lying down then, though he didn’t remember doing it.  The dog crossed the room with soft, rustling footsteps and rested his chin on the cot for a moment, then lay down beside it.

Swell place, he thought.  They dope the tea because somebody tortured me.  Thanks a big steaming pile for bringing us here, Galen.

Galen. . .

“Galen’s in jail,” he muttered.

Tell me their names. . .their names. . .

“Cassie,” he whispered.  “Her name is Cassie.”

 

 

SEVENTEEN

Turning Points

________________________________

 

Dear Mother: I can hear the song of the morning birds outside, which means the sun will be up soon.  I have not seen Alan and Pete for two days, and Julian not since yesterday afternoon.  No one asks me any more questions, or pays me much of any attention at all.  The panel will hold their preliminary meeting this afternoon, and I am frightened out of my wits.  With much love, and a deepening sense of panic, your son, Galen.

 

* * * * *

 

Julian leaned toward his client and spoke barely above a whisper.  “Alan wants to know if you’ve done something unfortunate to protect him and Pete.”

His client’s eyes widened.

They were both more than aware of the gorilla posted just outside the interrogation room door, and of the fact that this room was anything but soundproof.  Galen, for his part, had learned through painful experience that the hearing ability of gorillas tended to rise when what they were overhearing was incriminating or worth laying a wager on.

“He says if you have, you must tell me the truth, and we will proceed from there.”

“Yes,” Galen said dryly.  “I have.”  As Julian gaped at him, he leaned closer and whispered, “I gave up everything I had.  My home, my family, all my possessions, and I’m doomed to wander the countryside, trying to stay one step ahead of General Urko, all because I felt a stab of sympathy for two human strangers.”

“Oh,” said Julian.

“But did I murder the gorilla?  Categorically, no.  I told you that.”

“Oh.  Well, that’s good, then.  And bad.”

“Bad?  How is it bad?”

“I sought advice from my teacher.  With John—excuse me, with Alan.  We talked with the Professor all evening and part of the night.  He said in the absence of clear, undeniable evidence that you’re innocent, which we do not have, given that you were found where and how you were found, we must find the real guilty party and present him to the panel.  Unfortunately, we have less than two days to do that.”

Galen peered at the younger chimp.  “And did Alan have any idea who the real guilty party might be?”

“He said you’d ask that.  It wasn’t him.”

“Thank the gods.”  Galen pressed his hands to his face for a moment, then recovered some of the equilibrium he hadn’t felt for two days.

“He also said you had never done him or Pete any harm and that he trusts you with his life.  He said I should do the same, and that I should tell you to be honest with me, because we ‘don’t have a lot of options.’”

“How much did he tell you?  About himself, and Pete?”

“Everything.”

“How much of ‘everything’?”

“That he and Pete came here from a time a thousand years in the past, in a spaceship,” Julian scoffed.  “I’d love to dwell on how absurd that is, but we don’t have the time.  Maybe when this is all said and done, I can sit down with a mug of tea, put my feet up on a stool and mull over the possibility of two humans flying a machine not only through space, but through time, but for now, I remind you, we have two days to find a murderer.  You, and I. . .and your friend Alan.”

Galen frowned at him.  “Wait a minute.  Where is Pete?”

“He’s being taken care of.  He had a tantrum in front of Chief Marko, so we sent him to Ariel’s father’s home.  He’ll be safe there.”

“Are you certain?”

“Would you consider worrying about the real problem?  The one you hired me to help you resolve?”  Muttering to himself, Julian got up from his chair and began to pace the room, hands clasped behind his back.  “In theory, the police should be doing the work for us, but they’ve found a suspect who fills the bill well enough and they’re not inclined to do anything more.  One would think they’d be so tired of dealing only with petty crime that a good mystery like this would stir their blood, but in the case of gorillas, a good mystery is too much work.”

“Chief Marko questioned me at rather considerable length.”

Julian made a face.  “You don’t think that was for your benefit, do you?  He wanted enough information to paint you into a corner in front of the panel.  The only thing—and I repeat, the only thing in your favor is who the victim was.”

“The police don’t honestly seem to care that he’s dead.”

“Kull was a problem from the day he arrived here,” Julian sighed.  “Being from the north, he never did have much tolerance for humans.  Then there was the situation with the chickens.”

“Chickens?”

“He strangled a whole flock of chickens.”

“Was he punished for it?”

“They were his chickens.”

“Lovely.”

Julian nodded.  “The Prefect hasn’t admitted as much, but the fact that it was Kull who was murdered is both good and bad.  He was a misfit, and the city is better off without him, which might incline the panel to go easy on the guilty party.  On the other hand, if ape killed ape, no matter how much of a sorry specimen he was, the appropriate punishment has to be levied, in accordance with the law.”  He paused, sucking at his lower lip.  “Then there’s the whole question of his connection with Central City.”

Galen, who had been trying to let a reasonable plan of action sift into his mind, froze in his seat.  “Which is—?”

“He was banished here from Central City.”

“I see.”

“And—”

“Oh, no,” Galen said cheerfully.  “Let me see if I’ve put this together correctly.  He wanted nothing more than to un-banish himself, so he spent most of his time trying to find ways to ingratiate himself with General Urko and the Council.  When a little time goes by, and they don’t hear from him, at first they’ll be relieved, and then they’ll wonder what happened to him.  They’ll send an inquiry, and when they find out he was murdered, why, there will be six different kinds of hell to pay.  If a local citizen had done it, that would be bad enough.  But an itinerant storyteller?  They’ll have me boiled in oil.”

Julian nodded.  “That’s about right.”

“I need to see Alan,” Galen said.  “Please make it happen.”

 

* * * * *

 

“You’re on a fool’s errand, boy, defending that one,” Goreg announced.  “That ape did nothing but sit in here and jabber on about the bad habits of humans.  We should have shown him to the city limits the day he got here.”

“He may have good qualities.”

Goreg snorted loudly and pointed to a bundle sitting at the foot of the stairs.  “You might as well take that.  I don’t know what else to do with it.”

“What is it?”

“His belongings.”

“Can’t you leave them in his room?”

“I cannot.  I need that room for guests.  Columbus has a room at the jail.”

Julian tilted his head and told the innkeeper in what he hoped was a persuasive tone, “Goreg, you have six empty rooms upstairs.”

“That one,” said Goreg, “is the one with the best view.”

That fight was lost.  With a sigh Julian picked up the bundle and carried it out the back door and across the lawn to John’s—no, Alan Virdon’s—cabin.  The man was waiting for him, sitting in the doorway.  “He’s done nothing,” he told Virdon as he handed over the bundle.  “However, he did ask me to tell you that he hopes fortune continues to favor the stupid.”

“That sounds like Galen.”

“He wants to see you.  No, he insists on seeing you.  I don’t know how I’m supposed to arrange that, since Marko forbids humans in the jail, and Columbus—Galen—certainly can’t come out of the jail.”

“I’ll think of something.”

“He told me to be afraid of that.”

“Who can outvote Marko?”

“Just the Prefect.”

“Then I need to see the Prefect.”  Before Julian could protest, Virdon went on, “If he’s a friend of the Professor’s, then he’s aware that there are intelligent humans in this world.  I can reason with him.  Try to make him understand that Galen was a victim of circumstance.”

Something in the man’s expression sent a twist of dread through Julian’s gut.  “And—?”

“It’ll give me a chance to see his office.  If he’ll show me where the book was, I can try to figure out who might have taken it.  There may be evidence there that’ll point us straight to the real murderer.  For that matter, there might be evidence on the book itself.”

“There’s blood on the book, but it’s Kull’s.  What help is that?”

Virdon shook his head.  “Not blood.  Fingerprints.”

“Finger. . .prints?”

Nodding, Virdon took Julian’s hand in his own, and with the index finger of his other hand, brushed Julian’s fingertips.  “See these little swirling lines in the skin?  They form a pattern.  They’re completely individual.  No two humans, and no two apes, have a pattern that’s exactly the same.  If we can find fingerprints on the book—”

“Dozens of apes may have touched that book.  Including your master.”

Virdon peered at the chimp.

“Including Galen,” Julian groaned.

“Columbus.”

“Whatever.  You realize, the panel isn’t going to think much of me if I let a human turn this trial into a circus.  One of them is going to be my father-in-law in a short time, at least in theory.”  The response, or lack of one, that that sparked from Virdon made Julian snort loudly.  “When this is all over, if I manage to work some sort of miracle and convince the panel that Columbus-Galen is innocent, the three of you intend to pack up and leave Segundo.  Which is all well and good for you, but it leaves me here to explain myself to Toban.  If I lose the case, I get to explain to Toban why I let a human lead me around by the nose and why I failed.  None of which is going to encourage him to give me his daughter’s hand in marriage.”

“I need some black powder,” Virdon said.

“You’re not listening to me at all, are you?  Galen warned me about that too.”

Virdon smiled encouragingly at the chimp and reached out to pat him on the arm.  “You’re doing a terrific job, Julian.  Now, how quickly can you get me into the Prefect’s office?”

“Taxes,” Julian sighed.  “I used to settle tax disputes.”

 

* * * * *

 

Without a word, Meema  led her charge down a path behind Toban’s home to the bath house.  His headache had receded into a persistent but mostly tolerable throb; taking the place of the pounding of the day before was an odd effect on his vision, as if he were looking at the world through a pair of unfocused binoculars.  Following Meema down the path without stumbling took an effort she must have noticed, because when they reached the bath house she opened the door, then looked at him expectantly until he went inside.

“Look,” he said firmly, “I can do this myself.”

She folded her arms across her chest and went on waiting.

“Really.  I mean it.”

Finally, to his relief, she went back outside and closed the door, leaving him alone.  Steam surrounded him immediately; being windowless, the room offered no outlet for the warmth rising off the tub.  Moving slowly, he peeled off his clothes and dropped them onto the back of a chair near the door, then dipped a hand into the water and immediately jerked it back out.  “Great,” he muttered.  “Now she wants to boil me alive.”  But the steam felt good rising around his head, so gingerly he lowered himself into the water, gritted his teeth until he no longer felt like screaming, then relaxed and rested his head on the edge of the tub.  In only a couple of minutes the heat had soaked all the way to his bones and he felt better than he had in. . .

Like a hangover, without the pleasure of the booze.

Months?  Since he’d awakened to find Virdon wiping his face with cool water, telling him to take it very slow.

