Values

Dave Ballard

 

 

Part 1: Lights in the dark

Can Ape and Man truly be friends?

The idle thought rose unbidden as Galen sat, cross-legged on a large, flat boulder by the side of a lively stream. The water, bubbling musicaly over the pebbles was pleasant and relaxing but as always, he was being very careful not to touch any. He and his two companions were enjoying a welcome respite from the relentless pursuit of General Urko’s endless legions of troops. For days they had done little else but run and run some more but for the moment they had at last reached a space where the gorillas could not follow - At least not for awhile.

Galen’s shaggy head jerked to one side as he caught a brief silver flash leaping out of the water and landing back in again with a hollow sounding `plunk’. Further on the two humans, Alan Virdon and Pete Burke were standing knee deep and shirtless in the cool stream, using makeshift poles to try and catch some of the local population. Burke said something that made Virdon laugh and was rewarded with huge splashes of water kicked up by his blonde friend. Galen shook his head, not understanding how a supposedly intelligent being could actually enjoy the feel of cold water being splashed all over them. It was... barbaric - not to mention wet! But of course not understanding the ways of his companions was nothing new.

He laced his fingers behind his head and lay back on the rock enjoying the fading rays of the late afternoon sun soaking into his body. Virdon and Burke, he thought. My companions, my comrades, my... friends?

Were they? He wondered, could Ape and Man truly be friends? Other than a death sentence they had so little in common. They were friends by force of circumstance - not choice. If it came to it, If it really came to it, would he give his life to save that of a mere human?

Would they give theirs to save that of an Ape?

Galen thought it possible.

But he also knew it was easy to think such things - harder to do them.

A sudden cascade of water washing over the Chimpanzee’s chest and face interrupted his thoughts and he sat up spluttering. He shook himself and brushed the offending substance off his heavy green tunic seeing Pete Burke standing to one side grinning like an idiotic... well... human.

“Thank you” Galen grumbled. “Thank you very much.” “C’mon Galen, lighten up.” Burke complained, mocking the Chimp’s aversion to water. “Come and get your feet wet, Uncle Pete’ll hold onto to you and make sure you don’t drown... in all three inches of water here.”

Off to the side Virdon sighed and watched in resignation, knowing that to intervene was futile, that the constant verbal sparring was usually good natured but always ready to step in should it ever escalate into something more serious.

Galen fixed Burke with a stern look. “Oh, how kind, then perhaps afterwards `Uncle’ Galen could carry Peter Burke up into the upper branches of the tree tops.”

Burke’s grin faded. Okay, so he had a mild case of vertigo there was no need to go making fun of it.

As always it was Alan who broke the awkward stalemate. “Alright you two... `Uncle’ Alan says it’s time to cook. Fruit and veg for those that don’t like water, fish for those that do - Who’s hungry?”

They all brightened up, the needling forgotten with the prospect of imminent food.

A while later with darkness falling and barbecued fish filling the bellies of the astronauts the three fugitives settled down with their backs against a tree or a rock made more comfortable with heaped grass.

“So what’s the plan for tomorrow?” Asked Burke, using a fish bone to pick his teeth and dreading the day that he might need a dentist. “No, let me guess... running.”

“Tomorrow we move on.” Virdon knew it wasn’t what the others wanted to hear but as leader being the constant bearer of bad news was his unwelcome burden.

Let’s move on - we can’t stay here - we have to keep moving. How many times had he spoken these and similar words. For how long could he go on speaking them? Virdon felt the familiar pangs of guilt creeping up on him.

Virdon’s life was driven, always seeking a way home. Every molecule of his existence was firmly anchored to the past. For Burke things were different, he lacked such an anchor and lived only for the present. He could have settled down in any of the remote villages they’d passed on their travels, instead he chose to stick close. For this, Virdon was insanely grateful although he’d never told him so. And Galen?

Why he could settle down in some remote village far easier than either of them. For Galen there was at least a future. So why did they continue to follow?..

Loyalty?

Virdon stared at the dying embers of the fire and wrestled with the notion of cutting them loose, if he should just take off tonight, alone... It might be better for all of them.

“Which way?” asked Burke. “I say, follow the stream.” Virdon shrugged, stirred from his troubling thoughts. Burke’s suggestion was a good a plan as any. “Galen? Any thoughts? Do you know these parts?”

The Chimp, on the verge of falling asleep suddenly jerked awake.

“No... no, not really - mainly fishing villages if memory serves. I doubt that you’ll find anything of interest around here”

“Hey c’mon Galen... You mean no one uses computers to predict fish schools or satellites to... “

A warning look from Virdon prevented Burke from listing anything else.

Sometimes Burke’s chiding banter was a welcome distraction and sometimes it just grated.

Galen stared ahead for long moments trying to unravel the strange, cryptic language the dark haired astronaut often used. He shook his head and turned to Virdon. “I don’t know what any of those things are but I repeat, I very much doubt you will find them here.” Virdon nodded and gave a small sad smile. “Okay let’s get some sleep, we’ll work it out in the morning. Set your alarms, I want to make an early start.”

Burke groaned and snuggled down. “Good idea - that way we’re bound to miss all the traffic.”

Again Galen shook his head as perplexed as ever and closed his eyes.

********

 

Burke moaned and swatted away the hand shaking him awake. “Go `way.” he groaned.

“Pete! Wake up!” Hissed Virdon. The urgency in his voice caused Burke’s eyes to snap open and he was instantly alert. “Urko?” he asked rising to his feet.

“Relax... It’s not Urko... Something else. Look.” Burke relaxed and looked over to the patch of sky Virdon was indicating.

“Wow! that’s nice Alan - a nicer patch of nothing I never did see, thanks for sharing.” He began

to sit back down but Virdon grasped his arm.

“Wait a minute... keep looking.”

Burke waited as Galen, stirred awake by their conversation moved to join them. He looked at the sky and then peered at the faces of the astronauts, cocking his head to one side. “Would someone care to explain?”

Burke pulled a face and shrugged.

“There!” snapped Alan as a flash of light flickered across the sky.

“Lightning?” Asked Galen, knowing it wasn’t

Virdon and Burke exchanged looks, Virdon’s hopeful and excited Burke’s cautious but intrigued.

Another flash lit the sky quickly followed by a second and a third. “That’s not lightning” said Burke needlessly “Kinda reminds me of those flashes you sometimes get over railway lines.” “Railway lines?” Enquired Galen.

“A form of transport.. “ Burke intoned absently looking for further flashes “Squash a load of people like sardines in a can then shake `em around.”

Galen snorted “It doesn’t sound very pleasant.”

Burke smiled. “It wasn’t.”

“So whad’ya think.” Interrupted Virdon, impatient with the banter.

“That’s not natural Pete, that’s... something else.” Another flash, and a reddish band of light floated and flickered in the sky before dissipating into nothing.

Burke yawned and scratched at his thick head of unruly dark hair. “Sun’ll be up in a couple of hours, I’ve got a fix on it’s position - How about we find out after breakfast.”

Virdon nodded, obviously excited. The flashes indicated some kind of power source. A power source indicated technology, technology still at work. It had been a long time since they’d found any evidence of such.

“Maybe it’s something like Oakland.” He breathed, his fingers finding the flight disc in his pocket.

Burke, looking highly sceptical laid his hand on his partners shoulder. “Alan, maybe we should save the guess work `till morning huh?”

Virdon fixed Burke with an bemused stare.

Didn’t he get it?

Couldn’t he feel it?

He realised he was perhaps allowing himself to get worked up over what could very well be nothing at all but it had been so long since they’d had any hope. He nodded slowly and patted Burke’s shoulder. “You’re right - back to sleep everyone, whatever it is will still be there tomorrow.”

Setting an example for the others Virdon lay back down and closed his eyes.

***************

 

He was still pretending when dawn broke two and a quarter hours later.

Virdon got to his feet and set about fanning up the flames on the fire to boil some water. He idly fantasised about handing over Burke and Galen to Urko in exchange for a mug of fresh coffee but settled instead for sprinkling a handful of crushed leaves into the water to make a herbal tea. He made a little more noise than usual hoping to wake his companions so they could be on their way just a little earlier. In the light of day he could see the path they needed to take. They had spied some hills and mountains in that direction and it looked like that was the way they’d be heading. He scanned an area of sky for a few minutes but if the mysterious lights were still there they were not visible during the day.

Galen began to stir, gradually sitting up and then crawling over after smelling the brewing tea.

Virdon nodded and Galen sleepily nodded back. Again a rush of overwhelming oddness swept over him. There were times when, unbidden he would suddenly step out of himself and take stock of the fact that he was a thousand years in his own future in the company of an intelligent talking ape. Sometimes he felt an unreasonable wave of resentment toward his Chimpanzee companion as he projected everything that was wrong with the world onto his shoulders. Of course he knew that was unfair, he had only to remind himself of how the Ape had saved their lives and any resentment was washed away by a tide of growing affection.

In the beginning, that affection had been just like the emotions he’d once felt towards Spock, his long dead Collie and beloved pet, but lately, as each day passed they became more... complicated. Virdon didn’t have the words to explain it.

Of course Burke liked Galen but Virdon suspected that he was the link that bound the two together and without him they would soon drift apart - or was that just the excuse he used to stop himself from taking off in the night?

Speaking of Burke the dark haired astronaut was now yawning, stretching and sitting up.

Their meagre belongings were packed away and all traces of their camp were carefully obliterated. Galen, as was his habit, and much to the amusement of the astronauts thanked the stream and the small patch of grass for it’s hospitality and they moved on.

*******

 

They talked about everything except the nature of the flashes seen the night before. By some unspoken agreement it was as though to contemplate their nature was to somehow invite disappointment. They may not have discussed them openly but each had their own private thoughts on the matter.

For Virdon they were evidence of a still thriving, scientificly advanced race of humans who had lost none of their technological know how. Behind those hills, so tall they were almost mountains, was an isolated human community, a Shangri-la. A paradise that would welcome them and have a ship ready to take them home within days. For Burke it was just a freak of nature. Probably nothing more than some kind of spooky magnetic field caused by residual radiation from whatever holocaust had wiped the planet clean ready for the Apes to start over. The best he hoped for was a spectacular firework display, one that hopefully wouldn’t kill them with it’s associated poisonous radiation.

For Galen it might be that fabled place where the Gods fought amongst themselves in order to shape the nature of the world. He still believed in Gods, the influence of the Lawgiver as the One-True-God was becoming ever more fashionable, especially amongst the Orang-Utans but the notion of huge magical beings was far more exciting.

“Get down!”

The barked command startled Galen and all three sank to their bellies in the tough grass. The trail they had followed had lead upwards, now affording spectacular views of the woodlands below. Virdon crawled over to some shrubs and pointed down toward a patch that thinned out into a natural clearing.

Burke joined him. “Gorillas!” he groaned.

A squad of six mounted patrolmen crossed the clearing apparently in no hurry. Galen, whose eyes were keener scanned the troop looking for Urko’s distinctive battle gear. “I don’t think Urko’s among them, though it’s hard to tell from this distance.

Virdon nodded. “I doubt they’ve seen us, probably just a routine sweep.”

“Of course, they might not be looking for us at all.”suggested Burke optimisticly

 

“Maybe not,” Agreed Virdon.

Down below the riders reigned in and gathered in a circle. “Uh-Oh... Looks like a union meeting. Perhaps we should just keep moving?”

Virdon shook his head. “Too risky Pete, From down there we’re perfectly framed by a clear blue sky. If one of them looks up...” “They’re splitting up.” Observed Galen.

Three of the riders now galloped off away from the path taken by the fugitives but the remaining three began to follow it. “Great! Just great.” Said Burke in disgust.

“They’re just covering all the bases, they’ve got no idea where we are and we still have a full day on them.”

“Except they have horses.” Warned Galen

Virdon nodded, the point taken. “Okay, let’s keep moving - but keep your heads down.”

*****

 

That night the fugitives witnessed another display of the eerie bands of light that floated and danced in the clear night sky. Virdon pulled out his home made compass and whistled as the needle span crazily. “Whatever it is, it’s generating a magnetic field of tremendous power!”

Burke pulled a sour face “I imagine a thousand H bombs will do that for you... Alan I’m starting to wonder, maybe we should be walking away from this thing, not getting closer toward it.” Virdon’s jaw went slack with surprise. “You can’t be serious? You’re serious? Just walk away without ever knowing?” “C’mon Alan, something that screwy can’t be anything good. It just reeks of radiation and fallout and all kind of...” “Pete... If there ever was any deadly radiation it would have dissipated long ago, whatever’s over there isn’t radioactive.”

Burke shook his head unconvinced.

Virdon turned to Galen for support. “Galen? What do you think?.. Don’t you want to find out what’s behind those hills?” Galen, uncomfortable with being put on the spot struggled for words. “Experience... Painful experience I might add, had has taught me that it’s usually just another hill.”

Burke came to Galen’s rescue. “C’mon Alan think about it... Walking into an old city or building is one thing, walking into a radioactive hot spot is something else.”

“You don’t know that it’s radioactive.” Insisted Virdon.

“And you don’t know that it’s not!” Snapped Pete. “All I’m saying is let’s be cautious.”

Virdon, frustrated by not being able to find fault with Burke’s argument grew sullen. “Fine... You two stay here and be cautious, I’ll go on alone and see what’s up there.”

Burke shook his head and threw up his hands in despair. “You really want to risk your life over... that?” he asked gesturing toward the sky.

“Yes!” hissed Virdon and Burke flinched at the passion in his voice.

“You wanna know why? Because it might be the way home... It might... just might, be the thing that helps me find the way back.” Burke started to object but Virdon wouldn’t allow it. “So yes... Yes, I’d risk my life. Even just for a moment... A chance just to touch them, to tell them... To tell them..” Virdon’s voice broke and suddenly he couldn’t finish the sentence. His head dropped onto his chest and before anyone could say anything else he turned around and marched away.

Galen and Burke stood in awkward silence. The Chimpanzee had become quite adept at reading the expressions on the faces of humans but right now he wasn’t sure if Burke looked angry or ashamed.

“Shall I go after him?” He asked.

Burke shook his head slowly and sighed. “No... no, just leave him be.”

Galen nodded, Pete knew Alan best. “We have to go with him - You know that... Even if you think it insane.”

Burke’s gaze snapped back to Galen, surprised and hurt. “I don’t think it’s insane Galen.” He

said softly. “I want him to get home, I truly do.”

 

Galen nodded, smiling sympathetically.

