Time Matters

Dawn Cunningham

 

 

 

Disclaimers:

 

Most of the characters mentioned in the story don't belong to me. I'm

just borrowing them and not getting paid for it. A couple belong to me,

but I don't want them anymore.

 

Do not post or publish this story anywhere else, without my express

permission. Feel free to share it with others as long as the disclaimers

remain intact.

 

Warnings:

 

This is a crossover story with the Planet Of The Apes television show.

Blame Sandra McDonald for suggesting I write a story for that fandom. Of

course, Richie insisted on showing up, too. He's just that way. Other

than a brief visit by Duncan, Richie is the only Highlander character in

the story. Obviously, this story is set in the future, long after the

Archangel story. In my world, Richie is still alive. I even wrote a

story that explained how that came to be.

 

I think I've added enough details to explain who the characters are from

the Planet Of The Apes world, so even if you don't remember the show,

you can still enjoy the story.

 

Acknowledgments:

 

Once again, a very special thanks to Melanie Riley. She deserves a medal

for her constant support (and nagging). Her comments always make my

stories better. She thought I was nuts when I told her I was going to

write this story. She was right.

 

And of course, thanks go to those readers who took the time to send me

feedback on my other stories. Without them, I probably would never have

continued to write.

 

Comments are always welcome at Dawn341 at live.com

 

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

 

Time Matters - a Highlander/Planet Of The Apes crossover by Dawn

Cunningham

 

April, 3086. Somewhere along the California coastal line.

 

Pete Burke pressed one hand to his right side, trying to relieve the

almost constant stitch that had been plaguing him. Usually it was Galen

who struggled to keep up, but today he had been the laggard. He should

be used to this pace by now. It had been months since he and Alan Virdon

had crash-landed and found themselves being hunted by apes. It hadn't

helped to know they were really back on Earth - just a thousand years

into the future. Ever since then, they'd spent a lot of time running.

 

He had to admit they were an odd trio. Two humans and a chimpanzee were

not normal traveling companions in this time period. There were three

classes of apes - orangutans who tended to run things, gorillas who were

the soldiers of the world, and the chimpanzees who were often scientists

or doctors. Humans were considered a lower form of life - good for

menial tasks, at best. To even suggest a human could be intelligent was

practically heresy.

 

After they had crashed here, they'd been sentenced to death by the head

orangutan, Dr. Zaius, who feared their knowledge would bring harm to

this world. He was aided by the head gorilla soldier, Urko. They'd be

dead now if it hadn't been for Galen's curiosity about them. The

chimpanzee had been declared an outlaw, and he'd been forced to leave

his friends and family behind. Now they traveled together, searching for

someway to get back to their own time.

 

With a grateful sigh, he heard the blond-haired Alan call a rest stop.

Pete did a few stretches, hoping they would help, but it only seemed to

make matters worse. Maybe he'd pulled a muscle or something.

 

"Something wrong, Pete?"

 

He glanced over at Alan who was looking at him with a concerned

expression. He gave his friend a cocky grin before brushing back his own

dark curls. "No, just out of shape, that's all. Guess I need to hit the

gym more often."

 

Alan turned his attention back to the crude map he'd been studying. "We

should be getting close to Kehi. Maybe a few hours more."

 

"I still don't think this is a very good idea," Galen protested.

 

"Afraid the demons will get you?" Pete teased his friend. "We'll protect

you, Galen."

 

"All I know is that this area has a very bad reputation. Most apes won't

even come here unless they are accompanied by a full dragoon of

gorillas. I will admit that most of the rumors I've heard are pretty

far-fetched, but..." Galen shuddered.

 

"Far-fetched? That's one word for them," Pete said. "Demons who can kill

apes just by looking at them. Yeah, right."

 

"Now, Galen, you know that Larak and his people regularly trade with the

people from Kehi," Alan, the voice of reason, pointed out. "They don't

seem to be afraid of anything around here."

 

"They're not apes!" Galen almost spat out. "Are these... these," he

stumbled over the unfamiliar word, "computers so important?" 

 

Alan sighed. This wasn't the first time they'd had this conversation.

The last time, they'd managed to find a room filled with computers, but

before they'd had time to find anything out, they'd had to flee from

Urko and his gorillas. Still, there had been a promise of other

installations and other computers with the knowledge that might help

them get home.

 

When Larak had shown them the 'decorations' that he had traded for -

intending to give them to his wife as a present - Alan had recognized

them as computer disks similar to the one they'd removed from their

spaceship. The man had been reluctant at first, but had finally drawn

them a map to Kehi.

 

"We *have* to check it out," Alan said. "We can't let any opportunity

pass us up. It could mean being able to go home."

 

Galen nodded, slowly. "I know, but I still don't like it."

 

"At the first sign of any trouble, we'll leave," Alan promised. "Let's

go." He set off at a quick trotting pace again.

 

With a subdued sigh, Pete followed, wishing his side would stop hurting.

 

*****

 

Pete was glad to finally see the village of Kehi. Alan had really pushed

the pace and it had been a struggle to keep up. But now that they were

here, hopefully he'd have a chance to rest. First, though, they had to

see if they would be welcome. Alan was the diplomat of the bunch and

Pete planned to let him do all the talking.

 

It looked like a typical village - a dozen different buildings were

clustered around a central area. Most of the buildings were made of clay

and had thatched roofs. The central area had a well, and a cooking area.

A woman was stirring something in a pot while a young girl looked on.

 

As they approached the village, the young girl fled into one of the

buildings. A few moments later, a man came out accompanied by the girl,

who kept very close to him.

 

"I am Talon," he greeted them. "It is not often that we get strangers

here - especially apes."

 

"I'm Alan Virdon, this is Pete Burke, and this is our friend, Galen. We

mean you no harm. Larak sent us here," Alan explained. "He hoped you

could help us in our search."

 

A guarded look crossed Talon's face. "Who are you searching for?"

 

Alan shook his head. "We aren't searching for a person." He dug out a

computer disk that Larak had given him. "We would like to know where you

found these."

 

"If I tell you where we find our treasures, what will stop you from

taking them and doing your own trading with Larak?"

 

"You have our word. We are looking for something else that would be too

big for you to move. These would have just been a small part of it."

 

"This must be discussed by our council. Until then, you are welcome to

stay." He gestured to the girl who was trying to hide behind him. "My

daughter, Kira, will show you to a place you can stay."

 

Kira didn't look too anxious to do that, but she obeyed her father. She

appeared to be about twelve or thirteen, and had long blond hair. "This

way," she mumbled, pointing to another building that was the furthest

from the central area.

 

The inside of the building was very typical. It was one giant room, with

four rope beds along the edges. Two roughly carved chairs and a table

were pulled up close to a fireplace. There were two windows covered with

burlap cloth - no deterrent to insects that tended to infest the homes

of most humans. Likewise, there was no door, just another burlap cloth

to give the occupants some privacy.

 

"Home, sweet home," Pete quipped as he headed over to check out the

fireplace. While they didn't need the heat it would generate, it would

be the only source of light.

 

"I'll fetch some water and food," Kira offered before dashing out of the

building.

 

By the time she returned, Pete had a small blaze going. He carefully

placed a larger log on the flames, and was pleased to see it catch

immediately. That should give them plenty of light for a while.

 

Kira was accompanied by the woman who had been cooking when they

arrived. Her hair was also blond, and Kira looked a lot like her. They

brought some fruit, and three bowls of soup.

 

"I am Mari. Welcome to our village. I'm sorry, we don't have much to

offer you," the woman said, placing her two bowls on the table.

 

Alan turned on the charm, smiling at Mari and Kira. "Thank you for

sharing with us. We do not mean to bring hardship to your village."

 

She blushed lightly, before saying, "Come, Kira. Your father will be

hungry, too." The two left them alone.

 

Galen came over to sniff the soup. "It smells wonderful." He sat down at

the table and began to eat.

 

Alan picked up the other two bowls and brought one over to Pete who was

still keeping an eye on the fire.

 

"Thanks," Pete said, eagerly reaching for the bowl. "So, do you think

they'll show us their 'treasure'?" he asked before starting to eat. The

soup was filled with various kinds of vegetables and was quite tasty.

 

Alan shrugged. "I hope so. I'd hate to think we came all this way for

nothing."

 

"Nothing is exactly what we might find - even if they do show us where

they got those disks. For all we know, those could have been from

someone's personal collection. Maybe they have accounting software on

them, or the latest version of Pong."

 

"And maybe there's more."

 

Pete didn't bother arguing anymore. Alan tended to be very single-minded

when it came to finding a way home. Of course, he had more reason to do

it. He had a wife and a kid back home. It wasn't that Pete didn't want

to go home, he just didn't think it was going to happen. They would need

more than just computers. They'd need to find a spaceship, as well.

Theirs had been trashed by the apes, then burned. They'd heard it

exploding as they had fled.

 

He turned his attention back to the soup. While he'd been hungry when

he'd first smelled the soup, he seemed to have lost his appetite after

only finishing half a bowl. He stood up, almost gasping at the sudden

pain in his side. It didn't last long - it was gone before Alan could

realize something was wrong. Pete didn't want his friend to start

fussing over a pulled muscle.