Had it been minutes before that, when the storm had hit?  Hours?  Days?

Since Jonesy had been there with them, laughing.

“Poor Jonesy.  He had a wife and kid.”

Meema, or somebody, had left a washcloth laying over the edge of the tub.  Burke dipped it into the water, wrung it out, and draped it over his eyes.

Hangover. . .without. . .

Really should’ve bought that bar in Jersey City.  I’d be there now, griping about the weather and watching the game on TV.  Sweet little place.  Would’ve made a decent profit there.  Save on expenses by living upstairs.  No commute to worry about.  Would’ve been able to visit Holy Names every Sunday, and leave flowers for Nonna.

He sank a little deeper into the water, let it lap up under his chin.

Nothing to worry about except deliveries being on time.  Could’ve maybe found somebody in a couple years and. . .

Yeah, right.

Nobody to worry about except myself.  Wouldn’t have to sleep on the ground and forage for berries like some damn Boy Scout on a campaway or whatever they call those things.  And I wouldn’t have to. . .

The words Does a bear shit in the woods?? flooded into his head.  He wanted to laugh, and a sound did come out of him, but it was more like a thin shriek of pain.  The moment he let it out he remembered the old lady who was undoubtedly still standing outside the door, and held his breath, sure she’d fling the door open and haul him out of the tub.  When she didn’t, he winced in relief, then sat upright, grabbed the container of soapy stuff off its hook on the wall and used it to wash his hair.  When his hair was reasonably clean and rinsed, he poured more soap onto the washcloth and scrubbed the rest of his body.  His hand slowed down when he rubbed the cloth against the scars on his wrists, remembering the way Marko had stared at them.  Had that been yesterday?  It seemed like weeks ago.  Back when Virdon had tossed him awake to tell him Galen was in jail.

Galen.

. . . Go in there with guns blazing and. . .

Was it yesterday?

The headache wanted to spring to new and fervent life as he climbed out of the tub and dried himself off.  Meema (or someone) had laid out clean clothes for him, and he put those on.

Still no underwear, he thought.  How long has it been since I had underwear?

He had to sit down on the chair to pull on his shoes, and took a moment to mourn the loss of socks.

. . . guns blazing. . .

A knock sounded at the door.  Meema, undoubtedly; she’d been waiting there long enough.  Feeling completely battered, he pulled the door open and found her standing a few feet away with a serious-looking chimpanzee he immediately knew was Toban.  The elder chimp reminded him of Galen’s father both in dress and demeanor—a lot of bark and not much bite, if he held true to that form.  He hoped very much that that was the case.

“He looks sturdy enough,” the chimp told Meema.

“He will be.”

“And Ella has her eye on him, does she?  Well, she could do worse.  I’ll leave it up to you to make the final decision, Meema.”

Then he walked away, around the side of the house.

“What’s he talking about?” Burke asked.

The old woman gave him a long, solemn moment of scrutiny.  “You’ll be joining his household.  That’s why they brought you here.”

Burke held up both hands, palms out, in protest.  He had the feeling he didn’t present too much of a defense—now the world was hazy, as if he were looking at it through cheesecloth—but he gave it a try anyway.  “Now, wait a minute.  I’m not joining anybody’s household.  They just sent me here to keep me quiet for a while.  I belong to Columbus, and as soon as he gets out of jail, we’ll be leaving the city.  And Ella, that whole business about my marrying her was one of Alan’s really bad jokes.”

Meema shook her head and began walking back up the path, leaving Burke with little choice but to follow.

“Did you hear me?” he persisted.

She stopped, turned, and fixed him with a look that seemed to bore right through his head.  “You talked a great deal in your sleep last night.”

“I did?”

“Well into the night.”

Burke paled.  “What did I say?”

“Ella would do well to avoid you.”

“I told you, it was a joke.  She’s a good cook and she’s a nice kid, and that’s all.  I’m not marrying anybody.”

“So it would seem.”

He heard his own voice saying What was her name, anyway?  Janine, Jolene, something like that.  “Look, Meema, I’d never hurt Ella.”

Again, her gaze bored into him.

Cassie.  Her name is Cassie.

Had he said that?  The words seem to have a familiar echo, as if he had spoken them aloud, but when it might have been, he didn’t know.  Thinking about her created an ache in his solar plexus that he tried to stop by clamping an arm over it.

Meema started walking again, this time in a different direction, and out of frustration he followed her.  When she stopped, they were close to the stream, at a spot where the water was deeply pooled and shaded by the thick foliage of a tree.  From where they stood Burke could see their reflections in the water.

“How long will you run?” Meema asked him.

Like most of her questions, that one seemed pulled out of thin air.  Apropos of nothing, his mother would have said.  Mom, who liked to pretend she was the queen of fifty-cent words.  The thought of running didn’t make his gut feel any better.  He’d run sometime, yesterday, or a month ago, and there wouldn’t be much more of a respite before he had to run again.  Over hill, over dale. . .Galen was right, I’m losing it. Maybe I lost it a long time ago, and I’m in the nut ward somewhere.  “From the gorillas?” he said wearily.  “I don’t know.  As long as it takes.  If they catch me again, they’ll kill me.  Or something worse.”

“Not from the gorillas, Peter.  From yourself.”

Her name was Cassie.

Her name. . .

Burke looked at his reflection—the first time he’d seen it in months—and winced.  He’d been browned by the sun, which was not a problem (assuming that somehow, over the last thousand years, that yawning hole in the ozone layer had knitted itself closed); but he’d lost a noticeable amount of weight, which was.  He spends an hour on his hair just to answer the phone, he heard Alan say.  “Har de har har,” he murmured.  What would you have done, if Galen hadn’t brought you here? he wondered.  Starve yourself to death?

The breeze picked up a little, and fluttered Meema’s long skirt and her hair.  Rather than look at the reflections in the water, she was gazing off into the distance.  Burke had the distinct feeling that, despite her age, she could stand here for days, not moving, waiting for him to say the right thing.  He still had no idea what he’d babbled in his sleep, but obviously it had been enough to keep Meema interested.

“Three squirrels, twenty-seven birds, a horse, four snakes, and a toad,” she said.

Burke looked up at her and frowned.  “What?”

“All the wounded things Ella has brought home.  She has a soft heart for wounded creatures, and thinks she can mend them all, with enough attention.  It was only a matter of time until she brought home a human.”  His reaction made her laugh, a soft, rippling noise.  “What did you think drew her to you?”

“I don’t know,” Burke muttered.

“Her feelings could change, in time, if you stayed.”

“She’s just a kid.”

“She’s a young woman, Peter.  In time she could grow to care about you very much.”

“I can’t.  Let her do that.  I have to go.  I can’t stay here.”

“Why?”

“Because—” Galen’s in jail.  “My friends need my help.”

“What will you do?  To help.”

“I—”  For a moment his mind churned, offering up possibilities, none of which was fully formed.  “I don’t know,” he admitted.

The old woman arched an eyebrow.  She didn’t need to bother speaking, because what she was thinking was written all over her face.

He remembered Galen’s face, etched with concern, looking back from where he and Virdon stood, a few yards further down the road.  Virdon’s own expression hadn’t been very different.  Fleetingly, he wondered what Galen’s face looked like now, over there in the jail.  But maybe Virdon had already engineered something, gotten Galen out.  Maybe they’d gone on somewhere without him.  Maybe they were tired of dealing with him and had hit the road, figuring he’d be all right here, under the steely, unblinking eye of Meema.

“Are you afraid to die?” she asked him.

He thought about it for what seemed like a long while.  “No,” he said finally.  “Sometimes it seems like that would be kind of a lucky break.”

“And what would that do to your friends?”

He thought of Galen, coming to sit with him that night on the mountain, crushed with sorrow when he was told to go away.

Burke shrugged.  “I don’t know.”

They had carried him, Virdon on one side, Galen on the other, to get him away from the doctor in Central City who intended to carve out a piece of his brain.  His legs wouldn’t support him, so they had done the walking for him, out of the hospital, to safety.

“Do you think they would leave you behind?”

“I—”

“You’ve been offered a home here.  In time, you would have a place in Segundo.  Would you rather remain here, without your friends?”

He blurted, “I can’t.  Don’t you understand?  Wanda—and Urko—they tried to get me to give them the names of the people who helped us.  If I had told them the names, they would have slaughtered all those people.”

“So the fate of the world lies with you?”

“I would have been responsible for their deaths.”

“And yet you allow Ella and Marta to help you.  Do you think less of them than you do of those others?”

“No.”

“It seems to be the cycle of your life, Peter.  You take, and then you run, and you regret.  You have a decision in your hands now: you can stay, or you can run.  If you want to avoid the gorillas, the best choice would seem to be to go now.  Run into the hills, and leave Segundo behind.  Or do what your friend John prevented you from doing: let the gorilla kill you, and put an end to the choices.  The world will find a way to get along without you, and so will your friends.  But remember, Peter: you can run from everyone and everything on this Earth except yourself.”

She waited a moment, letting him mull that over, then made a shooing gesture with one hand, as if she’d grown tired of his company and was ready to enjoy the tranquility of the morning by herself.  After a minute, when he was still standing there, she raised an eyebrow.

“I ran from the Earth,” he muttered.

Nine months, out there.  Nobody’d ever gone out that far before.  They showed us all the charts, and we made what, a hundred trips in the simulator.  But nobody really knew if we’d get back.  Nobody could put their hand on a Bible and say yep, you’ll be popping back through that hatch like a newborn baby and they’ll start throwing confetti on you and dousing you with champagne.  Nobody was sure, not even Alan.  That’s why Sally was crying the morning we left, because she thought she’d never see him again.  And that’s why you signed on, isn’t it, Pete, old boy?  Because the odds were so damn bad.  Because you thought you’d end up drifting around out there in space forever, like an old busted satellite.

“My parents fought all the time,” he said.

Meema didn’t answer.

“Day and night, about everything from soup to nuts.  One of them couldn’t say ‘hello’ without the other one picking a fight about it.  It was quieter at my grandmother’s, so after school I’d go over there, sit and do my homework.  Sometimes we’d play cards.  She was a helluva card player.”

“Nonna. . .how come you don’t ever let me win?”

“Why?”

“Because I’m just a kid.

“When I was eleven or twelve, these people moved in next door to my grandmother.  The Paulings.  They had two sons older than me, and a daughter.  A year younger than me.  She had red hair.”