Burke looked up at the floating bands of energy in the sky. “And somehow, I’m gonna make sure that he does... I don’t know how, or when... but I’m gonna get him home Galen - Even if it kills me.”

Galen watched in silence as Pete Burke wandered off to find his friend.

 

Part Two: The Two Burkes

 

After a light breakfast of fruit and nuts the three packed their bags and began another days march. Burke had vowed to himself to voice no more objections about their chosen path and Virdon, though grateful for their company was still sulking from the words of the night before. The two astronauts marched in awkward silence but Galen was his usual chatty self asking questions with each answer leading to a dozen more. Sometimes he’d march side by side with Virdon and sometimes he’d fall back to chat with Burke, talking enough for all three. Burke welcomed the company, the art of keeping one’s mouth shut didn’t come natural to him and Galen afforded a perfect opportunity to dig deep into his inexhaustible supply of wisecracks. The fact that the meaning of almost all of them were lost on the ape didn¹t matter one jot. It wasn’t purely one sided either, more than once the young Chimp had said something in retort that had made Burke laugh out loud. There was no doubt about it, the Chimpanzee's genuine good nature was winning him over. At first he wouldn¹t have thought it possible, in the early days of the nightmare Burke had secretly hoped they might find a opportunity to ditch Galen or even better that he would leave their company voluntarily. So much had happened since and now, if Galen were ever to leave, Burke knew he would miss him terribly.

 

Which posed an awkward question as what they might do should they ever actually find a way home?

 

Could they really take Galen with them?

 

Burke shook the idle thought away, he wasn¹t one for dwelling on the past nor did he make any serious plans for the future. Yesterday was gone, tomorrow was yet to be... Now, was all that mattered.

 

Of the three gorillas there had been no sign but nevertheless they chose longer paths that offered more concealment but slowed their progress considerably.

 

By the end of the day their mood was considerably lighter. Once again they made camp.

That evening, after a dinner of vegetable stew they settled back to watch the nightly show of dancing lights.

 

“Here we go.” said Burke as the first discernable band of light flickered across the sky changing hues from red to green.

 

“They’re brighter than ever.” Observed Galen.

 

“We’re closer than ever,” said Virdon.

 

An exceptionally vivid band floated into the sky, shimmering, shifting, changing colour and then dissipating slowly.

 

“You notice how quiet it is?” Asked Burke. “No owls, birds, not even insects.” Not a good sign he thought but didn¹t voice it.

 

“And there’s a strange smell on the air.” Complained Galen. The two humans sniffed but couldn¹t detect anything. “Like burnt bread.” He added.

 

“If you say so pal.” Allowed Burke settling down for the night. “All I smell is trouble.”

 

Virdon winced but refused to be baited into a repeat performance of the previous night. “The first sign of trouble... Real trouble... We¹re out of here, I promise.”

 

Burke relaxed, relieved that Virdon was no longer seemingly blind to the possibilities of what they might find.

 

“Well,” said Galen. “You two can scamper away like a pair of cowardly humans any time you wish. But...” He puffed out his chest and marched around the fire theatrically. “... The fearless and legendary explorer - Professor Galen - is ready to face danger wherever it rears it¹s ugly head.”

 

Both the astronauts grinned at the Chimps bravado. Burke chuckled and pitched an un-eaten berry which hit the Chimp square on the nose. Galen sat down, smiling, pleased that he had been able to lift their spirits. He lay his head down on his back pack and closed his eyes. ‘Professor Galen’ might well be looking forward to ploughing on ahead... The fugitive Galen wanted to return the way they came and never look back.

 

***************

 

Galen woke just before dawn and wandered off to find an obliging tree. The bands of light still whirled and danced overhead, actually illuminating his way and as he looked around his eyes fell upon another flickering light, far away. He moved to a better vantage point. There, a few miles off a campfire was burning brightly. He hurried back to the camp and roused the two astronauts.

 

“Gorillas” he explained. “Behind us, I think they’re on our trail.”

 

The humans groaned and broke camp in record time, eager to maintain any lead they had over their pursuers. They followed the upward path more hastily, using the fading darkness to hasten their speed.

 

As they climbed higher the bushes and trees began to thin dramatically when suddenly they were out of the forest and at the foot of a large rocky hill.

 

Virdon placed his hands on his hips and leaned forward catching his breath. “Well... this is it. Whatever we came looking for should be just over this hill.”

 

Burke used his sleeve to wipe away the sweat on his brow. “So?... What are we waiting for?” He gasped, breathing hard from the exertion.

 

Virdon turned to Galen. “Galen... Are you okay to climb?”

 

Galen snorted with derision. “Apes are always ‘okay’ to climb.” he stated with smug superiority.

 

“I¹ll be at the top a good half hour before either of you.”

 

Without any further need for debate all three began to ascend, eager to reach the top before full daylight made them clearly visible targets to anything that cared to look in their direction.

Despite his boasting Galen held himself back, helping the astronauts over more difficult obstacles and thus ensuring that they managed to reach the top without mishap. The two men collapsed in the shelter of some boulders exhausted from the arduous climb. For Galen it was an almost irresistible opportunity to needle Burke about the obvious superiority of ape over man but he decided to save it for some future occasion.

 

Dawn came, bringing with it their first clear view of their new surroundings.

 

“This can’t be right...?” Said Virdon, confused.

 

Sunlight illuminated a large basin, almost flat in the centre with surrounding jagged hills forming a natural circular wall. The floor of the basin was plain, patches of tough grass grew here and there, a small bush or two and some flat pebbles littered the ground. Other than that there was nothing.

 

“There must be something here, there must be.” The disappointment and frustration in Virdon's voice was clear to all. “We have to get down there, there has to be something, something we can’t see.”

 

Burke surveyed the terrain. “Alan if those gorillas come looking we¹re gonna be sitting ducks down there.”

 

“Oh, we’re a good four or five hours ahead of them.” Said Galen “I¹m sure there’s time to take a closer look.” Virdon glanced at the chimp, it was painfully obvious that both he and Burke wanted out of here but they were willing to take risks for his sake. Again that mixture of gratitude and guilt welled up inside and he smiled showing them he understood the situation.

 

“You two stay here, I’ll scout around on my own.”

 

Burke shook his head vigorously. “Uh-uh... Three of us can cover the area faster. Let’s go snoop around.” Virdon nodded, they were wasting time, action was required, not words. They clambered down the jagged rocks and reached the floor of the basin.

 

Burke scuffed the dusty ground with his boot. He squatted down and used a flat pebble to scrape away the topsoil. “Just weeds, no worms or bugs...Lifeless, I’m no farm boy like our leader here but I¹m telling you, this doesn’t look good.”

 

Virdon dismissed the evidence “Let¹s separate and look around. Anyone finds anything, shout loud and clear... Let¹s move.”

 

The trio separated each studying the terrain in their own way. Burke continuously scuffed the ground with the toe of his boots finding nothing but dry dust. With the exception of a small, roughly circular depression the terrain was totally flat, almost as though nature had used a spirit level, he mused.

 

Virdon ran his hands over boulders and rocks relying on instinct to pick out anything out of place. Galen darted to and fro sniffing the air, touching this and that. None of them knew what they were looking for and none of them found it.

 

Galen peered over his shoulder eager not to let the others out of his sight. There over on the other side of the basin was Virdon, squatting down examining the underside of a large, flat boulder, to his left was Burke, on his knees, scraping away in the dirt and finally, to Galen¹s right, there was Burke, on his knees, scraping....!

 

Galen blinked and whipped his head back to the left. Burke was standing up. he looked to the right and there on the opposite side of the basin another Burke was doing exactly the same!

 

“Alan!” He cried.

 

The astronauts heard the anxiety in his voice and jerked around, alarmed. The Chimpanzee was pointing to the other side of the basin.

 

“What the...?” exclaimed Virdon, seeing what Galen was seeing for the first time.

 

Burke blinked in surprise, the fact that he was staring at himself didn¹t immediately register but when it did he too was lost for words. He looked at Virdon whose head was turning right and left trying to keep both Burke's in sight at the same time.

 

Burke, grinned, chuckled and raised his hand and the other Burke mimicked the movement perfectly. “It’s a projection!” he cried out in delight. “A hologram!”

 

Not sure which of the twins was real Galen trotted over to stand by Virdon. “A hollow what?” He asked, clearly frightened. Virdon laid a reassuring hand on the chimps shoulder.

 

“Relax Galen, it can’t harm you... It¹s like that old guy we saw in Oakland, you remember. The scientist who told us about the vault?”

 

Galen relaxed slightly but was still wary of the sight of two Burke¹s approaching them. Suddenly one of them winked out of existence, the remaining Burke froze and took a step backwards and suddenly there were two again. “Well, at least we know which of us is real.”

 

“I don’t understand” complained Galen “Why isn’t this hollow gram telling us things, like the other one did.”

 

The two astronauts exchanged a knowing look. “Because, the hologram in Oakland was put there by people who wanted to share their secrets.” Burke explained.

 

“This one...” Said Virdon, unable to hide the excitement in his voice. “This one is here to protect them!” He glanced back to where Burke had been standing and then back to where the projection had last been seen. Now, with the benefit of hindsight he could see that one side of the basin was a mirrored reflection of the other. “Well, we know that this side is the real one. Whatever the projection is hiding is over there...”

 

“So why are we all standing here admiring the view?” asked Burke.

 

Virdon grinned. “Beats me.” As one the three fugitives began to march toward the opposite side of the basin.

 

“Be ready Galen.” warned Virdon. “When we reach the perimeter the scenery might change suddenly. Just watch your feet okay.” Galen nodded not really understanding at all. “Your twin brother winked out about here.”

 

The three now proceeded with caution, Burke stretched out his arm and saw his fingers disappear, he withdrew his hand and smiling, wiggled his fingers under Galen¹s nose to show the Chimpanzee there was nothing to fear. “Alan... After you.” He said waving the blonde astronaut ahead. With a deep breath Virdon walked forward and disappeared from sight.

 

“Alan!” cried Galen in alarm.

 

“It¹s okay, I’m fine.” said a disembodied voice and suddenly Virdon's head and upper body appeared from thin air. The Chimpanzee yelled and back-pedaled frantically, losing his footing and falling. Burke reached down and helped him back to his feet. “Galen! It’s okay, it¹s just a trick... An illusion, it can’t harm you. It’s like the curtain of water you get with a waterfall, you can walk right through it.” He saw Galen grimace at the thought of walking through water and quickly tried to think of a better way of explaining things.

 

“Pete, you’ve gotta see this!” said Virdon breathless with excitement.

 

Burke decided against further explanations and simply shoved Galen forward, following right behind...

 

To the gorilla observers, hidden and watching from a distance, it was a though they had simply vanished.

 

Part Three

 

Even though he was expecting something, the sudden appearance of double doors set into the face of the rock caused Burke to perform a classic double take. On Galen the effect was even less subtle and he gasped out loud in astonishment. “Are they real!” He whispered awe-struck. “Quite real Galen and with that holographic camouflage we might be the first people to see them in a long time. Burke marched up to the doors and brushed away dust and debris. “Metal.” he said. Something so simple, yet something he hadn’t seen for a long time. He brushed away more grime revealing an ancient plaque.

“ChronoDyne Industries? Ever heard of `em?”

Virdon shook his head. “I doubt they were even around in our time.”

Burke pointed at a small box, mounted by the side of the door. ”Security locks... How do you suppose we get in?” Galen trotted up and placed his palm against the smooth patch of metal. He snapped his fingers back and sniffed them. “What’s up Galen?” Asked Burke.

“It’s... It’s alive!” said the startled chimp.

Burke placed his palm against the metal just had Galen had done and whistled. “You can feel a vibration Alan, there’s still power here!”

Virdon moved up and all three placed their palms against the doors marvelling at the thrum of energy that coursed through them.

“So?” reminded Burke “How do we get in?”

“Could there be people inside?” whispered Galen. Virdon and Burke looked at each other and shrugged. “It’s possible I suppose.” Answered Virdon. “But I doubt it... This baby’s been here a long, long time.”

Burke rapped his knuckles against the door. “Hey! How about it... Anyone home! Open up.” Nothing changed. “Perhaps they think we’re selling something.”

“Okay, let’s try some elbow grease” said Virdon moving up to the left side door. He placed his hands flat against the surface while Burke did the same on the right. “Ready... Pull!” The astronauts grunted and strained but the doors held fast. “Dammit!” Cursed Alan. He scratched his head “Okay, I’m open to suggestions.”

Burke chewed his lower lip. “There has to be another way in, an emergency exit, a backdoor, something?” Virdon scanned the tops of the hills. “But if it’s camouflaged by a hologram we might never find it” He said bitterly. “Well... we found these doors?” Offered Galen hopefully. “By accident, not design. We could search these hills for a hundred years and never find a thing.” Virdon rubbed his temple and thought hard. “Did either of you see anything... anything... out of the ordinary?”

Galen shook his head.

“Apart from a dip in the ground this place is a flat as a pancake.”

Virdon looked up sharply. “What dip. Where?”

The gorillas were arguing amongst themselves over what they had witnessed. For Vandar and Xerxes it was obviously witchcraft and therefore only wise that they should flee this cursed place but Tobias, their leader, had been warned to expect such things from the fugitives. Though fearful, he suspected that it was human trickery and not the supernatural at work. He threatened and bullied his troopers into waiting and observing before they rode back to the outpost and requested re-enforcements.

He had almost brought them round to his way of thinking when suddenly, one by one the three fugitives re-appeared sending them into fresh waves of panic. Vandar fled back to where they had left the horses though Xerxes halted in his tracks after hearing the hammer on Tobias’ pistol click. “If you follow the steps of that other coward I will shoot you down.” Tobias threatened convincingly. Xerxes turned around and rejoined his commander miserably. Tobias understood his fear and shared it. Xerxes was a good soldier, this would not go on his record.

“We should flee, before whatever demons they command discover us!” Xerxes complained.

“I would rather face the wrath of all the demons in hell than that of Urko’s.” grumbled Tobias. “You will hold your position and observe, as long as they can’t see us we are safe.”

Down below Burke led his two companions to the place where the earth dipped into a shallow, circular, crater. “I didn’t think anything of it before, but now I wonder?” Virdon knelt down and used his hand to brush some of the dry earth aside. “We’re gonna need some tools.” “No problem, I’m sure we passed a hardware store back there.” Ignoring Burke’s indecipherable comment Galen stepped forward. “We need picks... and shovels. All I have is this.” He said holding out the small knife he kept in his backpack. Virdon waved the offered knife away. “Okay, let’s take a look around see if there’s anything else we can use.” The two astronauts wandered off in search of makeshift tools leaving Galen to ponder the shallow depression. He cocked his head. “Hmph!” Was all he could think to say. He stepped forward to join the search for tools when the ground opened up and swallowed him.

