The Walls of Hope

Sheila Paulson

 

 

 

 

Galen looked so disgusted at the cold rain that fell that Major Pete Burke couldn't restrain a faint grin, in spite of his own discomfort. He shrugged himself a little deeper into his makeshift coat and wished that they were a few hundred miles south where the climate might be warmer. Last night the temperature had dropped into the low forties, and even Galen, who had the advantage of a natural fur coat, had complained about the chill and had been glad of the barn where they'd spent the night. Of course the chimpanzee had fussed and preened in the morning in an effort to comb the straw out of his fur. It had managed to work its way down his collar--just like the rain was doing now to Pete's.

It would have been pleasant if they could have stayed for a couple of days until the weather broke, working for the human farmer, but rumors of mounted Gorilla patrols had spooked poor old Marnin, and he'd sent them off soon after first light. Kayla, his wife, had apologetically fixed them a bundle of food, wrapped up in an old cloth, and they'd set out munching hot, steamy rolls, fresh from the baking.

The three travelers had cut across country. If Urko's Gorillas were out, the roads wouldn't be safe. Colonel Alan Virdon insisted on it, practically the only words he'd spoken all morning. He'd been grim and gloomy the past few days, quick to lose his temper. Maybe being stranded in the far future on an Earth where apes ruled and humans were little better than slaves had finally caught up with him.

"Alan, please wait." Galen couldn't quite maintain the pace that Virdon had set. His loping Chimpanzee gait held up fine unless they were on a forced run. With no evidence of pursuit or any sign of trouble all morning, Pete wasn't sure why Alan was in such a hurry.

"Yeah, come on, Al, it's not like we're in the Boston Marathon."

Galen glanced over at Pete at the the old Earth reference. "Is that a race?" he asked breathlessly.

Alan slowed and finally halted at the edge of a grove of trees. "Sorry, Galen," he growled. "I wanted to put as many miles between us and Marnin's farm as possible. Don't want to get him in trouble if Urko's anywhere around."

"He hasn't been after us for eight days." Galen peered through the trees down at an open valley. "Do you suspect that someone has reported us?"

"Don't know what I suspect." Alan's tone was coldly repressive. Startled, Galen glanced at Pete doubtfully. His question hadn't deserved that.

"Maybe Marnin's just jumpy," Pete said quickly. "I'd be jumpy if I heard about Gorilla patrols. Urko could have set up a series of sweeps. He'd know the general area where we were last sighted. If he has any smarts at all, he'd widen his search in several directions from that location. We've moved in a straight line, but there are a lot of people who might have mentioned seeing strangers."

"Humans, turning in other humans," Alan spat savagely.

"Now, Alan, is that fair?" Galen jumped in where Pete would have feared to tread. "Humans have been repressed for so long that they are afraid. You and Pete have taught me that. They have their lives and families to protect. The sight of two humans traveling with an ape is a curiosity. They might naturally speak of it without intending harm."

"And there are folks--human folks--who probably think we're traitors to our own kind for traveling with an ape," Pete put in.

Alan's face darkened still further. "Nah, if anything, they think we're Galen's servants," he growled out. "Funny how easy it is for him to lord it over us in a crisis."

"Alan!" Galen cried, stricken. "You know I do not regard you as servants, as less than apes. You and Pete are my friends, and when I must do that, it is to protect you."

"Easy, Galen, he knows," Pete soothed. "You'd be an emancipator ape if you could. The Abe Lincoln of Chimpanzees."

Galen might not know who Abe Lincoln was, but he recognized praise when he heard it, and he tilted his head in a pleased attitude and made a delighted sound. "Emancipator ape. I like that." He ventured a sideways glance at Alan.

Alan didn't relent.

Galen's face fell.

For a second, Pete let himself reflect on how easy it had become to read Galen's expressions. When they'd first been stranded on this future Earth, he'd had trouble telling the apes apart. All gorillas resembled Urko, all orangutans Zaius. And even all chimpanzees looked like Galen. Those days had passed. Apes had become individual to him, and Galen had grown as familiar as a brother. He and Alan would have been dead so many times if Galen hadn't befriended them and guided them through the perils of their new world. And on top of that, Pete enjoyed Galen's company, his eager curiosity, his sense of humor. He was a good companion and a good friend.

"Come on, Alan, that's not fair," Pete prodded. "You know we'd be up shit creek without a paddle if not for Galen."

Alan hesitated, but he was essentially a fair man. He gave a brisk, impatient nod. "Sorry, Galen. It's not your fault. But if Urko's on our trail again, we've got trouble." He raked the valley with his eyes. No one was moving down there. "Come on," he added impatiently and set off down the slope like a man rushing to catch a train.

"Slower, please, Alan," Galen pleaded.

Virdon stiffened, then he forced his steps to slow down.

"Is it something I said?" Galen asked Pete ruefully.

"I don't think so. He's been in a bad mood the past couple of days, but I don't think either of us did anything. I think maybe, in his mind, you're a symbol of the whole problem." He patted the chimpanzee's arm. "I know that's not fair. But think about it. Don't you sometimes wonder what your life would be if you hadn't met us and sided with us?"

Galen's face wrinkled with concentration. "Sometimes," he admitted. Then he smiled. "But even if my life is complicated and I am isolated from my own kind, I am no longer living a lie. We cannot go back into our false assumptions, Pete. You and Alan are my friends. But even if you find a way to return to your own time, I can never view Humans as I did before you came. I may be uncomfortable--but I can respect myself."

Humbled as he sometimes was by Galen's integrity, Pete gave him a companionable clap on the shoulder. "Come on. Alan will have a hissy fit if we don't keep up."

Galen rolled his eyes and stared at Alan in alarmed expectation. "Pete? What is a 'hissy fit'?"

"You don't want to know, buddy. You don't want to know."

*****

By mid-afternoon, the rain had eased into a fine mist that showed signs of burning off in the lowering western sun. The day was still chilly, but warm enough that the makeshift jackets the three wore were enough to keep the cold at bay. Alan even let them stop and build a small fire in a secluded rocky gully so they could warm up. They found dry wood in the shelter of an empty streambed where driftwood had washed up in an earlier flash flood. It burned with no noticeable smoke to send warnings to gorilla patrols. Pete didn't remember spotting any signal towers in the vicinity. There weren't even many human settlements, and those they'd seen Alan had circled to avoid. In their own time, this would have been the in the area of Napa valley, and some of the humans here still tended vineyards. But settlements were scattered and there was a strange isolation to the area that appeared to disturb Galen.

"This land is taboo to the apes," he admitted as they huddled around the campfire. "They never come here. Almost a Forbidden Zone, but unofficially."

Pete perked up. A place where the apes didn't come might be a safe haven. "Why not?" he asked.

Galen glanced around uneasily. "I don't know. No one would ever say why."

"You can bet Urko will come here if he thinks we're here," Alan said cynically. Not even the warmth of the fire had cheered him up.

"What would keep the apes away?" Pete speculated to try to distract Alan from his continuing bad mood. "There aren't even many human settlements here."

"Maybe something in the war affected the area," Alan theorized, caught up in the question in spite of himself. "Something that hurt the apes. A plague, maybe."

Pete picked up on that. "Germ warfare?"

"What is germ warfare?" Galen's face scrunched up in concentration. "I know what germs are, but how can you fight a war with them?"

"You induce your toxin into an area and it does its task; kills people, wipes out plant life, whatever. If one side has a counter-toxin, they'd survive, and the plague wouldn't destroy land or property."

"Humans invented this?" Galen's shock flared vividly. Sometimes the old habitual distrust of humans lurked not far beneath the surface even though Galen had learned to overcome this most of the time. Pete couldn't hold him to blame for his instinctive reaction, not when he himself wondered about any people who would resort to germ warfare.

"Humans aren't perfect, Galen, any more than apes are," he pointed out.

"But you and Alan would never use such a thing?"

"We never have," Pete replied. "Not us, personally. We don't like things like that."

Galen believed him and relaxed.

"But our government may have done so." Alan's face was dark with the grim mood that had come over him. "Pete's right--we're not perfect."

"But we're no more responsible for something like that than you are for what Urko does." Pete frowned. "All we could do was try to stand against what we might consider wrong in the government."

That made Galen's nose twitch in surprise. "You were allowed to do that? To stand against your government?"

"To speak up against what we didn't like, yes, we were. It was called freedom of speech."

"It was one of our basic rights," Alan added.

"Freedom of speech?" Galen echoed the words, eyes wide at the concept. Pete thought, not for the first time, how 'human' the ape's eyes were, and every bit as capable of expressing emotions, the same emotions as humans. "I don't think Zaius and the Council would like that."

"They sure wouldn't allow it for humans," Alan said darkly. He cast a brooding glance at Galen and turned away.

"Galen doesn't think like that, Alan," Pete reminded his fellow astronaut. "It's not his fault the Council keeps a tight rein on this society. And remember all the other apes that have helped us?"

"Yeah, and they had to do it in secret. When Wanda had you, she wanted a list of everybody who had helped you, remember."

Pete shivered involuntarily. That was not his favorite memory, the time he had been captured and tortured to gain information. He still had the occasional nightmare about the traumatic experience. "She wouldn't believe apes had helped me--other than you, Galen--but she wanted to know the name of every human who did. And she asked about apes, too."

"And you didn't tell her a thing," Galen said proudly. "If she would only have let herself think about it, she would have seen how much more a human can be than she would ever believe."

Alan glanced at him, momentarily drawn out of his dark mood. He gave Pete a comradely clap on the shoulder. "Maybe she'll come around eventually." Then he grimaced. "No, that mentality is too familiar to us. She's got the original closed mind. No new thoughts need apply."

"And there are humans like that, too," Pete said hastily, anxious to turn the conversation away from Wanda. Besides, he saw that Galen was distressed. There was a lot of resentment in Alan today, and half the time he seemed to be directing it at Galen, who had the misfortune of being the most obvious--and handy--representation of everything Alan and Pete had lost. "The thing is, Galen, you can't judge an entire species by someone like Wanda--or Urko. Or even Zaius, who obviously knows that humans aren't just animals but goes out of his way to lie about it--even to himself."

"Just like you can't judge humans by those who would turn other humans over to the apes," Galen responded quickly. "We have created a...a slave mentality among the humans. What you are saying is that each race has both good and bad, opportunists and saints."

Pete nodded. "Exactly. It's pretty tough for humans to rise above being treated as animals, but they do."

"So often that I think I must have been blind not to see it before." Galen leaned closer to the fire, reveling in the warmth. Overhead, the last of the mist tore away, leaving the pale late afternoon sun shining through. It gave them a clear view of the valley spread out below them. No one moved across the landscape. Far off to the right, a little village clung to the shelter of the valley wall, evidently a human settlement. Pete longed for binoculars so he could survey the terrain. The ruins of the few ancient cities they'd investigated usually had been plundered too thoroughly to offer useful artifacts. They'd once found a promising computer, but they'd had to abandon it, and the apes had destroyed it to prevent the knowledge that humans had once been far more advanced than they scientifically. Alan had hoped it would have offered the information necessary for him and Pete to return to his own time, and he'd been too quiet after their last-minute escape.

Pete wanted to go home, too, but he wasn't quite as driven about it as Alan was. But then, he hadn't left a wife and child behind, either.

Galen had a family, though, parents who had come to respect his choice. It wasn't safe for him to visit Counselor Yalu and his wife Ann, and they hadn't been back since Pete's rescue from Wanda. Even though the world they moved through daily was Galen's world, he was outcast from his people, ever since he had befriended the two stranded astronauts. All three of them were outcasts together.

Pete stretched out his hands to the fire. He needed the warmth right then.

"Do we go on?" Galen asked after a few minutes.

Alan frowned. "I'd like to find out what it is about this area that keeps the apes away. If it's biological, it doesn't seem to affect whoever lives down there." He waved his hand at the distant settlement. "And it's not affecting you, Galen." His eyes narrowed as he studied the chimpanzee.

"No, I feel fine. Cold, though," Galen admitted.

"Maybe we should head south," Pete offered. "Go down and see if there's anything left of Los Angeles."

"What is Los Angeles?" Galen asked.

"La La Land." Pete grinned. "You wouldn't believe it if we told you. You don't have movie stars here."

The chimp's eyes raised involuntarily to the heavens. "Moving stars?"

Pete laughed. "I'll tell you all about it sometime. Alan? Do we keep going? We could go down to that village. Maybe someone would give us a hot dinner."

Alan frowned, then he shrugged. "Why not?"

When they smothered their campfire and set off, Alan took the lead. He would have gone just as fast as before, but he cast a sour glance at Galen and set a pace the ape could maintain. Pete and Galen fell in behind him.

"Pete?" Galen's voice was quiet so that it wouldn't reach to the man in the lead.

"Yeah, Galen?"

"Is it something I've done?" He nodded at Alan's set shoulders.

"I don't think you've done anything, Galen. Don't worry about it. It's just some kind of funk."

"Funk? What is that? A malady? Apes don't suffer from funk, at least I don't think we do."

Pete smiled. Galen's reaction to slang always amused him. Yet he and Alan clung to it, a link with home. Then he sobered. "I think Alan's missing his family. He gets quiet sometimes. But he has to be thinking about how his little boy is growing and how he won't be there to see it. Wondering if his wife is okay, if she has enough money, if she thinks he's dead. What if she married again, things like that."