“Pete, this is Cassie.”

Cassie of the red hair and the baseball jerseys.

“We had a softball team, just local kids.  She talked her way onto it.  She was better than most of the guys.”

“Whaddaya mean, ‘out’?  Are you BLIND?”

“After my dad died, and my mom moved away, and I went to college, there was nobody to look after my grandmother, so Cassie did it.  Made sure she ate three meals a day, that she was clean, that her house was clean.  Read to her when her eyes started getting bad.  About four years ago, my grandmother passed away.  I went home for the funeral, and Cassie was there.”

“Hi, Pete.  I missed you.”

He glanced over at Meema, but she was still gazing at clouds.  “When the funeral was over, we went to get coffee.  Started talking, and we kind of kept talking.  When the coffee shop closed, we went back to her place.  I knew it wasn’t a good idea, but we were both kind of just there, and we slept together.  When I got back to my apartment, there was a message from her on my answering machine, telling me she loved me.  I didn’t know what to do, so I never called her back.  Four years, and I never called her back.”  Burke shoved his hands into his pockets.  His headache had gone away sometime during the night, but now it was back.  “When the news got out about our ship not coming back, she probably hoped I died in screaming agony.”

“There were others,” Meema commented.

“Women?  Oh, yeah, there were others.  A whole bunch of others.  I was the king of the one-nighters.  But Cassie was my friend.  ‘Was’ being the key word.”  Finally, the old woman was looking in his direction.  Burke shifted his position to confront her.  “So how do you figure I can fix that?  She’s been dead for a thousand years.  Are you gonna tell me her spirit is hanging around waiting for some kind of resolution?”

It occurred to him that Meema might not know what to make of “answering machine,” “softball team,” or “coffee shop,” or “she’s been dead for a thousand years,” but if the old woman was indeed puzzled by any of that, she made no sign of it.

“Don’t be a fool,” she told him.

“Oh, gee, thanks.  That’s helpful.”  Grumbling, he sat down alongside the stream and teased a handful of pebbles out of the damp soil to toss into the water.  Even turning away, he could see enough of Meema’s reflection to know she was still standing there.  For a while he wondered if he could turn this into a contest, see if he could outlast her.  Not likely.  You could never outlast Nonna, either.  When the pebbles were gone, he watched a couple of dry leaves float by.  You’re a friggin’ champ, aren’t you?  Sitting here like some pouting five-year-old to see how long that old lady can stand there without her knees locking up on her.  Yup, that’s good old Pete: either ignore the problem, or run away as fast as you can.  And you win the world’s record for that, don’t you?  Running to Alpha Centauri.  And look at this, sports fans—you might not have ended up as a piece of interstellar driftwood, but you got second prize—ended up a thousand years in the future, and you don’t have to apologize to anybody for the crap you pulled before you left.

How much did you hate me, Cass? he thought.

“They’re not angry at you, Petey.  They both love you very much.  The fighting, that’s all between the two of them.”

Yeah, right.

“Did you make her a promise?” Meema asked.

“No.”

“Hi, Pete, it’s me, it’s Cassie.  I just wanted to tell you that, well, last night, it was really. . .Wow, you wouldn’t think I’ve known you for fourteen years, would you?  I wanted to say something, but you got away before I could, so I figured I’d do this, even though it’s cheesy to do this in voicemail and not to your face.  I just wanted to say I’m glad you came home.  I really. . .okay, I’ll spit it out before I drive you crazy.  I love you, Pete, and I’m glad you were here.”

He glanced up again.  Meema was looking at him as if she could see into his head.  Scowling, he told her, “You’re spooky, you know that?”

“You assume too much, Peter.”

“What, about you?”

Meema shook her head.  “Go back to the inn.  The carriage driver will take you.  When the panel has made its decision, come back here if you like.  As I said—”

“Nobody gives a rat’s backside about me.”

The old woman chuckled softly, then turned her back and walked away from him.

 

* * * * *

 

Having a human visitor was nothing at all unusual for Hadrian.  He had been Prefect of Segundo for nearly half his life, and during that time, dozens of humans had come to him to request a small favor, a pardon for some minor infraction, his aid in securing a piece of land to farm, or any of a myriad of other purposes.  Most of them were earnest, willing to work hard in exchange for the Prefect’s assistance.  Sometimes they brought him gifts.

This one, he suspected, would not be bearing a gift.

This one, for a reason he could not pin down, made him uneasy.

The man called John came alone, although his appointment with the Prefect had been secured for him by the attorney Julian, who had assumed responsibility for him after the arrest of Columbus.  John was very upset, Julian had explained, because he was loyal to his master and had so far been thwarted in his attempt to help win his master’s freedom.  Hadrian mulled that over as he directed John to a seat on the visitors’ side of his desk.

“You want to help prove your master’s innocence,” he said.

The man nodded.  “Very much so, sir.”

“You told Chief Marko you didn’t see anything that night.  Is that not true?”

“It’s true.  But, Prefect, what Columbus told Marko is also true.  If he says he didn’t kill the gorilla, then he didn’t kill the gorilla.”

“You believe he is an ape of integrity.”

“Yes.”

Hadrian rested his hands on the edge of the desk.  The directness of John’s gaze was so intense it had made him look away, but now he forced himself to meet the man’s eyes.  “It speaks well for him that you’re devoted to your master.  But I want you to understand something, John—your master is his own worst enemy.  Chief Marko talked to him for many hours, in order to get to know him, to determine what we call his credibility.  Whether or not he is someone whose word we can trust.  Most apes, and indeed most humans, will volunteer information about themselves: where they come from, who their families are, what jobs they’ve held, what are their likes and dislikes.  Your master, as far as we can determine, is a blank slate.  He has no background, he has no belongings, he has no friends, apparently.  All he has is you, and Pete, who by all accounts is afraid of him.”

“That’s not true, sir.”

“Then who is he afraid of?”

“There were other apes.  A chimpanzee, and several gorillas.  They treated him very cruelly.  They tortured him, in an attempt to get him to betray someone.”

“Ape or human?”

“Humans.”

“And where was this?”

John glanced at the floor for a moment, then said evenly, “Outside Central City, about three weeks ago.”

“Did Columbus have any part in that?”

“Only in helping Pete get away.”

The fingers of Hadrian’s right hand began to gently drum against the edge of the desk.  “Is that it, then?  Why Columbus is being so evasive?  Pete doesn’t rightfully belong to him.”

“You could say that.”

“Did Pete betray the other humans?”

“No.”

“He held his tongue, even under torture.  That’s quite a display.  Integrity in a human.”

“Did you think we weren’t capable of that?”

Hadrian again considered the man sitting opposite him.  If anything, the man’s gaze had sharpened.  “There’s more to you than meets the eye, isn’t there.  You don’t speak like a servant.  I’d venture a guess that you don’t rightfully belong to Columbus either.”

“Does the idea of an educated human bother you?”

“What sort of education?  Can you read?  We have a number of humans here in Segundo who can read quite well, your friend Ella and her mother among them.  I have no problem at all with humans learning to read and write.  It comes in quite handy sometimes.”

John countered, “A lot of apes wouldn’t agree with you.”

“A lot of apes become trapped in the quagmire of their own prejudices.”  Hadrian paused.  John was smiling at him, not at all befuddled by the complicated words.  Yes, indeed, there was more to this human than met the eye.  So much more that it created a chill at the back of Hadrian’s neck that crept all the way down his spine.

Before Hadrian could say anything more, the man’s attitude shifted, became more urgent.  “Sir, I need your permission to visit Columbus.  They won’t let me into the jail, and I understand the reason for the rule, but I need you to bend it for me.  Just for a short time.  It’s very important.”

“Why?”

“Because Columbus didn’t kill that gorilla, and I need to talk to him so that I can help Julian prove that.”

If the man was going to push, Hadrian thought, then he was going to push back.  “You did see something that night.  What did you see?”

“I saw the gorillas arrest Columbus, and bring him to the jail.”

“I thought you were sleepwalking.”

“I woke up.”

Hadrian pressed, “What else did you see?”

“I saw a light inside the office.  Flickering, like a candle.  And moving, as if whoever was holding it was moving from one room to another.”

“Was this before or after Columbus was arrested?”

“Before.”

“And this ‘whoever’ was not Columbus.”

“No.”

“Was it Kull?”

“I don’t know.”

“Then tell me: how is it that you intend to help your master, when you know nothing other than that you saw a moving light?”

John’s gaze shifted, taking in the room around them.  “I’d like you to give me access to this building, and the grounds outside.  Let me search for clues.”

“Let you search.  A human?  For clues the police couldn’t find.”

“With respect, Prefect, I don’t think the police are searching very hard, if at all.  They already have enough of an answer to suit them.”

Hadrian’s gaze bored into the man.  “You believe we would convict an innocent ape because finding the truth is too difficult?”

“I think you might, because finding the truth might rock the boat.”

“This is my city,” Hadrian barked.  “We live well here.  In harmony.  Ape does not kill ape here.”

John took a long, slow breath and blew it out past his upper lip.  “Prefect—your friend the Professor said you’re fair and reasonable, and that you don’t turn your back on the truth.”

That rocked Hadrian back in his chair.  “You’ve talked with the Professor?”

“Yes.  Julian took me to see him.”

 The man seemed not at all awed by the fact that the Professor was human—something Hadrian had never witnessed before.  “Do you come from the northern provinces, by any chance?” he asked hesitantly.  “The far northern provinces, past the mountains?”

John shook his head.  “East of here, actually.”

“Past the desert?”

“Far past it.”

“And…are there very many educated humans there?”

“Right now?  I don’t know.”

“The other human, Pete—does he come from the east as well?”

“Yes, he does.” 

Slowly, the Prefect pushed his chair back and stood up.  For a moment he felt as though his legs might not support him, but to his relief when he took a step, then another, they didn’t fold underneath him.  One step at a time he walked the width of his office, stopping for a moment to look out the wide window at the garden beyond.  Every time his gaze fell anywhere near the human, the man was looking at him.  Waiting.

More of them, he thought.  More of these bright humans, raised to be our equals.  The idea made him quiver, until he reminded himself, You have been Prefect here for many years.  That would not have been so if you were not capable of handling the job.

He had visited the jail this morning and had observed the ape Columbus for a little while.  He seemed like an ordinary enough chimpanzee, though he did take evasiveness to new heights.  For a moment Hadrian thought of his son Arn, who had never known the whereabouts of a lost quill or who might have broken Reeka’s favorite cup.  Evasiveness, or for that matter, even outright lies, was nothing the Prefect had not faced before, and certainly not something to make his skin prickle.