Galen’s cry brought the Astronauts running. They skidded to a halt at the edge of a newly formed hole and peered down. About eight feet below them Galen lay on his side cursing. “Galen! Are you okay?” Demanded Virdon. “I’m fine.” Grumbled the Chimp, sitting up and brushing a thick coating of dust off his hair and clothing.

“We’ll, if it’s any consolation I think you found a way in.” Observed Burke.

Galen paused in his grooming, fixed Burke with an icy stare and then continued.

“C’mon, let’s take a look.” Virdon eased himself over the ledge and allowed himself to drop into the hole. He landed lightly and studied his surroundings finding himself in a low cielinged tunnel. “I think it’s an air vent.” He called aloud. “It’s safe Pete, C’mon down.”

Against his better judgement Burke swung himself over the edge and dropped into the hole to land next to Virdon. All three companions had to crouch in order to avoid banging their heads on the ceiling of the tunnel.

“This way.” said Virdon decisively.

“Any particular reason?” Asked Galen, still smarting from his fall. “Because that’s the direction of the doors.” He took the lead and after a worried glance at each other Burke and Galen followed.

Tobias watched the fugitives disappear from sight for a second time that day but was enormously relieved to understand the reason why. Some kind of hole had opened in the ground and the chimpanzee Galen had fallen into to what looked to be an underground cave.

These were all things Tobias understood and could deal with. The third trooper Vandar had since shuffled back and mumbled an apology and Tobias hadn’t pushed the matter, he had almost ran himself, nevertheless he was obliged to discipline the Ape in some fashion. His solution was to send him down into the basin to discover more about the hole in the ground.

*******

 

The question of how they would find their way in the dark hadn’t been asked but fortunately, whatever power source coursed through the doors was also keeping a series of tiny, low wattage, maintenance bulbs alight. Covered with the dust and grime of unknown centuries the glow from the bulbs was sickly and anaemic but very welcome.

“Probably solar powered.” Said Burke, after having seen Galen tentatively touch one of the bulbs.

Thick bunches of cables snaked above their heads and at intervals they came across panels set into the wall containing switches, buttons and all kind of unfathomable controls. “Don’t touch anything.” Warned Virdon.

The tunnel ended abruptly, opening into a square chamber big enough to allow the three to stand upright. Burke massaged his lower back, aching from the slow progress. Set into the opposite wall of the chamber was a ladder that led both up and down. Again it was Virdon who made the decision. “Up.”

He led the way, followed by Galen, then Burke and after a short climb they found themselves in another almost identical chamber. Burke climbed into it to find Virdon and Galen studying a metal door. “Great.” He mumbled. Another dead-end? Virdon reached out, gripped a lever and pulled. The door swung open and a rush of stale air poured over them. Burke wrinkled his nose in distaste. “Burnt toast.” he commented. Virdon looked back at Galen and smiled reassuringly “let’s see if anyone’s home.” he whispered, stepping through the opening.

*****

 

Vandar approached the edge of the hole and pointing his rifle down peered into it. There was no sign of the three fugitives and he was relieved to find no monsters or demons curled up ready to snap off the head of an over inquisitive gorilla. A rush of stagnant air suddenly swept over him and he wrinkled his snout in disgust. “Burnt bread” he mumbled under his breath. There was nothing obviously dangerous about the hole but he wasn’t going down there... alone.

*****

 

The door opened into a corridor lined with many other doors. Lighting, set into the ceiling still burned, brighter than that in the tunnel. The three companions shuffled into the corridor and looked around them, unsure as to what to do or what to say. “Looks just like your average industrial building block.” Said Burke.

Virdon opened another of the doors and peered inside. Desks, chairs, cabinets. Computer terminals. A typical office, long abandoned and covered with a film of fine dust. He walked over to one of the computers and tapped the keyboard but it was long dead.

“Check the other rooms.” he said. “I want to find out where the power is coming from and what it’s for.”

Burke gave a swift nod and turned to investigate another room. Galen stood still, unwilling to wander off alone in this strange, unpleasant smelling place.

“It’s alright Galen.” Assured Virdon, knowing what was going through the Chimp’s mind. “Just stay within shouting distance and you’ll be fine – If you find anything interesting just give us a scream.”

Galen nodded enthusiastically. “I’m not sure what lies behind these doors but be assured, if it’s unpleasant I can certainly manage a scream.”

Virdon smiled, even now after all these months an animal with a sense of humour still amazed him. He caught the thought and reminded himself that Galen was not an animal. On the outside maybe, just as he and Burke no doubt appeared as animals to him. But his... His what? His soul? In that respect they were equal, no different at all. He wondered did the primitive apes of his own time possess souls the equal of Galen’s...? He was sure it wouldn’t be the last time he pondered that question but right now he couldn’t spare the time. This room had nothing of interest, it was time to explore another.

No office appeared much different from any other so they gave up looking for anything significant and tried another wing. They found elevators that no longer worked indicating there were two floors above their heads and four below. The size of the complex was enormous, to search it all might take weeks. By mutual agreement Burke set off alone in the attempt to locate an area that might contain a guide while Virdon and Galen remained and continued to search the rooms one by one.

*****

 

He took the steps two at a time, the higher he climbed the thicker the coating of dust that covered everything. It puffed up around his feet in clouds and tickled his nose, making him sneeze. Growing tired of the annoyance he pulled a cloth from his pouch and made himself a makeshift mask to cover his nose and mouth.

He came out into a corridor before the silent elevators and a sign informed him he was on the ground floor of ChronoDyne Industries and to please make sure, being a visitor, that he was signed in.

He didn’t bother.

He marched up to a large desk and stepped behind it feeling something crunch underfoot. Glancing down he gave an involuntary yelp of surprise as he realised he’d trodden on the hand of an ancient, human skeleton.

The remains were sprawled across the floor and an ancient gun lay in the dust a few feet away. The realisation that this person hadn’t died easily made Burke’s skin crawl. He tried to dismiss it from his mind but it had spooked him, as he lifted a crumbling book from behind the desk he kept shooting glances over his shoulder, thinking he saw shapes moving at the corner of his eye.

The book was no help.

He happily left the desk and it’s long dead attendant and approached a dais in the middle of the room set before two doors. He realised they were the very same doors they had earlier tried to force open without success. On the dais was a map of the facility, it showed office blocks, laboratories, showrooms, kitchens, and toilets... everything. He memorised what he could and started to make his way back to where he had left Virdon and Galen when another skeleton caught his eye. Burke wandered over and stood above it. This second pile of remains was sprawled awkwardly, much like the first but Burke didn’t need a medical degree to see that this one wasn’t human.

The remains were pitched in an untidy bundle before a closed door, evidently it had met its maker trying to get into the room beyond. Burke reached out and pushed the door and it swung open noisily. Inside were a dozen more skeletons, mostly human but a few of the other type too.

Apes. He realised.

Tattered remains of clothing still hung around them, slowly turning to dust while more durable objects like pens, jewellery and plastic key cards littered the floor.

Burke wondered about what he was seeing. Was this what had happened all over the world in a microcosm. The end of mankind played out in a single room?

He locked stares with the empty eye sockets of a human skeleton and an overwhelming sadness washed over him. He’d seen enough. As he backed out of the room a laminated sign, fixed high on the wall caught his eye.

Chronodyne... The adventure of another lifetime.

ChronoDyne? What kind of name was that anyway?

Watchmakers perhaps?

*****

 

Down below, Virdon leafed through some documentation he’d found in a lecture theatre.

“No way!” he murmured.

Galen caught the comment and shuffled over. “Did you find something?” he asked.

Virdon continued to study the papers and shook his head in disbelief and wonder. “I can’t be, it’s impossible.” “What Alan? What’s impossible?”

“This place... This whole place, it was devoted to just one thing, one huge project.”

“And?”

Virdon put the papers down and stared at the Chimpanzee. “No.” he whispered, seemingly to himself. “It’s insanity, it’s nonsense, nonsense.”

Frustrated the Chimpanzee threw up his hands. “WHAT... Is nonsense?” he demanded. Virdon ignored him and searched through more papers, most of which simply crumbled away at his touch.

“Alan!” A shout from Burke caught their attention.

“In here!” Galen called.

Burke burst into the room breathless. “Alan! Do you know what kind of place this is?!... Do you know what it was for?” he gasped, panting heavily.

Virdon grinned and held up a sheaf of mouldy paperwork. “Do you believe it?”

“Believe WHAT?” Galen wailed, becoming increasingly agitated at being left in the dark.

“Take a look around you Pete... The very fact that this place exists means it’s probably true.”

“WHAT IS TRUE.” snarled Galen.

The astronauts turned as one and stared at the angry Chimpanzee.

“Time travel.” They said together.

Galen wrinkled his snout. “Time travel?” he repeated. He turned the notion over in his mind and began to smile. “Hmph!... Oh very amusing... Yes, yes I see... Time travel, very funny, very funny indeed.”

Burke smiled too finding his own feelings mirrored in the words of the Ape.

Virdon waved the sheaf of papers. “Look around you Galen... It’s what this place was built for, It was a research and development project with time travel as the objective.” Galen looked wary. “And you could do this... travel through time?” “Not in our time.” interrupted Burke. “But this place was built after we left.”

“After you left?”

“Sure, the human race was still thriving long after.”

“And they built this.” whispered Alan in awe. “Did it work.” Asked Galen, still undecided as to whether he was being made to look the fool.

The Astronauts glanced at each other. “Let’s see if we can find out.” said Virdon.

******

 

Vandar briefed Tobias on what he had discovered down in the crater below. Tobias listened carefully and nodded, deciding, much to his troopers’ relief that it would not be wise to go climbing down into the hole without re-inforcements. He snapped a command to Xerxes and ordered him to ride back to the outpost. He was to stop for nothing and return with as many armed gorillas as he could muster but not before getting a message to General Urko assuring him the matter was being dealt with professionally.

Xerxes nodded, glad of anything that might take him away from this cursed place and left immediately.

Tobias and Vandar set about making themselves as comfortable as possible. It would be three to four days until the reinforcements arrived so until then they could only make the best of it.

*****

 

“Can you make it work?” Asked Galen, watching the two humans hunched over the strange machine.

“I think so.” said Virdon confidently. “It’s very similar technology to the one we found in Oakland. If we can find a way to tap into the energy source that powers the lights... we should be fine” “And then we can travel through time?” Asked Galen awe struck. “What? No, no this is just a projector Galen.”

“The best we can hope for is a movie matinee.” added Burke. “A message.” Clarified Virdon. “Moving pictures, information, that kind of thing.”

Galen nodded. “Can I help?”

“Not really, not unless you recently passed a degree in advanced twenty sixth Century electronics.” chirped Burke pulling a panel off the wall and revealing a series of cables. “Then, in that case I think I shall venture outside and see what there is to eat.”

“Thank’s Galen and don’t worry, we won’t do a thing without you being here.”

Galen nodded, pleased to be included despite not being able to contribute. “I’ll be as quick as I can” He promised and spinning on his heel he trotted out of the ancient lecture theatre. “Watch out for bodies!” warned Burke, calling after him. “I found a desk clerk upstairs who forgot to clock out.” Galen halted momentarily hoping that he had misunderstood Burke’s comment and then continued on his way re-tracing his path through the corridors and tunnels and back to the hole he had involuntarily made. The lip was eight feet above the floor but Galen leapt easily, catching the edge and swinging himself up in one easy movement. He was surprised to find that it was already late afternoon, no wonder he was feeling hungry. To find food he would have to go back a ways into the forest but he didn’t mind. He relished the chance to clear the dry musty air of the complex from his lungs and in truth, to be alone for an hour or two. He could make better time without the clumsy, awkward humans hampering his progress. He liked their company, the stories they told were always fascinating but did that make them friends?

He still didn’t have the answer for that one. He had been raised to believe that humans were nothing more than slaves. They cheated, they lied, they were stupid and lazy. Until he had met Virdon and Burke he’d had never had any reason to belive otherwise. Humans served apes yet here he was scampering around, foraging for food on their behalf. He trotted over the craggy formations that encircled the flat basin and clambered up them swiftly.

*****

 

Leaving his sole trooper on watch Tobias had taken the opportunity for a snooze. Vandar was bored already and they hadn’t even been here for half a day. He glanced over at the flat basin and stiffened, unslinging his rifle in one swift movement. Down below, heading straight for him and closing fast was the Chimpanzee fugitive Gaylord, or whatever the hell his name was. Vandar raised the rifle to his shoulder and sighted down the barrel. The Chimp, totally oblivious to his presence was a sitting duck. Vandar had all the time in the world. His finger curled around the trigger of his rifle and began to tighten.

 

Part Four

Tobias reached across and clamped his paw around the barrel of the Vandar’s rifle, gently forcing it down and away from the moving target. Vandar looked at his commanding officer confused but a finger raised to Tobias’s lips left the question unasked.

“Zaius wants them alive.” Tobias whispered. “For now - We just observe.”

Vandar’s muzzle worked, clearly annoyed that he’d been cheated out of an easy kill but he followed orders like a good trooper should. Tobias was relieved, he had averted the death of an Ape as any follower of the Lawgiver should, but if one of the humans should ever lift their head out of that hole... He’d be the first in line to blow them away.

*****

Blissfully unaware his comings and goings were being observed Galen returned to the hole carrying a treasure trove of delicious things to eat. He let himself drop down inside and made his way back along the ventilation shaft then up into the complex that was ChronoDyne Industries. He returned to where he had last seen the astronauts and heard the sounds of their labours long before he saw them.

“Only me.” he called ahead, not wanting his sudden appearance to alarm them.

“In here Galen.” Answered Virdon.

Galen stepped into the lecture theatre and saw that they had been busy in his absence. “I found some Opars and nuts and even a few birds eggs up in the trees.

Burke licked his lips feeling juices flood into his mouth. “Then let’s stop for lunch, I’m buying.” He stood up wiping his dusty hands on his rough woven trousers.

“Did you make it work?” Asked Galen eyeing the projector with its innards displayed for all to see.

“Just a couple more connections and we’re all set.” beamed Virdon.

“But food first.” Begged Burke. “Here’s one marooned astronaut who could eat a hor....” He broke off seeing Galen’s inquisitive gaze. “... ER.. Opar.” he finished lamely.

Galen blinked and then nodded in approval. “You know... If I didn’t know better I would swear you were becoming civilised” He allowed.