 

"I'm beat," he announced. "I'm going to try to catch some z's." He

glanced out the window. The sun was just starting to set. It struck him

as funny. Going to bed before the sun had even set would have been a

fate worse than death back in their own time. Here, no one thought twice

about it. You went to bed early and you got up early. It was a different

way of life.

 

*****

 

Pete woke with a gasp, frantically trying to remember where he was and

why he was so hot. Slowly, he remembered they were in Kehi, but he

couldn't figure out where the heat was coming from. The fire was just a

bed of coals by now so that couldn't account for it.

 

He tried to sit, only to collapse back on the bed with a moan. His side

felt like a hot poker was stabbing through it. With a sinking feeling,

he realized that this was more than a pulled muscle.

 

"Alan," he called out weakly, but it was loud enough to wake his friend.

 

"What's wrong, Pete?" Alan asked as he hurried over to Pete's side after

lighting a candle sitting on the table.

 

"I don't feel so good," he admitted.

 

Alan placed one hand on Pete's forehead. "You're definitely running a

fever. Do you hurt anywhere?"

 

"My side." Pete pointed out the location.

 

Alan probed the area carefully, but Pete still gasped in pain.

 

"I think it's your appendix," Alan finally said.

 

Pete didn't need to see his friend's face to know what expression would

be on it. He was in serious trouble. There weren't many hospitals that

treated humans, and those that did were sorely lacking in medical

knowledge. That had been quickly proven when Alan had been shot.

Fortunately, Galen had known a doctor who could help them, as well as

the fact that Zaius had a book on human anatomy.

 

But that doctor was more than a week away - maybe more than that since

Pete wouldn't be able to walk on his own.

 

"Maybe it's just indigestion," Pete offered. He didn't really believe

it, but it beat the alternative. "Maybe I'll feel better after some

rest."

 

"I'll get some water. Maybe cold compresses will help."

 

"What is it?" Galen asked from a bed across the room. "Is something

wrong?"

 

"Pete's sick," Alan said before heading for the door. "I'll be right

back."

 

It didn't take long for him to return, carrying a bucket filled with

water. Galen was standing by Pete's bed, looking very worried. Alan

fetched a cloth from his backpack and dipped it into the pail. He wiped

Pete's face and chest before dipping it back into the water. Then he

folded the cloth and placed it on his right side.

 

Pete sighed as he felt the coolness of the water. It felt good.

 

"Can I do anything to help?" Galen asked.

 

Alan shook his head. "Not right now. Why don't you try to get some more

sleep?"

 

"Oh, I couldn't," Galen protested, giving a slight whimper that

indicated how concerned he was. "Is Pete going to be all right?"

 

"Sure I am," Pete chimed in. Maybe if he kept repeating it, it would

come true.

 

For the next hour, Alan kept replacing the cold compresses on Pete's

side. Occasionally, he would bathe his friend's face and chest, trying

to keep the fever down. He felt so helpless.

 

During one of his trips to fetch more cold water from the well, Galen

followed him.

 

"How ill is Pete?" the chimpanzee asked.

 

Alan shook his head as he studied the rising sun. "It's not good, Galen.

If it *is* his appendix..." He stopped to swallow hard. "We can only

hope that it doesn't become critical."

 

"And if it does?"

 

"Then Pete will die." With those blunt words, Alan headed back inside.

In the brief time he'd been gone, it seemed like Pete's fever had risen.

He could tell his friend was struggling to hold back moans of pain.

 

A short time later, Galen came back inside with Mari. "I told Mari that

Pete was sick. She knows something about healing. Maybe she can help."

 

She was carrying a cup and hurried over to the bed. "This is willow bark

tea. It will help with the fever."

 

Alan lifted Pete's shoulders so he could drink the tea. After the first

sip, he made a face and handed the cup back.

 

"You must drink all of it," Mari insisted, pushing the cup back.

 

With a grimace, Pete drained the cup as quickly as he could, then Alan

lowered him back to the bed.

 

"Where is the pain?" Mari asked.

 

Pete placed a hand on the spot. "Here," he said, weakly.

 

Mari pushed down on the spot and Pete groaned. "Yeah, right there."

 

"How about here." She pushed on a different spot. Pete shook his head,

and she tried several other places. Each time she received a negative

reply.

 

Mari stood up. "I think I have some herbs that will help with the pain.

I will be right back." She stood up and left the hut.

 

Pete groaned and clutched at his stomach. Alan hurried over to his side,

and pulled his hands away. "Try to take it easy, Pete. Just relax."

 

"It hurts, Alan. It really hurts." Pete tried to curl up in a ball.

 

"I know. I know." Alan didn't know what to say or do to help Pete. At

the rate the pain was progressing, he didn't think his friend had long

before the appendix burst. After that, it would only be a matter of time

until peritonitis set in. It would be a very painful death.

 

Mari returned with another cup. "Drink this," she said.

 

Once again Alan helped Pete. A short time after drinking the potion,

Pete gave a small sigh.

 

"Pete?"

 

"It's working. The pain's easing up a little bit."

 

"Good. Try to get some rest."

 

Kira came into the hut. "I've brought you some breakfast," she said

shyly, setting two bowls on the table before joining her mother by

Pete's bed. "Do you want some porridge, too?" she asked Pete.

 

He shook his head, but managed a small smile. "Thanks, Kira, but I don't

feel like eating right now."

 

She turned to her mother. "Are we going to take him to Richard so that

he can get better?"

 

"Hush, child." Mari glanced at Alan and Pete. "Don't you have some

chores to do?"

 

"But Richard..." At the warning look from her mother, Kira stopped in

mid-sentence. "Yes, Mama." With a last look at Pete, she left.

 

"Who is Richard?" Alan asked. Maybe there was a doctor who might be able

to help.

 

"No one. Don't pay any attention to Kira. She's only a child." Mari

stood up. "I think I have some herbs that will help with the pain. I

will be right back."

 

Alan blocked her path, grabbing her arm. "Is Richard someone who can

help? Please, don't lie to us. Pete needs help."

 

Mari turned pale and shook her head. "I... I can't."

 

"Then who can? Kira seemed to think Richard could heal my friend." While

Alan was fairly certain that this Richard person probably didn't have

the medical knowledge to help Pete, he couldn't let even the slimmest

possibility slip by. "Please, Mari... help us. Help Pete."

 

She glanced over at the bed, then looked back at Alan. "We must talk to

Talon. It will be his decision."

 

"Galen, will you stay with Pete?"

 

"Of course."

 

Alan kept a tight grip on Mari's arm as they headed outside to find

Talon. The man was sharpening a knife on a whetstone.

 

"Kira mentioned Richard. They want to see him," Mari explained.

 

"It's against the law! No strangers are supposed to know about him!"

Talon surged to his feet. "Where is Kira?"

 

"Don't blame her - she was only trying to help," Alan said. "Can this

Richard help my friend?"

 

"It doesn't matter. You are a stranger, and it's against the law to tell

strangers about Richard or where to find him," Talon insisted.

 

"Whose law? Why would it matter if we talk to Richard?"

 

"It's Richard's law. As long as we follow his laws, he is willing to

help us. He's the reason the village prospers. I won't risk incurring

his wrath by breaking his laws. The whole village will suffer."

 

Alan wanted to scream out his frustration. He could understand why Talon

was refusing to help, but he couldn't understand why this Richard person

would punish the whole village just because they were strangers that

needed help.

 

"Fine. Don't tell me about Richard, but why can't you go to him and ask

for his help? Maybe he would be willing."

 

"The one called Pete is very ill. I think Richard could heal him," Mari

spoke up. "Would it be so bad to ask Richard if he would help? Please,

Talon."

 

The man looked into his wife's beseeching eyes. "Very well. I will talk

to the rest of the council. Return to your friend. This won't take

long."

 

Alan almost protested, but decided to let it go for now. He headed back

to the hut. Pete's eyes were closed, and he appeared to be in less pain.

Maybe the worst was over, but he doubted it. Either Mari's potion was

helping, or the appendix had burst.

 

"Are they going to help Pete?" Galen asked.

 

"I don't know. Mari appears to be on our side. Maybe she can convince

the others."

 

"What do we do now?"

 

"We wait. It's all we *can* do."

 

About fifteen minutes later, Kira brought them something to drink. "I

made it 'specially for you. I hope you like it."

 

"Thank you, Kira," Alan said as he accepted one drink and passed the

other one across the table to Galen.

 

"Now drink it up. It's good for you," she said with a grownup tone.

 

Alan smiled as he realized she must be mimicking something her mother

had said. He took several swallows of his drink to keep her happy. "It's

very good," he told her. "Kira, what can you tell me about Richard?"

 

Her eyes grew larger. "I'm not supposed to talk about him. I'll get in

trouble."

 

Alan debated pressing her for answers, but he didn't want to get her in

trouble. It wouldn't be fair to try to take advantage of her youth.

 

"I need to bring the cups back. Are you finished yet?"

 

Galen passed over his cup. "I am. It was quite refreshing."

 

Alan drained his cup in a couple more swallows, then passed it over to

the girl. "Thanks again, Kira."

 

She smiled, then almost skipped from the room.