This man, however. . .

His face wrinkled into a pensive frown, Hadrian pulled a lower drawer of his desk open a little way and took out something that lay inside it.  He laid the object on the desk midway between him and John and asked the man, “Do you know what this is?”

It was the book that had been found in the possession of Columbus; Hadrian had turned it so that the writing on the cover faced the human.  When the man’s eyes fell on the writing, he gasped aloud.  His desire to grab the thing was so enormous, so obvious, it was almost a living thing.  Watching the man’s face, Hadrian slid the book away from him, toward his own edge of the desk.  “This is the book that was found in your master’s hands.  Obviously it has some meaning to you.”

“Yes.  It does.”

“Would you care to elaborate?”

With a colossal amount of effort the man tore his eyes away from the book.  “Sir, Julian has told me a great deal about you.  I know you’ve tried for many years to study human history and to understand the role it played in the development of this world.  I also know you have respect for the humans you govern.”

“True enough.”

“Then I’d like you to trust me.  I’d like you to help me find the truth.  I’m appealing to you, because I think the truth is as important to you as it is to me.”

Hadrian mulled that over.  “Why did you come here?” he asked.  “To Segundo.”

“To rest.”

“Not because you had heard of my expeditions to Bakoor and hoped to find something valuable among the artifacts?”  The man seemed ready to deny that, but Hadrian interrupted him.  “The book,” he pressed, with a sharp tone in his voice that sounded strange to him.  “What does this book mean to you?”

“It could give me some answers I’ve been waiting a long time to find.”

“Answers to what questions?”

The man didn’t reply.  Hadrian, about to insist that he do so, silenced himself, because a thought had crept into his mind, one that whispered Two humans and a chimpanzee.  Two renegade humans and a traitor. . . It took him a long while to collect himself enough to demand, “Where do you come here from?  What place?”

“Sir—”

“What place?  Name it!”

The man drew back a little but his eyes didn’t drop.  Instead, he gnawed at his lower lip.  He seemed to have to force himself to breathe: in, then out.  In, then out.

Hadrian leaned toward him.  “Is your name Virdon?”

The man said nothing.

“Is it?”

“My name is John, sir.”

“You’re lying.”  Once more, but with a tremor in his hand he hoped the human would not notice, Hadrian opened a drawer in his desk, this time to retrieve a sheet of parchment that he laid on the desk alongside the book.  “I received this quite some time ago.  It’s a communication from Central City regarding two humans and a chimpanzee.  Two humans, one with dark hair and one with yellow hair.  I assume that would be you.  Alan Virdon?  Is that your name?”  The man said nothing, but his eyes answered the question well enough.  “You have a choice now, Alan Virdon.  You can lie to me again, or you can tell me the truth.”

The man sat in silence for a long while, staring at the book and the parchment—a piece of paper whose contents Hadrian had thought went beyond the absurd the first time he read them.  Here, now, looking at this human, he could no longer make the same judgment.

“Chief Councilor Zaius would be thrilled beyond reason if I contacted him and told him that I have in my custody two of the fugitives he’s been searching for.  I assume I’d be able to find your friend Peter Burke without too much difficulty.  What do you think, Alan Virdon?  Should I do that?  Earn myself the Chief Councilor’s lifelong gratitude?  Avoid the whole problem of trying a chimpanzee who committed the first murder in Segundo in fifteen years?”

“He’s innocent.”

“Then tell me: who killed Sergeant Kull?”

“I don’t know.  I need you to help me find out.”  Virdon didn’t give the Prefect a chance to speak.  “If the only strangers in town are the chimpanzee who’s locked up in your jail, myself, and Peter Burke, and none of us killed Sergeant Kull, then obviously the guilty party is one of your citizens.  One of your citizens is a murderer,” he stressed.  “If you don’t find him, then it might happen again.  Someone else might die—someone who’s better loved than Kull.  Do you want that blood on your conscience?”  Before Hadrian could reply, Virdon pressed, “Help me, Prefect.  All you need to do is let me search this building and the grounds outside.  Tell the others that you lost something, a piece of jewelry, or one of your artifacts, and that Julian told you I have good eyes and can find things that others miss.  Don’t abandon your own integrity.  Let me find out what really happened.”

“And then let you and the other two traitors go free.”

Virdon nodded.  “We’ll leave Segundo.  You won’t need to worry about our creating any more problems here.”

“Or I could contact Central City and be proclaimed a hero.”

“And have the three of us put to death.  For what, sir?  All we’ve done is be.”

“You spread heresy.”

“More so than you have, by digging up what’s left of Bakersfield?  Sir, Chief Councilor Zaius wants to deny to every ape in this world that humans were once in control.  He’s spreading lies by burying the truth.  He’s trying to maintain his power and authority by lying to every single ape in every village, in every province.  He’s demanding that they deny what they know to be true: that humans built those old cities.  That humans created a vast and wonderful civilization.  We had people like Zaius, sir, back in my time.  People who could stare straight at black and say ‘white.’  People who denied billions of years of history that we could prove beyond any reasonable doubt, because accepting that history made them afraid.  Because it made them face a little bit of darkness in their own souls.

“And we had other kinds of monsters, ones who insisted that some humans were better than others; that those people, his chosen ones, had the right to live while the rest did not.  We let one of them gain control of a whole nation.  We turned our backs on him and said, ‘Well, it doesn’t affect me, or my life.’  Some of us even said, ‘Who knows, maybe he’s got a point.’  That monster was responsible for millions of deaths, almost by his own hand, and he started a war that killed many millions more.  He issued the commands that brought about the deaths of women, children, frail old men.  He was a creature out of a nightmare, and there were others like him.  Don’t let it happen again, Prefect.  Don’t let Zaius become what that man was.  The decision of who lives and who dies is not his to make.  We had a saying in my time: all it takes for evil to gain control is for good men to do nothing.  It applies just as well to apes.”

When Hadrian didn’t answer, Virdon reached toward him.  “Would you have that?  Would you let Zaius spread his lies, and because you turned your back, be responsible for the deaths of innocents?  For the deaths of little children?”

“We are not talking about the deaths of little children.  We are talking about the death of one gorilla, here in my city.”

“If you’ll just—”

Hadrian took a step back and folded his arms across his chest.  “Chief Councilor Zaius would tear down everything we have in Segundo in his zeal to protect his own position,” he said, in what sounded like a concession.  “He is terrified of change.  Of the unknown, and of the known.  And General Urko—General Urko is a violent fanatic.  In their own way, they are a much greater danger to our civilization than any human.  And yet they were duly elected to their positions and have enormous popular support.  They’ve been so vocal about what they believe, as were certain others who came before them, that three quarters of the population takes their word as gospel.  They believe you and your two compatriots represent a horror beyond imagining.”

“Simply because we exist.”

“Tell me the truth, Virdon.  Where do you come from?”

Rather than answer him, Virdon picked up the parchment and scanned what it said.  “Did you read this?”

“Of course I read it.”

“It says Peter Burke and I ‘claim’ to have come from the past.”

“Yes.”

Virdon’s hand tightened around the parchment, crumpling it.  “As if we’re nothing more than lunatics.  ‘The fringe element,’ we used to call it.  Prefect, we are not insane.  We came here from the past, by accident.  We ran into a storm that nearly destroyed our ship.  Somehow, it took us a thousand years into the future.  To this place.”

Hadrian’s gaze drifted around the room.  “Willum, who works in my household, has been told that humans once ruled the Earth.  I told him myself.  I showed him some of the things I brought back from the old city, things humans made long ago.  Do you know what his response was?”

“No, I don’t.”

“He said ‘yes, sir.’  That’s all.  Just ‘yes, sir.’”

“So he didn’t believe you.  Do you believe me?”

“I don’t know how such a thing could possibly be true.”

Virdon smiled, without humor.  “Before it happened to me, I would have said the same thing.  But until a few months ago, I lived in your past.  A thousand years ago.  I never visited Bakersfield—the place you call Bakoor—but I did spend time in a lot of other cities.  New York.  Los Angeles.  Chicago.  Houston.  Washington.  They were full of life.  Noise.  Activity.  Creativity.  I was there, sir, and somehow, not of my own choosing, I’m here.”

“And yet you can deny the problem you create.  By being, as you said.  If what you say is the truth, then you are the past made whole.”

“I am no threat to you, Prefect.”

“Said the spider to the fly,” Hadrian replied.

“Then let me make another offer.  Let me find out what happened here.  Let me find the one who’s guilty of Kull’s murder, so he can be punished.  When that’s finished, then you can decide what to do about me, and Burke, and Galen.”

Hadrian looked Virdon in the eye for a moment, then said, “You should leave now.”

“Prefect—”

Shaking his head, Hadrian moved toward the doorway leading to the storerooms.  With a final glance at Virdon, he passed through the doorway, leaving Virdon alone with the book and the communication from Zaius.  Virdon sat looking at both, barely breathing, his right hand trembling a little.

“If you touch that book,” Hadrian’s voice came from the shadows of the hallway, “you will prove your guilt, and Galen’s, beyond any shadow of a doubt.”

 

 

EIGHTEEN

Searching

______________________________

 

“It’s a fine state of affairs,” Toban said gruffly, “when I get less attention than the wall from my only daughter.”

Ariel hung her head shyly, then went to him and nestled into his embrace.  “I’m sorry, Father.  I’ve had so much to think about these past few days.  I feel as if my whole life has shifted completely around.”

“And you want me not to say ‘maybe you shouldn’t have gone to the old city.’” When she nodded, Toban chuckled softly and stroked her hair.  “As the years go on, if you don’t feel your life shift completely around at least two or three times, you would have to be lying unconscious.  Sometimes it’s for the good; sometimes it’s—”

“Like when Mother died?”

“Exactly.”

“Did you enjoy yourself at the lakes?  How is cousin Rafe?”

“He’s fine.  I had a wonderful time, as I always do.  Then I came back to discover that the panel has a murderer to try.  And I have a new human in my household, thanks to your being hopelessly twisted around Ella’s finger.”

“It’s just temporary.  Until the trial is over.”