“You should see me use a knife and fork.” Burke promised.

Dinner was delicious. All of them failing to realise until they sat down how hungry they were and how long it had been since their last meal.

The first course of eggs and nuts had made way for a dessert of fresh, sweet Opar. They used their knives to cut thick generous slices and the juice of the mutant fruits ran freely down their chins.

“So come on Alan... Spill. Tell us what you’re thinking.” Said Burke around a mouthful of fruit. Virdon smiled but looked uncomfortable, reluctant to say anything. “Okay, I’ll tell you what. I’ll tell YOU what you’re thinking.” Virdon groaned inwardly but he was surprised Burke had managed to keep his silence this long. “You’re thinking that we’re gonna somehow get this machine working and that you’re gonna use it to hitch a ride back home.” The blonde astronaut smiled sheepishly. “Pete, I doubt that our ticket out of here is an abandoned, Five hundred year old machine.” He said wistfully.

Burke shook his finger in reprimand. “Uh-uh, now you’re telling us what I’m thinking. Own up Alan, it’s written all over your face.” Galen looked at Virdon’s face but could see nothing written there at all. Just another peculiar expression, he decided. Virdon looked embarrassed at being so obviously transparent. “Okay, straight up. The thought is there at the back of my mind but seriously Pete I’m not expecting anything from this. For now I just want to find out all I can about it.”

“And then?”

“And then we’ll see whatever there is to see... Speaking of which if everyone’s finished dinner let’s get this baby to talk.” The two men returned their attention to the projector and Galen swiftly cleared away the cooking utensils. By the time he was done they were ready.

“Okay Galen, If this works you’ll probably see some kind of moving image along with some sound. Don’t be alarmed there’s nothing here that can harm us.”

Galen nodded feeling butterflies fluttering away in his stomach. This was so exciting, he thought, trying to control his nerves. “I’m ready.” He announced thinking he was well prepared for what was about to happen.

Virdon nodded, pressed a stud on the fascia of the machine and the projector hummed into life. “So far so good.” he muttered trying to decipher the meaning of the sliders and dials on the control panel.

“Whoa! Heads up!” warned Burke.

An image of a dignified looking man appeared in the air that apart from an occasional flicker of electronic disturbamce looked as real as anyone else in the room. The mans mouth was moving wordlessly.

“Does this thing come with sound?” asked Burke. Virdon studied the controls and moved a couple of sliding levers and a ghost from the past in the form of achingly familiar music suddenly filled the air. “Silent night!” marvelled Burke.

“The Nativity” announced the dignified gentleman in the broadcast as the image changed to that of a school play. “re-enacted every year in thousands of schools across the world... But what if you could watch the real thing?”

Again the image changed, now to that of ferocious monster. Galen yelled and fell backwards but Virdon and Burke were too mesmerised to pay much attention to his distress.

“The Dinosaurs!” Announced the man. “Was it really a meteor that wiped them out? What if you could witness the extinction first hand?”

Mercifully the terrible images disappeared to be replaced with that of the lecturer sitting behind a desk.

“ChronoDyne Industries are proud to announce that for the first time in human history the answers to all these question and more are now within our grasp and we invite you… To become a part of the greatest adventure... Of all time.”

“It’s a sales pitch.” breathed Alan.

“Sales pitch?” Asked Galen only just recovering his composure after the sight of the monsters.

“A promotion, designed to raise interest in potential investors.” He glanced at Galen’s blank expression. “They needed money to finance their research, this was a way of exciting people that had that money and getting them to hand it over.”

“How? continued the lecturer, he laughed good-naturedly. “Well, I’m no scientist, so how about I hand you over to someone who is.”

The lecturer gestured to his left and a startlingly realistic ape of comic proportions took centre stage.

“What is THAT!” demanded Galen.

Burke pulled a face. “I think it’s some kind of cartoon... It’s not real it’s... like a drawing. Made to look real... At least I think it is?”

“I don’t care for it.” moaned Galen. It’s... disturbing.”

“Ladeez unt Gentlemen, Velcum to Chrondyne Industries... My name iss Professor Kronos.” The cartoon Ape announced in a very bad German accent.

“It’s good to see that in five hundred years things didn’t change much.” said Virdon grinning at the antics of the ape on the screen.

Professor Kronos squatted on the edge of his desk and began to peel a banana.

“Imagine... If vee coult peel back ze barriers of time ze vay I am peeling zis banana.”

An image of the pyramids appeared on screen.

“Ve coult vitness ze building of ze pyramits.”

The coliseum.

“Ze fall of Ancient Rome.”

Neil Armstrong bobbing on the moon.

“Ze first steps into outer space”

Back to the Ape.

“Time is just a window... A window that we vill soon not only be able to open... but step right through.”

Burke glanced a Virdon who stood unblinking, totally entranced by the presentation. It wove its spell over him as easily as any of the potential investors it had been designed for.

“Twelve years ago I discovered a secret process that vould open the windows of time. The machine I needed didn’t exist and so... I founded Chronodyne Industries and built one.” The image transformed into that of an obviously cartoonish contraption. A time machine as designed by Chuck Jones. “My first experiments were moderately successful but the energies required were enormous, far greater than I ever anticipated.

The image showed the outlandish machine shining a beam of light onto a metal disk.

“Nevertheless, four years ago I successfully managed to send an item BACK through time.”

A burst of light and the disk vanished.

“How do I know I was successful? Because shortly after, during the transportation of the ancient Sphinx to New Egypt a metallic disk was uncovered at its base.

Archive film footage of excited workman holding up a shiny metal disc.

“Archaeologists claim it is over four thousand years old and yet I had made it only a few weeks before its discovery. I had successfully sent it back through time to a predetermined date AND location where I knew it would be re-discovered over four thousand years later.”

A close up on the Cartoon Apes face.

“Ladies and Gentlemen... ChronoDyne Industries invite you to

prepare yourselves for the adventure of another lifetime”

The film ended.

“Is that all?” Asked Burke. “Didn’t give much away”. Virdon examined the projector, equally disappointed. “That was a promotional film not an educational one... Just enough to whet your appetite.”

“Well guess what? It worked.”

Galen continued to stare at the now empty space where the images had been projected. His mind was a cacophony of new revelations. He glanced at the two humans fussing over the projector. They knew so much and he knew so little. Their kind had built vast towering cities, journeyed to the stars and - evidently - even travelled through time.

What happened to them? How could they have lost it all?

“Galen? You okay?”

Galen turned his gaze to Virdon and stared, unblinking.

“Galen?”

“Hmmm? Oh yes, yes I’m fine. Is there any more?” Virdon shook his head. “Not here... But there must be all kinds of archives spread around this place.”

“So we’re staying then.” said Burke. It wasn’t even a question. The two astronauts studied each other, arguing, weighing up the pros and cons all without saying a word.

“I’d like to find out more about what happened here.” Admitted Virdon “Wouldn’t you?”

“Of course I would, but let’s not forget those gorillas on our trail.”

“I haven’t forgotten them Pete, even if they trail us here they’ll never find this place behind the holographic shields.”

“But they’ll easily find that hole in the ground.”

Virdon nodded. “I know, so let’s go and cover it up, hide it.” Burke tried to look stern but broke into a smile. “Galen and I will get right on it - don’t go travelling through time while we’re gone.” “I promise not to, I’ll keep looking instead.” Burke made to leave but Virdon wasn’t quite finished. “Pete... I think we’re onto something.”

Burke fought to keep the smile on his face. He had seen Virdon’s hopes dashed so many times before. Every time they’d glimpsed far off towers of a city only to find total devastation. Everytime they’d investigated reported miracles and found only local superstition. He shrugged non-commitidly. “Maybe.” he agreed tactfully. He followed Galen out into the corridor and paused at the door, wanting to say something encouraging, something to demonstrate he was totally on Virdon’s side but there was nothing that wouldn’t just fuel the false hopes no doubt already growing in his best friends mind. He cleared his throat, said nothing and continued on.

Galen read his mind.

“You think we’re wasting time.” He stated. Burke smiled at the use of the word, time. “Actually my hairy amigo, I think we’re gonna learn an awful lot - but I don’t think that’s gonna be much consolation when Alan realises he’s still stuck here.”

Galen nodded, understanding Burke’s position perfectly. They reached the hole and under the cover of darkness used dry brush and twigs to disguise it as best they could. “Then there’s no possibility at all, that anything left here might still be working?” He asked the human wistfully.

“Galen...” Answered Burke, managing to make the word sound both accusing and reproachful. “Suppose the time... device...” He couldn’t quite bring himself to use the word `machine’ “…Is still there, it’ll be ancient. And suppose, by some miracle it can be made to work... First you’d have to know how to work it... And suppose you could figure it out...?

Galen nodded. “Like the projector you mean?”

Burke sighed and closed his eyes. Trapped, he thought. He fixed the Chimp with a weary stare. “Nobody risked their lives with the projector.” he mumbled.

“But Pete! It was ancient... You weren’t sure how it functioned but the two of you made it work!”

Burke nodded in defeat. “But if this complex does indeed house a `Time machine’ Burke winced at how ridiculous the phrase sounded. “It’s gonna be a whole lot more complex than a projector and besides, whatever power source it requires will be unimaginable, greater than anything we’ve ever known, far greater than a few old solar powered lamps are gonna provide.” His point made Burke wandered back into the ventilation shaft. Galen watched his back as he walked away. Dissecting their conversation and examining Burke’s arguments. He glanced up at the night sky and studied the beautiful bands of light swirling and shimmering in the sky.

“A power source greater than anything we’ve ever known.” he repeated to himself.

*********

“It’s here!” said Virdon feverishly. “Bottom level. The energy was so colossal they had to contain it beneath a mountain.” “Whoa, whoa.” begged Burke. “What’s here? What are you talking about?”

“The machine!” Insisted Virdon. “There’s a machine for travelling through time and it’s right here beneath our feet!” “Does it work?” Gasped Galen, his mind marvelling at the very thought of it.

Virdon glanced at the chimp and grinned, seizing his arm. “I don’t know, let’s go find out.”

Burke raised his arm. “Now wait a minute!” He cried, “before we all go rushing off to....”

“Pete!” Virdon interrupted. “Listen to me... I’m calm, I’m rational, you’re my best friend and I’d never do anything to put you or Galen in any danger but ever since we saw those lights in the sky you’ve been dragging your heels over this and so far you’ve been wrong, wrong about everything!”

Burke felt guilt and anger born of defensivness rising to the occasion but of course Virdon was right. He bowed his head and studied his feet. “Alan I only... I just don’t want...”

“I KNOW you’re trying to protect me Pete... But it’s too late... My hopes ARE up... My imagination IS fired. I don’t know what we’ve got here, I doubt if it will get me home but I have to investigate it further.”

Burke sighed.

Virdon smiled and reached out resting both his hands on the younger astronauts’ shoulders. “I’m not blind to the reality of the situation Pete, but if there’s a chance, the tiniest, flimsiest, most outrageous chance ever... I have to at least look into it.” Burke nodded. Of course he’d known this from the moment Virdon had pointed out the lights in the sky. Virdon squeezed Burke’s shoulder. “But I won’t... Can’t... take that chance without you Pete. I need you with me on this, every step of the way. So will you help me? Please?”

Galen watched the exchange, riveted by the interaction between the two men. As a boy he had been taught that friendship, sacrifice integrity and loyalties were values these miserable creatures could never possess. The bond between these two men was obvious, powerful and emotive. In a moment of perfect clarity Galen realised he didn’t just respect these humans... he envied them.

Burke looked up into Virdon’s eyes and inhaled deeply. “Even if it kills me.” He replied.

 

Part Five

 

With Burke at last fully co-operative the search for answers was vigorously renewed. Rooms were searched systematically, Files read and paperwork studied. Through it all Galen felt useless and impotent, relegated to servile tasks like fetching food and cooking. He withdrew into himself, hardly ever speaking but in their feverish search the Astronauts hardly even noticed. Their affection for each other was obvious but their feelings toward Galen less so. The Chimpanzee watched them work and wondered for the first time if their journey together was drawing to a close. Suppose they were about to find a way home... Did he really want to go with them? To live in a world where he was the only one of his kind? Where his closest relatives were kept in cages and ridiculed?

In that moment Galen knew that if the time machine were found to be in working order then, even should he be invited, he would not be accompanying the humans on their journey home. “I’ve got something!” Called Virdon, holding aloft a thick file. Burke rushed over to join him by the storage cabinet and began to thumb through the files within.

“Bingo!”

Galen pulled a face. `Bingo’ what in God’s name was a Bingo? Some kind of animal?

Burke let his body slide to the floor as he read through the paperwork while Virdon continued to leaf through the files one by one.

“What have you found?” Galen asked optimistically. The chances that either man would answer him at all were remote, that he would understand the answer even more so. Burke glanced up. “These all relate to the power source... Negative multi-phased, polyplasmic fusion... Do you know what that is Alan?”

“Don’t need to know.” Answered Virdon. “I used to drive a car every day, never did understand how it worked.” Burke whistled in admiration. “These equations... The energy! It’s HUGE!”

“Hey Pete, listen to this... Virdon interrupted, reading aloud.

“Feasibility studies regarding viability of biological projections.”

“What on earth is that supposed to mean.” Groaned Galen.

“Sending living matter through time, an animal or...”

“People.” finished Burke.

“The adventure of another lifetime” Alan recited, remembering the tagline from the promotional movie. “So did they do it?” Asked Burke.

Alan continued to read. “They were certainly taking it seriously but there’s no record here of it actually being attempted... Keep looking.”

Burke put the file he had been reading to one side and started flipping through others. “There’s an open file here that has a reference to `Project 23’... It looks like it might have been the very last thing they were working on before....”

“Before what?”

“Before they stopped keeping records, I guess.”

“Okay Pete you keep reading, I think it’s time I took a look down below. Galen? You with me?”

Galen snorted. “I may as well, I seem to be of little use around here.” he grumbled irritably.

The humans shot a troubled glance at each other. “If there’s power you’re gonna need a pass.” Burke reminded them. “There’s a whole bunch upstairs in a room off the reception. I’m sure the previous owners won’t mind you borrowing them.”

Virdon nodded. “Gotcha, C’mon Galen, let’s see what there is to see.”

*****

“What happened here?” Whispered Galen as he surveyed the skeletal remains of ChronoDyne staff and Apes. Virdon shook his head, equally shocked. “Some kind of struggle.