 

A low moan from the bed drew Alan's attention. Pete was moving

restlessly, and he started over to his side. Partway there, the room

seemed to spin around and Alan started to feel dizzy. He managed a few

more steps before collapsing to the floor.

 

"Alan?" He heard Galen's concerned voice from what seemed a long ways

away, then the sound of a chair or maybe the table tipping over. He

struggled to keep moving, but his limbs felt like lead. Slowly, he sank

the rest of the way to the floor. The last thing he remembered hearing

was Pete calling his name.

 

*****

 

Pete heard Galen call out Alan's name, followed by a crash. It seemed to

take a lot of effort to pry open his eyes, and, at first, he wondered

whether he was hallucinating. Both Alan and Galen were sprawled on the

floor of the hut.

 

"Alan?" he called out, trying to sit up. He had to help his friends, but

the pain made it difficult to move. He finally managed to roll off the

bed and started to crawl to Alan. Before he got there, four men came

into the hut. He only recognized one of them - Talon, the headman.

 

"Please, help my friends," he managed to force out.

 

They ignored his request, and headed straight for him. Without saying

anything, Talon grabbed his hands and bound them with a piece of rope.

Another man did the same thing to his feet.

 

"What are you doing?" Pete demanded, even as he kept struggling to get

free. He didn't have much of a chance against four men. "What did you do

to my friends?"

 

"They have not been harmed," Talon told him. He signaled to two of the

men who immediately left the hut. While they were gone, Talon and the

remaining man tied up Alan and Galen. When the other two returned a few

moments later, they were carrying a large piece of rope netting, which

they spread out on the floor.

 

Together, they lifted him and placed him in the netting. Pete clenched

his teeth to keep from moaning as pain assailed him. They still weren't

through with him. The final indignity was being blindfolded.

 

"What are you doing?" he asked again. He felt the netting being lifted,

and had to struggle to hold back his moans. As far as he could tell,

they were carrying him out of the hut, but he didn't have a clue where

they were taking him. Wherever it was, they didn't want him to see the

way they were going.

 

The constant movement of the netting was making him nauseous. Not being

able to see only intensified the feeling. Pete couldn't decide which was

worse - the nausea or the pain. He prayed that the trip would end soon,

but it seemed to go on forever. Eventually, he gave in to the roiling

feeling in his stomach and started retching. Thankfully, they stopped

and rolled him on his side until he was through, then they started up

again.

 

Pete had no idea how long the nightmarish trip lasted. He didn't realize

they had stopped moving until they removed his blindfold. What he saw

almost made him wish they'd left it on. As far as he could tell, he'd

been placed on an alter in some kind of temple. Torches were placed at

intervals around the room, and provided all the light. The four men

still surrounded him, but he was surprised to see Mari there, as well.

 

Talon moved over to a small gong, and hit it. The loud tone seemed to

echo through the room. Pete wasn't quite sure what was going to happen

next, but it didn't bode well for him. Neither did the figure garbed in

a long, hooded robe that finally appeared. He briefly struggled with the

ropes that bound him, but they were just as tight as ever.

 

"You summoned me?" the figure asked.

 

"I know it is against your laws," Mari spoke up. "He is a stranger to

our village, but he needs your help. He has pain in his side."

 

Pete tried to see the man's face as he came over to the alter, but the

hood hid it well. The only part that he could see of the man were his

hands, which were strong and callused. They were surprisingly gentle as

they probed his abdomen. Still, they caused pain, and Pete couldn't help

but moan as the man pressed down.

 

The man turned away, and pulled something out of his pockets. Pete

couldn't see what he was doing, but a few moments later, the man came

back. He placed a cloth over Pete's mouth and nose, pressing down hard.

Pete held his breath while reaching up with his bound hands to try to

remove the cloth. His lungs started to burn, but there was no escaping

the other man. Finally, he had to take a breath and a sickeningly sweet

odor filled his lungs. The room started to spin around, and he felt

himself slide into oblivion, not knowing whether he would ever wake up.

 

*****

 

Alan struggled up from the fog that seemed to surround him. He knew

there was something important he needed to do, but his brain didn't seem

to be working. He tried to lift a hand to rub at his forehead, but even

that didn't seem to be working. He finally realized his hands were tied

together behind his back. That fact cleared his head.

 

He looked around the hut. Galen was on the floor, tied hand and foot as

well. Alan glanced over to the bed where he'd last seen Pete, but it was

empty. The implication sent an overwhelming sense of loss through him.

 

"Alan, are you all right?"

 

He turned to face the chimpanzee. "Yeah, I'm all right. How about you?"

 

"I'm fine. Do you know what happened to Pete?"

 

"No." Alan wondered how long they'd been unconscious, but he had no way

of telling. Based on the light in the hut, he guessed it had to be

several hours, at a minimum. And there was no telling how long it would

be before someone came to release them - assuming that was what they

were planning on doing. For all he knew, they had something totally

different in mind, and neither he nor Galen would be able to stop them.

 

Time seemed to pass slowly. It gave Alan too much time to think and

worry about Pete. He tried to hold on to the hope that Talon had taken

him to the mysterious Richard. And that Richard would be able to help.

The first was very possible, but the second seemed to be too much to

hope for. He wished he'd had the chance to say his final good-bye to his

friend.

 

Finally, the headman and his wife returned. Talon helped Alan and Galen

to a sitting position, then Mari held a cup to Alan's lips. He turned

his head away, having learnt that lesson already.

 

"This isn't drugged," Mari said. "It's just plain water." To prove it,

she took a sip of it.

 

Alan was thirsty, so he allowed her to put the cup to his lips again.

After he had swallowed some of the water, she moved over to Galen and

performed the same service.

 

"What have you done with Pete?" Alan demanded.

 

"We did what you asked - we took him to Richard. And now it's your

turn," Talon replied. "He will be the one to decide your fate." He

glanced over at Galen. "And based on his way of dealing with apes in the

past, I doubt your friend will survive."

 

Galen made a whimpering noise, and Alan remembered the rumors of apes

being killed in this area. Had his desire to return home doomed his

friends?

 

"Who is this Richard?" Alan asked. Maybe he could learn something that

would help them.

 

"Richard is a god," Mari explained. "He is very old and very wise. He

taught my mother's mother how to heal our people when she was only a

child. Then he taught my mother, and myself. Hopefully, he will soon

take Kira and teach her, as well. Or maybe she will be blessed and be

allowed to live with him and care for him. It has been a long time since

he has honored one of our women in that way."

 

"He has taught us many things," Talon continued. "The best way to raise

food. How to protect ourselves. And in return, he asks for so little. We

must never reveal where he lives. I have seen him angry." He shuddered.

"When he is angry, he can pull the lightning from the sky. I saw this

happen when I was just a boy. Since then, I have taken great care to

never anger him."

 

Alan did some quick math. Even based on marriages and births at a young

age, Richard had to be over seventy. They should be able to handle him.

 

"So, you're going to take us to Richard?"

 

Talon drew a knife and cut through the bindings around their feet, then

helped them stand. He left their hands tied, and pushed them toward the

door. Three others were waiting for them outside.

 

"Blindfold them," Talon ordered.

 

Once that was done, hands grabbed Alan's arms and pulled him forward. It

was a struggle to stay on his feet when he couldn't see where he was

going. Several times he stumbled, but the hands kept him from falling.

Finally, they reached their destination. He was forced down to his

knees, and then the blindfold was removed. Alan glanced to his left and

saw Galen being forced down beside him. At least they were still

together.

 

"The rest of you may leave. I will take care of these strangers."

 

Alan peered into the gloom in the direction of the voice. All he could

see was a man dressed in a long, hooded robe.

 

"Yes, Richard," Talon answered before almost pushing his men out of the

building.

 

Once they were gone, Richard walked over and stared at Alan and Galen.

Finally, he spoke.

 

"You are Alan Virdon, and this must be Galen." He pushed back his hood

to reveal a face that was nowhere close to the age Alan expected him to

be. This man couldn't be much older than twenty or twenty-five. He must

be a descendent of the original Richard.

 

"I am Richard, but you can call me Richie. It's been a very long time

since anyone has called me that." A wistful look crossed his face. "I'd

like to hear that name again."

 

Richie? It hardly sounded like a name for a god. Richard moved around

behind them, and a moment later, Alan felt the ropes around his wrists

fall away. He brought his hands around to the front and rubbed at his

arms to restore circulation. Galen was doing the same thing beside him.

 

"I'm sorry for the blindfolds and the ropes. It's very important to me

to keep the location of my home a secret. I really hate guests who drop

in without calling first. If you'll follow me, I'll take you to see your

friend Pete."

 

"How is he?" Alan asked even as he pondered Richard's words. There was

something odd about what he'd said, but he couldn't figure out what it

was.

 

"He's doing well. He should be just fine as long as complications don't

set in. Fortunately, Talon got him here before the appendix burst. Of

course, he will need time to recover, but you're welcome to be my guests

until he's ready to travel." As he talked Richard had led them out of

the building through a hidden door in the back and up a hill to a large

house.

 

And what a house it was. Alan hadn't seen anything like it in all their

time since they had landed on the planet. It reminded him of his own

time. It was multi-leveled, with stairs leading up and down from the

main foyer where they entered. It was only two stories tall, but the two

sides of the house were offset, which gave it four separate levels.