"Oh." Galen was silent a long moment, then he bowed his head. "Sometimes I am so used to having you with me that this seems the natural way to be. I, too, am an exile from my people--but I could go home." He frowned. "I would have only to turn you in and recant my views publicly. You know I won't do that, I'd never do that."

"Goes without saying, buddy," Pete reassured him.

Galen smiled briefly. "But Alan has always known he is far from home. Why now?"

Pete frowned. "I think that Kayla reminded him a little of Sally--his wife. Not a lot, but she had the same eyes and smile. Maybe that brought it home to him what he had lost."

Galen made a sympathetic sound. "Sometimes I feel impossibly far from home. But it must be so much worse for you and Alan."

"I don't think the cold weather helps," Pete said with a grin in attempt to lighten Galen's mood. "Maybe we should go south for the winter...." His voice trailed off and grew thoughtful. "The winter...."

"What is it?" prompted the Chimpanzee.

"I hadn't thought of that." Pete drew a deep, unhappy breath. "Alan keeps track of the dates better than I do. It must be almost Christmas. No wonder...." He closed his eyes for a moment as the poignancy of the time struck him.

"What is it, Pete? What's wrong?"

"Christmas," Pete said unhappily. God, no wonder Alan was in a funk. It had probably hit him hard that he wouldn't be home for Christmas, wouldn't see his son opening his presents, wouldn't be with his wife at that most special time. Career military, he'd probably been stationed away from home at the holidays before, but nowhere so distant he wouldn't have been able to phone home except maybe during Vietnam. God, the realization had blindsided Pete, but how much worse for Alan who had those special ties of home?

"What is that? Christmas? I never heard that word before. Is this more of your slang?"

"No, Christmas is a great holiday in our time, greater even than your Celebration of Family that you told me about. Or like it, in a way." He remembered Galen's glum face as the day of celebration when apes gathered together with kin for a festival dinner had come and gone. "But like your celebration, Christmas is a time when the humans of my world wanted to be with their families."

Galen gazed sympathetically after Alan, who stalked ahead of them, shoulders rigid. "Oh. I see. Poor Alan. But the humans here don't celebrate this...Christmas."

"No, they probably never heard of it. And even if they had, the apes would probably have banned it once they took over."

Galen stopped walking and stared at Pete. "But why?"

"Because Christmas was...well, let's see. How to explain it. Christmas is so many different things, parties and presents, decorations, but it's really more. Christmas was the birthday of Christ, who was the god of Christians." When Galen scrunched up his nose in question, Pete continued. "Jesus Christ was the savior, who came to Earth to live as a human to redeem us for our sins, so that we could go to heaven when we died."

"Heaven?" Galen's face held blank incomprehension. Religion wasn't at the top of the apes' social order. Pete didn't think the issue had ever come up. A short lesson on original sin probably wouldn't go down well. The last thing Pete wanted was to introduce to apes the concept that man had to be saved because of an innate flaw of his nature.

"Heaven is the afterlife, where good humans are supposed to go when they die, and they'll live there in peace and happiness for all eternity."

"I don't think Dr Zaius would like to have something like that spread around." Galen didn't appear too comfortable with it himself. "This is part of that religion you've mentioned before, isn't it? I think gorillas would stomp out any attempt on the part of humans to practice a religion, especially one that implied that there was a better place than living as slaves under the apes." He frowned. "I realize humans are not what I'd been bred to believe, and it even makes me a little uncomfortable. But it can't be. I've seen the bodies of dead humans. They didn't move on to a higher realm."

"It's not the body but the soul." At an impatient shout from Alan, he urged Galen forward again. "The spirit that lives in all of us. Any intelligent being has a soul. You have one."

Galen stared down at his chest as if he were afraid his soul would come popping out. "This sounds like philosophy," he remarked. "And I would like to learn more of it later. But for now, tell me more about this Christmas."

"It's a huge celebration. In honor of the birth of the Christ child, people give each other gifts. Somehow, over the years, some people dropped the religious aspects of it, and the presents and celebrations became almost more important. More obvious, anyway," he added. "People exchange cards of greeting, and families gather on the day to have a huge dinner. Everyone puts up a Christmas tree in their living rooms--"

"They put a tree inside their houses? This is a most peculiar custom, Pete."

"I know. Some people have artificial trees they can use from year to year, and some go out and buy a real tree that's been cut down for the purpose. Then they decorate it with lights and ornaments. Some people decorate their whole houses and yards with lights. At night, there'll be houses that shine as bright as day, and people drive around to see them." Conscious of the question hovering on Galen's lips, he added, "It was the custom. Then, on Christmas eve or Christmas morning, presents would be opened. They paid special attention to the children. They said if the child was good, Santa Claus would come and bring gifts, but I never heard of any kid who didn't get their gifts, even if they weren't always good. Santa was supposed to put coal in their stockings if they were bad, but we never had stockings when I was growing up. I'd just come down in the morning and find all my presents under the tree. Santa was supposed to come when kids were sleeping. He'd come down the chimney--"

"Pete! Stop! You're making all this up. A stranger came down your chimney with presents? How on earth did he climb up again?"

"Santa wasn't real. He was a myth, and little kids believed in it. When you grew older you realized it wasn't true, but a lot of kids would pretend for a year or two that it was--because it really was a kind of magic." He laughed. "Easy, Galen, not real magic, just a kind of wonderment. It really felt magical."

Galen's mouth hung open. "I cannot even imagine what you are telling me, Pete. I know the humans of your time had an amazingly complex culture. But then I see the humans of our time--and I feel so guilty."

"You didn't repress the humans of this world, Galen. It's been going on for hundreds of years. You looked past what you'd been raised to believe and saw the truth."

Galen hung his head. "I'm seeing another truth now, Pete. In repressing humans all these centuries, we've also repressed ourselves. Maybe a culture cannot flourish when it spends so much time...perpetrating a wicked myth. Squashing out any evidence of human intellect and creativity. I've seen so much as we traveled that I would have ignored before or failed to understand, or maybe not even noticed."

"But you were able to open your eyes and see. Don't you get it, Galen? If you can do that, maybe others will, too. Think of all the apes who have helped us. It's not just you. Maybe it's the birth of a new age."

"And birth is often painful," the ape mused. His eyes were filled with burgeoning ideas. Even before the revelation that humans were not an inferior species, Galen had been open to new ideas. Even his parents, more hidebound, had seen a little of the light. If they hadn't found a great willingness to open their hearts to all humans, they had been proud of their son's values. His mother had been quicker to help Galen and Alan to rescue Pete, but Counselor Yalu had expressed his pride in his son. Galen had told Pete about it several nights later, when Pete had awakened in the night, shaking from a nightmare of Wanda. In an attempt to distract him, Galen had related his farewell encounter with his father, and his eyes had shone with joy at the memory. It was too bad it wasn't safe to return to Central City more often and let him visit his family. He might not celebrate Christmas but it would do him good to have a private Celebration of Family with his parents.

Up ahead of them, Alan slowed his pace, hesitated. Pete frowned, watching his steps falter. He took another staggering step and put a hand to his forehead.

A trickle of alarm slid through Pete. "Alan?"

Virdon turned slowly, his face twisted with confusion, his eyes blurred, then he pitched over without a sound and fell to the ground.

"Oh god, Alan!" Horrified, Pete lunged for him.

With a sudden murmur of protest, Galen caught his arm. "Pete, wait."

"What do you mean, wait? Something's wrong with Alan."

"I know." Galen dithered, shifting his weight from foot to foot. "But there is something about this region, a reason apes avoid it. I...feel something, something strange...."

Horror socked Pete in the gut. "You're saying there's still something here, some biological agent?"

"I don't know about biological agents, but maybe some poison...."

"Then we're gonna grab him and make tracks out of here," Pete insisted. He yanked his arm out of the chimpanzee's grip and took a couple of steps forward.

The dizziness caught him hard and made him stagger. God, that was weird. He didn't think it could be biological. How could some bug hit that fast, just in this one spot? An airborne virus would have drifted, spread, dissipated over the years. It wasn't possible, was it?

Galen grabbed his arm and yanked him backward hard. "No, Pete, get clear, I'll go." He flung himself at Alan.

"It affects apes, too." Further away, the effects receded, leaving him woozy but alert. He took a staggering step after Galen only to have the intensity pulse through him a second time.

"Alan!" Galen dropped beside the unconscious Virdon and tried to lift him up so he could carry him. At first, the staggering Burke thought that Galen would be unaffected by the effect, that he could pull Alan to safety. Maybe it was specific to humans. Then the chimpanzee made a sound of great distress and dropped Alan's arm. He raised both hands to press against the sides of his head, and his mouth fell open.

"Oh, Pete, this is a bad place," he gasped, then he slumped down across Alan's sprawled body and his eyes closed. Pete couldn't tell if either of them were even breathing.

"Alan! Galen!" He sucked in a deep breath of air so he wouldn't have to breathe in any more of the poison and stepped toward his downed companions. As he moved, he heard voices yelling a warning.

"No! Go back!"

Nearly at his friends' side, Pete felt the dizziness return. With an effort, he lifted his head and saw two strange humans running toward him. They didn't wear protective masks, but they had strange yellow boots on their feet, huge boots that came to the knees and must have left tracks that Bigfoot would envy.

"Get the ape away from him," one of them cried.

"No!" The world spun around and around in a dizzying spiral, and Pete spun with it, but he forced out words even as he dropped to his knees and sagged on his heels. "Galen's our friend. Help him, too."

The sounds of their surprise and disbelief followed him down into a vast and echoing darkness.

*****

"Sssh, it's all right. Be easy."

The woman's voice was strange to Pete, but it was soothing and kind, and very young. He tried to open his eyes, but someone had hung weights as heavy as sumo wrestlers on his eyelids, and he couldn't quite manage it. He did lift one hand feebly, but the movement took so much effort he let it fall again. His breath went out in a frustrated sigh.

"I know you hear me. Do not fear. The feeling will pass. You and your friend went into the worst area. We would have warned you, had we seen you sooner."

Pete struggled again and this time his eyes opened a crack, enough to show him he was in a room lit by soft lantern light. The bed beneath him was hard, as most beds were in this world, but it was padded and a blanket covered him to keep him warm. A window on the far wall was a rectangle of blackness. While he had been unconscious, night had come.

The woman sat on the edge of his bed, one hand on his forehead. Her touch was gentle and soothing. A lamp behind Pete illuminated her face. At first his vision was fuzzy but when his eyes focused, he saw that she was beautiful and serene with long, dark hair that she wore loose, trailing over her shoulders like a mantilla. She had the glow about her that they always said back home that pregnant women possessed, and from the swell of her belly, she was due to give birth at any second. He half expected her to lie down beside him and go into labor.

His worry must have shown on his face, for she smiled gently. "Do not be alarmed. The babe does not come yet. Soon, but not today. Do you really travel with that ape?"

Pete's mind wasn't quite up to par, but he heard the doubt in her tones, and he spoke quickly. "Galen isn't like other apes. He doesn't believe that humans are inferior."

Her eyes widened. They were a rich brown, contented eyes, but now tinged with doubt. "All apes in the outer world believe that."

"Not Galen. I don't know if your people told you, but when he passed out, he was trying to save Alan--my friend." His mind focused abruptly. "Alan? Is he...."

"He lives. He is in the next room, still sleeping the shock-sleep. He will arouse soon."

Burke let out a rush of breath. "I was afraid--"

She stroked his forehead gently. It felt good. "Yes, I saw the fear in your eyes. He will live and be well, this I promise you."

Pete let his eyes close again. Holding them open took too much energy. Then he steeled himself to look again. "What about Galen? Your people haven't hurt him? Is he okay?"

She shivered. "The ape? He, too, is here, in another room. They have locked the door. In spite of what you said before you succumbed to the shock-sleep, they did not know that it was safe to do otherwise. Apes have tried to come here before, apes with weapons. Malik will question you before they consider freeing him."

"You haven't chained him up or anything like that?" Pete worried. He could imagine Galen's reaction to awakening in a locked room, let alone being bound or chained. How could he convince this woman and her people that Galen was not like other apes?

She stared at him in shock. "We would not do that, not even to an ape from outside. But we must protect ourselves from the world outside this valley. We do not allow them to come in here."

So Galen's rumors were true, that apes avoided the area. "Your force field or protection is really something. Does it always keep the apes away?"

A line deepened between her brows. "Force field? I do not know what that is."

"Whatever's out there that causes the 'shock sleep' can't be biological. It would have dispersed over the centuries, if it's airborne. Your people were out in it without protective breathing apparatus. So whatever it is, it can't be a toxin in the air. I thought maybe it was a force field that sent out energy waves."

He might have been speaking a foreign language. She shook her head. "I don't understand any of that. We wear the protective shoes when we cross it and we are safe. The apes do not know. We never allow them to see us in the protective shoes. You will not tell your...friend...of them."

Pete could understand humans' reactions to Galen in a world where apes presented a constant threat, where humans thrived at the whims of their overlords, but Galen didn't deserve suspicion, not when he'd been captured in the middle of a good deed. "It's not like Galen is going to rush off to tell Urko about you. Urko would kill him as soon as look at him. Galen won't try to hurt other apes, but he won't conspire with them, either. We've been traveling with him for maybe three quarters of a year, and he's never once betrayed us or let us down."