The elder ape made another show of being grouchy.  “He was brought here because he’s a discipline problem, so they tell me.  That’s not what I need, an unruly human destroying the tranquility of my home.  Although,” he said, caving in to Ariel’s silent plea for understanding, “he did seem reasonably well behaved when I saw him out by the bath house with Meema.”

“He’s been mistreated, Father.  One can’t blame him for being the way he is.”

“It doesn’t mean I’m going to put up with a lot of nonsense.”

“You won’t have to.  I promise.”

Toban rubbed his knuckles affectionately against her shoulder.  “I’m going to hold you to that, you and your soft heart.  I need to change clothes, then see to some things.  But I hope you’ll sit down with me to eat at noon.”

“Of course.”

He went upstairs then, leaving her alone in the sitting room.  A minute later she could faintly hear him talking with one of the servants.  Even with the sound of his voice to remind her that the house was far from empty, she felt alone to the point of being chilled.  She wrapped her arms around herself as she sank down into the rocking chair that had been her mother’s and looked up at the painting Julian had given her.  As they had on that afternoon weeks ago, the trees in the painting seemed to shift in the wind, and she could almost hear the whispery rustle of their leaves.

A shadow fell across the floor and she turned, thinking it was the family cook, come to ask her what she would like for lunch.  Instead, it was Pete, rubbing idly at the back of his neck with the fingers of one hand.  When her gaze fell on him he dropped his own line of sight to the floor.  With some effort he brought it back up and stared hard at her as if he were trying to convince himself of something.  He was obviously uncomfortable, but whether it was from being inside the house, or being near her, or both, she couldn’t tell.

“What it is, Pete?” she asked him.

“I went to the gate.”  He stopped, grimacing.  “I really need to get back to the inn, so I went to the gate, and I opened it—”

“Did Karl stop you?”

“Who’s Karl?”

“The very large human with no hair.”

Another grimace.  “A bouncer in reverse?  Terrific.”  When Ariel frowned at that, he shook his head.  “No, he didn’t stop me.  I stopped me.  I tried to walk out through the damn gate, and I couldn’t.  I couldn’t do it.  You’d figure it’d be easy, just put one foot in front of the other.”  He looked everywhere but at Ariel for a minute, then forced himself to go on.  “Listen, the thing is—I haven’t had a conversation with an ape, other than Ga—Columbus, since before it happened.  I thought maybe if I tried it with you, since you’re a female chimp, maybe my head would get used to—”

“What are you talking about?”

“I know there are decent apes in this world.  But right now, my subconscious doesn’t think so.  I need to knock it back in the other direction, or I might as well pack it in.  I’m no good to anybody this way.”

“You’ll have plenty of time to rest, Pete.  That’s why you were brought here.  For your own good.”

“Because I mouthed off to the gorilla.”

Ariel shook her head in confusion.  Ella and Marta had both told her that Pete had a habit of using words and phrases that made no sense.  Even though Ariel had explained that it was probably the result of living in a different province, being exposed to the odd language was no easier for her to accept than it had been for the two human women, and possibly less so.  No, she corrected herself, definitely less so, because Ella and Marta found a lot to distract them in Pete’s physical appearance.  He did have beautiful eyes, she thought, but the rest of him—well, he was just a human.  Which made the language problem all that much more troublesome.  “Mouthed off”—all right, she’d been there, and could puzzle it out.

“Your fiancé,” Burke said.  “Is he—does he know what he’s doing?  I mean, is he a decent attorney?”

“Of course he is,” Ariel replied.  “He’s going to do the best he can for your master.”

“That doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence.”

She bristled, then convinced herself to put that aside.  The human was upset, and confused, after all.  He couldn’t be expected to examine the situation logically.  “Sit down,” she told him.

“I’m allowed to sit on the furniture?”

“Don’t be foolish.  Just sit down.”

He looked around at the choices the room offered: a long wooden bench, the padded chair that was Toban’s usual seat, a stool near the fireplace, and the rug.  With a fleeting, if distracted, grin that indicated he was pleased with himself, he sat on Toban’s chair.

“Father lets the dog sit there, too,” Ariel told him.

He shrugged that off.  “I don’t think ‘resting’ is gonna do it.  I’ve tried that.  You don’t know anything about psychology by any chance, do you?  Because I seem to have a whopping good case of agoraphobia.”

“No.  That wasn’t one of my studies.”

She waited for him to explain himself, but instead, he took a long look around the room, alternately frowning and smiling at what he found there.  He seemed to relax a little as time went by, which was no surprise to Ariel, who had soothed herself out of many a bad mood in this room.  Finally, he cracked a grin that had no humor behind it and asked, “So what’s eating you?  You’ve had a funny look on your face since you got back from your trip.”

“It was very tiring.”

“Yeah, I bet.  All that digging up of old broken stuff.  The Prefect make you drag around a bunch of chunks of concrete?”

“No,” Ariel groaned.

“What, then?”

If she had not heard him in the kitchen at the inn, laughing and singing nonsense songs with Ella and Marta, she would have been tempted to dismiss him and let Meema deal with him.  Never, in all her nineteen years, had she been in the presence of a human—or an ape, for that matter—as entirely perplexing as this one.

And yet there was something about him that made her understand where the words, and the rude tone he spoke them in, came from.  She’d seen him verbally attack Chief Marko, like the biting and snapping of a threatened animal, but this was something different.  Etched on his face now was something like looked very much like sorrow.

“It was a chimpanzee?” she asked.  “The one who hurt you.”

“Yup.”

“A female chimpanzee.”

“Two for two.  Give the lady a prize.”

“Do I look like her?”

Pete shrugged.  “I guess I could say all apes look alike, because you do.  But no.  Your face is different.  And your voice is different.  She sounded like—Huh.  She sounded like old Ms. Hettrick at the bank in Jersey City.  I haven’t thought about that old battleaxe in years, but yeah, same kind of voice.  Like she had daydreams about hacking little kids into pieces and baking them into pies.”  He caught the expression on Ariel’s face.  “Do you want to know what she did to me?”

“Mizhetrick?”

“No.  The female chimp.  The one who. . .hurt me.  She tied me to a big round table and spun it around, really fast, for—I don’t even know how long.  Hours, I guess, until I couldn’t tell up from down.  She had a couple of gorillas shine a big bright light in my eyes until I couldn’t focus on anything.  She had somebody else banging a drum, really loud, over and over, until I was almost deaf.  I had no food and no water, and she wouldn’t let me sleep.”

“Why?” Ariel asked.

“Because she could.”

Ariel squinted at him.  “I don’t understand.”

“It was an experiment.  She read about it in a book, and she thought it’d be fun to give it a try.  She did it to me because she could.  Because apes pull all kinds of crap on humans in this world.  Which would upset me even more than it does, except that some of the stuff humans used to do to each other was worse.”

“Do you mean humans in the old times?”

“You got it.”

“How do you know about that?”

“I know a lot of things.  So do you, I figure, if you’ve been poking around in what’s left of Bakersfield.”

“I know humans dropped bombs on each other.  And murdered each other for no good reason.”

“They did a lot worse than that.”

He was about to go on, but he suddenly squeezed his eyes shut and began breathing hard through his mouth.  His hands balled into fists and he began to tremble, murmuring to himself, “She’s not here.  It’s over.  It’s over.”

Barely aware of what she was doing, Ariel went to him, crouched in front of him and took his hands in her own.  She had hold of them just long enough to realize that they were startlingly cold before he snatched them back and shoved them into his armpits.  “Pete?  Pete, it’s all right.  No one here wants to hurt you.”

He didn’t respond, just went on babbling.  It was as if a trap door had opened and he had fallen into a world only he occupied.  Frightened, Ariel looked toward the doorway, then the stairs, hoping to find some sign that her father was returning, or that one of the servants was working nearby.  When she saw no one, she opened her mouth to call out, but all that came out was a squeak.

Pete had crushed himself into the back of the chair and was mumbling, “No, no,” over and over.

Unable to do anything else, Ariel remained where she was, repeating, “It’s all right, Pete.  No one here wants to hurt you.”

Gradually, he seemed to drift back toward reality.  His breathing slowed and his muscles relaxed, but his eyes remained closed.

“Pete?” Ariel ventured.  “It’s all right.  You’re safe.”

Finally, his eyes drifted open.  He closed them again, hard, as if the light in the room was too bright for him, then opened them once more.  “Where—”

“Pete, it’s all right.  No one here is going to hurt you.  That female isn’t here, and there aren’t any gorillas.  It’s all right, now.”

She was tempted to touch him, to stroke his hair, as she would have done to calm Ella or one of the smaller humans, but understood that it would have done far more harm than good.  His nose wrinkled; he was smelling her, so she backed off a little farther.  His head wobbled, and he seemed for a moment, as he had told her, not to be able to focus on anything.  Then, slowly, he slumped back into the chair.

“Are you all right?” she asked him gently.  “Let me get Meema.”

“No,” he said.  “Just—no.  It was. . .panic attack.  It’s over.”

“Maybe you should try not to think about that female.  It upsets you.”

“Animal,” he whispered.

Footsteps creaked on the stairs: Toban, coming down from his room.  Ariel saw in his expression that he had been standing at the top of the stairs for some time, and had heard some, if not all, of what his daughter and the human had been saying.  Frowning, he nudged Ariel out of the way, and as she got to her feet he took her place in front of Pete, put a hand under the man’s chin and lifted his head so he could look into Pete’s eyes.  Pete’s chin and neck were slick with sweat, but Toban had dealt with humans and animals for enough years that the touch of it failed to bother him.  “What is the name of this female?” he asked, firmly but not unkindly.

Pete flinched, but Toban’s grip and the back of the chair kept him from moving very far.  “Wanda.”

“Where does she live?”

“Central City, I guess.  But—”

Toban let go of the young man and turned to his daughter.  “Ariel, if you would, see how our meal is coming along.  Make sure the bread is soft in the middle, the way I like it, and that there’s plenty of jam.”  He waited until Ariel had reluctantly left the room, then sat down on the bench in front of the fireplace.  Pete’s eyes hadn’t left him since he’d come down the stairs, a scrutiny that made him blink.  “I want you to understand, no one will harm you here.”

“Yeah.  I—I know that.”