 

Richard gave them a quick tour of the house. The first level had a

living room, dining room and kitchen - although the kitchen was lacking

most of the appliances you would have seen in Alan's time. The wood-

burning, cast-iron stove almost looked out of place. Down a half-level

was a large room that would have been classified as a family room.

Comfortable furniture was organized around a fireplace. Unlike most

furniture in human homes which was very utilitarian, these pieces had

stuffed cushions that looked inviting.

 

Richard took them down another half-level which put them under the

living room. The furniture here was even more amazing. There was a baby

grand piano, a pool table, and a bar. Book shelves lined the walls and

were crammed full of books. Alan took a quick look, spotting books on

medicine and agriculture, as well as novels. The tour continued back up

the stairs to a half-level above where they had entered, and over the

family room. Here they found the bedrooms - six in total. And they had

real beds with feather mattresses, sheets, pillows, and comforters.

Galen poked at the mattress with one finger, a surprised look on his

face.

 

Richard pointed to a room at the end of the hallway. "That one is mine,

and the one next to it is where your friend Pete is. Let's see if he's

awake." He quietly opened the door and peered in before turning back to

Alan and Galen. "No, he's still asleep," he whispered, "but you can sit

with him until he wakes up if you want."

 

Alan nodded and quickly moved into the bedroom. He crossed over to the

bed, and carefully placed a hand on Pete's forehead. There was no sign

of any fever, which he took to be a good sign. Not wishing to disturb

his friend's sleep, he decided to wait before taking a look at Pete's

abdomen. Instead, he settled into a chair to wait, and Galen followed

his example.

 

It gave Alan some much needed time to think. The house couldn't possibly

have survived for over a thousand years, but who would have built it in

this fashion? There were even glass windows that could be open or shut!

And the pool table and bar were definitely from the wrong time period.

Richard was just as confusing. He was supposedly very old, yet he looked

very young. He seemed to know medical terms that most apes didn't even

know, and had made the assumption that Alan and Galen would understand

what he was saying. And how had he known their names? Had Pete told him?

 

The most disturbing thing was one of Richard's first statements - the

one about people dropping by without calling. As far as Alan knew, there

were no telephones in this time period, and no one would even know what

they were. So how did Richard know about people calling? Was it just a

phrase that had been passed down through the centuries that he had used

without really understanding its meaning?

 

A low moan from the bed drew Alan's attention. He was close enough to

the bed, so all he had to do was lean forward. "Take it easy, Pete.

Everything's fine."

 

Pete slowly opened his eyes. "Alan? You okay?"

 

"Yeah, and so is Galen. How are *you* feeling?"

 

Pete moved slightly, then grimaced. "Sore."

 

"But not like before?"

 

Pete shook his head. "No. It's nothing like it was before." He picked up

the covers and peered underneath them.

 

Alan reached over and pulled the covers back further so he could see,

too. There wasn't a lot to see. The bandages hid any sign of an

incision, and they would have to unwrap several layers to see any more.

 

"Hey, I thought *I* was the doctor here."

 

Alan looked over at the door, and saw Richard standing there. The man

had removed his robe, and was dressed in trousers and a tunic.

 

"So, our patient is awake," he said as he came into the room. He went

over to the dresser, and opened the top drawer, taking out a pair of

scissors. Richard then came over to the bed. "Let's just have a look."

 

He snipped the bandage wrapped around Pete, then carefully peeled it

back, revealing an incision that had been stitched together. Richard

lightly probed the area around the incision. "How does it feel?"

 

"A little sore," Pete said. "I guess that's to be expected."

 

"Yeah. Just take it easy for a little while. Don't want you tearing out

all those fine stitches." Richard grinned at his patient. "I think I did

a pretty good job - even if I was out of practice." He pulled the covers

back up and smoothed them out. "We'll get you on your feet later today."

 

Alan had been fairly impressed by the professional look of the incision.

"Where did you get your medical training? I thought only apes could

become doctors."

 

"It's kind of a long story. Let's just say I'm a lot older than I look

and leave it at that. You get some rest," he said, looking at Pete, then

at Alan and Galen, "and you two can get cleaned up. Dinner will be in

about an hour." He put the scissors away in the dresser and pulled out a

small bell, placing it where Pete could reach it. "If you need anything,

just ring the bell." Then he headed for the door.

 

Somewhat reluctantly, Alan followed Richard and Galen out of the room.

 

"I've put your bags in those two rooms," Richard pointed at two doors,

"as well as some fresh water so you can wash up. You'll also find clean

clothes in the dressers. And as soon as you're ready, come on

downstairs."

 

Alan found a pitcher filled with hot water and one with cold water

sitting on top of the dresser in his room. A large bowl sat between them

as well as a bar of soap. The best treat, though, was the straight-edge

razor. It had been a long time since he'd had anything other than a

knife to shave with. He wasted no time peeling off his shirt so that he

could start.

 

Fresh-shaven and clean, Alan slipped on the clothes he found in the

dresser. He told himself not to get used to such luxuries. Sooner or

later, they would be back on the run where clean clothes and hot water

were rare occurrences. He left his room, and tapped on Galen's door.

When there was no answer, Alan headed downstairs.

 

He found Galen on the lowest level, examining the pool table. As he

watched from the stairs, the ape cautiously reached out and pushed one

of the balls towards a pocket. Galen clapped happily when it fell in.

 

"It's called a pool table," Alan explained. "And you play it with cue

sticks." He looked around and spotted a rack on the wall. He helped

himself to one, then walked back to the table. Carefully, he lined up a

shot and was pleased when he sank the one-ball. Moving around the table,

he lined up a second shot, which he missed. He handed over the stick to

Galen. "Here, give it a try. You have to use the white cue ball to try

to sink the other balls."

 

"Hmmmmm." Galen studied the table, then the stick. Finally, he bent over

the table, imitating how Alan had been standing. He pulled back the

stick, then pushed it forward.

 

Alan flinched when the cue ball went sailing off the table and smashed

against the wall. "Uhhhh... Not quite so hard, Galen." He retrieved the

ball from the floor and examined it. As far as he could tell, there

wasn't any damage - to the ball or the wall. He placed the ball back on

the table. "Try it again - just a little easier this time."

 

It took several tries before Galen was able to get the cue ball to hit

one of the others. He never managed to sink any balls. "I like my way

better," he said as he pushed another ball into a pocket. "See?"

 

Alan laughed. "Maybe you're right."

 

Richard appeared on the stairs, carrying a tray filled with several

bottles and cups. "Would you like something to drink? I have fruit

juice, wine, or how about some beer?"

 

"Beer?" Alan almost couldn't believe his ears. "You have beer?"

 

Richard grinned. "Yeah, and I'm rather proud of it. It took me years to

get it right." He set the tray down on the pool table, then handed a

bottle to Alan. He paused for a moment, then asked, "How about you,

Galen? Some wine, maybe?"

 

"Maybe I should try the... beer, too."

 

Richard frowned. "I wouldn't recommend it. I don't know how it would

affect an ape. You'd be better off with the wine or juice."

 

"Then I'll have the wine."

 

Richard poured a cupful, then handed it over before selecting a bottle

of beer for himself. He took it over to the piano and sat down. After a

quick sip, he placed the bottle on the top of the piano, and started

playing.

 

Alan watched the amazement grow on Galen's face while savoring his own

beer. While the apes did have music, it was nothing like the intricate

sounds that the man was producing from the piano. He still couldn't

figure out Richard. If he didn't know better, he'd have sworn that the

man must have been an astronaut who had been trapped here, too.

 

He suddenly realized that must be the answer. It was the only thing that

would explain how he knew so much. "You're just like us," he said with

conviction. "I don't recognize your name, so you must have joined the

space program after we disappeared. Then you crashed here, just like

us."

 

Richard laughed. "Well, you have part of it right. I did fly shuttles to

the moon for a while." He sniffed the air. "Ooops, I'd better go check

on dinner. Don't want to burn it." He quickly left the room leaving

behind a very frustrated Alan.

 

*****

 

Dinner consisted of a vegetable stew, fresh-baked biscuits, fruit and

cheese. Richard made sure they had plenty of wine to drink, as well.

Alan volunteered to clean up afterwards.

 

"I won't argue," Richard said. "Pete's not a vegetarian, is he? I was

thinking about making him some scrambled eggs for dinner. He needs a

soft diet for at least a day."

 

"No, he'll eat anything," Alan said, "although we do normally stick to

vegetarian meals in deference to Galen."

 

"Great." Richard busied himself around the stove, putting more wood

inside before reaching for a frying pan. With an ease that indicated a

lot of practice, he scrambled several eggs, then placed them on a plate.

Finally, he poured liquid from a pan sitting on the back of the stove.

"You want to take it up to him?" he asked. "Make sure he drinks the

broth, as well."

 

"Sure, I can do that." Alan accepted the food and headed upstairs.

 

He found Pete wide awake and staring at the ceiling. "Feel like eating

something?" Alan asked.

 

"Yeah, I think I could. Boy, did we fall into the lap of luxury or what?

What is this place?" Pete tried to sit up, but stopped with a grimace of

pain.