Her doubt didn't ease. "I know you believe that, but Malik must be cautious. Don't you understand that he has his people to protect?"

Pete saw that this Malik was probably not going to be very happy to have an ape thrust into his settlement. He'd better go and make sure it was okay. Grimacing, he pushed himself up to a sitting position, then he groaned and flopped down again as the room did a weird sashay. "Whoa!"

"It is too soon. The dizziness will slowly pass. For now, lie quietly, and someone will bring you nourishing broth."

He wondered if anybody would bother to feed Galen. Probably not. They'd just keep the door locked until they could make a decision. "Uh, listen, can't you put Galen, Alan and me together? Lock us all in, if you have to lock Galen in."

She blinked at him in astonishment. "You would be locked up for the ape's sake?"

"For my friend's sake," Pete corrected. "I don't know all apes, and a lot of them want to kill me, so I'm not real anxious to trust them, either. But I know this ape is honorable. Somebody I can trust. Both humans and apes are on his case. So ask them if we can all be together."

She gazed at him intently a long moment, then her face cleared. "I will speak to Malik," she said softly, and rose, one hand pressed to the swell of her belly. For an instant, a flutter of surprise crossed her face. "He kicks," she said in delight. "Already he fights. He will be a strong one, a leader of our people."

"Wait a second." He smiled at her engagingly. Alan would say it was a knee-jerk reaction for him to smile at a pretty girl, even one so obviously taken. "My name's Pete Burke. Who are you?"

She dimpled at the introduction. "I am Mirie. I will be quick." She whirled away as quickly as a woman so far advanced in her pregnancy could move, and closed the door behind her. As near as Pete could tell, it didn't even have a lock.

Once Mirie had gone, he sat up cautiously and propped himself against the headboard of the bed, and his fingers energetically massaged his temples. After a moment, the wooziness passed. Although he still felt weak and a little chilly from exertion, the walls no longer tried to trade places with each other. Clearly, he wasn't ready to search for Alan and Galen. That would have to wait. He wasn't sure if he'd convinced Mirie that Galen didn't deserve to be locked up. If only she'd let them all be together, so he could be sure that his friends really were all right. Hang in there, guys, he thought worriedly.

Was the effect that had knocked them out an old force field still in operation? A power current that ran beneath the floor of the valley? Whatever it was, the big rubber boots must insulate the wearers so they could pass through it unharmed. Force fields didn't really work like that, did they? It wasn't as if they'd been common at home when Pete, Alan, and Jonesy had set off for their flight and wound up so far in the future. Poor old Jonesy, dead in the crash of the Icarus, hadn't had to spend months pursued by unfriendly gorillas. But he didn't have a chance that, one day, he'd find a way home, either.

If Alan really was in a bad mood because of Christmas, Pete could understand it. He loved Christmas himself, but it wasn't the same for him as it was for Alan, the family man. Sometimes he had pulled a shift at Christmas so another officer with kids could have the day off. Other times, his current girlfriend would bring him to her family celebration. Being tagged on wasn't always the best way to celebrate the holidays. Last year, with the mission already in the planning stages, Alan had dragged him home with him for the day. Jonesy had spent the holiday with his own family. Alan's son Chris had been excited to have his dad's friend there, and it had been one of the better Christmases Pete could remember in recent years.

It would sure beat this one.

A stirring at the door heralded the return of Mirie, who led two burly men into the room. They supported a groggy Alan between them, and a third man followed bearing another cot. He spread it out and Mirie laid a pad on it before they stretched Alan out on it.

"Alan?"

His friend turned his head, then squeezed his eyes shut at the dizziness. "Pete? Oh, man, I feel crummy. Wh-what's going on?"

"We walked into some kind of force field," Pete said quickly. "These people rescued us." More explanations could come later when Virdon was more alert. He'd been exposed to it a little longer. Maybe it had taken him harder.

Mirie slipped her hand into the arm of the man who had brought the cot. He beamed at her with pride and love and hugged her to his side. "We will bring the ape, if that is your wish," he said. "But then we must guard the door until we are satisfied he will not harm us."

"He won't," Pete said quickly. "In all the time he's traveled with us, he's never harmed a human."

"Then he's different from every other ape I ever met out there." The man frowned. "I am Jessik. My father is headman of our settlement. He will speak with you soon. Come, Mirie, I would have you gone before they bring the ape."

She didn't change her expression at all, but stubbornness crept into her posture. "No, Jess. I want to see a good ape. Old Razzie always said that we would see wonders if we waited long enough. I have waited all these months." Her hands curled gently around her stomach. "And I would like to see a wonder before our son is born."

"If he tries to hurt you...." Jessik put himself between her and the door and braced himself to defend her.

Two men escorted Galen in. He wasn't bound, but one of them had a club and the other actually carried a rifle. Humans with weapons were a real rarity--it was forbidden--but this man handled it like a pro.

Galen spotted Virdon and Burke. Relief flowed over him and his eyes brightened. "Alan! Pete! Are you hurt? These humans would tell me nothing, and I feared the strange sensations might kill a human."

"We're coming out of it," Pete said quickly. "What about you? Are you all right?"

Galen blinked at him. "Well...no," he admitted reluctantly. "I'm dizzy. I feel sick. But it is improving. What happened to us? Was it the...biological medium you mentioned?"

"I don't think so. I don't know yet. Sit down, Galen, if you're dizzy."

The ape sat at the foot of Pete's cot. "Alan? Are you all right?"

Virdon groaned. "I feel like I just took a ride on the Vomit Comet."

Reminded of astronaut training, Pete grimaced in sympathy. "Mirie says it will pass." He nodded at the pregnant woman. "This is Mirie, and her husband Jessik. I haven't met these other people yet."

"They locked me up," Galen said reproachfully.

"They don't know you like we do." Pete grinned sympathetically at the ape. "But they saved us all. They didn't just bring Alan and me. That says something for them, don't you think?"

Galen hesitated.

"My father comes," Jessik said quickly, and a tall, thickset man of late middle years strode into the room. His clothing seemed to be of a finer weave than most human clothing in this world, and he wore an air of leadership that was obvious even to Galen. The chimpanzee stared at the human in surprise.

Alan pushed himself into a sitting position, his back against the wall. He closed his eyes for a moment to control the vertigo that Pete remembered all too well, then he opened them again. Galen studied him a second, then he went over and sat beside him, his shoulder against Virdon's to brace him up. Alan flashed him a quick, grateful smile. Mirie's eyes rounded.

"I am Malik, and this is my valley. I am the headman of these people and responsible for their safety. You--" and his eyes singled out Pete. "You claimed this ape was your friend and asked that we help him, too. Your claim was so unusual that we brought him with us instead of simply removing him beyond the wall as we always do. You will tell me how it is you come to travel with an ape." He frowned. "If I am not satisfied, we can still put him beyond the wall."

"This...wall...." Alan began slowly. He paused to massage his temples. "What is it, some kind of force field?"

Malik's eyes narrowed. "That is an ancient term. How do you know it?"

"How do you?" Virdon countered.

The headman's brow drew up. Pete half expected him to insist that only he asked questions here, the way Urko might, but he didn't. Instead he regarded Alan thoughtfully, as if he considered him a worthy opponent--or more likely, a source of knowledge. That he would deem knowledge of the past valuable made him pretty well unique among humans in this time. He had even violated custom when Pete had pleaded for Galen's safety, and he'd allowed the chimpanzee to be brought here with his friends instead of keeping him locked away. That spoke of an open mind, and it heartened Pete. He saw Alan's eyes narrow in concentration as he realized it.

"From the old literature," he said. Then he cast a suspicious glance at Galen. "He will not take my knowledge to Central City, to the Supreme Council?"

Galen frowned. "I am outlawed there. But even if I could take knowledge to them, they would reject it. I have seen them destroy evidence of human intellect without hesitation and then deny that it ever existed."

Malik's frown deepened. "That displeases you?"

"Knowledge should not be lost." He frowned. "Perhaps it should be introduced slowly, because there are always those who would resist and fear anything 'new' even if it is old. I know humans once ruled this planet and apes were no more than animals. But for me to say this to another ape would convict me of heresy, even of treason."

"For a human to say it to another ape would bring about the human's instant death." Malik glanced over at his son and daughter-in-law. "We are safe from apes here because of the wall. But one day you will return to the world beyond the wall. I would not have us endangered, so I will not at this time reveal how to pass the wall safely."

Pete remembered the strange boots the rescue party had worn. Obviously the 'wall' was an underground current of some nature. A scientific advance of humans developed after Virdon and Burke's mission?

"You speak of 'literature'." Alan seemed to have regained his equilibrium. "Do you mean old human books? We have seen such books once or twice. They're forbidden out there."

"We have some. We have...other means of knowledge that you would not understand."

Alan's eyes sharpened. "Computers?" he ventured.

Malik stared at him, then gazed at Pete. Finally he focused on Galen. "Do you know of computers? Is this common knowledge among the apes?"

Galen's face scrunched up in a frown. He darted a sidelong glance at Alan for permission to speak, then when Alan gave a brief nod, he said, "I saw a computer once. I didn't know what it was, but Alan and Pete knew. Alan said it contained much ancient knowledge. Apes destroyed it."

"You have working computers here?" Hope flared on Alan's face. Pete knew he'd held onto that magnetic disk that contained the flight log from their ship all this time in hopes of using its knowledge to find a way home. Now it seemed that hope might not have been futile, after all.

Malik hesitated. "I think that we will not answer all your questions yet. We know too little of you. You could have come here as a deception." He turned to Galen. "These two humans might be your servants, part of a plan to deceive us so that apes could come to our valley."

"They could...but they are not," Galen replied. He stood up as straight as an ape could stand and faced Malik's scrutiny. "I do not believe that humans should be involuntary servants. On occasion, Alan and Pete have been forced to pretend to be my servants for their safety, but we are friends and comrades, equals. They tell me that, where they come from, people may act as servants, for fair pay, and that it is not a form of slavery, but simply a profession. Still, I do not consider Alan and Pete beneath me, as your question implies. They are my friends, and for that friendship I have sacrificed the life I once lived, as a privileged ape."

The humans boggled at him. "I never heard an ape speak so," Jessik admitted. "Father, do you believe him?"

Malik gazed into Galen's eyes. "I think that perhaps I do," he admitted. "However, we will not instantly reveal our secrets. Trust must be earned. I would be a poor protector of our way of life if I yielded all to plausible strangers, and one of them an ape. I like what he says, humans and apes living together as equals."

"Your lifelong dream," his son said softly. "It will not come in our lifetime."

"But it might begin in our lifetime." Malik's gentle smile included Mirie. "Perhaps in my grandson's lifetime. If what you say is true, young chimpanzee, perhaps it is possible."

Pete wondered. Gorillas like Urko had one answer to the concept of change--stop it from happening. Urko himself was utterly resistant to new ideas, even if Zaius ordered him to deal with any. 'Shoot it if it moves' stood at the core to his philosophy. He'd have made a great member of the Ku Klux Klan or any other narrow-minded, destructive order. It proved that loud-voiced people with guns could do a million times more harm than good.

But there had been apes that had helped them, more than once. Galen's parents had helped them, even against his father's inclination. Galen's old girlfriend had helped them, too. There had been others, apes who were willing to look past the millennium of stereotyping and consider new options. A lot of humans only wanted to kill apes, too. The hatred wasn't limited to only one side. Some humans might not be able to see past that to any hope for a better future. Their idea of a better future would be the death of all apes, even reasonable, ethical apes like Galen. Maybe Malik was overly optimistic.

Yet such a movement had to start somewhere. Why not here?

Malik frowned. "There will be time to talk in the morning. You two--you three--need rest. The wall drains a man and takes away his energy. I will send replenishing drinks to you. You will sleep. In the morning, we will talk." He turned to Galen. "You speak fairly, but we have centuries of tradition and doubt to overcome. We will guard the door."

"It is not easy to overcome tradition," Galen admitted. "I have been doing it myself for some months, and even now I still pause in shock, and, occasionally, must fight an instinctive response. A part of me still insists that apes are superior, even though I daily see proof that this is not so. I understand. And I am grateful you allow me to be with my friends while you consider us."

"Well spoken," Malik replied. He gestured Jessik and Mirie to leave before him, and spoke in an undertone to the man with the rifle. They all left and the door closed, but Pete was pretty sure the rifleman waited outside for them to try anything.

Not that he felt well enough for anything yet.

The hot food came immediately, three bowls of hearty broth, and glasses that contained a tangy fruit drink. The three companions ate with pleasure and felt the effects of the wall fade further.

"Malik doesn't seem a bad sort," he said aloud as he set his bowl aside.

Alan was frowning, but it wasn't so much a return to his earlier mood as it was a result of his queasiness. He sipped the fruit drink; it tasted a lot like apple cider. "No. Pete, I think there are computers here. This might be the very place I've been hunting for. A way to help us return home." His eyes glowed with fervor.

Galen hesitated. He'd investigated the broth to make sure it was vegetarian before he'd taken a bite. "You think they have computers?"

"They have something. Whatever it was that hit us out there was technological. Malik called it the wall."

"Probably some type of force field to protect this valley," Pete offered. "They'd need a power source to run it. If it's still running this long after the war, it has to be big. If they have one of those hidden computer bases that were mentioned in that hologram we saw in the ruined city, then we might be able to find what we need."