“I’ve seen apes do some dreadful things to humans.  They grow tired of cock fighting, so they pit humans against each other and make them fight to the death.  An orangutan of my acquaintance makes one of his humans crouch in front of his chair and uses him for a foot rest.”  Toban hesitated, but after a moment of thought decided to finish what he was saying.  “I was invited to a party, years ago, where the ‘entertainment’ was watching two humans mate.  We don’t do things like that in Segundo.  And particularly, we do not do them in my household.  My parents taught me to treat humans with kindness, and I have taught the same to my children.”  Whether Pete believed him yet, he couldn’t tell, but the young man at least had calmed down a little.  “In the province where I grew up, a study like psychology would have been considered foolishness,” Toban went on.  “A waste of time, when there were far important matters to be dealt with.  Farming techniques.  Government.”

Pete smiled fleetingly.  “Yeah, you’ve got a swell government here.”

“In Segundo?  Yes, we do.”  The elder chimp took a minute to study the young man huddled in his chair, his shirt and hair discolored with sweat.  Toban had dealt with distraught humans many times over the years, particularly during the weeks after Marta’s husband had been killed, and knew how closely their emotions mirrored those of apes.  “I would like to tell you a story,” he offered.

“When I was in school, a classmate of mine saw his small brother being mauled by a coyote that had been coming into the village in search of food,” he told Pete.  “There was nothing he could do to stop the attack, although he tried desperately to fight the creature off with sticks and stones.  His brother died of his injuries three days later.  A few months later, his mother told him she was expecting another child, and my friend became so upset at the thought of losing another sibling that he ran away and lived in a cave in the woods all summer.  He surrounded himself with sticks and stones to use as weapons, although the coyote had already been killed and no others had been sighted.  His family brought him food and left it near the cave; otherwise, he would have starved.  When the weather began to turn colder at night, his father brought him home.  They secured the services of a very good doctor, who gave my friend medicines to relax him, but still, he would wake in the night screaming his brother’s name.”

Pete opened his mouth to speak, but Toban gestured to silence him.  “It took many years, but eventually my friend recovered, at least to some extent.  He has never married and has no children, and speaks to almost no one.  He keeps a rabbit as a pet.”

“Is there a point to this?” Pete asked the elder chimp.

“My friend had no control over what happened.  He carries the scars of his brother’s death to this day.  There is much cruelty in life, from nature, from sickness, from the suffering we inflict on each other.  My own wife, Ariel’s mother, died of complications from a bee sting that might not have happened if she hadn’t been attracted by some wildflowers she wanted to pick.”

“Shit happens?  Is that what you’re trying to tell me?”

Toban snorted softly.  “I’m telling you that if you remain in my household, this Wanda will never come near you again.  I’ll make certain of it.  In fact, I’ll make inquiries to Central City about her.”

“Don’t do that,” Pete said abruptly.

“Why not?”

“Because it would just. . .get you mixed up in a lot of stuff.”

“With the government you think so highly of?”

With a dismissive shrug, Pete said, “Zaius and those guys, you don’t want to get mixed up with them.”

The elder ape nodded his apparent agreement and got up from the bench.  “It’s time to have something to eat.  I brought back treats from the lakes.  For my daughter, for all the humans, and even for that infernal dog.”  When Pete didn’t move, Toban beckoned to encourage him.  “Ariel tells me you enjoyed working in Marta’s kitchen.  You can do that here, too, if you like.”

Pete nodded without much enthusiasm and got up from the chair.  “Come to think of it,” Toban told him, “one of my drivers has been talking about working at the inn, to be closer to a female he’s got his eye on.  Goreg is still complaining about all the work he’s owed in exchange for your master’s room and board, as well as your own.  Maybe I can get him to agree to an exchange: my driver for your friend John.  I understand he’s a good worker.  I can’t promise anything, but I will talk to Goreg.”

To his surprise, Pete shook his head.  “I don’t think ‘John’ is gonna be too thrilled about that.”

“Why not?”

Pete shrugged.  “Because right now he’s the only one of us still walking around loose.”

 

* * * * *

 

“What are we looking for?”

Virdon glanced at Julian but kept pacing the ground behind the Prefect’s office, head down, still wearing the scowl he’d been sporting for the last half an hour.  He didn’t bother to point out to the chimp that “we” weren’t looking for anything, since Julian had done nothing but make perplexed faces at Virdon.

“I was afraid it would be like this,” Virdon muttered.

“Like what?”

“Trampled.  It looks like the whole city has been out here.”

“They may well have.  Out of curiosity.  I’m sure a good many apes made it a point to come over here and have a look at where the murder happened.  I was here yesterday myself.”

“Wonderful.”

For lack of something better to do, Virdon stooped down for a closer look at the area where Kull’s body had been found.  The grass there was flattened, some of it stained with blood.  Patches of the grass were missing, pulled up by the roots.  For evidence, Virdon assumed.  Or maybe someone had wanted a souvenir of the big event.

The whole area, something approaching an acre, had been thoroughly pounded by what seemed to be thousands of feet.  The ground hadn’t been soft enough to hold any imprints, not that the apes’ soft-soled shoes or the humans’ moccasins would have left much of a print even if it had been.

“I thought I might find threads from clothing, or something the murderer might have dropped,” he explained to Julian.  “But this is ridiculous.”  He swept a hand around, indicating the collection of bits of food, flower petals, smeared animal droppings, scraps of paper and other debris the curious had left behind.  It was nothing compared to the aftermath of some outdoor concerts he’d attended back home, but still, it was a mess.

“There!” Julian cried out, pointing.

“What?”

Delighted, Julian hustled to the spot he’d indicated and carefully plucked a small object from the ground, then dropped it into Virdon’s hand.

“A washer?” the man said.

“It’s a coin, isn’t it?  Ariel brought some of them back from the old city.”

“It’s—never mind.”  About to discard the disk, to Julian’s disappointment, Virdon stopped himself and stared at the tiny thing.

“What?” Julian asked.

“How many apes are on the Prefect’s expedition team?”

“Seventeen, I think.  Why?  Can you get fingerprints from that, and find out who owns it?”

The chimp’s eagerness would have made Virdon smile if he hadn’t happened to glance toward the building that housed the Prefect’s office.  Standing there, keeping an unwavering eye on him and Julian, was one of Chief Marko’s best officers.  The gorilla had been there the entire time they’d been out here, more than a little disgruntled at having to leave an interesting dice game at the jail to stand guard duty over this exercise in foolishness.

“Maybe,” Virdon replied.  “Assuming the Prefect would let us print everyone on his team, and that they’d all stand still for it.”

The Prefect’s parting words still rang in his ears.  He’d left the office barely a minute after Hadrian’s pronouncement, ruefully admitting to himself that the Prefect was right: he’d made it far too obvious that the Atlas was valuable to him, implicating himself in both the theft and the murder.  Why the Prefect had let him walk out the front door into the light of day, he wasn’t sure.  The fact that no one had seen him anywhere near the Prefect’s office the night of the murder, or anywhere in the city center for that matter, might have played a part, but he hadn’t convinced himself that it was a very large part, or that, whatever the real reason was, it would exist unchallenged for very long.

“Could we find fingerprints somewhere else?” Julian suggested.

“Out here?  No.”

“Perhaps we could—”

Virdon took another long look around, this time focusing on the buildings.  “Who else has an office in that block?”

“The tax collector.  The grain inspector.  I’ve talked to both of them.  No one was in their offices at the time the murder happened.”

Heaving a sigh that was almost a groan, Virdon sat down at the foot of a tree and propped his head in his hands.  More than willing to take a break, Julian sat down nearby.

“In my time,” Virdon said, picking up a topic he had brushed on in the Professor’s amphitheater, “we had people called medical examiners whose job it was to examine the bodies of murder victims to determine exactly how and when they died.  They could tell from the size and shape of wounds what sort of weapon was used, and in a lot of cases, the height of the person who used it.  Sometimes, by calculating the amount of strength it would take to inflict a particular wound, they could say whether the murderer was a man or a woman.”

“We have the murder weapon,” Julian said helpfully.  “Chief Marko has the rock in his office.”

Virdon thought that over.  “Where was the wound?”

Julian indicated a spot at the back of his head, near the top.  “Here.  Now, would that mean the murderer was taller than Kull?”

“Or that Kull was bending over.”

“To pick up the book?  He did drop it, isn’t that right?  If he had been holding it when he fell, he would have fallen on top of it, but it wasn’t underneath him.  Something happened to make him drop the book, and when he bent to pick it up, the murderer struck.”

“Possibly.”

“What else could they find here?  In your time.”

“If the murderer’s clothing brushed against the gorilla, maybe a thread, or some hair.  They’d look for traces of dirt or sand on the ground or on Kull’s uniform that might have been tracked in from somewhere else.”  Virdon paused.  “In my time, the Prefect’s office would have a security camera to film everyone who came in and out.”  When Julian failed to understand that, he explained, “Take pictures.  Moving photographs.”

“I know what a picture is, but what is a fo-to-graf?”

“Complicated.  Maybe later.”  The glint of the piece of metal in his palm caught Virdon’s attention and reminded him of the flight disk.  How many times now had he lost custody of the precious disk, the only remaining piece of his and Burke’s ship?  How many times now had one of them been captured?  And how many more times would it happen before this journey ended?  Suddenly weary, Virdon closed his eyes, and closed his hand over the piece of metal.

“Alan,” Julian said quietly.

Virdon opened his eyes.  The gorilla standing guard over them had been joined by another who was talking into his ear.  The first one nodded, then came striding rapidly across the ground toward Virdon and Julian.  The astronaut glanced around, but there was no point in running; every gorilla stationed at the jail would be after him within a minute or two.  He’d be lucky to make it a few hundred yards, and it wasn’t out of the question that they’d be provoked enough to shoot him.

“You,” the gorilla said.  “Get up.”

“I guess you have two clients now, counselor,” Virdon told Julian as he got to his feet.

More out of curiosity than anything else, Julian trailed the gorilla as he led Virdon down the street to the jail.  The gorilla stationed at the door there made a halfhearted show of force intended to keep Julian outside, but the chimpanzee worked up all the authority he could muster and glared at the larger ape, who backed down with a muttered complaint.

Moments later Virdon was pushed into the interrogation room and into a chair.  Julian, still running mostly on curiosity, elbowed his way in too and stood near the door.  Both of them expected the vacant chair to be filled by Chief Marko, or, since questioning a human might be beneath the dignity of a senior official, one of his subordinates.

They were both astonished when Galen was shoved into the room.  He had barely stumbled over the threshold when the door was slammed shut behind him.

“That took long enough,” Galen said as the echo of the slam began to recede.