 

"Take it easy, Pete. You just had surgery, remember?" Alan helped Pete

to sit up, piling the pillows behind his friend to support him. Only

then did he retrieve the food from the dresser. "You would not believe

this place," he said as he sat down in a chair near the bed. "I mean

he's got a pool table and a piano! And he makes his own beer."

 

"Beer?" Pete's eyes lit up. "How can I get one?"

 

"Not until you're better," Alan scolded. "I've tried to find out how

Richard knows what he does and all I'm getting is the runaround. The man

*has* to be from our time. There can't be any other explanation."

 

"You think he's an astronaut, too?"

 

"Maybe. And if he is, maybe he's got a ship stashed around here. I'm

going to snoop around to see what I can find." Alan spun around when he

heard Richard's voice.

 

"You won't find anything," Richard said from the doorway. "Especially

not a spaceship."

 

"Then how do you explain the things you know?"

 

Richard came into the room and closed the door. "Like how I know that

your spaceship disappeared in 1988? Or that Pete was a running back for

Michigan State?"

 

Alan knew his dumbfounded expression must have matched the one on Pete's

face. "How did you know that?"

 

"Pete, you have a cousin - Steve Burke - who lived in Seacouver,

Washington, right? And he had a daughter, Angie?"

 

Pete nodded. "Yeah, I think that was her name."

 

"Well, she was so proud of you - if you ever get back, you should look

her up, by the way. She had to be one of your biggest fans. Anyway, Ang

and I were buddies. I was with her when they announced that your

spaceship wasn't coming back. It almost tore her apart."

 

"So, you *are* from our time," Alan said, feeling a sense of

satisfaction that he'd been right. "And you became an astronaut and got

trapped here just like us."

 

"Not exactly. Listen, this is just between us. I know Galen is your

friend, but he can't know about this. You must *never* tell any *ape*

about me, or what I am." The cold steel in his tone made his hatred of

apes quite apparent. "Do I have your word on it?"

 

Alan and Pete exchanged looks. They'd been together for so long that

they didn't need words. Alan turned back to Richard. "You have our

word."

 

"My name is Richard - Richie - Ryan. I was born in 1974, and I am

immortal. I cannot die. I was found abandoned as an infant - all

Immortals are. We don't know where we come from, or what we will become

if we die a violent death. I had a normal childhood, but one day a

street punk shot me. That triggered my immortality and ever since then,

I have never aged. I didn't get here by spaceship - I lived through it.

I've seen the destruction, firsthand. You can't even imagine the horrors

of the last four or five centuries."

 

Alan didn't know what to say. He glanced at Pete who looked just as

bewildered.

 

"I know - it sounds amazing," Richard said. "Let me show you something."

He reached for a pouch on his belt and pulled out a scalpel. With a

quick movement, he slashed open his palm.

 

Alan jumped to his feet, ready to apply pressure to the wound. Before he

could get to Richard, he saw blue sparks appear along the wound. A

moment later, Richard wiped away the blood. There was absolutely no sign

of any wound. Alan slowly sat down again.

 

"Everything I've told you is true," Richard said.

 

"Did we ever get back to our time?" Pete asked.

 

"I can't tell you that."

 

"Why not?" Alan protested.

 

"I might change your future. If I told you that you never came back,

would you stop looking for a way back home?"

 

Alan nodded.

 

"And if I tell you that you did come back, you would keep looking?"

 

"Of course."

 

"So, what I say could change your future. For that matter, it may change

the past, as well. I can't take that risk. Don't you understand? *You*

need to decide which direction your future will take."

 

"I guess that makes sense," Pete said. "Still it would be nice to know

whether we'll ever get back."

 

"Well, you'll have to find that answer out all by yourselves. Now then,

let's see if we can get you up and moving around."

 

"Uhhh... I'm not sure I'm ready," Pete protested.

 

"Now, your doctor knows best. The sooner you get on your feet, the

faster you will heal."

 

"I'll help you," Alan volunteered. He supported Pete as he swung his

legs around to the side of the bed, then offered a hand to help him

stand. He kept his arm around Pete's waist until his friend was steady.

 

"Don't try to favor your side," Richard ordered. "Try standing up

straight."

 

"That's easy for you to say," Pete groaned. "You heal right away."

 

Richard laughed. "Try making it to the end of the hallway and back. That

should be enough for one trip. Oh, and you might want to visit that room

while you're there. It's set up as a sort of bathroom. It's only a

chamber pot, but it's better than having to go outside."

 

"Let's go, Pete," Alan said. "Before he thinks up something else."

 

Moving slowly, they headed across the room. As they came out into the

hallway, they saw Galen coming up the stairs.

 

"Pete, you are out of bed! How are you feeling?"

 

"Like an old man. What have you been doing, Galen?"

 

"I've been playing pool!"

 

"Your way or mine?" Alan asked with a smile.

 

"My way, of course."

 

"Of course. I'll explain it later," Alan added as Pete sent him a

questioning look.

 

It took a while for them to make their way from one end of the hallway

to another. Pete used the bathroom, then they made their way back to his

bedroom.

 

"I have never been so glad to see a bed," Pete said as he sank down on

it. "That was one long hallway."

 

"It will be much easier tomorrow," Richard said as he came back into the

room carrying a pitcher and a mug. He set them down on the nightstand

where Pete could reach them. "Let me just check your incision, then I'll

leave you alone for the night." After a quick inspection, he announced,

"Looking very good. If you need anything during the night, just ring the

bell. I'll hear it. And I'll probably check on you sometime during the

night, too."

 

"Do you mind if I borrow one of your books?" Alan asked.

 

"Of course not. Just help yourself. You too, Galen. And just to save you

some time, you won't find any books that explain what happened. Books

were obsolete by that time, and without electricity, there's no way for

you to view that part of our history."

 

Alan shrugged, not surprised that Richard had seen the reason for his

request. Still, it would be nice to be able to read a book again.

 

"Good night, everyone." With those words, Richard left the room.

 

*****

 

Alan woke early the next morning. After dressing, he peered into Pete's

room. His friend was still sleeping, so he headed downstairs, taking

care to stay quiet. He didn't want to disturb his host's sleep if he

could possibly help it. When he stepped outside, he found his efforts

had been unnecessary. Richard was already awake, and engaged in some

sort of martial arts exercise. His movements were slow, deliberate, and

graceful. Alan said nothing because it looked like Richard was

concentrating on his movements.

 

"Good morning," Richard called out once he'd finished. He joined Alan on

the porch, grabbing a towel to mop his sweaty face. "I didn't expect

anyone else to be up so early."

 

"Neither did I," Alan admitted. He studied the area behind the house. It

was filled with various trees and shrubs, many bearing fruit in various

stages of ripeness. To one side, he could just make out a garden, which

only made sense; growing food was necessary if you wanted to eat.

Further away, he could see some other buildings. He pointed toward them.

"Does anyone else live here?"

 

"No, those are just storage sheds or work shops. I tend to collect

things, but they often need restoration, so I store them until I'm ready

to do the work."

 

"Do you collect computers?"

 

Richard shook his head as he leaned against the porch railing. "Not much

sense to do that without electricity. One of these years I'm going to

build a generator and a windmill to power it. Then I might consider

finding some computers."

 

"Talon traded some computer disks with another village - do you know

where he would have found them? That's what brought us here in the first

place."

 

"Hmmmm... probably from the city - it's about ten miles from here. You

can probably find just about anything you want there. It's where I found

the piano and pool table. Of course, they were in ruins and had to be

restored. I doubt there are any cities left that aren't in ruins."

 

Alan debated with himself for a few moments before deciding to trust

Richard with some information. "We found a computer in one of the cities

that still worked. It projected an image of a scientist that told us

there were computers stashed in various cities around the world, and

that they were well hidden. Unfortunately, the gorillas were too close

to us, and we couldn't take advantage of the information. Do you know of

any of these stashes?"

 

"Sorry, Alan. I honestly don't know. I never even heard that the

scientists were doing that. Of course, I'm sure it was a pretty top-

secret plan. My best guess for where to look would be to head south -

toward the Los Angeles area. There were a lot of think tanks set up down

there. Or else head south and east toward the China Lake area. There was

a lot of activity going on there near the end, but I don't know what it

was."

 

"Thanks, Richard. We'll check out those areas."

 

"Please, call me Richie. I only use Richard because it seems more god-

like. As long as Talon and his people think I'm a god, I don't have to

explain why I don't grow older or how come I know so much. It tends to

keep them at a distance - which is how I want it."

 

"All right, Richie." Alan decided to ask the man about something he'd

said the night before. "Tell me, Richie, you appear to... hate apes."

 

The youthful face in front of him changed dramatically. Alan almost

shuddered at the look of hatred that crossed Richard's face.

 

"Yes, I hate them." Ice seemed to drip from Richard's voice.

 

"Then why did you let Galen come here?"

 

Richard took a deep breath and seemed to slough off his emotions. "I

almost didn't let Talon bring him here, but I knew he was your friend. I

just hope I don't live to regret this."

 

Alan couldn't help but wonder whether Richard had just let slip a hint

of their future. Maybe he knew that Galen was their friend because

they'd made it back to their time, and had taken Galen with them.