Small arms fire, there are bullet holes in the walls.” “Is this the way your world ended?” Galen’s gaze dropped to two skeletons locked in an eternal, deathly embrace. One Ape, one Human. Their crumbling fingers each locked around the throat of the other. Can Ape and Man truly be friends? In this instance the answer was obviously no. “What are you planning to do?” The Chimpanzee asked suddenly.

“Do?” replied Virdon. “Do about what?”

“About the machine... If we find it and it’s working, what do the two of you plan to do?”

Virdon thought carefully then shook his head. “I don’t know Galen. I really don’t.” He bent down and began to retrieve all the plastic key cards he could find, careful to disturb the skeletal remains as little as possible.

“Will you use it?”

Virdon stood straight and glanced up at a laminated sign that displayed the legend ChronoDyne... The adventure of another lifetime. He considered Galen’s question carefully and then held up the handful of plastic keys. “Let’s just see if we can find it first.”

*****

Camped in the hills outside the complex, Tobias prayed for many things. Chief among them was for the swift arrival of reinforcements and an end to the terrifying lights that swirled in the sky above their heads. Vandar refused to even look upon them, pulling his bedroll over his head so he wouldn’t be offended by the sight.

Tobias squeezed a tiny figurine of the Lawgiver tightly in his fist. Soon this would be over, the reinforcements would arrive, they would enter the tunnels, flush out the fugitives and put an end to this sorry business. Tobias continued to pray. The end was coming, he could feel it. Tomorrow maybe, if not certainly the day after and then... then they would discover which was more powerful. The tricks and lies of the human scum or the divine truth of the Lawgiver.

*****

Virdon and Galen continued their descent and at last reached the fourth sub level. The sheer mass of the mountains above seemed to weigh down upon them, cramping the very air with a sense of claustrophobia.

Solar powered lamps continued to light their way making their progress easy and uneventful. Virdon realised he had vastly underestimated the size of the ChronoDyne complex. If the lights should suddenly be extinguished he wondered if Galen and he could ever find their way out.

He glanced at the chimpanzee who had continued to remain uncharacteristically silent. Something was troubling him but Virdon didn’t know what. Maybe it was just the overwhelming rush of new discoveries or maybe it was something deeper. Something sensed rather than known.

Virdon had made a real conscious effort not to allow himself to get carried away but as each hour brought yet another encouraging discovery he was, for the first time since the crash, convinced he was on to something. This wasn’t a ruined city or some child proudly displaying the `magical’ piece of useless plastic they had found in some ruins. This was a place of power. It was in the air, you could feel it, smell it and maybe touch it.

Maybe Galen sensed it too?

“Hang on Galen... This is it.”

The ape and the man stood before a plain metal door. The thrumming and vibrations from the unknown power source was greater here. The lamps glowed brighter. Filters still pumped and recycled air endlessly.

Things worked.

Virdon chose a plastic key card at random and swiped it through a slot. Four tiny red bulbs flickered to life, blinking away in a seemingly random pattern and then went out. Nothing happened. He chose another card and swiped that too, more blinking lights but nothing else. “What are you doing?’ Asked Galen watching the seemingly futile procedure. “I’m trying to open this door.” Virdon answered, failing to do so for the third time. “It’s just like the one outside, I’m hoping one of these will do the trick.”

“And if they don’t”

“Then we go and look for some more. Wanna try your luck?” Virdon held out a fistful of keycards like a magician about to do a trick.

Galen sniffed them and chose one at random.

“Just swipe it through.” Prompted Virdon. Nothing happened. Galen chose another. “You know, these don’t even look like keys. Are you sure they are the right ones.” He swiped the key and suddenly the red lights changed to green and an gentle alert began to sound. Galen felt his bowels turn to water as the ground beneath them trembled and the door began to slide open.

Virdon slapped Galen on the back. “Way to go!”

The doors rumbled open, easily at first and then noisily grinding to a halt as grime covered gears locked and fused together. A small shower of sparks flew and the doors stopped with a pneumatic hiss. Virdon rested a hand on Galen’s shoulder “Now you’ve gone and broken it.” He joked, encouraging him to move forward.

Together they stepped through the mangled doorway.

“MY GOD!” Virdon gasped.

They were in a control room, the technology so far in advance of anything Virdon was used to it resembled the bridge of some fantastic starship he’d seen at the movies. Computers hummed, cooling fans whirred, Terminals chattered to each other electronically. The room was alive!

“Oh my God.” He gasped again. He ran his hand over plastic casings some of which seemed to respond to his very touch, activating instantly and spewing forth information. “Alan.” Called Galen, who had wandered off on his own. Virdon walked over to where the Chimp was standing before a thick window and looked down into a sub-chamber below. His jaw dropped, his mouth worked but no sound would emerge. Below was an enormous circular cavern chiselled from the base of the mountain. The floor, glimmering with a metallic sheen, was perfectly flat and smooth. Two metal plates, the size of doors were suspended in the air, seemingly floating, yet steady. Bands of energy, similar, but more concentrated than those they had seen in the sky, pulsed, flickered and danced in the air of the cavern, so bright they hurt the eyes. Shimmering blues, deep greens and swirling reds. Always changing, always shifting. “Is that it?” Whispered Galen, mesmerised by the sight. “Is that your machine?”

Virdon stared, his eyes stinging from having forgotten to blink.

He squeezed them shut and forcefully tore his gaze away. Surrounding him were all the machines, All the wonderful machines! With their holographic projections and touch sensitive functions.

This was it! A voice in his mind was screaming. This is a way home!

In the space of a day, the protective barriers in Virdon’s mind had begun to slip away, slowly and cautiously at first but now, under he weight of all these marvels, all this evidence, what remained simply disintegrated.

“Galen!” he gasped reaching out. His legs began to buckle and he slid to the floor. Galen caught him, lowering him gently.

“Alan!” Virdon covered his eyes with his hand and when he withdrew it Galen was startled to see tears coursing down the blond mans face. He panicked, he had to go and find Burke, he would know what to do. “Alan? What is it? What’s wrong, wait here, I’ll go find...”

Virdon reached up, his fingers bunched around Galen’s tunic pulling the Chimp close. “I think this is it Galen... I think this is really it.” he sobbed.

Galen stared around the room, the whirling machines, the dancing lights, and the thrum of energies filling him with a sense of terrified awe.

“Dear God, I think this is really it.” Virdon whimpered. And despite Burke’s misgivings, as he cradled the overwhelmed human in his arms... Galen thought so too.

 

Part Six

 

Burke sat surrounded by reams of documentation regarding the intricacies of time travel. Theories of `Quantum gravities’, notions of `Einstien - Rosen bridges’ and principles of `self consistency’ all swam around in his head threatening to trigger a major migraine.

His NASA training was proving a good, solid foundation and although there was much he didn’t understand, surprisingly there was an awful lot he did. Virdon was stronger when it came to organisational skills and handling people, Burke was just as gifted with machines.

Curious, he had never been one to dwell on the past and now, suddenly, here it was, elevated to the most important thing in his life.

Almost.

The equations and formulas were sound, maths had changed little since he’d been away but the energies involved were inconceivable. But, there was no doubt about it… Time travel worked.

He heard approaching footsteps and instinctively dove for cover, always better to be safe than sorry. He saw Virdon and Galen approaching and came out of hiding stepping forward to greet them.

Sensing immediately that something was wrong all it took was one glance at Virdon to confirm it. He threw a questioning look at Galen who almost imperceptibly shook his head, warning Burke to say nothing.

“Uhmm... Find anything?” He asked innocently. Virdon ignored him, brushed past and slumped down in a corner so Burke looked to Galen for some kind of answer. “Let’s see if we can... rustle up some food first.” Suggested the young Chimpanzee jerking his head slightly, indicating Burke should follow him outside of the room.

“Say... errr... How about I give you a hand with that.” Burke offered, wincing at how blatantly false the words sounded. One thing was for sure, he wouldn’t be picking up any best actor award in this years Oscar ceremonies. He need not have worried as Virdon seemed so pre-occupied Burke doubted that he’d even heard him. He followed Galens’ lead and waited until they were well out of earshot before demanding an explanation.

“Okay, you wanna fill me in on what’s going on?” After a moment hesitation in which Galen pondered the mysteries of `filling him in’ the Chimpanzee grew agitated. “Oh Pete... We saw it... It’s there, It’s the most terrifying - and most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen...”

“You saw it?”

“Oh yes, it’s quite real - and Alan... He believes, Pete... He believes totally... He’s utterly lost himself to it. Consumed by it. He thinks this is your way home Pete, if you can’t get it to work... I think it’ll destroy him” Burke realised the Chimp was saying aloud all the things he had come to fear since he had first laid eyes on the complex. He ran his hands through his hair, a habit Galen had noticed in times of anxiety. “Damn it!” He snarled through clenched teeth and pounded a fist against a wall. “ Galen, this was exactly why I didn’t want to come here!”

“Everything’s working down there Pete... Machines.. All sorts of things... IT ALL WORKS!”

Burke leaned against a wall and rubbed his temple, thinking hard. The theories were sound, the procedures looked to be mostly automatic, the machines, if Galen were correct, were working... Could they really have a shot this time? “I’m frightened Pete.”

“Of what, those machines?”

“Yes.”

“Frightened they won’t work.”

“No... I’m frightened they will.”

Burke froze. “What?” he whispered.

“I... can’t go with you Pete... but... I don’t want to be left here alone.”

Not too long ago Burke had admitted to himself that if Galen were to ever leave their company he would miss him terribly. It had never even occurred to him that the Ape might feel the same way. “Galen...” He said, helplessly.

Galen held up a palm silencing the human. “No, I’m sorry... I.”

They fell silent while each gathered his thoughts.

“Pete?”

“Yeah?”

“If you think there’s a chance, any chance, it might work... Then I promise. I’ll do whatever I can to help.”

Burke smiled, genuinely touched. “I know you will... but... there’s something I have to tell you first... about the machine...” There was something in the words, something undefined, that raised the ghost of a chill in Galens’ mind. He cocked his head to one side, his attention unwavering, in their time together he had never heard Burke quite like this.

Pete Burke took a deep breath, There were some things you couldn’t hide, some secrets that had to be shared with someone. “Alright, here’s the deal... Provided we can understand the computers...Then… I think it’s gonna work.” Galen’s eyes bulged. To hear Burke, who had seemingly been committed to refusing to believe in the possibility of the machine, finally admit to a chance of success cemented all their hopes... and all his fears.

“But Galen... I wouldn’t worry about being left here alone.”

“What do you mean?”

“I made a promise to myself Galen... That I’d get Alan home, whatever it took...”

“Even if it killed you.” Said the Chimp, remembering the promise. “Wha..? Oh, yeah, right. Well ... it seems that even if the machine does work… then there’s only one ticket... It’s built for one Galen and if it works, it’ll work only once.”

“But.”

“No buts... If Alan’s going home... he’s going home alone.” Galen digested the information then shook his head dismissing the notion. “He’d never do that. He’d never leave you here alone.” he stated with ferocious certainty.

Burke nodded in absolute agreement. “Which is why we can’t tell him.”

Galen froze, shocked. “What?!... What do you mean, we can’t tell him? Pete?”

“Galen listen to me. I’ve been through this in my head a thousand times already. If you can think of another way then please, let me in on it.”

“But... I can’t lie to him Pete... He’s...”

“Then we won’t lie... We just won’t tell him the total truth.”

“But it’s still a deception!”

“Born of desperate need.” Said Burke, images of a blind female chimpanzee floating into his mind. “Virdon’s need.” Galen groaned, uneasy with Burke’s solution. “This could be the only chance he ever gets Galen, I can’t get him home without your help.”

Galen closed his eyes. Humans, he thought. “Why must you always go making things so difficult?” he groaned. Burke smiled, a little. “I don’t see it as difficult Galen... We send him home or we don’t. If we truly feel anything for each other - then the choice is crystal clear.”

Galen nodded. Regrettably, the human had a point. “Very well then.” He said, so softly Burke could hardly hear him. Burke squeezed the Chimps arm. “Thank you Galen... Now, let’s go give Alan the news.”

*****

“Well you might at least look happy about it.” Burke chided.

Virdon was too stunned to say anything.

“You did hear what I said?” Asked Burke.

“I....”

“Alan?”

“I...” Virdon looked at Galen who was nodding enthusiastically, in so doing confirming everything Pete had said. “Congratulations.” Said the Ape kindly.

“That’s if the machines really ARE working as you claim and IF we can decipher the initiation sequence.” Added Burke. “But from what I’ve read it all looks pretty automated and idiot-proof.” “Home?” Asked Virdon timidly. “We might be able to go home?” “Hur-rah!.. I think it’s sinking in.” Laughed Burke. “Here, I’ll show you how it works.” He retrieved some paperwork laden with complex equations and diagrams. “You have these two metal plates suspended by a magnetic field...”

“I think we saw those.” interrupted Galen. “Well that’s a start then… Anyway, something called a negative polyplasmic charge creates an intense field of energy around the plates, which literally rips apart the fabric of time creating an artificial black hole. One of the plates is then sent back through the hole - through time - to a specific date and location and brought immediately back on a long but instantaneous return journey. This creates a stable wormhole, a bridge between two time periods that the traveller... That’s you... can simply step through.

“It’s that simple?” Asked Virdon astonished. “Jesus Alan! Of course not! But that the gist.” Said Burke, matter-of-fact. “You have to be insulated from the charge, the wormhole is only stable for a fraction of a second and the energy released in a split second makes the combined power of every nuclear device ever detonated look like a match being struck on the surface of the sun.”

“And this will work?” Insisted Alan.

Maybe… Probably... They never actually tried it with a living person because they couldn’t figure out a way to bring them back. Understand Alan, it’s strictly a one way trip... If you overshoot and wind up in the middle ages then that’s where you’ll be staying.”

“It’s gotta be better than here.” Said Virdon, breaking into a huge grin.

“Amen to that.” Agreed Burke.

“And we can only go one at a time?”

Burke grin slipped for a fraction of a second. “Yes.” he confirmed, barely hesitating.

“Are you sure we have enough power?”

`Ohhh yeah, the power is stored in batteries, we’ve been building up a charge or over five hundred years. Those lights in the sky? That’s just steam... Vapour. The power cells are so full they have to vent off pressure now and again to stop from blowing.” “Alright then, so what’s next?”

Burke carefully put the paperwork away. “Next you take me downstairs and we take a closer look at all those machines, see if we can make them sing our tune.”

Virdon nodded and chewed the knuckle of his thumb, his mind racing furiously. It was really going to happen. At last it was REALLY going to happen! “Tell me again.” He insisted and Burke obliged, explaining everything in as much detail as he could manage, hoping that his friend wouldn’t realise that a good portion of what he told him wasn’t strictly true.