Julian gaped at him.  “Long enough?”

“For you to bring Alan.”

“I didn’t ‘bring’ Alan,” Julian said crossly.

Galen looked at the other two for a minute with varying levels of confusion.  Then his face collapsed into dismay and he said to Virdon, “Please tell me you haven’t gotten yourself arrested.”

“Sorry, Galen,” Virdon replied with some chagrin.

“That really is less than helpful, you know.”

Both of them turned to look at Julian, who said stubbornly, “I settle property disputes.”

Without waiting for anything more useful from the two chimpanzees, Virdon got up from his chair, went to the door and pressed an ear to the jamb.  “I’m either under arrest, or they brought me here to see if we’d bury each other.  Although I can’t believe they’re dumb enough to think we wouldn’t know we’re being listened to.”  Wagging a thumb at the door, he asked Julian, “How many gorillas do you suppose are on the other side of this door?”

“One,” Julian said.

“Chief Marko.”

“And possibly the Prefect.”

“All of this because of a book,” Galen sighed.  “Please tell me that Pete isn’t in any trouble, at least.”  The look Virdon and Julian exchanged in response to that made him heave another, louder sigh and drop his head into his hands.  “Did you get anywhere at all?” he asked into his palms.  “Finding out who did kill the gorilla?”

Virdon opened his hand and let the washer roll onto the table.

“That?” Galen said.  “What is that?”

“A priceless artifact.”

Galen picked it up, turned it over in his fingers several times, then grimaced at Virdon.

“It’s a coin,” Julian offered helpfully.

“Galen, please think carefully,” Virdon said, leaning toward his friend.  “Did you see anyone at all, that night?”

“I’ve been over it a thousand times in my mind.  No, there was no one.  Other than the carriage that passed by—”

“What carriage?”

“When I arrived in the square.  I was on the far side, and before I could cross to the Prefect’s office, a carriage went by.  It didn’t stop.”

“What did it look like?”

“I don’t remember.  I was worried about crossing the street.”

“Think, Galen.”

Julian made a small sound of distress at the cutting tone in Virdon’s voice, but the two fugitives ignored him.  “Blue,” Galen said.  “It had a blue awning.”

“And?”

“With one, no, two white stripes.”

“Did you see who was riding in it?”

“No.  The flaps were down.  Some young couple wanting a little privacy, I imagine.”

“Or someone who didn’t want to be seen.  What about the driver?”

“A human.”  Before Virdon could push, he protested, “It was just a human.  And I was—”

“I know.  Worried about crossing the street.”

“Looking for you,” Galen pointed out.  “All right, all right.”  He closed his eyes for a moment and replayed his memory of that night.  The image was cloudy at first.  Then it turned into another memory entirely: of an evening he and the two astronauts had spent sitting around a campfire, relieved at being out of reach of Urko’s troopers at least for a few hours.  Virdon, in one of his spells of fixation on finding a way home, had insisted that Burke recall every detail of the storm that had struck their ship.  “Just let it happen,” he’d told Burke.

None too keen about reliving that particular event, Burke had nevertheless obediently squeezed his eyes shut and squinted at nothing for a minute.  Then, in an odd voice, he had crooned, “Use the Force, Luke.”

That had earned him a clout from Virdon hard enough to knock him over.  After a couple of minutes of laughter spirited enough to make tears drip down his cheeks, the younger man had settled down quietly and narrated what he remembered.  Listening to them, Galen had realized how frightened they both had been—and how terribly they mourned the loss of their friend Jonesy.  Exactly how he had died, they didn’t know, and what the old man Farrow had done with his body, they had never learned.

“I’m wrong,” Galen said quietly.  “There was no human.”

“What?”

Galen shook his head.  “There was no driver.  The reins went inside the carriage.  Whoever was inside there was driving.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.  There was no human.  I would have thought that was odd, but—”

“You were worried about crossing the street.”

“I was worried about you,” Galen said firmly.  “Then, when Chief Marko showed me that book, I thought—”

“That I had killed Sergeant Kull.”  The chimp was about to say more, but Virdon silenced him with an upraised hand.  “Julian, does that carriage sound familiar to you?  A blue awning with two white stripes?”

“There are probably twenty like that in the city.”

“Would it belong to the Prefect?”

“No.  His has a red awning with his symbol of office on it.”

Virdon turned back to Galen.  “We need more details.  The color of the wheels?  Did it have any marks on it?  Did the awning look new, or worn?”

“It was dark out.”

“Come on, Galen, think.”

Eyes closed again, Galen took himself back to that interminable length of time he had spent waiting for the carriage to cross the square.  His gaze had been fixed on the Prefect’s office, searching desperately for a glimpse of Virdon and finding none.  He could hear the rhythmic clop-clop of the horse’s hooves, and another sound. . .

“It had a squeaky wheel,” he told Virdon.  “And the horse, it was dark colored with a white spot above one eye.”

The blond man grinned at him.  “Galen, I love you.”

“Well, now, let’s not go that far.”

Still grinning, Virdon turned to Julian.  “Counselor, go find us that carriage.  And the ape who owns it.”

 

 

NINETEEN

Truth Only

______________________________

 

“You don’t look rabid.”

Burke shifted his head to look at the young chimpanzee who stood staring at him from a dozen paces away.  Taking Burke’s earlier request for conversation with apes to heart, Ariel had introduced her young brother to him before the humans and apes of the household went their separate ways for their noon meals, but Lucien had been too interested in usurping his father’s attention to worry about a stray, and very battered looking, human.  Now, apparently he had finished bringing Toban up to date on matters of importance, or Toban had dismissed him.  Either way, here Lucien was, watching Burke study the gate that bordered Toban’s property and the outside world.

“Sorry to disappoint you,” Burke said mildly.

“My friend Gaston said the police were going to take you because you were rabid.”

“Then your friend Gaston’s got some bad intel.”

“What’s that?”

“Intelligence.  Information.”

“Oh.”  The youngster crept closer, peering at Burke like a turtle with its head only a little way out of its shell.  As if there were a line drawn in the dirt, he would come no closer than a foot or so beyond arm’s reach, choosing instead to walk along an arc calculated to keep him out of the strange human’s grasp.

“So, whatcha got in the bag, Lucien?”

With a nod, Burke indicated the leather satchel hanging by a strap from Lucien’s shoulder.  The young ape guarded it zealously for a moment, holding it to his chest as if he thought Burke intended to steal it.  Then, warily, he said, “My building pieces.”

“Can I see?”

Lucien didn’t move, just went on frowning.

“Promise I won’t bite you,” Burke offered.

That did the trick, at least to some extent.  Lucien took a step forward, and Burke slid to the far end of the bench he was sitting on to allow the chimp some maneuvering room.  With one eye on the human, Lucien opened the flap of his satchel, laid the bag on the bench, and tipped it so that some of the contents slid onto the flap.

“What do you know,” Burke said appreciatively.  “Lego blocks.”  He stretched out a hand, slowly, so as not to offend the child.  Lucien’s expression didn’t ease, but he didn’t object, so Burke completed the movement and scooped a couple of the colored pieces into his palm.  They showed some signs of wear and tear, and the colors had faded slightly, but their familiarity made Burke smile wistfully.  “I had some of these when I was a kid.”

“Did you get them from an old city?”

“Nope.  New one.”  Burke handed the blocks back to Lucien, who closed his fist over them.  “My grandmother took me to F.A.O. Schwarz.  Best toy store in New York City.”

“Where is that?  New York City?”

“A long way from here.”

“Father says I can travel as much as I want when I’m older.  I’ll go there.”

“Maybe you won’t be in the market for toys then.”

Lucien thought that over, then puffed himself up grandly and announced, “Then I’ll get them for my sons.”

“What about your daughters?  They don’t get any toys?”

The child made a noise that made him sound like a cat with a hairball.  “I don’t want any females.”

“What about your wife?  She’d be a female.”

“I don’t want a wife, either.”

Burke laughed softly.  “Then I think your father left a chunk out of whatever he told you about having sons.”

“I know where babies come from,” Lucien said hotly.

Still chuckling, Burke held up both hands, palms out, in surrender.  “Sorry, boss.  Didn’t mean to offend you.”  Before Lucien could respond, he went on, “I always figured the best toys were the ones you could build things out of.  The Legos were great, but the Erector Set, now, that was my favorite.  I built some great skyscrapers with that.”

“What is an Erector Set?”

“Little pieces of metal.  When you put them together, they looked like the skeleton of a building.”

“Buildings aren’t made of metal.”

“They used to be.  See, when you make a building out of wood, it can only go just so high, because the wood won’t support any more weight.  But if you give the building a skeleton of metal, it’ll be a lot stronger, and it can reach way up into the sky.  That’s why very tall buildings are called skyscrapers.  Because they look as if they touch the sky.”

As Burke spoke, the youngster had found himself a seat on the bench, keeping the satchel between himself and the human.  “You mean in an old city.  My sister said the buildings there were very tall before they fell down.”

“She’s right.”

“How tall?”

“Pretty tall.”

The frown still hadn’t slipped.  After a quick scan of their surroundings, Lucien picked out a towering old conifer and challenged, “As tall as that tree?”

Burke gave the tree a moment of scrutiny.  “That’s maybe eighty, ninety feet tall.  Try stacking ten of those, one on top of the other.”

“That’s crazy,” Lucien sputtered.

“If you say so.”

Making a point of not looking at Burke, Lucien gathered his satchel into his lap, returned the stray blocks to it and folded it closed.  They sat in silence for a minute, then Lucien asked, “What else is there in an old city?  They won’t let me go there because I could get hurt.”

“That’s true.  Everything’s a mess.  It’s easy to fall and break your leg, or lop your arm off.”

“But they let my sister go.”

“Yeah, life sucks sometimes, doesn’t it?” Burke sympathized.

Lucien squinted at him.  “What does that mean?”

“It means things aren’t fair, especially when you’re a kid.  Everybody’s telling you what you can’t do, because you’re not tall enough, or haven’t learned enough, or just plain ‘because.’  You get left behind a lot.”

“I’m as smart as my sister.”

“Sometimes ‘smart’ isn’t the right qualification for the job.”

Again, they sat in silence as Lucien mulled that over.  It must have made some sort of sense to the child, Burke supposed, because he offered no objection, and gradually the pinched look on his face started to relax into something more companionable.

“We have too many females around here,” Lucien said after a while.  “My mother died before I could have any brothers.  There’s just my father, and he works all the time.  There aren’t even any good humans.”