Especially since Richard had suggested that Pete visit his relations in

Washington if they got back. Maybe they all went there, and met Richard

in that time period. Of course, it could just be that Talon had told

him, but it seemed hard to believe that would be enough to get around

the extent of Richard's hatred.

 

"Why do you hate them so much?"

 

"Aren't they hunting you? Haven't they tried to kill you because you're

different?"

 

"Yes, but that's no reason to *hate*. And just because some of them want

to hunt us down and kill us doesn't mean they're all like that. Galen

isn't the only ape that has helped us - there have been many others. I

think the ones that are hunting us are doing it because they fear our

knowledge. They see it as a threat."

 

"Shandra was no threat."

 

Alan almost missed the whispered words. "Who was Shandra?" he asked

gently.

 

The silence seemed to stretch between them. Just when Alan decided he

wouldn't get an answer, Richard started to talk.

 

"She was my mate - would have been my wife if humans were allowed to

marry back then. She had the most beautiful smile, and when she laughed,

you had to laugh with her." Richie sighed as he sat down on the porch

stairs. "I'd seen so much death. So much destruction. Then I met her.

She... she saved my sanity and I loved her deeply."

 

Alan sat down next to him. "What happened to her?"

 

"She couldn't read, she knew nothing about space travel, and she

expected apes to be in charge. She was no danger to anyone. But one day,

they came to our village and they took both of us - put us in cages and

hauled us back to their city. At first, I thought they just wanted

slaves, but I was so wrong." Richard stopped and cleared his throat.

"They took Shandra for medical experiments. They didn't even sedate her.

I can still hear her screams. I tried to get to her - I *tried*."

Frustration and guilt echoed through his voice.

 

"For two days, I heard her screams. I still don't know which was worse -

listening to her screams or listening to the silence between sessions.

Wondering whether she was still alive or not. They finally brought her

out and put her in my cage. There was nothing I could do for her. I had

all this medical knowledge, but I couldn't help her."

 

Alan didn't know what to say. The raw pain that filled Richard's voice

rang a chord deep within him. What if it had been his wife who'd been

treated that way? How would he have felt about apes after that?

 

Richard sighed again. "I had my chance the next day. They took me out of

the cage so I could be trained. I attacked the first gorilla I saw who

had a rifle, and they killed me. When I came back to life, I found

myself in a shallow grave. It didn't take too long to dig myself out.

Once it was dark, I rescued Shandra. For two years, I took care of her,

but it was never the same. She wouldn't laugh. She wouldn't smile. I

couldn't get through to her, at all."

 

"It wasn't your fault, Richie. I'm sure you did your best."

 

"My best wasn't good enough - it's never good enough." With those words,

Richard stood up and headed up the hill away from the house.

 

Alan knew that Richard was still blaming himself for failing to save

Shandra. He just didn't know if he could find the words to help heal the

Immortal. With a deep sigh, he followed the other man up the hill. He

had to at least give it a try.

 

He found Richard in a small clearing at the top of the hill. Alan hadn't

realized how close to the ocean they were, but it was clearly visible

from where they stood.

 

"Nice view," Alan said, moving up to stand by Richard.

 

"I come here a lot to think."

 

"About what?" Alan decided to go for broke. "No, let me guess. You think

about what a failure you are."

 

"Yeah."

 

"Listen, Richie, there wasn't anything you *could* have done. You were

outnumbered by a species that were stronger and better armed than you.

You told us you were immortal - you didn't tell us you were Superman."

 

Richard smiled for a moment. "You sound like an old friend of mine. He

made it quite clear that I wasn't Superman."

 

"Then why do you keep blaming yourself? You took the first opportunity

open to you, and got her away from the apes. You took care of her - even

though she was no longer the same woman you loved. There was *nothing*

else you could have done."

 

Richard sighed. "I don't know how to get past all these feelings inside

of me. The guilt and the hatred seem all tied up together. Maybe because

of what happened after Shandra died."

 

"What *did* happen?"

 

"I went on a killing spree. I burned down the entire village that had

taken us. I killed every ape I ran across."

 

"Even the children?" Alan prayed for the right answer.

 

"No - never the children. But I killed their parents while they watched.

I'm not sure if it wouldn't have been better to kill them. I'm sure I

became their worst nightmare - and I know *all* about those. If it

hadn't been for one of my friends, I might still be there, killing every

ape in sight. I didn't want his help, but Duncan literally kidnapped me

- he brought me here to this place. Of coursse, there was nothing here

except a small hut at the time, but I've had almost a century to make

this place home."

 

Alan could hardly imagine how someone could live alone for a century.

"What happened to this Duncan? Did he die, too?"

 

"I hope not - he's like me. But he got tired of my refusing to listen to

anything he said. Told me he'd come back when I was ready to listen to

reason. He shows up here every so often to see if I'm ready."

 

"But you haven't been ready - you've still been killing apes." Alan

shrugged when Richard sent him a shocked look. "There were rumors about

demons who killed apes in this area. I figured that had to be you."

 

"Yeah, but I never went looking for them. As long as they stay away from

me, I'm willing to let them live in peace. Call it a compromise."

 

"I'll make another guess... You've set yourself up as a god to keep the

other humans away. You live up here, all alone, so you don't have to

care for anyone - to love anyone."

 

"You can't be hurt if you don't care." Richard sounded like a child

who'd learned a painful lesson the hard way.

 

How many people had Richard lost? He had to be over a thousand years

old. What would it be like to watch people die while you live on?

 

"You *are* hurting yourself, whether you realize it or not. You've shut

yourself up, away from the rest of the world, and you're living in the

past when you should be living in the present. Besides, with your

knowledge, you could help so many people - help them learn a better way

to live."

 

"I've thought about it... But I don't know if I can be around apes

without starting to kill them."

 

"You haven't killed Galen," Alan pointed out. "Maybe you should spend a

little time with him - learn to see him as an individual."

 

"Maybe." Richard didn't sound too convinced.

 

"Why not give it a try? After all, we'll be here for a while until Pete

heals enough to travel. And if you ever need someone to talk to, I'd be

more than willing to listen."

 

Richard gave a small smile at that comment. "You might regret that.

Duncan used to complain about how much talking I always did."

 

"I think I can handle it."

 

Richard looked up at the sky. "I'd better get back and check on my

patient. He probably thinks he's been abandoned by now." Without another

word, he turned and almost ran back to the house.

 

Alan spent a few more minutes enjoying the view, and thinking about

their conversation before he headed back to the house, too.

 

*****

 

Two days later, Alan helped Pete down the stairs and out to the porch.

His friend sank down on the nearest chair with a big sigh of relief.

 

"Why was that so hard?" Pete asked, frustration evident in his tone.

"And don't tell me I just had surgery."

 

"Give it a few more days," Richard said as he emerged from the house

carrying a cup of juice which he handed to Pete. "By then you'll

probably be feeling much better. Although I'd still recommend that you

rest for at least a month before you leave."

 

"Well, I couldn't have picked a better place to recuperate. I can't wait

to try out the pool table and the beer." Pete grinned at the thought.

 

"Next week. And now I'd better get busy with my chores."

 

"Can I help with anything?" Alan volunteered.

 

"Sure. Let's see... There's wood to be chopped, or you can work on the

weeds in the garden."

 

"I'll take wood over weeds any day of the week."

 

"All right," Richard agreed with a smile. "I'll go whack some weeds."

 

"Can I help you, Richie?" Galen asked.

 

Alan noticed that Richard hesitated for a moment, but then he smiled at

the ape. It was a start. "Sure, Galen. I can always use the help."

 

"I'll just sit here and supervise," Pete tossed in. "Let's get to work!"

 

*****

 

Alan took a break after about an hour of chopping. Richard and Galen

were still busy in the garden, but he decided to rest for a while. He

fetched a cup of water, and joined Pete on the porch. His friend was

staring off into the distance.

 

"What are you thinking about?" he asked.

 

Pete sighed. "What ifs."

 

"Such as?"

 

"What if Richie hadn't been here? I would have died, Alan. And this

hasn't been the only time when one of us has almost died. How many more

close calls will we have before our luck runs out?"

 

Alan thought back to all their close calls. He'd been shot. Pete had

been trapped underground with Urko during an earthquake. Then there'd

been the shark incident. Even Galen had come into his share of troubles

when he'd fallen down a cliff. And he'd been bitten by a scorpion. It

did seem that trouble followed them wherever they went.

 

"I guess all we can do is hope our luck holds out. It's not like we

could have been more careful and avoided this one. As far as I know,

there's no way to prevent appendicitis."

 

"I guess not." Pete looked over toward the garden. "Do you think Richie

might be interested in traveling with us? I mean he's from our time.

Maybe he'd like to be with people he can be himself with."

 

"And if we find a way back home, then what? He can't go back with us,

Pete. He's still living in that time period. Are we just supposed to

leave him behind?"

 

"I guess I didn't think about that. I just thought..."

 

"That he'd be a good person to have along," Alan interrupted. "And it

would be nice to have a doctor traveling with us - especially one that

can't die, but I don't think it would be a good thing for Richie.

Besides, I'm not sure he'd be willing to go." Alan quickly told Pete

about Shandra.

 

"Wow. That must have been very hard. I can't even imagine how I would

have reacted if that had happened to me."