*****

Tobias shielded his eyes from the glare of the sun. Far away in the distance something had glinted. He waited and watched, his patience eventually rewarded by another far off flash of reflected light.

“Vandar.” He called.

The other gorilla shuffled over and Tobias pointed. “Riders.” he grinned. “Moving fast and coming our way.” Vandar grunted with pleasure and did an odd little jig. “They should be here by nightfall... I think that tonight may prove interesting.” Tobias promised.

Vandar growled with pleasure.

 

Part 7

Pete Burke whistled in admiration as he found himself confronted by a veritable wall of advanced technology. Virdon grinned like a school kid and introduced him to the control room with its myriad wonders.

“This must be an observation portal...You’ve just gotta see it Pete!”

Burke looked down, finding himself having to shield his eyes from the glare of the dancing bands of energy that skipped around the sunken chamber.

“So that’s what negative charged polyplasmic fusion looks like.” He said and laughed at the wonder of it. He pointed at the centre of the chamber below the control room. “You see those two plates floating in the air, that’s the doorway home.” “Well then let’s see if we can find the key.” Answered Virdon anxious to get started.

“Alright.” Agreed Burke. “One of these workstations should be dedicated to some kind of navigational controls, geographic locations, specific time zones, latitudes and longitudes all need to be entered... Look for something that looks like it could handle all that.”

“Can I help?” Asked Galen optimistically. “Yes you can... Before you can travel you need to be coated in a protective gel... To protect you from... God knows what, so take a look around and see if you can find bottles or jars of something that looks like jelly.”

“Jelly?” Queried Galen.

“Errr.... Frog spawn, something that looks like frog spawn.” Burke winced wishing he could have come up with a comparison more attractive.

“Yeuch!” Spat Galen but wandered off anyway. “Hey! You didn’t say anything about being covered in frog Spawn.” complained Virdon with mock indignation Burke smiled, happy that his friend was apparently back to his normal self. “Everything has its price.” He joked - and then realised it wasn’t funny.

The three fugitives separated each looking for different things. Virdon examined displays and visual readouts, looking for anything that related to dates and co-ordinates. Burke matched workstations to those listed on charts marking them accordingly while Galen checked rooms and lockers, hunting for packets or jars containing something that looked like frogspawn. “Yo!” Called Virdon.

Burke hurried over to a terminal and matched it with a diagram on the paperwork. “Could be.” He muttered. He waved his hand in front of the machine and the console whirred into life, projecting a small hologram of a slowly spinning globe. Planet Earth as seen from space.

Burke consulted the paperwork then held up his hand showing Virdon his crossed fingers. “Ready?”

Virdon nodded like a man possessed.

United States Of America” Burke said aloud. A section of the small hologram grew in size as if some virtual camera were zooming in and an outline map of America showing all the states in different colours swam into focus.

Texas

The state of Texas flashed green, grew and became a projected image showing towns and districts.

Houston.” Said Burke, again an area flashed green and this time Virdon and Burkes’ most recent home was shown as a projection but strangely neither astronaut recognised it. Burke frowned at the displayed image. “Uh-Oh, something’s wrong.” “Wait a minute, I have an idea.” Suggested Virdon. “Late twentieth century”.” He said. The image of Houston shifted and morphed, Borders changed, buildings vanished and new ones grew in their place. Virdon and Burke smiled as achingly nostalgic road maps came into focus and together they named familiar streets and landmarks. Virdon stabbed a finger at the outline of a large building. “Chris’s school.” He whispered, clearly speaking with some difficulty. “Boulle Street.” He managed. “Number thirty three.”

And there it was, just floating in the air, a rendered illustration of Virdon’s home.

He reached out and tried to touch the picture, wanting to run his fingers over the outlines of the doors and windows. The image broke up and proved elusive to his touch, it was just a wireframe and crudely rendered projection, he wondered if a wireframe and crudely rendered Sally lived behind its digital walls. “Alan? I hate to be the bearer of bad news but I’m not sure it’s such a good idea to suddenly appear in bed next to Sally, how about we settle for an open space, like a park or something?” Virdon snorted and chuckled, what was he thinking! Suddenly appearing from thin air inside his house would be pretty frightening for anyone there at the time, especially if followed by a talking Chimpanzee! He’d hate to be suddenly reunited with Sally only to have her die from a heart attack. “Ravensbury Park” He stated decisively and his house reassembled into a wireframe image of the park where, as a family they’d played together.

Ravensbury Park” echoed Burke with nostalgic longing. That place had been witness to a good many hours of courtship Pete Burke style. How many women had he taken there? Three? Five? Seven? Kassidy, Theresa, Sheila, Connie… Burke smiled fondly as he reminisced. How many, if any of them, would be waiting as anxiously for his return as Sally and Chris would wait for Alans’ He shook himself free of the pleasurable but idle daydreams. “August Twentieth, Nineteen eighty-two” He said aloud. The day after they had hit the magnetic storm and no doubt vanished of all tracking systems. He consulted the paperwork. “Lock target.” he said.

Suddenly the room came alive.

A clamour like the sound of a hundred spin dryers assaulted their ears as all the computers kicked in as one. Readouts flashed, key boards clattered, alarms pinged alerts. The terminal in front of the two astronauts displayed a stream of data that changed faster than the eye could follow, equations raced past, too fast to register. Formulas were calculated, latitudes and longitudes compensated for. After less than fifteen seconds everything suddenly shut down.

The relative silence was deafening.

In front of the two astronauts two words flashed over and over.

“TARGET LOCKED”

The two men remembered to breathe.

******

 

Tobias waved his arms in the air attracting the attention of the approaching riders. The group was larger than he had expected, at least twenty in all. Through the dust he caught a glimpse of the leader and his arms froze mid wave. It was just a glimpse but the studded collar and high leather helmet were unmistakable. “General Urko!” he gasped.

The Party reigned in at the foot of the hill and quickly dismounted. “Stay here. Keep watch.” Tobias snapped at Vandar and quickly clambered down the rocks to meet them. “General Urko, Sir.” Said Tobias as he reached the bottom. Tobias had always considered himself a large gorilla but he felt positively puny in the presence of Urko. “I am Tobias sir, Garrison Commander of....”

“Where are they.” Interrupted Urko.

Tobias caught himself. “The fugitives sir? They’re underground, in a cave, just over this hill.”

“Take me there.” The General snapped. Not one for small talk, thought Tobias. “This way sir.” And he led them back up the rocks and back down the other side to the hole in the ground.

Urko kicked away the flimsy camouflage with the toe of his boot.

“You’re quite sure they’re still down there?” He asked. “Yes sir, The Chimpanzee, Galen was seen only this morning foraging for food. If he’s there, the humans can’t be far behind.” Urko looked up and fixed Tobias with an icy stare. “For your sake... I hope you’re right.” he warned. He looked up at the fading light. He wasn’t afraid but it didn’t seem very wise to go climbing down holes in the dark. He grunted as something caught his eye. Above his head a green band of light pulsed eerily. His soldiers followed his gaze and began to whisper fearfully amongst themselves.

“Silence!” He roared. “These lights in the sky didn’t harm you last night nor will they harm you now. Stand fast or I’ll make no such promise.”

The gorillas forced themselves to order, the very real threat of the General more powerful than a possible threat of superstition. “Your trooper also babbled some nonsense about witchcraft...?”

Urko’s eyes seemed to be daring Tobias to confirm the report.

Tobias cleared his throat. “It’s true sir, I saw it with my own eyes.” Urko nodded slowly, obviously unconvinced by the testimony of what he considered to be a village bumpkin. Making no attempt to disguise his contempt he shoved past Tobias. “Show me.” Tobias swallowed. He didn’t want to step any closer to the place where people vanished. But this was General Urko who commanded him. “This way sir.” He led the band of Gorillas to the spot where the fugitives had vanished and was suddenly aware of a disturbance behind him. He whirled around to see troopers gasping in astonishment, their eyes wide with fear. Even the mighty General Urko looked thoroughly shaken.

“Witchcraft!” Gasped one.

“Devilry.” Moaned another.

General Urko raised his gloved paw and turned on his men angrily. “Silence you miserable pack of jackals! Act like gorillas or at least have the decency to shoot yourselves...!” He turned back and faced Tobias. “Tobias!” he called. “Where are you?” Tobias cocked his head in confusion. Why was Urko shouting?

Couldn’t he...

His belly lurched violently as he realised his comrades could no longer see him. The demons that infested this place had snatched him from his own world and dragged him into theirs. He ran forward. “General... I’m here!”

The effect of Tobias’ suddenly reappearing from behind the holographic shield and in their midst was just too much and a number of the gorillas threw down their rifles and ran gibbering for the safety of the other side of the hills. Urko swore and cursed after them but even he could not stem the panic that enveloped them all.

Of course this was Tobias’ fault.

He grabbed the collar of the unfortunates’ tunic and propelled him backward. “You!” He snarled, “This is all your doing.” Urko’s eyes widened in surprise as a pair of doors set into rock suddenly appeared before him. His fingers lost their grip on Tobias who stumbled backward, grateful to be able to retreat a few steps away.

Urko gestured weakly at the doors. “These... Where... did they come from?” He asked no one in particular. He sniffed the air, wrinkling his nose but other than an underlying stench of burnt bread his keen sense of smell failed to detect anything unusual. Suddenly he span round making Tobias snap to attention. “Round up whatever troopers you can find, at gunpoint if you have to... And fetch explosives... GO! Now! Tobias nodded and ran.

Urko turned and placed his gloved paw on one of the doors, feeling the hum of power flowing through them. “We’ll see what type of the rabbit makes its’ nest in this kind of burrow.” He snarled to himself.

 

Part 8

 

Galen, returning from his scavenger hunt carried an armful of interesting items he’d found scattered around in the many storage lockers. He looked for the humans and not finding them instinctively wandered over to the observation portal that overlooked the chamber below.

And there they were.

In Galen’s eyes they looked so small and lost, dwarfed by the might of the chamber and the energies it contained. Galen sighed absorbing the image, realising sadly that the sight of the two of them together might soon be a thing of the… the past.

PAST! God how he suddenly hated that word.

He felt bad, sick almost, knowing that Burke was lying to Virdon and that he was allowing the deception to continue. He tried to imagine a future with just Burke for company and felt guilty with the confusion such prospects raised.

Their days together seemed to be drawing to an end, after this, nothing would ever be the same but it was for the best, at least for Virdon. Galen turned his back on the astronauts and examined the machines that surrounded him. He wondered what kind of damage he could do before the humans, alerted by all the noise, attempted to stop him.

Not much he guessed. But maybe enough to stop things before they progressed beyond the point of no return.

He smiled sadly to himself. He could allow Virdon to find his way home or he could smash the machines and maybe prevent it. Either way their relationship would be a thing of history.

“Find anything?”

Burkes’ question had startled him, “Hmmm? Oh. Yes, yes all sorts of things.” he replied, feeling both awkward and guilty. He waved his paw in the direction of the items piled on top of one of the machines.

Virdon began to sort through them, lifting a couple of sealed, silvery packets. He tossed one to Burke who caught it deftly. “Could be.” He said, ripping open a packet and pouring out a handful of a lumpy, gelatinous substance. “Frogspawn” he announced grinning, flicking his slick fingers in Galen’s direction and chuckling as the Chimp artfully dodged the flying goo. “Was there any more?”

Galen nodded. “Lots more... and other things too, are they of any importance?”

Virdon sifted through the odds and ends Galen had scavenged. “I don’t even know what most of these are, tools maybe.” He lifted a small oblong box and recognised what was obviously a simple lens. “Wait a minute, this looks like a camera.” He pressed a stud and a light flashed, the box immediately disgorged a sliver of transparent sheeting that seemed impossibly delicate. The gossamer thin material began to whiten and harden in Virdon’s hand forming a small rectangle of paper and within moments an image of Virdon’s feet began to form. “Well I’ll be damned... It is a camera! Say Pete, check this out.”

He tossed the camera to Burke who caught it and took a peek through the lens.

“Hey Galen move in a little.”

Virdon threw his arm around the Chimpanzee while Burke immortalised the moment. Another ultra-thin sheet of gossamer was spat out and a fairly reasonable photograph formed before their eyes. Galen was astounded, although the irony of the pose wasn’t lost on him. “How does it do that?” He gasped watching the image gain definition and colour.

The astronauts smiled, basking in the sense of wonder projected by the ape. “It’s just science Galen.” Explained Virdon. “Way ahead of our time - but still recognisable.”

They fell silent, each sensing that something awkward had suddenly descended upon them. The moments stretched into seconds, the seconds into a minute.

Virdon cleared his throat. “So... How long until we’re ready to take this thing for a spin?”

Burke looked at Galen who returned his stare, his features utterly unreadable. He scratched his head pulled a face. “I’d like to run some tests.” He said at last.

“And how would we know if the tests worked? You’re stalling Pete... “ Virdon said, smiling fondly. Even now the younger astronaut was still trying to protect the older one.

Burke nodded, admitting his intentions. “Then I guess the answer is that we’re as ready as we’ll ever be.”

Again that awkward silence.

`Alright then.” said Virdon. “Let’s do it. Let’s get this show on the road.”

*********

Tobias returned, bringing with him twelve other gorillas, all he had managed to round up. They also carried two kegs of explosive black powder and following Urko’s demonstration that the holographic shield was harmless they placed one each against the double doors.

Urko now stood before what remained of his command. “You” he snarled, jabbing a finger in Tobias’ direction. Take five troopers and wait by the hole. After we blow these doors to hell the rest of you will follow me.” Urko took out his pistol and checked the clip was fully loaded. “We’ll go in and flush the fugitives back to where you’ll be waiting for them. No one is to be killed. If there is any killing to be done, I will do it. Do I make myself clear?”

Urko’s soldiers nodded their understanding.

**********

Down below in level four of the ChronoDyne complex, watched over by a fascinated Chimpanzee, Alan Virdon was liberally coating his naked body with the protective gel. Off to one side Pete Burke was making final preparations to initiate the chronometric sequencers that, in a split second burst would release the awesome energies that would, hopefully, send his best friend home and separate the two of them forever.

Three, he corrected himself, glancing at Galen. That’s the three of them forever.

Burke was confident the machine would indeed work, if he had any serious doubts he would have slugged his commanding officer and dragged him unconscious, away from the complex. Of course there was a significant risk, but as Virdon had clearly stated, he was more than willing to take it.