"And then you'd go home?" Galen sounded rather forlorn, and it dawned on Pete that Galen must feel they were rushing to abandon him after he had sacrificed everything to throw in his lot with them.

"That's what we've always aimed for." Alan didn't notice Galen's crestfallen face. "To go home." Maybe not home for Christmas, but home to his family one day soon. His eyes shone.

"I know you don't belong in my world," Galen said sadly. "You know so much that the humans of my time have never learned, things I wish I could teach my people. They will not listen to me, though. They would silence me for any hint that humans once knew so much more than apes know now. They will not take me back...." His voice trailed off and he gazed wistfully around the room. The humans here hadn't brought in a third bed. They must expect Galen to sleep on the floor. Never mind the three of them usually slept on the ground. Denying Galen a bed wasn't fair.

The lost, unhappy expression on Galen's face disturbed Pete, even though Alan, caught up in his dreams of home, didn't see it. Pete went over and opened the door. The rifleman jerked to attention.

Hastily Pete spread his hands to prove his innocent intent. "I think you people forgot something. Where's Galen supposed to sleep?"

The man with the rifle wasn't much older than Jessik. He stared at Pete as if he'd requested a troupe of dancing girls, then he shook his head doubtfully. "Malik didn't think of it," he admitted. "We're not used to apes. None has ever visited here from beyond the wall." His eyes were a deep blue, and they seemed to darken in thought. "You're concerned for the ape's well-being?"

"He's our friend," Pete said simply. "Our brother."

Behind him, Galen made a faint sound of gratification at the term. Pete didn't turn to study his reaction but continued to hold the man's gaze.

"Bring him a bed, or I'll give him mine," he insisted.

"It will be done."

When Pete had pulled the door shut after him, Galen said quietly, "Thank you, Pete. That was kind of you."

"No, that was just the way things are supposed to be. If that Malik really dreams of a world where apes and men are brothers, then he has some conditioning to overcome. Might as well start now."

"You think that's where he's coming from?" asked Alan. He looked a lot better than he had when he'd been carried in--the meal had helped--but none of them were up to par yet. "Sure he just doesn't want to stomp out apes and put humans in charge?"

Pete hesitated. "I suppose that'd be tempting for any human in this time, after centuries of oppression. But maybe he does mean it. They don't kill apes who try to come here, remember? They put them outside the wall and let them recover. If they just left them in the force field, it would probably kill them. Galen, do apes die here?"

"There are only rumors of this place, but all they say is that apes cannot cross it without sickening, not that they die."

"They didn't hurt Galen. They brought him here when I said he was our friend." Pete wasn't sure exactly what this place was or what Malik really intended, but he could have abandoned Galen outside the 'wall' or he could have chained him. He hadn't done that, and he'd allowed them to be together only because Pete had requested it. What's more, Mirie, pregnant and vulnerable, had been in here with Pete without protection. "I think Malik's on the up and up. Maybe he has a few automatic prejudices, but it would be funny if he didn't. At least he's trying to overcome them."

"I hope he'll tell us more about the computers tomorrow," Alan said. He checked his belt pouch to feel for the magnetic disk from their doomed ship that he always carried. "Just think, Pete, a chance to go home."

Before Pete could reply, the door opened and Malik himself entered with a lightweight cot tucked under his arm. He manhandled it into the room and set it up between Alan's and Pete's beds.

"You shame me," he said to Pete. "Daron told me what you said, that the ape was your brother and that you would give up your own bed for him."

"I wouldn't have taken his bed," Galen said in a small voice.

"There was no need for such a sacrifice." The leader took a cot pad from the man who had followed him into the room and spread it on the bed. "I would be a poor emancipator if I denied freedom and equality to any, be he ape or human."

Galen blinked at him in surprise. "Pete said that maybe I could be an emancipator ape."

Malik smiled at him. The smile came so naturally and was so devoid of hypocrisy that Pete found himself believing the man's intentions. "Perhaps one day you and I may work together, Galen."

"Perhaps."

"That would be a good future, wouldn't it, Galen?" Alan asked.

Galen nodded. "Yes, perhaps."

"Sleep now," urged Malik. "You will all feel better in the morning. We have not seen apes' reactions to the wall before except from a distance, but I believe you will feel better too, Galen."

"Already I begin to," Galen agreed.

Malik smiled again and left them.

*****

Morning did restore both health and spirits. Pete awoke refreshed and hungry, and had his first real view of the room where he had spent the night. Too much had been happening last night to make the connection, but this place was not the typical rough human habitation but something left over from the old days, lovingly restored. There was even a light fixture in the ceiling, although it probably wouldn't work. Even if Malik's people had the power that ran the force field, they probably wouldn't have lightbulbs, and they wouldn't have the knowledge or the resources to create more.

Alan was nowhere in sight. His bed was empty. Maybe he'd gone out to find the bathroom or to hunt for breakfast. The door stood open, and the guy with the rifle had vanished. It didn't mean there weren't other guards out there to watch over Galen and make sure he didn't do anything to match most humans' stereotypes of apes, though.

Galen was awake already, sitting up on his bunk, the pallet neat beneath him, and his hands clasped one knee. The expression on his face was distant and abstracted, and rather sad.

"Galen?"

He jumped. "Oh. Pete. Good morning."

"You don't look like it's a very good one. You feeling okay, buddy?"

"I'm recovered from yesterday," Galen admitted. "But I have much to think about."

"Want to talk about it?"

Galen made a dismissive gesture, then he nodded at the door. "Alan went to find Malik. He wants to ask him about computers."

"Before breakfast?" Pete wasn't sure the questions might not alienate Malik.

"He is...impatient." Galen shrugged. "There is a room for washing through that door. It is...unlike any I have seen before."

Pete jumped up and went to investigate. Weird. A bathroom a lot like those he remembered from home. This must really have been a protected settlement. If humans had lived here ever since, they'd maintained it. A real flush toilet. A bathtub. Water faucets. He went over, fascinated, and turned on the tap. Real water came out. Hot water. With a sigh of hedonistic pleasure, Pete ran himself a hot bath. Towels, of the usual rough style in this world, had been placed on a shelf along with a bar of homemade soap. There was even a razor.

He poked his head out. "Galen, I'm going to take a bath."

The chimpanzee came over to the door. "You're going to get into that water?" He shuddered in distaste.

"And I'm going to love every second of it."

Galen backed away and left him to his incomprehensible human ritual.

When Pete emerged from the bathroom, clean and shaven, wearing the new clothes that he'd found waiting for him, he felt like a million dollars. All he needed was some aftershave and a decent comb to feel on top of the world.

Galen stared at him. "You look content. Is this the usual way of humans in your world?"

"Yeah, sort of. Not for every single human; some of them don't live much better than the ones the apes have enslaved. But this is familiar to me."

"No wonder you want to go home. Comfort and no pursuit."

"Hey, Galen, you're not afraid we'd leave you in the lurch?"

"What is a lurch?"

"Just another human saying. Yeah, we want to go home, but you're our friend. We'd make sure you were settled--or we'd take you home with us."

Galen drew back his head in surprise. "To a world ruled by humans, where apes are not intelligent? No thank you very much." He turned to stare out the window. It actually had a pane of glass in it.

Pete sighed. Galen had given up everything to help them, and now that there was hope of accessing a computer and maybe finding a way home, it must sound like they were going to take the money and run. He went up behind Galen and slung his arm around the ape's shoulders. "Come on, Galen, we won't run out on you. Yeah, we have to go home if we can, but if you don't want to come with us we'll make sure everything is okay for you before we go." He still didn't believe it was going to happen, no matter how determined Alan was.

Galen's shoulders stiffened under the arm. "How?"

Good question. They could hardly remove the price on Galen's head. He was too ethical to return to his people and publicly proclaim he had been mistaken about humans, that apes were superior, when he knew that both races were intelligent.

"I don't know, yet. But I don't really think we can go home, either."

"But this Christmas that means so much to you makes you want to go home more than ever. I am as far away from my home as you are in a way. Even if I return to Central City, it must be in secret." He shivered and suddenly leaned into Pete's arm. "I know it is not the same. This is still my world, and I can still see my parents with contrivance. We don't have Christmas, but we have days when it is hard to be apart. Yes, you and Alan must go home. And I will find a way to convince my people that they are wrong about humans."

Pete couldn't have been prouder of his friend. He must be so lonely for the companionship of other apes, all the friends who had turned on him after he espoused such a forbidden cause. "It's not going to happen today," he said quickly. "And these humans seem like good folks. Let them get used to you. It might be a starting point."

There was a knock at the door, and the two travelers saw Mirie in the doorway. "Will you come and take morning nourishment?" she asked. "Your friend has been up for several hours already."

In response, Pete's stomach growled. Mirie dimpled into smiles. "You are hungry. Come." She frowned briefly. "We have prepared you a vegetarian breakfast. That is the way of apes, is it not?"

Galen blinked. "You would do that for me?"

"You are our guest. Of course."

They followed her out of the room where they saw the guard that had been put in place, standing beside a chair. A book lay open on a table, suggesting the man might have filled in his time reading. Galen eyed it in surprise. Humans didn't often have books in this world, and any human books were usually locked away from common view. Zaius had a collection--he knew how much humans had once accomplished. But for a human to casually read a book was an oddity that made Galen's mouth twitch in surprise.

For the first time, Pete noticed the building. It might once have been a barracks or even an apartment complex, all on one level. Rooms branched off a very long corridor on both sides. They followed Mirie to the end of the hall and out the door, across to a second building that must serve as a community center. Pete stared in surprise to see that what had been a building from the pre-ape days had been restored and covered with outer walls that matched the appearance of a typical human structure, rough and homemade. It disguised the regular shape of the windows and recessed them so that the glass didn't show. An ape viewing the place from a distance might see the sun glaring off the glass, but unless he remarked on it, he wouldn't think the place more than another typical human settlement. Someone had been very clever.

Mirie led the way into a communal dining hall where a few of the locals still sat eating. "Most of us have gone to the daily work," the young woman explained. "Your friend Alan is with Malik. They talk of the old times. Your friend is impatient to learn what we know."

"Do you know of the old times when humans ruled?" Galen asked in surprise.

Her jaw dropped. "You admit this? I thought all apes denied that truth."

"I have come to see that it is truth," Galen admitted. "Although my people will never admit it."

Servers came and brought food on plates. Galen made a delighted sound at the sight of his meal, and he and Pete sat down to eat. Mirie went off to speak to a woman across the hall and left them to their meal.

They had barely begun to eat when Alan appeared. He was brimming with excitement, his face alight. "Pete! They've got one of those computers here, the kind we found out about in the ruined city. I thought they'd be further away, spread out across the world. Malik says he will take me to it this afternoon."

"And then you will go home?"

Alan's good humor was such that he suddenly heard the note in Galen's voice. He hesitated. "I don't suppose we can leave immediately. We don't have a ship, for one thing. And it's not like we'll be able to build one--there aren't any science labs here. But there may be a way, and that's what we'll find out." He cast a quick, questioning glance at Pete.

"Wondering what he'll do if we leave," Pete said in an undertone.

It was clear that until this moment, that had never occurred to Alan, any more than it had to Pete. They were so used to Galen being with them that it had seemed a permanent condition, the way it was meant to be. They lived a day-to-day existence here, survival their primary goal. As they traveled, Pete and Alan had talked occasionally about the good they might do, exposing both humans and apes to new concepts. They left behind them a trail of humans who understood more about the way life could be and apes who had undergone a raising of their consciousness. Of course they also left a lot of apes like Urko who would sooner shoot them out of hand than say hello.

"We'll work something out for you, Galen," Alan said quickly. "We won't leave you in the lurch. You have my word on it." He turned back to Pete. "If we can figure out a way to access our flight recorder disk, we might be able to understand what went wrong, what brought us here."

"You didn't tell Malik you were astronauts?" Galen asked worriedly in a much lower voice.

Alan shook his head. "No, just because he's got what we want, we still have to be careful. We agreed we'd keep that secret. You say this area has a bad reputation among apes. But sometimes, apes will foster the reputation. It's possible that these humans might be in cahoots with apes and are just luring us in."

"You think Mirie is luring us in?" Pete asked in surprise.

"She might not know. Or their safety might be involved. We don't know anything more about their values than what we were told." He sighed. "I want to trust them, Pete. I want to stop running and start doing something positive toward going home. But I won't risk our lives because it would be easier to trust someone."

"I'm sorry my world is so harsh," Galen said regretfully.

"You're running, too, Galen." Alan reached across the table and patted the ape's arm. "Sorry I was so grumpy yesterday. It was just...."

"Pete told me about your Christmas celebration," Galen admitted. "I would be sad to be away from my family at a special time, too. But you have Pete and you have me. We're not the same as your wife and son, but we are still your family."

Alan's face warmed. "Thank you, Galen. That means a lot to me. You too, Pete."

Galen broke the intensity of the moment. "But I still cannot understand why humans would want to put trees inside their homes."

"You told him about Christmas trees?" Alan grinned. "Come on, Galen, it was special. Christmas carols, turkey dinners, lots of programs on television. A Christmas Carol."

"You said carols twice. A carol is a song, isn't it?"