 

"Neither can I," Alan admitted. "It puts a whole new slant on the

concept of immortality."

 

"Yeah." Silence filled the air as they both became occupied with their

thoughts. Finally, Pete spoke up. "Hey, don't you think you should get

back to work? That woodpile isn't getting any higher as long as you're

sitting there."

 

"Yes, boss." With a grin, Alan went back to work.

 

*****

 

The warmth of the sun, and the rhythmic sound of the ax lulled Pete into

sleep. When he woke up, there was no sign of Alan. He started to

stretch, then winced as the incision in his side reminded him that maybe

that wasn't such a good idea. He waited for a little while, wondering

where everyone had gone. Finally, he decided he could manage the short

walk to the kitchen. Another glass of juice sounded very good.

 

Carefully, Pete got to his feet and headed inside. Once in the kitchen,

he found the pitcher of juice and refilled his glass. Just as he turned

to go back out to the porch, a loud crash filled the house. Before he

had a chance to investigate, a tall, muscular, white man strode into the

kitchen.

 

"Where is he?" the man demanded.

 

"Who?"

 

"The 'god' who lives here! I want him!"

 

Pete was fairly certain this was no friend of Richard's. "I don't know

who you're talking about. I live here."

 

With a vicious snarl, the man backhanded Pete, sending him crashing into

the table. Pete struggled to hold back his scream as he felt something

give way around the incision. He wasn't given the chance to investigate,

though. The man dragged him up by the hair.

 

"I've heard all about the 'god' who lives here. Where is he?"

 

"I don't know." That answer earned him another stunning blow.

 

With an almost casual ease, the man grabbed Pete's arms and dragged him

outside. He was thrown down the porch stairs, ending up sprawled in the

dirt at the bottom.

 

"Your friend is about to die!" the man called. "Come out and face me or

I will kill him!"

 

Pete felt something cold rest on his neck, and managed to focus enough

to see the man was holding a sword.

 

"Leave him be. He's not part of this."

 

Pete recognized the voice - Richard had come back. When the sword was

removed from his neck, he carefully looked around. He couldn't believe

his eyes. Richard had a sword, too! What was going on?

 

The man moved closer to Richard, then paused to announce, "Kenneth

Maru."

 

"Richard Ryan. How did you find me?"

 

"I heard the rumors about a 'god' who lived in this area. That usually

means an Immortal, and I was right. As for finding your little hiding

place - all it took was a little persuasion. One of the women in the

village finally told me all about you to save her daughter's life." Maru

laughed. "Mortals are such weak beings."

 

"You bastard!" With that statement, Richard attacked.

 

Pete tried to get to his feet to help his friend, but the pain was too

intense. He could only watch helplessly while the men exchanged blows.

Where were Alan and Galen? Surely, the two of them could stop the fight.

And what was the purpose of the fight? Richard had told them that he

couldn't die. The stranger had guessed that Richard was immortal. So why

would he be trying to chop him up? Could it be that if enough damage was

done, that an Immortal would die?

 

Pete was sure that Richard was going to lose. The other man was taller,

more muscular, and had a longer reach. Suddenly, Richard was down on his

knees, desperately trying to hold his sword up for protection. Pete

almost closed his eyes - not wanting to witness the killing blow. But it

didn't happen. Instead, it was Richard who suddenly twisted and slashed

the stranger across the abdomen with his sword.

 

Richard slowly climbed to his feet while the other man sank to his

knees. "There can be only one!" Richard said before chopping off the

stranger's head.

 

The next few minutes took on nightmarish aspects. In almost slow motion,

the stranger's head dropped into the dirt, followed by the body toppling

over. A mist seemed to rise from the body, and it headed straight for

Richard. Finally, lightning seemed to fill the sky, centering around the

Immortal. Pete covered his head, fearing he was too close and he would

be struck, too.

 

"Pete? Pete, are you okay?" Gentle hands rolled him over when quiet had

settled over the area again.

 

He looked up into the concerned faces of Alan and Galen. A few moments

later, Richard joined them.

 

"He's bleeding," Alan exclaimed, reaching down to pull up Pete's shirt.

 

"Damn! He's torn his incision open. Help me get him inside."

 

Pete passed out when Alan and Richard lifted him.

 

*****

 

"How are you feeling?" Richard asked once Pete woke up.

 

"Not too great," Pete admitted, weakly.

 

"You'd feel better with a blood transfusion, but you and Alan don't have

compatible blood types."

 

"I know." They'd been down that path before when Alan had been shot.

"How bad is it?" Pete wasn't sure he really wanted to know.

 

"Oh, you'll live," Richard said as he stood up and walked over to the

dresser. He poured out a glass of water and brought it back to the bed,

helping Pete sit up so he could drink. "I've stitched you back up,

you've got a black eye, and you've got a lot of bruises. Because of the

blood loss, you'll be feeling pretty weak for a while."

 

"Great." Pete looked around the room. "Where are Alan and Galen?"

 

"They're supposed to be eating, but I doubt much food is being consumed.

I think they're both feeling pretty guilty for leaving you alone."

 

"Not their fault."

 

"I agree. If it was anyone's fault it was mine. Maru was looking for

me."

 

"He guessed you were immortal."

 

"He was one, too."

 

"Was? I thought you couldn't die." Pete was very confused by now.

 

Richard grimaced. "Well, there is one way... If an Immortal's head is

chopped off, then he - or she - dies permanently."

 

"Why did you kill him?"

 

Richard shrugged. "It's what we do. All Immortals are involved in

something we call The Game. There are rules and a prize, and the last

remaining Immortal gets it."

 

"So, you go around killing each other? To get a prize?" Pete couldn't

believe what he was hearing.

 

"The prize is supposed to be enough power and knowledge to rule this

world for an eternity. That makes a pretty tempting reason to play. But

not all of us are like that. I don't hunt down other Immortals, but I

won't back away from a fight, either. Especially if the other Immortal

is breaking the rules. Our fights are supposed to be secret - if a

mortal is around, we aren't supposed to fight. Maru should never have

challenged me as long as you were around."

 

"What other rules?"

 

"Oh... let's see. Our fights are one-on-one. We can't kill on holy

ground. And we're supposed to only use swords when we fight."

 

"What was that lightning thing at the end?"

 

"We call it a Quickening. It's supposed to be the power and knowledge of

the dead Immortal - and the winner gets it all."

 

"And you've managed to keep Immortals a secret for a thousand years?"

 

"Well, not so secret, and for a lot longer than a thousand years. There

were quite a few mortals who knew about us. There was one group called

Watchers, who followed us around and documented our lives. We weren't

supposed to know about them, either, but one of my friends found out

about their organization. And some of them decided to kill Immortals on

their own - we called them the Hunters. They were our worst nightmare

because we couldn't feel them coming."

 

"Feel them coming? What do you mean?"

 

"Immortals can sense each other when we get close enough. Kind of an

early warning system. Anyway, when mortals came after us, we had no

warning. Often, there would be a group of them, armed with guns. They

were determined to make sure no Immortal ever won the prize. They called

us freaks, and said we didn't deserve to live."

 

"Well, they were wrong," Pete said. "Everyone deserves to live."

 

"I guess they were afraid that one of us would win the prize and take

over the world. Of course, the fact that most of us didn't want to rule

the world seemed to have slipped their attention. Some of us just wanted

to make sure the wrong Immortal didn't end up the winner. Besides, no

one knows how long our game will last. I sure never expected to live

this long."

 

"What's the oldest that any of you have lived?"

 

"Well, I used to know an Immortal who claimed he was over five thousand

years old. For all I know, he might still be alive - which would put him

at over six thousand."

 

"You don't know?"

 

"No. He was in Europe when the war broke out. I don't even know whether

Europe still exists or not. Nuclear war can have devastating effects.

I'd like to think he's still alive. But we can't pick up a phone and

call each other anymore. And we can't hop on a plane to check it out,

either. Maybe some day, he'll build a boat and come over here - or I'll

go over there."

 

Pete had to wonder how it would feel to never know if your friends were

still alive or not - especially if you'd known them for a long time.

That reminded him of something else the other Immortal had said. "Did

Maru hurt a child to find out about you? Was it Kira?"

 

"No, it wasn't Kira - but, yes, he did hurt a child. She'll be fine,

though. I've already treated her injuries."

 

The bedroom door opened and Alan and Galen came into the room.

 

"Well, look who's awake," Alan said with a smile. He hurried over to the

bed. "How are you feeling?"

 

"Like a limp noodle," Pete replied.

 

"I'll go fix you something to eat," Richard said, standing up. "You two

can keep him company until I come back."

 

Alan took over Richard's seat as soon as the Immortal had left the room.

"I'm sorry, Pete. I should never have left you alone."

 

"It wasn't your fault. There was no way you could know that King Kong

was going to show up."

 

"I thought his name was Kenneth Maru," Galen said, wearing a confused

look.

 

"King Kong is a nickname given to big people - especially those who are

acting aggressive," Alan explained, leaving out the fact that he'd been

a gorilla, as he and Pete exchanged grins.

 

"Oh. Did Richie explain what happened?"

 

"Yes." Pete didn't know how much to say. He'd promised Richard to not

reveal his secrets to Galen.