“Now, talk me through it, one last time.” Virdon had asked. “I don’t want anything to go wrong.”

“Relax.” Burke reassured him. “It’s easy. You just stand on the platform and rest the palms of your hands flat against the primary linking element… That’s door number one by the way” He pointed toward the left hand side, metallic slab floating in the air. “I initiate the sequence from up here and then there’s a slow, gradual build up of energy. It has to build slow because it’s so monstrously big!”

“How long?”

“Twenty, twenty five minutes. In all that time you MUST maintain contact with the door, you’re literally completing a circuit. If you let go you could fuse the whole thing and start a chain reaction that could blow the whole deal.”

Virdon nodded. “Alright then, I guess we’re good to go. Me first, then Galen and then you follow.”

Burke nodded and tried to smile. “Piece of cake.”

“Well... I guess this is it then.”

“I guess so.”

“Good luck Alan.” whispered Galen and held out his paw. Virdon grinned and shook it vigorously. “I’ll meet you both in the park, I’ll be the naked guy hiding behind a bush.”

Burke held out his hand. “Give Sally and Chris a big hug for me.”

Virdon laughed. “You can hug Chris yourself when you see him... But keep your hands off Sally!” He took Petes’ hand and the two friends shook.

“Make me proud Pete.” Virdon begged.

“Count on it.”

They released hands and with a final farewell nod Virdon took the steps down to the travel chamber. Burke and Galen moved over to the observation chamber and watched as he walked up to the floating panels of metal and placed the flat of his palms against one of them. Virdon looked up and nodded.

Burke held up his fingers, forming the `OK’ sign and went to stand by the master control. He hesitated and locked eyes with Galen who was just staring at him sadly.

Burke took a deep breath.

“Initiate sequence.” He said aloud.

Galen closed his eyes and prayed as the room came alive around them.

*******

Tobias was jabbing his finger in the direction of five of the soldier apes. “You, you, you, you and you... Follow me!” He span around and led them over toward the direction of the hole in the ground. Another gorilla, using a flint, struck up a flame and cupped his hand over it protectively. He used the flame to light a small wick and looked to Urko for further instructions. Urko nodded his approval and the soldier lit the fuse.

“Take cover!” The General yelled.

*******

Five minutes into the countdown and everything, much to Burke’s relief, was going well. There really wasn’t anything else for him to do but wait and watch and so, he and Galen stood by the observation portal looking down upon Alan Virdon. Neither the human or the ape could think of anything to say and so they didn’t speak at all. Instead they each took the opportunity to study the naked human figure in the chamber below and reflect upon what they were about to lose.

Burke remembered their training days together, the double dates, the lift off, the crash. No doubt about it, their journey together had been an epic one and soon… in about twenty minutes in fact… it would all be over.

A sudden deep vibration wrenched Burke from his troubled thoughts and he looked around the control room, fearful something had blown.

“What the hell was that?” he said aloud.

“It felt like an explosion!” said Galen urgently. “Somewhere above.”

Burke licked his lips and looked down at Virdon who, from the look on his face had felt the vibrations too.

“Only Apes have explosives.” murmured Galen ominously. “I think we have company.”

Burke ran his fingers through his hair and thought furiously. He caught Virdon’s stare and again raised his fingers in the `OK” sign.

“Stay here.” He ordered Galen. “Make sure nothing stops the countdown.”

“What are you going to do?” cried Galen, alarmed.

“I can’t let them find their way down here, I’m going on up, maybe I can stop them.”

“Pete, don’t be stupid, you can’t stop an armed gorilla! Let’s finish this for now and get out while we can.”

Burke grabbed Galen’s shoulder and hauled him away from the window to a place where Virdon couldn’t see them.

“Galen! Alan’s going home! And he’s going home NOW! There is NO second chance, you got that? Just make sure that nothing stops that countdown... Nothing! You hear me?”

“But... But what do I have to do?” moaned Galen terrified of the responsibility.

“Nothing.” called Burke over his shoulder as he ran out of the room. “It’s fully automated, just make sure no-one come through this door until he’s away!”

And Burke was gone.

Galen whimpered and stared fearfully at the whirring machines.

*****

Urko and seven troopers piled through the twisted wreckage that was once the doors of ChronoDyne industries. “Fan out and find them.” He barked. “A weeks leave and promotion for the one that does!”

The gorillas grunted their approval and holding their rifles before them began to search.

*****

Burke raced up the stairs and skidded to a halt on the ground floor by the elevators. He heard voices, barked guttural commands. No doubt about it, the apes had found them.

He remembered the skeletal remains of the receptionist and the ancient gun nearby. The chances of it working were slim but he’d once thought the same way about a time machine. It was a long shot but all he had. He sprinted down the corridor and suddenly a gunshot exploded, the bullet ripping fragments out of the wall by his ear.

“Who’s shooting!” Urko called from somewhere nearby. “I said I want them alive! No shooting!”

Burke burst into the reception and three of the gorillas were already there to greet him. He dove behind the desk and swooped up the gun in one smooth movement. Coming up in a fighting crouch he raised the ancient pistol before him and aiming high, squeezed the trigger - which promptly broke off in his hand.

The Apes shuffled forward and Burke, throwing down the useless gun, ran to meet them, howling at the top of his lungs.

*****

Galen stared down at Virdon and waved reassuringly hoping the sight would convince the anxious astronaut nothing was wrong.

What the hell was Burke playing at? Leaving him here. Did he really think he could stop, the Gods knew how many Gorillas, from doing whatever they wanted?

Burke could only hope to buy time… but at what cost?

Galen froze feeling an icy stab of fear in his belly as he recalled a vow made on that night they had first seen the lights in the sky and discussed the chances of Virdon ever returning home.

“And somehow, I’m gonna make sure that he does...” Burke had said. “I don’t know how, or when... but I’m gonna get him home Galen - Even if it kills me.”

“Oh Pete!” moaned Galen.

*****

Burke was driven to his knees. A gorilla soldier held one of his arms while a second held the other. The third was taking his time in drawing back his fist for yet another blow.

“Stop!”

Urko’s command froze the three Gorillas instantly. The General stepped forward and grabbed a fistful of Burke’s hair pulling his bloodied face upwards.

“Burke!” He snarled with pleasure. “What a wonderful surprise.”

Burke ran his tongue around inside his mouth and was relieved to find no broken teeth, he spat out a mouthful of blood and said nothing.

“Where are the others?” demanded Urko. “Where are Virdon and Galen?”

“Damn, I was hoping you’d tell me.” Burke managed between laboured breaths. “I seem to have mislaid them.”

Urko nodded. He had expected nothing less. “Don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll find them for you.”

“He came from down below.” Said one of the gorillas, eager for promotion.

Urko grinned coldly. “Then that’s where we’ll start.”

“You and me Urko.” Hissed Burke. Desperate to buy Virdon as much time as he could.

“What?” Said Urko, mildly surprised. “What did you say?”

Burke looked into Urko’s eyes defiantly. “I said you and me... Here... Now... Let’s see how superior you feel when I kick your hairy ass from here to next Tuesday.”

The four gorillas surrounding Burke fell silent.

“You... You’re challenging... me?” said Urko in disbelief. “To… a fight!” The other Apes began to chuckle.

“Sure. Unless you’re scared?”

The gorillas now howled with laughter although Urko eyed the human warily. He had seen the astronauts do things with their hands and feet that had often caught his soldiers off guard. Their fighting skills were extra-ordinary, their cunning already the stuff of legend - but did Burke really think he stood a chance one on one with the mighty General Urko?

“You’re stalling.” He stated flatly.

“And you’re a chicken-shit coward who’s afraid of a human.”

Urko stiffened with rage and suddenly the three observing gorillas were no longer laughing. They looked at their commander puzzled. Why did the human still draw breath? Could the mighty general be truly afraid?

The only external evidence of Urkos’ growing fury was a small tic under his left eye. Nodding slowly he removed his helmet and passed it over into the keeping of a trooper. “We will find your friends very shortly.” He growled, the rage in his voice unmistakable. “After I have torn you apart with my bare hands.”

He stepped backwards and removed his gauntlets.

“Release him.” he commanded. “It won’t take long to discover just who... is afraid of who.”

 

Part Nine

 

Down below, in what Burke had jokingly dubbed `the departure lounge’ Alan Virdon continued to stare at the observation port. He hadn’t seen Burke for some time and now, even Galen seemed to have abandoned him. There was no display inside the chamber to indicate how much of the countdown had expired or how much was left to go.

Was something wrong?

He looked up at the window again. Pete? Galen? Where the hell were they? And what was that vibration he had felt some time ago?

His mind began to race through some recent conversation.It creates a stable wormhole, a bridge between two time periods that the traveller... That’s YOU... can simply step through

You? Not... Us?

If YOU overshoot and wind up in the middle ages then that’s where YOU’LL be staying.”

You’ll be staying?

Give Sally and Chris a big hug for me.

A sense of growing unease began to creep over the blond astronaut and his hands twitched upon the surface of the floating metal plate. He couldn’t let go! Burke had specifically warned him that to do so could start a chain reaction that could destroy the whole machine.

But…

So desperate was his need to believe that if Burke had told him the machine was powered by leprechauns, he would have probably accepted that too.

And suddenly Virdon knew… Burke was lying!

He didn’t know why and as unbelievable as it seemed he knew it was true. Alarmed, he shot another glance up at the window, If only he knew how far the countdown had progressed, did he have ten minutes or just ten seconds.

*****

Galen reached the ground floor and followed the sound of loud cheering. He crept slowly towards the reception area and peeked around a corner, covering his muzzle to stifle the gasp that threatened to betray his presence to the group of gorillas gathered around a duelling Urko and Burke.

Burke’s foot shot out, piston-like and struck Urko on the back of the knee. The General grunted in surprise, stumbled and nearly went down. Damn, these humans were full of tricks. In a blur of fluid movement Burke spun his body around in a circular motion and brought his elbow up into Urko’s stomach. Urko shrugged off the puny blow and growled, backhanding the impudent beast across the shoulder, sending him spinning out of control to crash against the legs of the howling spectators. They jeered, lifted him up and pushed him back into the fight. Burke now swung his fist aiming a perfect right at Urko’s tender muzzle but the huge Gorilla caught it with the ease of a child snatching a ball from the air. He held it steady in a vice like grip, then wrenched the arm up and away from Burkes body.

Something cracked.

Burke cry of agony was lost in the yells of the spectators applauding the move.

Galen covered his eyes with horror, his mind blank with fear as he felt utterly useless. Think Galen think! He demanded of himself. You must do something! Anything!

Burke snapped his head forward and butted the gorilla full in the face, startled rather than hurt Urko released his grip on the humans’ fist.

Clutching his dislocated shoulder Burke leapt into the air, snapping out his feet, sending them crashing into Urkos’ chest.

The General barely noticed and watched in amusement as Burke hit the ground and lay on his back gasping with pain. Urko reached down, bunched his fist in the humans’ hair and hauled him to his knees. The astronaut could only swat ineffectively at the fingers that had woven themselves into his hair.

Urko brought his face down closer to Burkes’ “Say it Burke... tell me you’re just an animal.”

Burke stubbornly said nothing at all and the gorilla shook him violently, tearing out clumps of hair by the roots.

“SAY IT!” he shouted. “You’re just an animal!”

Burke sagged, his reserve of strength and defiance almost gone, there was only one move left he could make, one last course of action, one last gesture and then it would all be over. His mouth worked and Urko leaned in a little closer.

“You’re just an animal.” Croaked Peter Burke and spat out a wad of spittle and blood that hit the General square in the face.

Urko released his grip and Burke collapsed in the dust at his feet. Shaking with rage he wiped the blood of his face with the back of one hairy paw and reached for his pistol with the other.

I’m sorry Galen, thought Burke, I might be leaving you after all. He wondered, how much time had he managed to buy. Had it been enough?

Urko, not even breathing hard, looked down at the beaten animal. It was all over, it hadn’t even been a real fight. He snarled, still seething from the insults the human had dared to voice and drew his pistol.

His finger was tightening on the trigger when he felt the first of the vibrations through his boots.

Galen caught his breath, looking all about him fearfully. The ground beneath his feet was beginning to tremble. Flakes of debris shook themselves loose from the walls and fell around him. The vibrations steadily grew in power and he lost his balance, falling to his knees.

The gorillas looked at one another fearfully. Ceiling tiles began to rain down, it seemed the whole room was now shaking itself apart. A low, deep hum, ever growing in volume, began to assault their ears and they covered them in alarm, they shook their great, shaggy heads, trying to drive the noise out of their skulls.

Outside, the terrain in and around the crater was shaking violently, driving Tobias and the five other troopers to their knees as they waited by the edge of the hole. The low deep hum was now deafening. Cracks appeared in the ground and suddenly the earth gave way beneath their feet. Tobias tumbled into the hole along with his squad of gorillas, screaming.

Urko dropped his pistol and covered his ears, squeezing his eyes shut trying to drive the maddening sound out of his head. He fell to his knees and rocked himself back and forth. Drops of blood spilled from his nose and spattered onto the dusty floor. Some bullets, still loaded within pistols and rifles, began to explode, like corn popping in a pan.

Burke gasped as deep vibrations coursed through his tender body. Beaten, bruised and bleeding, he nevertheless found the strength to smile.

Goodbye Alan. He thought.

The hum and vibrations suddenly stopped. After a second or two of total silence there was a sound… The loudest whipcrack ever heard amplified a hundred times. Anyone fortunate enough to remain standing was thrown off their feet as a burst of incandescent light exploded over them all and the ground leapt a foot into the air before slamming back down.

Apes and humans alike tried to shield both their ears and as deep below, for just a fraction of a second, a burst of negative, polyplasmic fusion successfully opened a wormhole into the past.

And then it was over.

The place was a ruin. After 500 years, structures that had been designed to contain the backlash from the release of energy could no longer hope to

The time chamber below the ground was now deserted. The power that had sustained it for so many years was all but gone.

Lights began to dim, machines began to shut down for the very last time and although there was no one there to see, on one machine two words flashed on a screen over and over.

TELEPORT SUCCESSFUL.

The read out grew dim and faded away.

*****

 

Galen lifted his forearm from over his tightly squeezed eyes and looked around appalled at the devastation. The whine of a thousand insects seemed to fill his ears and he shook his head trying unsuccessfully to dislodge the sound.

No one was standing, Gorillas lay on the ground moaning, trying to rise. Those that made it stumbled around awkwardly, their fingers stretched before them, groping. He watched as one, who, finding his feet, collided with a wall and went back down hard.