Pete smiled. "Yes, but A Christmas Carol was a famous story about a man who was stingy and heartless and hated Christmas, and how ghosts visited him and helped him see its true meaning."

"Ghosts!" squawked Galen, horrified. He cast an uneasy, superstitious glance over his shoulder as if he expected hordes of them to be sneaking up on the diners. "You tell stories about ghosts?"

"Lots of them. We enjoy them."

Galen wrinkled his brow. "Pete, sometimes I wonder if you humans are insane."

Pete waggled his fingers and made an eerie sound.

"You're teasing me." Galen sounded quite positive. "That's it, you're teasing me."

Alan's smile widened. "Yes, he is, Galen. There are people who claim they've encountered ghosts, but most people never see any, and they tend to think those who do are crazy. So you know about ghosts here?"

"Stories to frighten children." Galen relaxed. "I still don't believe you."

"Well, as long as we don't run into any, we're fine," Pete reassured him.

Malik came over to their table. "I thought I heard you mention Christmas. That was an old-time human celebration. We learned of it through old records, and we celebrate it here. Perhaps you know more of the old ways than we do and can help us add to it. Tomorrow is the day. We begin to celebrate tonight. You will, of course, stay and share it with us."

Alan stared at him, speechless, and it was left to Pete to grin easily. "We'd like to. We were thinking it was nearly Christmas, but we've lost track of the days."

"You know about this celebration, too?" Galen glanced around the hall. "I don't see any trees indoors."

"You know that much of the old ways? We found pictures of Christmas trees and we have some. We will adorn them this afternoon. Do you know any of the old songs?"

"I do," Alan replied. His face was abstracted. Probably thinking of his wife and little boy.

"I do, too," Pete agreed. "Galen isn't used to the idea. But then he thinks a lot of human customs are strange."

Still perplexed about the ghosts, Galen nodded emphatically. "That I do. But I am learning much."

"I never thought I would talk openly with an ape of the outside world." The village headman sat next to Alan. "It still makes me a touch uneasy. I have seen Urko."

"When?" Alan demanded sharply. "Recently?"

"No, I think it was several months ago. I had gone into Rindler--a nearby settlement--to trade our grapes for meats and poultry. Urko and his gorillas were there, searching for fugitives." He eyed them thoughtfully. "Two humans and an ape traveling together. The three of you, most likely. None would help him, of course." He smiled reassuringly. "Even though we had not met you then, we would not have helped him. Urko is not popular among humans. Only to save their own lives would any humans assist him."

"Is that a warning?" Alan asked warily.

Malik shook his head. "No. We are protected here. But even if Urko came, there are ways to conceal you, and no one here would aid the gorillas. I think that perhaps you have traveled from another settlement such as ours. There are more of them, this we know. Once there were ways for our computers to talk to the other sites, but no more."

"So you don't know where those sites are?"

"We know there was one in a ruined city not far away. We sometimes made secret journeys to visit it, although it has since been destroyed. But the others--they are impossibly far."

"We know about the one that was destroyed," Alan agreed. "We've been searching for the others ever since."

"This is the only one you will encounter without a journey of hundreds, perhaps thousands of miles. You two humans have knowledge that even I, who was raised here and initiated into the ancient ways as a boy, do not understand. We live simple lives here. There is not enough...power, is that the word? to live as the ancients lived. It is our duty to preserve the ancient knowledge as much as possible, and to know that, perhaps, one day, we can change the world. You said you knew, Galen, that humans once ruled this planet?"

"Yes, I do know that. I have seen remnants of many wonders. I cannot excuse my fellow apes for their treatment of humans, but I do know that most apes simply believe what they were taught to believe, as their parents were taught to believe. We are not all like Urko. But many of us are...unawakened."

"And it is convenient to have a servant class to wait on the apes," Malik said wryly.

Pete wasn't sure it was fair of the man to single Galen out to defend a way of life he had come to realize was wrong. But Malik must have realized that, too, because he shook his head. "No, Galen, I can tell that you do not feel that way. Your human friends stand by you, and that is good enough for me. Welcome to our settlement. I hope your meal was to your taste. We have some humans here who also like a vegetarian meal."

"It was good. Thank you."

"Now, perhaps the three of you would care to see our settlement." Malik gestured them toward the door.

They spent the morning exploring. Many of the buildings were remodeled from old human ruins or structures, and the new buildings were designed in the style of the world outside this place so that a casual observer--a gorilla from a hilltop, perhaps--would think this a typical settlement. The vineyards were extensive, but Malik simply pointed them out and led them on. "We trade with neighboring settlements," he said. "Some of our wines even go to Central City. I am told Doctor Zaius likes some of our full-bodied reds." He grinned ingratiatingly. "Perhaps this gives us a bit more leeway than most settlements."

"Still, it would be better if no apes suspected we were here," Alan said. "We don't want to bring trouble on you after you've helped us."

"You bring us an awakening," the headman said. "The proof that apes and humans can be friends and live together in peace. For this, we will risk much."

"You have to take them all as individuals," Alan said seriously. "When Urko and his gorillas are chasing us and shooting at us, it's pretty hard to be open-minded, but then I see Galen, facing the same risk as we do, and I remember other apes who have helped us, and I know that Urko's just a bad apple. The wrong kind of ape to have power."

"Power? Ah, yes. A weakness humans as well as apes share. I know something of ancient history. There were humans, young Galen, far worse than your Urko. Or maybe they just had more scope for their actions. Power is an insidious corrupter. Don't you forget that. You can destroy a good man with the temptation of power. But just remember, you cannot corrupt all men--or all apes, either." He laughed. "We grow serious. Come. I will show you our greatest asset."

Alan exchanged an excited glance with Pete. Maybe now they would see the computer.

But Malik instead led them to a building set against the side of a hill. It didn't appear very impressive, just another hut, but once inside, a light came on overhead, from an old power source, and it glowed softly. "In here," Malik said. "Galen, you will no doubt be shocked at what you see, but before you become angry, you will allow us to explain."

The surprise on Galen's face made Pete wonder if they were to see proof of ancient apes as zoo animals, like the poster for the San Francisco zoo with a picture of a caged gorilla that had infuriated Urko. But then he heard the sound of children's laughter ahead of them, and he exchanged a doubtful glance with Alan.

Malik threw open a door and ushered them into a large, bright room where children sat at tables, books open before them, and a teacher, a white-haired man with a tidy beard and a comfortable pot belly, glanced up curiously at the interruption.

There were twenty children at the tables, most of them no more than seven or eight years old. And five of them were chimpanzees.

"You said you had no apes here," Galen said in astonishment.

The ape children gaped at Galen in disbelief and edged closer to their human companions. The teacher arched bushy eyebrows. "Now, class, do not panic. This is Galen, whom I told you about. He is not to be feared but to be respected, for he is the hope of our future."

Galen couldn't have looked more astonished if the children had peeled off ape masks and become human. He turned to Malik. "Where do these young chimpanzees come from?"

"They were orphaned in a flood," Malik said in low tones. "We found them clinging to an overturned cart, frightened and hurt and nearly drowned. We sought their parents but could not find them. We asked in several settlements and found none searching them. So we brought them here to raise them with our children. They are part of our family." He lowered his voice. "This is why I was so angry at myself last night, when I did not think of your bed. These children and our own young are part of my great experiment, to raise human and ape children together, to love them equally. You see them together, brothers, as you and your two friends are. But children can be sweet, loving, and innocent, and grow to be hard and suspicious. While I have dreams of what many think an impossible future, your presence here proves it is not so impossible as I might have feared."

"Hi, kids," Alan greeted them, smiling at the children. He was good with kids. Pete had always known that sometimes the children they met reminded him of is own son.

"Hello," chorused the children, human and apes. One of the chimpanzees, the oldest, bobbed to his feet and put up a hand for the teacher. "Harda, Harda, may I speak?"

The old man nodded. "Yes, Donal. What is it you wish to say?"

Donal edged up to Galen, who squatted down to be at his level. "You are one of the outside apes? You are the one who is friends with humans?"

"Yes, Donal, that is so. These two humans are my friends."

Donal turned and made a face at one of the human boys. "See, Tonno, I told you. Grown-up apes can be good. Now take it back."

Tonno took a step closer to Galen, then another, then he reached out and poked Galen's arm.

"Yes, Tonno, I am real," Galen said, his muzzle crinkling with amusement. "And these two are my friends. This is Alan, and this is Pete. What are you studying today?"

"History," Harda explained. "Ancient history. There was a saying once, long, long ago, that those who did not learn the lessons of history were doomed to make the same mistakes. So we educate our young here to know all that went wrong. We do not understand it all, but perhaps you two, who lived when humans ruled, can tell us of the old days?"

Pete shot an alarmed glance at Alan, who frowned and turned to Malik.

"We know you are the astronauts who are sought by Urko and the Council," Malik said. "Who else could you be, two humans who know much of the ancient past and who travel with a chimpanzee? Last night I studied the ancient records. You are Colonel Alan Virdon and Major Peter Burke."

Alan tensed, then he launched himself at Malik and grabbed him by the arms. "Then you know if we ever made it home?" he demanded. "Tell me now."

Pete sucked in his breath. It had never occurred to him that the computers here would possess that knowledge. What if there was no record of their return home? Suppose they tried to return and wound up in a different time entirely, after the war that had put an end to human domination, in the Dark Ages, in the time of ancient Egypt? If the computer had no record, did that mean they would try and fail, or never even try? Alan had paled under his tan, and his jaw was tight. Obviously there was a record of their disappearance or Malik wouldn't have known their last names and their ranks.

Malik's face was intent and grave. "I did study the old records. But I did not study them far enough to record your ultimate fate. I know why you are here--when I searched the computer for information on astronauts and for your first names, I learned you had vanished. I honestly do not know if you were able to return home or not. I do not know how it is possible for you do not have a vessel to return in, and we do not know how to create them."

"Come on, Alan, you're scaring the kids," Pete said quickly. He caught hold of Alan's wrists and detached him from the headman.

"Sorry, kids." Alan glanced at them regretfully. They had bunched together around Harda, who had his arms around as many of them as he could encircle. "I didn't mean to scare you. I'm just a long way from home."

"So are we," said Donal. The little chimp smiled at his human teacher and his friends. "But this is a good place, a safe place. Don't be mad at Malik. He is a most kind human."

"I'm not mad at him, son. I'm not mad at all. I'm frustrated. Do you know what that means?"

"It's how Donal feels when Tonno takes the last melon at dinner," one of the older human children said with a big smile.

Donal and Tonno nudged each other and grinned.

"A little like that, yeah," Alan admitted. "I have a son about your age back home. I miss him. So I'm anxious to find a way home."

The children relaxed. "Does he have any ape friends?" Donal asked.

"Well, no, he doesn't. He's not as lucky as you children are. There aren't any ape children where I live."

"None at all?" the youngest girl asked. "No gorillas with guns, either?"

"Guns, but no gorillas with guns," Pete said quickly.

"Is it a good place?" asked another child, a little tow-headed boy. Of all of them, he probably was the most like Alan's son, although Chris was older and his hair was darker. Pete saw Alan register him, a flash of emotion, quickly suppressed, darting across his face. Pete patted his arm.

Alan knelt in front of the child. "Yes, it is a very good place, son. It's the kind of place Malik wants to make here."

Malik smiled gently. "We won't disturb your lessons any longer, children. You may see our visitors again tonight at the celebration. Come, gentlemen." He led them out of the classroom.

When they were out of earshot of the children, Galen said slowly, "If the Council knew you had ape children here, they would never stop trying to destroy you."

Malik nodded. "I know that. But I have so many hopes and these children are a part of them. They know that, one day, they will go out in the world."

"You're creating spies," Alan said thoughtfully.

"No, not spies, Virdon. Advocates of a new way of life. A great experiment."

Galen's face was melancholy. "I am an advocate of that way of life, and the Council has put a price on my head."

Malik nodded, and for the first time Pete saw the burden that weighed him down. "I know that. I hope that the years will prove kind, that your travels may even benefit my dreams as you expose more and more people--human and ape people both--to a wider vision. Urko will not live forever, and his successor may be more open. Neither will I force those children out into the outer world if they do not wish to go. But that is my dream, to spread my hopes for a peaceful world. Whether or not it will happen is for the fates to tell." He squared his shoulders, then he smiled. "We become too serious for the eve of the celebration. Tonight there will be dancing, singing, and merriment. But for now, I will take you to the computer."

Alan's face lit up with eagerness. He had always been the most vocal in his desire and determination to find a way home. Pete wanted to go, of course, but he had never believed it was possible. What could one supercomputer do? It couldn't build them a new ship, even if it might figure out what had happened to thrust them into the future. Without a ship to replace the one the apes had destroyed, how could such an event be recreated?

The computer was deep underground, in a well-concealed bunker. To reach it, they had to pass through a series of basement chambers, each more innocuous than the last, until they reached a room where wine was stored in racks upon racks that held dozens of bottles each. Malik went to the middle rack and reached up to press a concealed button. The rack lifted up out of the floor and pivoted to one side, revealing an opening just wide enough for a man to pass and steps that led down out of sight. As the rack clicked shut overhead, a light came on.

"Follow me." Malik led the way.

They went down three flights of stairs, each new flight concealed and opened by a hidden button. Finally, at the bottom, they came to a huge vault opening, as thick and formidable as Fort Knox. Malik spun the dials of the lock, positioned so that they could not read the numbers, then gestured for them to help him pull the heavy door open.