“Yeah, I met Karl.  Not much of a sense of humor there.  But what about Julian?  He seems okay.”

“He’s always with my sister.”  Lucien’s gaze went back to the tree.  Gradually his head tipped back until his neck was stretched as far as it could go.

“So what happens to rabid humans?” Burke asked.

“They go away.”

“Away where?”

“I don’t know.  Just away.  They don’t come back.  Would the building be as high as that cloud?”

“Maybe.”

The afternoon was mild, without much of a breeze, but Burke shivered.  He remembered being slammed into the dirt, back at the inn, and lying there with Virdon’s weight on top of him, holding him down.  Could’ve locked me up, he thought fleetingly.  Or something worse.

Long ago, during another lifetime, he’d come home from school to find his mother searching for something in her bedroom closet.  “Where’s Barney?” he’d asked her.  “I have to take him for a walk.”

For a minute she wouldn’t look at him, then she did, reaching out to ruffle his hair.  “He ran away, Petey.  I’m sorry.  I looked for him, but I couldn’t find him.”  Impulsively she grabbed him and held him until he began to feel smothered against the front of her dress.  When she let go, she almost pushed him away.  “Why don’t you go make yourself a sandwich?  I’ll be there in a minute.”

Almost a decade had gone by before he found out about the encounter between Barney and a diaper service truck, one that the dog had come out on the short end of.  Four more years went by before he was told that his mother had spent twenty minutes on her knees in the gutter with a bucket of soapy water and a scrub brush.  In her zeal to protect her son, she eliminated the traces of Barney’s fur and blood from the pavement in front of their house to the point where a forensic detective could not have located any.

And I hated her for it.  I hated her, because she lied.

“What’s the matter with you?” Lucien asked him.  Then he turned his head and asked someone outside Burke’s line of sight, “What’s the matter with him?”

Burke turned just enough to find Ella standing near the corner of the house.  The moment his gaze met hers, she pivoted and disappeared around the corner.  Leaving Lucien to ponder clouds by himself, Burke caught up with her outside the kitchen door and grasped her arm to keep her from getting away.  “I’m sorry about yesterday,” he told her.

“You were sick.”

“Yeah, but nobody likes being yelled at, no matter what the excuse is.  I’m sorry.  I know you didn’t mean me any harm.”

“It’s all right.”

“Will you forgive me?”

The girl shrugged.  “There’s nothing to forgive.”

“Listen, will you tell me—what’s going on at the inn?  Is John all right?”

“He’s with Master Julian.”

“And they’re trying to help Columbus?”

Ella thought that over, then shrugged again.  “I’m not sure.  They left the inn this morning.  I don’t know where they went.”  She slid out of Burke’s grasp, then told him firmly, “I have to go back there now.  I just came to bring an apple cake for Meema.”

The conversation seemed to be over, at least as far as Ella was concerned.  Burke stepped away from her and she moved toward the gate, then stopped and addressed him again.  “This is a good place, isn’t it?”

“Toban and his family are good people,” he agreed.

He listened to himself say the words, then repeated them silently.  They’re good people.  No different from Marie and Sal.  They’re trying to help you.  All of them.  They’re trying to help you.

Nodding, though it seemed to be more in response to something she was thinking rather than to what he had said, she went on through the gate.

She’s trying to help you.  So let her help.

“Ella, wait.”

She did.  “I’ll find out about John for you.”

“No, not that.  Can you—go stand right there by that bush.”

“Why?”

The bush, a low one with white flowers, was about twenty feet past the gate.  When he didn’t explain, Ella moved to stand beside it, willing to play along at least until she found out what he wanted.  She was a good eight feet farther from the gate than he’d been able to go that morning.  Just a few steps, he told himself.

Just go to her, and give her some kind of a question to ask Alan.  Then you can come back and hide.

He took a step.

Then another.

Two more took him past the gate.  Behind Ella, down a slight slope, was the road into Segundo.  Hauling in as much of a breath as he could manage, he took another step.

“What’s the matter?” Ella asked.

Keep going.  There’s nobody there.  Nothing’s going to happen to you.  Alan was right: you owe it to Jonesy, because he wouldn’t cave like this.

“Pete?”

One more.

His vision shifted, and the world began to swim lazily back and forth.  His chest tightened as if there were a cinch around it, preventing him from taking a deep breath, and he could feel his heart drumming inside his chest.

He squeezed his eyes shut, then opened them again.  Ella was moving toward him, concern etched into her face.

Move.  Just put one foot in front of the other.

Sweat beaded on his face and neck, and he could feel it trickling down his back.  He could barely breathe.  The pain in his chest doubled, tripled.

One foot…

Ella inched across the space between them, reaching out to him with one hand.  Shaking his head with a jerking motion, he told her in a hiss, “I have to do this.  I have to get back there,” and pushed her hand away.

“Is that human rabid?” he heard Lucien’s voice say.

He tried blinking again, but that made the world spin more rapidly, and he could feel the ground begin to tilt up toward him.  His hands shot out to block his fall and one of them found Ella, who grabbed his arm and held on.  He clung to her, trying to let his flight training take hold, to accept the movement and not let it overwhelm him.  Distantly, he heard a voice droning something about g-forces.  Then another voice crooned to him, “I believe people in love should. . .”

“Get out of my fucking HEAD!” he screamed.

His legs started to fold, but Ella wasn’t folding with them.  She let him get as far as his knees, then knelt beside him.  From somewhere nearby, not close but close enough, he could smell ape.  Grunting, he turned away from the smell and found something different, the scent of lemons.  He leaned toward it and felt Ella’s head move, side to side, saying no to something.  She put her arms around him and he leaned in further.

’Nuff of me to go around, ladies, he thought hazily.

“I’ll get Father,” Lucien offered.

Ella’s head pivoted, side to side.  “No, Lucien, it’s all right.”

“But that human—”

The word echoed in his head.  Human human human. . .“I want the names of the humans who have helped you!”

And he heard Virdon’s voice, thick with grief.  “Pete, they’re going to—”

No, he thought with a clarity that astonished him.  They’re not.

Ella tried to hang on to him, but he pushed her away.  The road lay just ahead, down that little slope: a ribbon of beaten-down dirt a dozen feet across.  That was all it was, a strip of flat, smoothed brown earth, leading west into Segundo.

“Pete—”

He shook his head, hard.  Somehow, he found his feet and stood there for a moment, wavering as if he were being buffeted by a strong wind.

“You know what, bitch?” he said sharply.  “You don’t win.”

He stood a step toward the road.

The world spun wildly, and he collapsed onto the grass.

 

* * * * *

 

“Alan?”

Virdon lifted his gaze to look across the table at Galen.  “Hmm?”

“Do you think they’re still listening to us?”

“If there were surveillance equipment in your world, I’d be certain of it.  As it is, I’d say probably.  Unless they’ve fallen asleep out there.”  He nodded at the door.

Galen scratched idly at his neck.  “You know, I sat here all day yesterday expecting you and Pete to come charging in.  It helped distract me from the fact that I wouldn’t be here in the first place if it weren’t for you and your impatience.”

“You didn’t need to come looking for me.”

“I didn’t?”

Virdon looked pointedly at the chimp.  “I was just going to take a look around.  Size up the place,” he said in a tone low enough that it would go through the heavy oak door as nothing more than a hum.  “I would have been back at the inn in an hour or two.  So I’m not sure I agree to winning the gold star for impatience this week.  As for the charging in—Pete went charging in the other direction.  I might have been able to find a way to break you out of here, but if the gorillas had gone after Pete. . .”  He matched Galen’s movement and rubbed at his neck.  “Let’s just blame Wanda for the whole mess and leave it at that.”

“Is that good enough?” Galen asked.  “Assuming we manage to get out of here, what do we do about Pete?  He’s not really any better, is he?”

“No.  He’s not.”

“Then—”

“Are you suggesting we leave him behind?” Virdon asked with an edge in his voice.

“Nothing of the kind.”

“No one gets left behind.  Not Pete, not you, no one.”

“Then if I’m found guilty, you and Pete will just settle in here and wait for Urko to show up.  That seems like an excellent plan.”

About to snap a retort, Virdon thought better of it and fell silent for a moment.  “We had an advantage in the smaller villages.  If we ran, the hills or the woods were never more than a hundred yards away.”

“So this is my fault, for bringing us to a city.”

“Galen, it’s not anyone’s fault,” the astronaut snapped.  “It happened, and now we’re under a lot of scrutiny.  We can’t whack someone over the head and make a run for it.  It may take a while to find a way out.  If that doesn’t suit you, I’m sorry.  But it would help me enormously if I didn’t feel I have to grapple with you and Pete every five minutes because things aren’t happening in a way that suits you.  If we were in my world, I could find someone with the experience and the training to help us.  Here, unfortunately, we’re stuck with Julian.”

“Who is merely an ape, and therefore not capable.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You implied it clearly enough.”

“Galen—”  Virdon cut himself off again with a loud sigh.  “All I’m saying is, I have very little to work with here.  This isn’t my world.  I have a little more knowledge than someone else might, because I grew up on a farm, and I enjoyed learning about science, and I was trained to command.  But I’m not an attorney, I’m not a doctor, and I’m not a miracle worker.”

The chimpanzee stared at him for a minute, his face still creased by his ire.  Then he got up from his chair and began to wander the room, paying more attention to the floor than to the walls or the door, both of which were unbroken by windows.  This was only his second day of captivity, but he had begun to twitch with claustrophobia, a situation that would certainly not improve if the panel found him guilty and one he had been trying fiercely to ignore.

“So what do we do about Pete?” he asked again.

“I don’t know, Galen.”

The chimp offered, in a somewhat more even tone, “I think Pete would say, ‘not good enough.’”

Virdon shook his head.  “I had some training in how to care for the people under my command, but the idea always was to get them home where somebody more qualified could take over.  They never envisioned our ending up in a place like this.  Physical injuries I can do something about, up to a point, but I’m out of my depth with something like this.”

“He knows there’s something wrong with him, doesn’t he?”

“Of course.”

“I thought it would help.  Coming here.  I truly thought it would help.”

“He’s safe for the moment.  The best we can do is worry about getting you out of here, then figure out what to do about Pete.”

“I suppose you’re right.”

“Unless you’ve got a better idea.”

“None at all.  I wish I did.”

Virdon’s attentio