He sought out Urko and found the General on his hands and knees, shuffling along the floor, whimpering to himself. “I can’t see... I can’t see… Must kill them! Kill them all!”

A moan caught Galen’s attention and he saw Burke roll over onto his back. Instantly Galen was moving, sprinting the short distance and falling to his knees next to the battered human. He laid a hand under his shoulder and helped him to sit up.

“Who...?”

 

“Shhh! It’s me, Galen.”

 

Burke blinked and rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand.

“Can’t see.” He mumbled. “Can hardly hear.”

“Nor can the gorillas... Come on, I’m getting you out of here.” Galen half led and half dragged the weakened Burke through the doors, away from the carnage and into the fresh air outside. As they struggled through the ruined doors Galen looked up into the night sky.

The bands of light were gone.

Did that mean the machine had worked?

Something had happened but he didn’t have time to go down into the sub levels and find out what. He had to get Burke away first. “Just lean on me.” he told Burke, hoping he could understand him.

“Stop right there!”

Galen’s head whipped around. Tobias stood a dozen paces away, battered, dusty and pointing a pistol. Evidently he too had been spared most of the effects of the energy burst and was able to see well enough.

“Hands in the air.”

Galen raised his hands in surrender and without his support Burke collapsed in an untidy heap.

“Who are you?”

“Tobias, District Garrison Commander. Now stand away from the animal.”

Galen took a step to the side.

Shaken by the recent events and at the sight of his distressed comrades, Tobias unconsciously allowed his pistol fall to his side.

“Kill them!” Shouted Urko from inside the building.

“By the Lawgiver Galen, What did you do!” Gasped Tobias

“I’ve done nothing.” replied Galen calmly. “It was you that charged in here with your fists and your guns and explosives.”

Tobias shook his head. “This destruction... this isn’t the work of apes.” he snarled. “It’s because of... them!” He retrained his pistol on Burke.

Galen swallowed nervously, he knew he was trembling badly and his legs felt like they were made of the frog-spawn like substance he’d found below but nevertheless he was able to step between the pistol and Burke.

“Move aside Galen.” Grumbled Tobias irritably. “Let me put this miserable creature out of its misery.”

“No.”

Surprised, the pistol dropped gain. Tobias blinked, not sure he had heard correctly. Maybe the Chimpanzee outlaw didn’t quite appreciate the deadly nature of the situation. “I said move aside... or I’ll have no choice but to shoot you too.”

“I can’t let you kill him.” stated Galen quietly, wondering quite how he was going to prevent it.

Tobias stood stunned. “You defend them?” The shock in his voice turned to contempt. “So it’s true... The ape that runs with humans would wish to become one of them. Step aside Galen, I’m warning you for the very last time.”

Galen shook his head. “I cannot… I will not… let you kill him.” He clarified.

Tobias growled and stepped forward bringing the pistol around in a wide arc and smashing it into the side of Galen’s face. The Chimpanzee cried out in pain, staggered backwards and fell in an undignified heap.

“WHY?” Cried Tobias, completely exasperated. “ Why do you defend it. It stinks! It lies! Just look at it Galen... Just look at it.”

Groaning, Galen turned his head and through tears of pain studied Burke. Tobias was quite correct. Burke did smell bad, he was also bruised, bloody, blind and half-deaf. He was a fugitive with nothing but a death sentence. A lower species. A man now very much alone. Slow, weak and at this moment as helpless as a baby.

Quite pathetic really, thought Galen

“It’d be better off dead.” Finished Tobias. “So just tell me this...

Why do you bother?”

Galen reached up and touched his cheek then studied his fingers, glistening wet with blood. He frowned and raised his other hand, stained with Burkes own blood and examined the two.

His blood… Burkes blood.

We’re no different, he realised at last. We both smell, we’re both bloody, we’re both weak, We’re the same!

Galen wiped his eyes dry and struggled to his feet. The pain in his head and his fear of Tobias evaporated. He drew himself up, feeling taller now he had finally cast off all the doubts that had plagued his mind since he had first encountered the humans.

“Why do I bother?” He asked Tobias.

He took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

“BECAUSE HE’S MY FRIEND!.”

Tobias shook his head in dismay. “Then by the Lawgiver I have no choice but to shoot you too.”

“Ape shall never kill Ape”

The Gorilla reacted as though he had been slapped. “What did you...?”

“I said, Ape shall never kill ape. Tobias. Or have you forgotten the teachings of the One true God?”

Tobias stood shaken, his mouth worked as he struggled for words. “The Lawgiver forgive me.” he said sadly. “I’m only following orders.” He raised the pistol and prepared to fire.

Galen caught a blur of moment behind the gorilla and almost shouted a warning when Tobias grunted in pain and collapsed like a puppet with its strings cut.

“That excuse was old even in my time.” Said Alan Virdon tossing aside the small rock he’d used to club the gorilla over the head.

“ALAN?” cried Galen.

“No need to shout, I’m okay, it must have had insulation down there.” He said, kneeling down to study Burke’s injuries.

“But what happened? Didn’t the machine work?”

I don’t know Galen, I wasn’t there to find out. How’s Pete?” “Alan?” mumbled Burke, swimming in and out of consciousness.

“Urko gave him a good beating.” Galen said sadly.

“Yeah, so I see... C’mon let’s get him out of here.” Virdon took one arm and Galen the other and between them they lifted Burke to his feet, carrying him over the surface of the crater floor. They reached the rock formations that had guarded the complex for so many years and, with Galen easily carrying Burke over one shoulder, began to climb.

Inside the ruined complex, Urko and his dishevelled gorilla soldiers rubbed their eyes as their vision and other senses slowly returned. Around them the holographic camouflage that had protected the ChronoDyne complex from prying eyes, began to flicker and die.

 

Part Ten (finale)

Now some distance away Burke was regaining his senses. His vision was blurry and his ears still rang but both senses were improving rapidly. His other injuries made the going difficult but their desperation to get as much distance between them and the gorillas kept them moving.

“Alan?” Asked Burke “What happened? What are you doing here?”

“I’m here because you need someone to watch your ass.” Virdon replied without a trace of humour. He grabbed Burkes’ arm and before he could wonder what was happening wrenched it violently, re-setting the dislocation. Burke howled, though Virdon didn’t even flinch. “Jesus Pete, what were you thinking!”

“I … Yow! Alan that hurt!” Burke groaned, rubbing his throbbing shoulder.

“When I let go of those plates I thought the whole thing would just explode all around me. Imagine my surprise when the countdown just carried on ticking. You lied to me Pete, you never even had any intention of going through did you? What were you so afraid of that you lied to ME?”

Burke didn’t attempt to defend himself, after all, Virdon was right. He’d lied to him, a Colonel and now it was time to take his lumps.

“Did you know it wouldn’t work? Was that it? Was you going to let it kill me just to prove yourself right.”

Burke gasped, stung by the accusation. His hands curled into fists momentarily but then he looked away. Beneath the bruises he was obviously fuming but didn’t want to make the situation even worse.

“You know what the worst part is? Alright, I admit I wasn’t thinking straight. I wanted so badly to believe but I trusted you Pete… I didn’t question a single thing because I trusted you!”

“Oh for God’s sake!” interjected Galen, who had till now been observing but could hold his silence no longer. “He didn’t betray you. He wasn’t ignoring your precious, military protocol, he was looking after his friend!”

Virdon jerked his gaze toward the Chimpanzee and fixed him with a withering stare. “I’ll get to you in a minute.” he seethed.

“Oh no, no you won’t, you’ll get to me right now.” insisted the Chimp equally furious. He pointed to a subdued Burke. “He lied because we thought it was the only way to get you home. He doesn’t want to stay here any more than you do but the machine could only work ONCE!”

“What?” gasped Virdon reeling.

Galen sighed. “I know you’re only a human and therefore a little slow, so I’ll spell it out. He was willing to stay here... and very likely die here, so you could have your chance to get back to your family. So, if you’ll permit me to be so bold just back off!”

“What do you mean it would only work once!” Cried Virdon in disbelief.

“It probably wouldn’t have worked at all.” Offered Burke, lamely.

“You were going to stay here?”

Burke shrugged. “I guess.”

“But you said there was plenty of power!”

“There was… about five hundred years ago. The lights in the sky… That wasn’t vapour, it wasn’t pressure… that was leakage.”

Feeling as though he had been gut-punched, Virdon staggered over to the trunk of a fallen tree and sat down heavily as he absorbed this new information. “All lies.” He whispered shaking his head in disbelief.

Feeling his presence was only making the situation worse, Burke turned and wandered away unable to bear the atmosphere of betrayal in the company of the others.

Galen watched him leave and then turned angrily on the remaining human. “Would you have gone had you known the truth?” He snapped.

Virdon considered the question. The answer came and he closed his eyes reeling from the awesome truth of Burkes’ staggering, potential sacrifice.

Galens’ anger faded like the embers of a dying fire as he watched the human seem to visibly shrink under the weight of so many revelations. He moved over and sat down next to the anguished astronaut. “Alan...” he began hesitantly, not even sure what it was he wanted to say, “It took a gun pointed at my head to finally make me realise who my friends are...” Virdon didn’t react and Galen paused, frustrated from not being able to shape the words the way he needed. “What I mean to say is… be careful you don’t lose what you have… in trying to find what you’ve lost.”

Virdon groaned. He tilted his head back, taking in the majestic vista of a sky full of stars. And to think he’d once dared consider Galen an animal.

The Chimpanzee grinned, “I know you’re just a human, but you do understand?” He asked mischievously.

Virdon nodded. “I understand Galen, I truly do.”

The two friends sat in silence for several minutes, saying volumes without having to say anything at all.

The way only true friends can.

Finally, Galen stood up and laid his hand on the humans’ shoulder. “I think you have some serious apologising to do.”

Virdon nodded. “I know Galen. God do I know. But how can I? I

can’t just walk over there and say, gee Pete, I’m sorry”

“Well, maybe you could crawl? “

Virdon smiled, a little.

“I don’t know Alan,” continued Galen, “and I’m glad it’s not me, but… you’ll find the words.”

 

*****

 

Virdon didn’t have to go far. He found Burke sitting nearby with his back to a tree. His knees were pulled up to his chest and his arms wrapped around them as he looked up at the stars. Virdon came up behind him and cleared his throat.

“Come to dislocate the other shoulder?” Burke asked, not even turning around.

Virdon sat down next to him. “Pete…”

“You know something Alan? When Urko was beating my brains out back there, there wasn’t one kick, one punch that hurt as much as… what you said.”

Alan winced with painful recollection. “That wasn’t me Pete! I heard the words coming but I just couldn’t stop them. I don’t know what happened. It was unforgivable. It was a stupid, I was hurting, I guess I wanted the whole world to hurt along with me.”

Burke said nothing.

“It wouldn’t have worked anyway.”

“The machine?”

“No, your dumb ass plan.”

At last Burke turned his head and looked at Virdon. The blond astronaut winced again, this time from the sight of the puffy bruised skin around Burkes’ left eye. The dried, crusted blood around his ear and nose. The lips, swollen so badly they distorted the sound of his voice.

“Why?”

Virdon pulled a face, an statement that only someone with a child knows how to pull. “Because once I’d figured out what you’d done I would have commandeered the first starship out of NASA and come right back to get you.”

Burke stared, making Virdon uncomfortable. “Bull!” he said at last.

“Maybe, I’ll guess we’ll never know, but know this Pete and listen real good because I don’t ever want to have to say this again.”

“I’m listening.”

“We came here together, we’re going home together… or we don’t go home at all. Do I make myself clear?”

Burke considered the statement and finally nodded. “Aye aye.”

“Friends?” Asked Virdon.

“What do you think?”

“I think I still have some major sucking up to do.”

At last Burke grinned. “Big time.”

A rustle from the bushes caused them both to turn their heads as Galen, somewhat cautiously approached. Virdon nodded and the Chimp relaxed coming over to sit by them. “We can’t stay too long.” He said “We have to keep moving.”

“That sounds like my song.” Virdon groaned.

They got to their feet “

I’m truly sorry it didn’t work.” The chimp said sadly. “That you never got your chance to reach them.”

Virdon stared at the sky, a haunted look in his eyes. “Maybe it did work.” he whispered. “And maybe… maybe I reached them.”

He sought out and quickly found the North Star, His favourite star, the one that guided home lost travellers.

But the answer wasn’t there.

 

*****

EPILOGUE

HOUSTON: TEXAS:

AUG 2OTH 1980

 

Eleven year old, Chris Virdon let himself in to his own house and wandered into the kitchen.

“Mom!” he called.

No reply.

That probably meant She was either at the Base or around Rita Jones’ house where they would be waiting for news and consoling each other over the mutual loss of their husbands. Suddenly the boys’ lower lip began to tremble and furiously he stabbed the heel of his hand into his eyes, stifling the tears that had begun to form.

“No!” he said firmly. That wasn’t how Dad would have wanted him to behave. He was the son of an Astronaut and he would not stand in a kitchen bawling like a little cry-baby. Dad had warned him this might happen, the same thing had happened twice before, once to Colonel Taylor and again to Colonel Maddox. Dad had told him what he had to do if such a thing should ever happen to them.

Look after Mom.

His father was lost somewhere in space, had been for over twenty-four hours. But there was not a single shred of doubt in the young boys’ mind that he’d be home soon.

Chris moved over to the refrigerator, pulled open the door and started hunting for a soda. As he peered inside he heard a loud hollow pop and all the lights flickered.

“Awww crap.” He groaned turning to face the kitchen. A stench of burnt toast filled his nostrils. It looked like a fuse had blown. Mom would go ballistic, even though it wasn’t his fault. He looked around finding nothing smoking, no black scorch marks by a power socket, in fact there was nothing out of place at all...

Except.

Chris stepped over to the small rectangle of paper on the floor.

That wasn’t there before, he thought.

He bent down and picked it up, examining it thoughtfully. It was a photograph. One he’d never seen before. It showed his father, looking tired and dirty with his arm around some guy in a monkey suit.

Chris smiled. No doubt a souvenir of some long ago Halloween party.

He touched the image of his father’s face thinking how much he missed him and then before his emotions could once again get the better of him he quickly pushed the photograph into a drawer. He’d ask Mom about it later.

He walked out of the kitchen and into the garden, tilting back his head to sip from the can of soda. Night had fallen and the young boy stared at the sky, a haunted look in his eyes.

“Where are you daddy?” he asked.

He sought out and quickly found the North Star, His favourite star, the one that guided home lost travellers.

But the answer wasn’t there.

 

VALUES: THE END