Alan's excitement was so intense Pete could almost taste it. He restrained himself from pushing past Malik to enter first with a visible effort. "This is it, Pete. This is what we've been searching for."

Galen's eyes grew enormous as he followed them into the chamber. He'd seen the computer room in the hidden city, but this one was bigger, even more 'modern'. Pete couldn't help wondering if there had been a pocket of scientists here that had managed to maintain and advance the place for a long time after the world had changed. Of course he wasn't quite sure how long it had been after he and Alan left that everything had fallen apart. Five hundred years? No more because Farrow's 'storybook' had contained a picture of New York in the year 2503. It wasn't as if the apes were the ideal historians. Pete and Alan knew it was 3085 because the ship's equipment had registered it after their crash landing.

"Good afternoon, Malik."

The voice came out of the air, with none of the mechanical tones of computers Pete was used to. Galen squeaked and jumped, his eyes huge as he searched the room.

"Good morning, ExTee." The headman turned to the astronauts. "Its designation is XT-387," he explained. When Galen continued to stare in incomprehension, he added, "The voice of the computer."

"It lives?"

"No, it responds in simulation of a human voice."

"It's not an artificial intelligence, Galen," Alan explained. "It's simply a very smart machine that is programmed to respond to certain stimuli. When someone enters, it is programmed to speak to them, and it must have a visual recognition code."

"Welcome," the computer continued. "I see you have an ape with you."

"It can see me!" Galen shifted nervously. "Will it attack?"

"It will defend itself if someone attacks it, but it will not attack unless you threaten it."

Galen stood very still. His imagination probably conjured up pictures of horrible computerized fates. Pete stood beside him. "Don't worry, Galen, it'll be okay."

"ExTee, these two humans are astronauts who come from your time or earlier. They wish to learn how to return," Malik said.

The computer hummed quietly to itself and banks of lights blinked. Galen's eyes were so wide Pete half expected them to pop right out of their sockets. "That information is not available without further data."

Alan dug into his belt pouch and produced the disk he had managed to protect through the months of pursuit and flight. "I have this," he said and held it out.

The lights flickered, then a tray slid open. "Insert your disk."

Practically trembling with excitement, Alan popped the disk into place. "This is it, Pete. This is what I've dreamed of." The tray withdrew into the machine, and it began to hum with energy as it processed data.

"Alan?" Galen's voice was soft. "I am very glad for you. I know how much you have dreamed of this moment."

The sentiment was very generous of the ape. Alan gave him a blazing grin, then returned his eyes to the main monitor screen where a series of endless figures and equations paraded before their eyes. Faster and faster the numbers ran.

"We should be printing this out," Pete realized. "Where...." He studied the computer.

"You wish 'hard copies'." The term was known to Malik, but known in the way something foreign and unlikely was recognized out of context. "In my grandfather's time, such a feature still existed, but since then, no more. The paper would emerge here." He pointed. "But it was very brittle and did not last. We do not have more."

That made sense. They had probably gone on using it sporadically over the centuries until the supply was gone. The computer they had located before had probably not been accessed as often.

"The computer will analyze the data and give us answers without that," Alan said positively. "We'll have it save the data and give us answers that way."

The computer spoke. "This data is intriguing. In order to return to the time this flight record was created would require a vessel identical to the one that was used to recreate the phenomenon."

Alan's face fell. "Computer, do you know if such vessels may exist in this world?"

"At the time there last was contact with external systems, one such vessel existed."

Pete felt his own eyes grow as wide and startled as Galen's. "Where is it?" he asked when Alan couldn't find the words to speak.

"That information is restricted. Without proper clearance, it cannot be revealed. State your clearance information."

Alan's face fell ludicrously. "Pete? What do you think? NASA? Houston? The Cape? Edwards?"

The two astronauts stared at each other. The ship surely couldn't still work after all this time? If it had been sealed away in a bunker, even a hangar, it might have some degree of preservation, but how could its systems have lasted? Could it be restored? Could its computers be reactivated? Where was the closest possible location? Had to be Edwards. If it was at the Cape, they'd never reach it. Who knew the condition of the rest of the world? They had only explored a small part of what had once been California, not far enough south or far enough inland to reach Edwards. They'd have to work their way in that general direction.

"State your passwords," the computer repeated with the toneless patience of a machine.

"I withdraw the request," Alan said quickly to stall for time. He quirked an eyebrow at Pete. "Any ideas?"

"I do not understand your question. Please state your questions with more precision."

"Computer, hold. Save data from disk and eject disk."

"Working." The computer hummed to itself, then it spit out the disk for Alan to retrieve. He returned it to his pouch.

"At least we know there's a chance," Pete reassured Virdon. He clapped him on the shoulder. "We'll let the computer analyze the process and detail instructions for us. Computer, process the data and determine a way to reverse the transition that was reported on the disk."

"Working." The computer hummed again, the tone quicker and slightly louder.

"That might take time," Pete said.

"For a computer?" He caught himself. "Well, yeah, obviously the process is outside of the computer's programming. Computer. When you have the required data, save it and code it to be retrieved by Virdon, Alan, or Burke, Peter."

"Confirmed." The computer went on humming, unconcerned.

"That's it for now," Alan said. "Malik, I can't thank you enough. Is there anything we can do to help your settlement to make up for this computer time?"

"There are always chores that need doing around here. Or you can help us with the Christmas decorations. We might enjoy hearing more about how Christmas was celebrated in your time."

"A very strange holiday," Galen chipped in. "I still don't understand it."

"A lot of people in my time didn't always understand it, either," Pete told him. "But it was still special."

*****

As he watched Alan interact with the people of Malik's settlement as they gathered in the building where meals were served, Pete admitted to himself that this Christmas might be a lot more special than he had dared to hope. He hadn't been as down about the holiday as Alan had, but he hadn't been happy about spending it in the apes' world, either. Watching Alan throw himself into the event, he smiled. Alan had hope that there was a way home if the computer could solve their problems--and if the ship they sought was at Edwards. They could reach the area in a reasonable time unless it wasn't in a protected, guarded Forbidden Zone-assuming the Air Force Base hadn't been destroyed in the war or scavenged afterwards, and that it had still functioned for centuries after Alan and Pete had been thrust into the future. Technical equipment and planes might represent to the early apes the humans they hated. They might have destroyed everything they could find or access. Later apes, ones like Urko who refused to believe humans could accomplish anything except servitude, would automatically destroy any artifacts that might prove humans had ever been more advanced than apes, and fail to realize that if there were artifacts to destroy, then there had been a civilization to produce them.

It felt good to see Alan opening up like this. He'd always been more driven than Pete to find a way home, but this secret place with such hopes for an ideal future appealed to the dreamer buried deep within Alan. A practical, driven man, Virdon. Watching him laugh with the children, both human and ape, warmed a cold place inside Pete.

"He is very good with the children," Galen said to Pete as the gathering throng whirled them together.

"He's loving this. I just hope that when it's all over he doesn't remember how much he's missing back home, whether he's been declared dead, whether his wife is finding someone else, whether his son is forgetting him."

Galen's face puckered with distress. "Poor Alan. To be separated from his wife and child.... I'm glad we are here now. This is the closest he will come to what he has lost, I think."

They stood side by side and watched Alan give the little blond boy a ride on his shoulders in a circle around the huge Christmas tree. The children had made a paper star to sit atop it, and Alan held the child up, laughing, to fix it in place. Malik watched him, smiling to himself, although his eyes were serious.

A minute later, Jessik approached his father, tapped him on the shoulder, and whispered something in his ear. Malik stiffened, then he nodded curtly and whirled. Pete's eyes narrowed. Were there gorillas gathering outside the 'wall'? Or was it some community matter that had nothing to do with the three travelers? On instinct, he said to Galen, "Be right back," and trailed Malik at a discreet distance. Jessik, who had not followed his father, smiled at him as they encountered each other in the crowd, then he went across the room to his wife, who sat ensconced in a comfortable chair near the Christmas tree. She put up her hand to him, and he pressed it against his cheek. Pete remembered a manger scene from his childhood, one that had posed each night with live actors. The woman who had played the Virgin Mary had looked a lot like Mirie. If she had the baby on Christmas.... Malik's hope of the future....

He lost track of the headman, but he kept going through corridors in the community center. Night had fallen as the people of the settlement had prepared for the holiday, and the windows he passed revealed only darkness. He was just about ready to admit he'd lost the man, or that he'd gone to deal with some local domestic problem when he heard him speaking.

"You warn me of this danger?" Malik's voice was steady, but disbelief rang through it.

The other voice was fainter, filtered as if it were coming in over a telephone line. "You know of our bargain, Malik. You violate it by sheltering fugitives. You must send them out away from there, or I will have to release Urko to attack you."

Pete stiffened as if he had been dealt a sucker punch. That sounded like Zaius's voice. Zaius had a bargain with Malik? The headman had mentioned that Zaius liked the community's red wines. How could Malik have known that if there was no connection? Pete's scalp tightened.

"I have lived by your agreement. We did not know who we had at first. They will go in the morning. I guarantee it. Hold Urko away from us, or I will see that he knows of our agreement."

"Mutual suspicion is a fine way to hold to an agreement, Malik." Zaius's voice was tight. Pete wasn't surprised that Zaius knew of a means of communication with this community. He wouldn't want it known, not proof of human achievement, but it was odd he hadn't insisted it be destroyed. Surely the 'wall' wouldn't keep out a hundred gorillas on horseback. Some of them were bound to break through.

"I do not trust you any more than you trust me. But I will not violate our agreement. I have too much at stake to do less. And if the Council knew of our agreement, you would be removed from power and executed. So allow us our night of human celebration, then I will send the fugitives away. If Urko catches them, so be it, but I will strive to prevent that."

"Urko will do as I command. However, if he sees them, he will apprehend them or kill them."

"I understand." It was as if a hidden message had been relayed. "In the morning, they will go."

"Urko suspects they have hidden in the region. He may believe the foul air has killed them. His gorillas will not cross the perimeter. They will guard it, however."

"I understand." Again, another concealed message. Pete's jaw tightened. He had to warn Alan and Galen. How the hell could they cross the wall without help from Malik? Even if they could, Urko was waiting out there. For some reason, Zaius protected this settlement. But he couldn't do it indefinitely, not if the fugitives remained. Did anyone else on the Council know of this, or was this Zaius's pet project? Maybe even the ape children had a part in it.

"Then we understand each other." Zaius's voice was taut and angry. "I do not like dealing with humans, Malik, even ones such as you who can see beyond the present. But the time is far from right for our alliance to be known. I will rely upon you to abide by my wishes."

"Tomorrow, Zaius." A click of sound broke the long-distance connection. Pete hesitated. Should he confront Malik? Go for Alan and Galen? Run before Urko could surround the area? If they ran, how could they cross the 'wall' without help?

"Father!" Jessik's desperate cry cut through Pete's desperate musing. There was no time to conceal himself before the headman emerged from his office in response to the frantic cry. Maybe the gorillas had been sighted.

Malik saw Pete and knew just from one glance at him that he had been overheard. A flurry of emotions passed across his face, but he shrugged them aside in the face of his son's distress. "Wait, please, Burke. Son?"

"It's Mirie's time, and something is wrong."

"Wrong? Wrong how?"

"The birthing woman says the babe is not positioned right. She fears Mirie and the child will both die."

"What, a breech birth?" Pete asked quickly.

"You know of such things?" Father and son turned hopeful eyes upon him.

Pete spread his hands regretfully. "No, I don't know how to help. I just know what it's called when the baby is turned around wrong." Poor Mirie, so young and sweet, so eager for the child. The news almost pushed the threat they faced from his mind. He knew Malik had pleaded for one more night. Did he mean to help them escape? How much of what he had said had been true, and how much what he thought they wanted to hear? Did Zaius know about the ape children? Pete's thoughts ran together in a jumble in his head. "Can the computer help?" he concluded. "Will it have records about problem births?"

"The birthing woman knows what to do," Jessik said hastily, his eyes brimming with desperation. "She just is uncertain whether it will help. Father, come."

Malik eyed his son, his face full of pain. Then he caught Pete's eye. "You are not in peril here," he said soberly. "I give you my word of this. I have meant everything I said to you and your two friends."

He sounded like he was sincere, but Pete couldn't take chances with their lives. "I'll have to tell Alan and Galen," he said as they headed for the main room.

"Yes. We will help you. This is my promise. I will not allow Urko to take you."

That startled Jessik out of his desperation long enough for his face to darken. "Father, is Urko out there? I have heard no warning."

"Not yet, but he will come. He pursues our guests, but we will spirit them away as we have done others." He turned to Pete and caught his arm. "Trust me now, until we know the fate of Mirie and my grandson--for I know it will be a boy."

"They have to live," Jessik cried and ran ahead.

Pete confronted Malik. "You set us up," he accused.

"No, son." Malik gripped Pete's arm tightly. "Perhaps if you will trust me, I can explain the strange alliance you overheard. It is one of self-interest on both parts, and perhaps we deceive each other, but it serves, for now. Do not upset my people. They know nothing of this, only that they are safe here."

Pete remembered the happy laughter of the children, both human and ape, who played together in harmony. Another proof that bigotry must be taught. The adults in this community had been taught, but they were trying to unlearn. The children knew no such prejudice. Pete remembered how several of the human children had hung on Galen, pelting him with excited questions, and the way the chimpanzee's face had warmed at the delighted attention. Human children usually feared him automatically. To see these youngsters clinging to him without fear--and to know that their parents did not intervene and draw them away--was reason for Pete to wait a short while. He couldn't trust Malik, not after what he had heard. But he didn't think the man would turn on them while the fate of his daughter-in-law and unborn grandson was at stake.

"I'll tell Alan and Galen what I heard," he said. "But I won't do it so your people hear."

"Thank you." Malik squeezed his arm and freed it, then he strode ahead, and Pete followed him.

Mirie had been carried to an alcove in the corner of the room and draperies had been hung about it to give her privacy. Galen hovered helplessly nearby, his face concerned, while Alan tried to distract the children with a game. Two of the children's mothers helped him. When Pete followed Malik into the room, Alan glanced at him, then his eyes narrowed as he registered Pete's expression. He said something to the little tow-headed boy in an undertone and detached himself from him so he could hurry to meet his fellow astronaut.

"Pete?"

Burke guided him off to a corner away from the people of the settlement. "We've got problems. I'm not sure what it's all about, but Malik has some deal going with Zaius. He was using his equipment to put through a long-distance call to him."

"What!" The shock and anger on his face drew Galen to them like a signal flare. He hurried over, eyes wide.

"Is something wrong?"

"Pete says Malik is in contact with Zaius."

Galen gasped. "Oh, no. We must leave here at once."

"Malik says it's not what I thought. And it did sound like whatever bargain they had going would protect us. Zaius said he'd hold Urko off, but that if Urko caught us it would be out of his control. It was like he was giving an ultimatum."

Eyes huge, Galen leaned closer. "You could hear his voice from far away?"

"Something to do with the computer," Pete said quickly. "Which makes me think that maybe Zaius has access to a lot more human technology than we thought he did."

"The Council knows nothing of this," the chimpanzee said darkly. "I am sure my father does not know of it. If he did, he would not be so skeptical of human abilities. He is a good man, my father, but he is a product of his civilization." He brushed that away. "What do we do?"

"Malik bargained for the night, but I think we should leave before morning." Pete didn't want to tear Alan away from the Christmas celebration, but their survival was more important.

Alan's face was grave, but at Pete's words, he nodded tautly. Desolation crept into his eyes, and Pete realized what it was, not only the loss of the holiday but the loss of hope, for surely there wouldn't be time to get more information from the computer, not when it couldn't print out a hard copy for them to take with them.

Pete gripped Alan's shoulders and squeezed them. "I'm sorry, Al. I wish we could have had it different."

"Yeah." Alan's voice was tight and repressive, but his eyes acknowledged Pete's sympathy. They gazed at each other, then included Galen in the regrets of the moment.

The room's tensions bled through, and Alan squared his shoulders. "I'm going to help keep those kids occupied," he said. "No matter what Malik's game is, those kids really do believe in equality between men and apes. The adults might be able to pretend, but not those kids."

"You mean this 'deal' might be a means for Malik to ensure protection?" Galen sounded disbelieving, but he glanced around the community, and saw the worry on the faces of everyone as they waited for the results from behind the curtain. Jessik stood near the opening, his father's arm around his shoulders. His face was twisted, and he gnawed his bottom lip. All color had bled from his face. Malik was grim, helpless frustration shadowing his eyes.

"It sounded like that," Pete admitted. "At first, I just thought we'd been set up, but now I'm not so sure. Our coming here may have jeopardized his scheme to protect his people. It's like he was using Zaius."

"Zaius would have been using him," Galen protested. "Don't forget, Pete, Zaius is a politician. Allowing this settlement to continue behind its 'wall' might be a...what do you call it? A contingency plan?"

"But what kind of contingency plan?" Alan's face was tight. "It has to be more than the fact that Zaius likes the wine they produce here. If he knows that ape children are here, you'd think he'd be breaking down the 'wall' with an army of gorillas."

"He wouldn't know how, would he?" Galen countered. "I never heard of such a thing before."

"We know Urko has ancient human books," Alan reminded him. "What else might he have access to? Maybe he wants what they have here, but remember, he doesn't necessarily understand it. He might be biding his time until he can take over."

"He might even want to know what happens when humans and apes are raised together." Galen glanced over at the curtain and the knot of worried humans then back again. "He might let the experiment run and then find a way to twist the results for his own purposes."

That theory made sense to Pete, who was convinced that Zaius was a real opportunist. His control over Urko was precarious, especially from so far away. Urko might override any restrictions and later claim that the situation had been so urgent that there had been no time to contact Zaius.

Which meant they had to get out of here tonight.

The midwife emerged from the curtained-off alcove and spoke to Malik in a low voice. Jessik leaned in, his face full of alarm. After a moment, Malik strode purposefully out of the room, and the midwife returned to her patient.

The little tow-headed boy came over and tugged at Alan's arm. He shrugged and went with the child over to a corner opposite Mirie's alcove. Pete heard the ape child Donal ask, "Tell us a story."

Alan smiled at the children, then he said, "I'll tell you a very old story about a human named Scrooge. It won't scare you if I tell you a ghost story, will it?"

The children bunched closer. "It might scare Marra," Tonno said with a scornful glance at a girl who looked enough like him to be his sister.

She made a face at him. "Won't. Tell us, Alan." Their faces alight with interest, the children gazed expectantly at Alan.

Virdon's tension melted. He needed this, especially now. "All right. I don't remember all the exact words, but it begins something like this. 'Marley was dead to begin with. You have to remember that or nothing wonderful will come of this story.' Marley was another human, you see, and he and Scrooge had a business together, counting money."

"Humans had money?" Donal asked in surprise.

"Yes, Donal, in this long, long ago time, humans had money." Alan glanced over at Pete and Galen, smiled briefly, and returned to the story.

"Excuse me, Pete, but I think I would like to hear this story, too." Galen hurried to join the children, and Pete noticed one or two of the adults migrating closer, too. He would have liked to listen to Alan's rendition of A Christmas Carol himself, but someone had to keep watch, so he nodded to Alan to indicate that he would consider himself on guard duty and left his friend to enjoy what little he could salvage of the holiday.

Malik returned with an old book tucked under his arm. He hurried over to pass it to the midwife, and the two of them bent their heads over it. It dawned on Pete that perhaps the midwife couldn't read, but Malik could. After a few moments, the woman asked a quick question while Jessik hovered uneasily, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. Malik flipped several pages and read something out loud. The woman nodded eagerly, then she retreated behind the curtain.

"A knocker?" came Alan's voice. "It's a device that's fastened onto a door, made of metal. You use it to knock loudly. Old fashioned human homes had them. But this door knocker suddenly looked like Jacob Marley's face. Scrooge was not a nervous man, but he did not like the sight of it. So he pretended he was not alarmed. A second later, it was a knocker again, and he went inside to have his dinner."

Malik gave the book to his son, and joined Pete. "I have hope that we will save my son's wife and his child. The book is made of information from the computer that my father's father's father made many years ago. He asked for helpful information. Some things ExTee will not tell us without mysterious passwords that we do not know, but it will give general information freely. Often have we used that information in the making of our wines, in recipes for foodstuffs, for soaps, for the spinning of fine woolens. We trade goods. That was how it began with Zaius. He knows we have secrets in here, but he values our goods."

"You mean he protects you because you give him good clothes and wines?" Pete frowned. "Give me a break!"

"No, it is more, I think. He knows of our experiment. He learned that we had asked about missing ape children and he demanded to know what we did with them, did we hold them as hostages for ransom? I explained that we raised them with our children and that they were well fed and clothed, and loved."

"And that made him happy? Come on, the guy hates humans. The last thing he'd ever want would be for apes and humans to mingle like that."

"I did not want to turn the children over to him; this experiment is my dream, the proof of my ambitions and goals. But he did not ask for them back. I realize he may have other intentions, something to hold over us, perhaps, or the conviction that the experiment will fail and he will be able to tell the Council, should they ever express benevolence toward humans, that such an experiment had been tried under his guidance and that it failed."

"And since nobody knew he knew about it, if the story came out, he could pretend shock and use it as an excuse to invade the valley," Pete realized. It did make a crazy kind of sense. Zaius knew humans were not inferior to apes. He just didn't admit it, sometimes not even to himself.

"There is a secret way to leave the valley," Malik said softly. "An underground passage. Zaius may suspect we have such a way out, but he does not know where it is. Urko can't come in without risking the wall, and he would never find the way through the tunnel system, even if he discovered the other end. In the middle of the night, I will personally guide you to safety through the passage. If Urko crosses the wall, then we will hide the ape children and he may search in vain. He will not find ExTee, or the children--or the three of you. Urko will then pretend that he always meant to obey the command of Zaius."

"Yeah." Pete could see that. He wanted to believe this man, who was making the best of a bad situation, but he had to stay on guard.

"We were not sure of you when you came, with Galen. But he proves to the settlement that there is hope for apes and humans together."

They both turned to study Galen, who listened, mouth open in amazement as Alan related the experiences of Scrooge with the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the family of Bob Cratchitt. Alan had fallen into the rhythm of the old story, and Pete was sure that there were sections of the book he was retelling word for word. Maybe he had read it to Chris each Christmas. He'd done so last year, when Pete was staying with them. They'd taken turns reading to the little boy, and then they'd watched the movie on TV.

Pete and Malik listened to the story for a few minutes, Pete with a nostalgia that awakened in him a longing for home, and Malik with a sense of wonder as he heard the old tale.

"I like your Galen," Malik said quietly after some quiet contemplation.

Pete smiled. "So do we."

"If you ever find a way to go home and you cannot take him with you, bring him here to us and we will make a place for him here."

Donal leaned trustingly against Galen on one side, and Tonno crowded in on the other. Alan had the little tow-headed boy on his lap. The ghosts weren't scaring the children. And Galen, for all his earlier shock at the very concept, didn't seem remotely alarmed, just fascinated at this glimpse of long-ago life. He looked happy. Poor Galen, outcast from his own kind, accepted nowhere except with Pete and Alan, although one or two old friends had briefly welcomed him, had found acceptance here, too. If he and Alan could ever go home--and Pete didn't really believe it could happen--he'd make sure they offered Galen the choice of returning here, if he chose not to go with them into his past. Until then, or until Alan faced the truth that home was gone forever, Pete would stand up for both his friends.

"I'll tell him," Pete agreed. "But I don't know if we will ever make it home." He could never say that to Alan, who held onto hope as tightly as he held onto the disk. He'd tried at first, and Alan hadn't listened, so Pete had finally let it go. He couldn't take his friend's hope away; he could only stand by him and encourage him, prepared to be there if Alan should ever despair. Just as he could only offer Galen his unstinting friendship and the choice of what he wanted to do if the time should ever come for them to separate. Like Alan, Galen had become family and it was hard to imagine life without him. Tonight, his family was together for Christmas, no matter what might happen in the morning.

Conscious of Pete's eyes on him, Alan lifted his eyes to study Pete's face for a long moment as he went on with his story. He must have read some of Pete's thoughts there, or maybe he was just caught up in the moment, because his rare happy smile blazed out. It made Galen smile in turn, and Pete beamed at both of them.

I hope you're not leading us on, Malik, he thought. Because, damn it, I believe you. But if you should hurt my friends.... He left the threat unvoiced. Malik had to realize how strong the travelers' friendship was. What worried Pete most was that Malik was bound to put his grand scheme before the survival of three chance-met strangers. If Zaius demanded they be turned over to Urko in return for the freedom to continue his experiment, Malik would probably go for it.

The weight of the world upon his shoulders, Pete watched Alan describe the spookiness of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. The children shivered with a delighted uneasiness and reveled in the ominous specter. Proved that kids were alike everywhere.

I'll give him time to finish the story, he decided. Maybe we'll know about Mirie by then.

In the end, it was as if Alan had timed it. His wide-eyed audience included most of the colony's adults by the time Scrooge flung open his window and called down to the passing boy to find out what day it was and then send him to the poultry shop to buy the Christmas goose for Bob Cratchitt. He'd just finished up with Tiny Tim's "God Bless us, every one," and presumably explained the concept of God somewhere in the course of the story since it didn't evoke blank incomprehension from any of them, when from behind the curtain came the cry of a newborn baby.

"Mirie!" screeched Jessik and pushed his way into the alcove. His father hurried to join them.

A few minutes later the midwife came out. She might be utterly drained and weary, but the child she held in her arms was crying lustily. "A boy. Both live," she cried triumphantly. "Both survive."

A wild cheer rang through the room and the children darted away from Alan to run to their parents. Pete made his way over to Alan and Galen.

"I am glad the child and mother live," Galen said with a smile. "I feared all would go poorly. The vet did not seem to know what to do."

"The midwife," Pete corrected with a grin. "Vets are for animals, Galen."

Chagrin flashed across the ape's face and he wrinkled his muzzle. "I know that, but it is what they call those who treat humans. I can't change the name."

"At least there are some who try to help humans," Alan placated. "And remember, they know more here than most settlements. I wish there was a way to share that knowledge with all humans."

Pete cocked his head to study his friend. If Alan ever accepted that they could never go home, a cause like that might give him purpose. "We'll just have to share the word as we travel," he said with a grin. "You know, like a Traveling Medicine Show."

"Turn into quacks?" Alan returned the grin.

"Quacks?" Galen echoed disbelievingly, tilting his head as he considered the odd word. "What are...quacks?"

"They're fake doctors, Galen," Pete told him. "They pretend to know a lot. Medicine shows used to travel around the Old West, and they'd sell bottles of magic cure-alls that were probably mostly whiskey. That'd deaden the pain all right."

Alan frowned. "I saw you talking to Malik. Anything new?"

"There's a secret way out of the valley. Malik will show it to us in the middle of the night."

"I hope it doesn't lead right to Urko."

"I don't think it will, Al. I think he wants to protect us. He just has to protect his settlement and his dreams first. If it comes right down to it, I think he'd give us up to protect them. He'd hate himself for it, but he'd do it."

"Opportunist," said Alan sourly.

"Desperate idealist," Galen corrected. "He must protect the children first. We should go from here."

"And so you will." Malik joined them. "Soon. But now we will celebrate the child's birth. I have directed that the candles be lit and the feast begin. Share it with us, so that you can go on your way fed, and remember us with some kindness."

"What about the report on my disk? And the computer?" That was Alan, single-minded.

"I will take you to learn what you can before we depart and you may question ExTee."

It was the best offer Alan would get, and he knew it. Even for the chance of home, he wouldn't endanger an entire settlement. He nodded.

The servers carried food in on platters, huge roast fowl, baked tubers, greenstuffs, hearty punch and ales, savory spices, until the tables were laden. Pete found himself sitting between Alan and Galen, with Malik across the table from them. There was plenty of vegetarian food to satisfy Galen, and the fowl tasted a lot like goose. Pete and Alan hadn't eaten this well since they left their own time. He couldn't finish everything on his plate. His stomach must have shrunk.

"Probably because we cut the junk food," he muttered to himself.

"Junk food?" echoed Galen, overhearing him. "How can food be junk?"

"Because it's not nutritional," Pete replied. "But it tastes good. Like chocolate. Candy bars, fudge with nuts in it, hot cocoa, chocolate cake." He glanced over at Malik. "I don't suppose you know about chocolate."

"I know the term. We have none, though."

"Figures." Pete heaved a regretful sigh. But then, on top of all this, he wouldn't have had room for anything more, even if they carried out freshly baked pumpkin pie with a scoop of ice cream on top. Pleasantly sated, he pushed his chair back a little. All it needed now was a television set so they could watch a football game. It wasn't as if Santa Claus would pop in down the chimney and hand out gifts. He glanced over involuntarily at the big fireplace on the far wall. If anybody popped in unexpectedly, it would probably be Urko, who was sure to be out there fuming on the other side of the wall.

When the meal was finished and the plates cleared away, Pete and Alan exchanged a glance. Time was running out. Before Alan could say anything, the midwife swept aside the curtain and revealed Mirie, cleaned up and tidy in a big chair, a blanket over her lap, the child in her arms. Her face was utterly radiant, and her husband sat beside her in the chair, his arm around her shoulders, relieved and proud.

"It is the time of naming," he said. "Mirie and I have chosen a name for our son."

Silence fell. Must be a local ritual.

"The babe is always named after the parents have spent time with him to bond with him in love," Malik explained softly to the three travelers. "This has been our custom for time out of mind." He stood up and went over to them. One hand on his son's shoulder and the other on his daughter-in-law's, he asked, "What name have you chosen for our newest community brother?"

Mirie looked up at him, then her eyes traveled past him to the three fugitives. "We will call him Galen," she proclaimed, "after our ape visitor who has proven to be kind and worthy and a symbol for our people."

"Me?" Galen blurted, his face stunned. Pete saw his eyes glitter with suspicious brightness at the honor. "Well, goodness. I never thought...to have the baby named for me." He cleared his throat. "Thank you."

"Well spoken," Malik said to him. "Well spoken. Welcome, Galen. Both Galens."

The crowed cheered.

Pete gave Galen a friendly nudge. "Way to go, buddy. Just don't get above yourself over it."

"Above myself?" Galen glanced up involuntarily as if he expected to see a copy of himself floating in midair.

"He means, don't get a swelled head," Alan teased him.

Poor Galen felt his head warily. "It's the same size it always is. Must you always talk in riddles?"

"Yep," Pete said with a grin. Even with the threat of Urko hanging over them, he felt good. Tomorrow they'd be on the road again, fugitives once more, but for the moment, he savored the feel of the community's unity, and the friendship he shared with Alan and Galen. Getting a little sentimental here, Burke? Oh well, it was Christmas. Sentiment was allowed.

"Now it is time for the singing," Malik announced. He embraced first his son and then Mirie, then he turned to the community. "What shall we have first?"

Someone started to sing in a clear, pure tenor, "God rest ye merry gentlemen," and everyone joined in. Alan at once threw himself into the singing, and Pete hesitated, then he joined in, too. Maybe these folks wouldn't understand what the songs meant, but they knew that they were a holiday tradition and they struggled to preserve it. They had the melody a little wrong, and a few of the words had altered, but it was close enough.

The children gathered together and threw their hearts into it, along with their piercing trebles. Pete saw Alan watching them as even the ape children joined in lustily and raised their voices in honor of an ancient human holiday.

Alan taught them a couple of new hymns and even a few more secular ones like Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire. Of course he had to stop and explain about Jack Frost and mistletoe, but he was so good with the children's questions. Malik beamed on them heartily.

Pete's eyes traveled around the big room. There was so much happiness there, a quiet joy. Over in her corner, Mirie nursed the baby, her face radiant. It was no surprise to Pete that Alan's next song was Silent Night. Somehow it seemed right that the people of the settlement knew and loved that song, too.

"All is calm, all is bright...."

Maybe it was only calm on Zaius's sufferance, but it was still Christmas, still a special moment. Tomorrow they'd be on the run again, but for now, this felt right.

"Pete?" It was Galen, at his side.

"It's special, isn't it, Galen?" he asked, for once foregoing a smart quip to cover his emotions. He draped a comradely arm around the chimpanzee's shoulders.

"I am very glad I am here tonight."

"You know what, Galen? So am I."

Alan and Malik went off together a little while later, and were gone for half an hour. When they returned, Alan had changed into his usual clothes, and had his pack with him.

"You and Galen get ready, Pete. Malik is going to show us how to leave the valley now."

The joy he'd displayed so eagerly when surrounded by the children had vanished and he was all business again. Pete couldn't tell from his face if he'd learned anything from ExTee or not, but there was no burning drive in his face, only quiet regret. So maybe it had come to nothing. Pete caught Galen's eye and glanced at Alan, and Galen nodded. They went to fetch their things.

The passage out of the valley began under the floor of the classroom. The school had been built right up against the side of a hill, so perhaps that made sense. A concealed trapdoor lifted when Malik pushed a button on the wall beside the fireplace. He led them down a flight of steps into darkness, carrying a flaming torch to light the way. When the trapdoor sealed overhead, he used the flame of his torch to light another one that sat in a sconce near the tunnel entrance.

"We go under the hill and out the other side. The country is rough and heavy with underbrush, but if you turn south, it will lead you to a route the gorillas rarely travel."

"Unless they're waiting for us at the entrance," Alan said darkly.

Malik shook his head, his voice grave in the torchlight. "No. I would not do that. You are the living proof of my hopes. After tonight, there is nothing I can do to protect you, but you will be gone. If I must show Urko the settlement, so be it. We will hide Donal and the other chimpanzee children from him, and let him see that we are innocent. He will not understand all he sees, and anything that suggests humans are smarter than he believes he will close his mind to, unless it is too obvious to ignore."

"He might do some damage--vandalism--out of malice, because we're not here," Alan persisted. "I hate to think we've brought you trouble, even if you do have a deal with Zaius."

"Zaius and I use each other--he because he believes I will fail, and can then serve as an example, and I because I must grasp at anything to protect my people. I know that it is a false security and could vanish at a whim, but until then I will do as I must. He will not learn of ExTee, for he would see it destroyed. This way, down this tunnel, if you please." He led them into a twisting labyrinth. Pete hoped he didn't plan to lead them into darkness and abandon them.

"It's all gonna crash down on you one day, you know that, don't you?" he asked.

"Perhaps. But Zaius will not live forever, and I don't see him confiding in anyone. The wall gives us warning. Don't fear for us. We will live, as we have always lived, and Zaius does not know for certain that you were here."

"We won't give you away, if we're caught," Alan promised.

Pete squashed down an involuntary shudder at the thought of capture and more torture like Wanda's. He hadn't revealed any secrets during that endless process. But he wasn't sure how much longer he could have lasted if Alan and Galen hadn't found a way to rescue him. Suppose they were all captured together?

On the other hand, Wanda had failed to extract information from him. Zaius wouldn't be inclined to attempt such a plan a second time. He'd find a new way to achieve his ends, one that might even be worse. Pete didn't even want to imagine it.

"I know you won't." Malik smiled at them. "The only proof I have that I will not betray you is the fact that I showed you the children."

"That would be a good proof, Alan," Galen assured them. "If apes knew of that, they would break into the valley and take them away."

Malik nodded. "It was the only proof I could offer you. In return, I ask only that you survive and carry your message with you as you travel, that humans and apes are equal and can be friends."

"I think we can do that," Pete agreed.

The tunnel eventually led to an opening, and Malik stopped and put out both torches before they reached the cavern entrance. They stepped out into bright moonlight, and into a tangled thicket. The cave mouth wouldn't be readily visible unless someone knew where to search for it.

"Our settlement is on the far side of the hill," Malik told them. He pointed in the opposite direction. "Go that way down to the stream, then follow it south. You will eventually reach a little-used roadway. It goes in the direction you seek." He stopped, then he reached out and clasped each of the travelers by the upper arms in a gesture of farewell.

"Galen. If you should ever need a home, you may return to us."

The chimpanzee looked as shocked and touched as he had when Mirie had announced the name of her son. His mouth moved but no words emerged.

Pete clapped him on the shoulder. "Way to go, Galen."

Galen stared at him doubtfully, and his shoulders sagged. "You wish me to stay here?"

"No!" Pete realized how he must have taken the words. "We're used to you hanging around. It's just that maybe someday you'd want to settle down. But we want you to stick with us."

"Pete's right," Alan agreed. "And if we find a way home, we'd like you to come with us to our own time. You're welcome with us. We're a team."

"Oh." Galen beamed. "Thank you, Malik. I will remember your offer. But I will stay with my friends."

"Do you have your disk?" the headman asked.

Alan patted his belt pouch. "I have it safe." It would probably take major explosives to separate him from it.

"Then go, and good luck on your quest." Malik nodded at them in farewell, then he plunged into the tunnel mouth to return to his people and his dream.

The three fugitives stared after him a minute, then they ventured warily to the edge of the thicket. There didn't seem to be any gorillas nearby, no sound of movement, no whicker of a horse, no voices. They stood listening, peering out of the thicket cautiously, and Galen sniffed the air.

"I don't think anyone is here," he admitted.

"No, I don't either." Alan grinned. "I'm developing a real sixth sense about it, and I think Malik steered us right. But the longer we hang around here, the more chance Urko has to surround the area. I think we better put as much distance between us and this settlement as we can before dawn." He pushed the way out of the dry undergrowth onto bare ground that wouldn't leave obvious footsteps, and started downhill.

Pete fell into step with Alan, Galen at his heels. "Alan? Did you find out anything from ExTee?"

Alan hesitated. His face was grave and serious. "ExTee wouldn't tell me much," he admitted. "But it added some data to the disk. If we ever find another ship, we'll be able to use it. The only thing is...." His jaw bunched.

"It wouldn't tell you where the ship was?" Pete guessed.

"Not a clue."

"Then we'll head toward Edwards, just in case. If any of their systems still work after so long, then we'll be able to use them. If the ship isn't there, we still might be able to track it. Galen, have you ever heard of Edwards Air Force Base?"

"I have not. But human names would have been lost. Where is this Edwards place?"

"It would be south of here, and far inland," Alan gestured in the approximate direction. "Some days walk from here."

"But there are deserts inland," Galen protested. "No water and much heat, even at this season. And there are Forbidden Zones there."

"Then we'll have to expect trouble."

"Just like always," Pete agreed.

Alan squared his shoulders and took the lead. Pete had a glimpse of his face before he followed. The desolation that he'd seen under his friend's surly manner before they reached the protected settlement was not entirely gone, but then it never quite left him. Alan would never give up on his quest to find a way home, even if it was an impossible dream. Maybe he'd even be sadder now that he had seen a happy Christmas and children who were not his son. But the memory of that celebration--the decorations, the feast, the children's glowing faces as they listened eagerly to Alan's story--had helped. Even in this world, there were people with hopes and dreams, human and ape people both. If not for Galen's curiosity and open-mindedness, he and Alan would be long dead.

Tiny Tim's words from the story ran through his mind. "God bless us every one." Pete wasn't inclined to speak them aloud. He wasn't given to mushy sentiment, even at the best of times. But after seeing the best of what Malik's settlement had to offer, he didn't feel quite as without hope as he had before.

So he hurried to catch up with Alan, conscious of Galen bouncing eagerly at his side. Alan glanced over at him and smiled, and Pete returned it wholeheartedly. "Alan?"

"Yeah?"

"Merry Christmas."