 

"Galen knows. Richie told him everything about Immortals," Alan

explained. "After all, he heard Maru call him one, so there wasn't much

point in keeping the rest of it from him."

 

Somehow, Pete doubted that Galen had heard everything - especially the

part about ruling the world for an eternity. He didn't think Galen would

be too happy to hear about that one. He'd have to compare notes with

Alan later.

 

*****

 

Alan wasn't sure what woke him in the middle of the night. He listened

for a few moments, hoping to identify what it had been. He finally got

out of bed, deciding to check things out. His first stop was Pete's

room. Even in the dark, he could see how restless his friend was. He

went over to the bed, and placed a hand on Pete's forehead.

 

He was burning up.

 

Alan hurried back to Richard's room. He knocked on the door, then opened

it. "Richie? It's Pete - he's got a high fever."

 

"I'll be right there," Richard replied, throwing back the covers on his

bed.

 

Alan went back to Pete's room, and lit a candle on the dresser. He knew

this was serious. Pete was already weakened from blood loss - this fever

might be the final straw. Galen joined him and Alan quickly explained

the problem as Richard came into the room carrying a large bowl filled

with water. He placed it on the nightstand, then checked out Pete.

"Start sponging him down," he ordered. "I'll go get something that

should help with the fever."

 

Alan dipped a cloth in the water and started bathing Pete's face, then

chest. It seemed to take an eternity before Richard returned, carrying a

mug. It wasn't quite what Alan had expected. He'd never heard of an

antibiotic given in a drink.

 

Richard sat down on the edge of the bed while Alan raised Pete up to a

sitting position.

 

"Won't he choke?" Alan asked.

 

"I hope not." Richard lightly slapped Pete's face several times, calling

out the man's name. Finally, Pete's eyes opened a little. "You have to

drink this, Pete," he ordered as he placed the cup to Pete's lips.

 

Pete managed to swallow enough to satisfy Richard, and he set the cup

aside. "I hope this helps."

 

"What kind of antibiotic was that?"

 

"It wasn't an antibiotic - it was willow bark tea. It helps reduce

fever. Willow bark has some of the same components as aspirin."

 

"Aspirin! He needs an antibiotic!" Alan couldn't understand why a doctor

wouldn't know that.

 

Richard sighed. "Okay, here's the deal. I have lots of medical training.

I have lots of books on surgery, and what medications to use. What I

don't have is anything to teach me how to *make* medications -

especially antibiotics. I've done some experimenting, and I have

something that I *think* is penicillin, but I'm not sure. I've only used

it one time."

 

"What happened?"

 

"The patient died - from anaphylactic shock. I've never tried again."

Richard sighed again. "But he's your friend. I'll let you make that

decision."

 

Alan could only stare at Richard. How was he supposed to make that kind

of decision? Without an antibiotic, Pete might die. However, the

medication might kill him, anyway. There were too many mights.

 

"How long do I have to decide?"

 

Richard shrugged. "It depends on how fast his fever rises. If you wait

too long, Pete could go into convulsions, or he could suffer brain

damage. Even if his temperature doesn't get that high, his kidneys could

shut down. On the other hand, it will take some time for the willow bark

tea to have any effect. Unfortunately, I have no way of monitoring just

how high his temperature is, because I don't have a thermometer. They

banned mercury thermometers back in 2010, and digital ones needed

batteries. In many ways, we're back in the Dark Ages as far as medical

treatment goes."

 

Alan looked over at Galen, hoping for some help. The ape slowly shook

his head. "I don't know what to say, Alan."

 

He had to make the decision on his own. It was an awful responsibility

to bear. Alan closed his eyes as he tried to think. Finally, with a deep

sigh, he opened them again. "Let's wait thirty minutes. If his fever

hasn't dropped by then, we'll try the antibiotic."

 

The next thirty minutes were nerve-wracking for Alan. Both he and

Richard kept bathing Pete, hoping to bring his temperature down. By this

time, Pete was tossing and turning in his bed, as well as talking

deliriously about crash-landings, apes chasing him, and heads being cut

off. At the end of the allotted time, the Immortal turned to Alan. "I

think his fever is higher than it was before."

 

Alan reached out, and placed a hand on Pete's forehead. "I think you're

right. We're going to have to try your medicine and pray it doesn't kill

Pete."

 

"I'll go get it." Richard left the room.

 

"Are you sure, Alan?" Galen asked.

 

"I don't think we have any other choice. Pete will die if his fever gets

much higher."

 

Richard returned, carrying a syringe. He wasted no time injecting the

medicine into Pete. "Now, we wait."

 

"How long?"

 

"Well, it won't take long if he's going to go into anaphylactic shock.

Otherwise, we just have to wait to see if the fever goes down. All we

can do is keep sponging him down, and try to get him to drink fluids."

 

Alan returned to his efforts. As the sun started to rise, he noticed the

first signs of perspiration appear on Pete's face. Within another thirty

minutes, his friend was openly sweating.

 

"That's a good sign," Richard said. "It's the last stage of fever. Soon,

his temperature should start dropping."

 

Richard's words proved to be true. There was a noticeable drop in Pete's

fever, and, a short time later, he opened his eyes. Alan heaved a sigh

of relief. He'd made the right choice.

 

"What's happening?" Pete asked weakly, as he noticed the crowd around

his bed.

 

*****

 

The rest of the time they spent with Richard was uneventful. Pete was

confined to bed for several days before he was strong enough to get up.

Even then, it took almost six weeks until he was ready to travel again.

Alan and Galen made a trip into the city with Talon, hoping to find a

computer, but were disappointed when they found nothing.

 

Still, it was nice to have a breather from being constantly chased by

apes. They all took the time to enjoy some of the pastimes of days long

gone. Besides reading, there was the piano to enjoy. Richard played pool

with Pete, chess with Alan, and taught Galen how to play checkers. Alan

was glad to see the two of them spend time together. Hopefully, it would

help Richard overcome his hatred of the apes.

 

Finally, the day came when it was time to leave. The four of them

gathered on the front porch of Richard's house to say their good-byes.

 

"You're welcome to come with us," Alan suggested, even though he'd once

told Pete it wouldn't be a good idea. But, over the last six weeks,

they'd all become good friends. He felt like he was deserting the

Immortal. "For as long as you want."

 

Richard smiled. "I'm tempted - I think it's going to seem very quiet

around here for a while. Still, this is your journey, not mine. Just

take care of yourselves."

 

"You, too," Pete replied, as he reached out to shake Richard's hand.

"And don't go losing your head, either."

 

"I'll try to remember that. Safe journeys." Richard shook hands with

Alan and Galen. "Oh, there is one thing you could do for me."

 

"Name it," Pete said.

 

"If you should meet someone by the name of Duncan MacLeod - tell him I'm

ready to listen. He'll understand."

 

Alan understood, too. "We'll do that." He had a feeling that Richard

wouldn't stay here for much longer. He was ready to be with people

again.

 

The three travelers headed down the path. At the bottom, they turned and

waved. Richard waved back, then went inside the house, shutting the door

to reduce the temptation to follow them.

 

Four weeks later, Richard felt the touch of another Immortal. He'd been

busy packing up his most prized possessions. It hadn't taken him long to

decide that he couldn't hide away anymore, but that didn't mean he

wanted to throw everything away, either. Hopefully, everything would

still be here if he decided to return.

 

But first, there was another Immortal to deal with. Drawing his sword,

he headed outside. The man waiting for him was no stranger, and he

didn't have his sword drawn.

 

"Hi, Richie."

 

"Hey, Mac. Welcome back." The two men hugged each other warmly, smiling

broadly. "It's great to see you."

 

"It's good to see you, too."

 

"Come on inside - although I should warn you that the place is kind of a

mess."

 

"Just like old times." Duncan grinned at his former student while aiming

a playful smack at his head.

 

Beers in hand, they settled into comfortable chairs and caught up on

news. Duncan had done quite a bit of traveling since they'd last seen

each other.

 

"I made it all the way to the Chicago area this time. I finally ran into

Connor there."

 

"That's good." Richard knew how much it had bothered Duncan to not know

whether his clansman had still been alive.

 

"We talked about heading over to the New York area, but Connor didn't

think it was such a good idea. Apparently, the humans in that area can't

even talk. We'd really stand out."

 

"There was probably more radiation in that area. After all, Washington,

D.C. was one of the first places bombed."

 

"That's what I figured, too. So, what have you been up to, and why are

you packing?"

 

"Well, did you run into two humans and a chimpanzee who were traveling

together?"

 

Duncan shook his head, a curious look on his face. "Were they his

servants?"

 

Richard laughed at that. "Not hardly. Actually, the humans were from my

time - Alan Virdon and Pete Burke. They were the astronauts that

disappeared in 1988."

 

"And then they came back in... 2001, if I remember correctly. And they

brought a chimpanzee with them." Duncan stared at Richard. "You do know

that was the trigger to start scientists into genetic manipulations of

apes to turn them into servants."

 

"Yes, and that eventually led to the great wars between man and apes,

and that escalated into nuclear warfare." Richard sighed. "I know. I had

Pete Burke's life in my hands. You have no idea how tempted I was to

just let him die. For that matter, I could have killed all of them. I

could have changed the past - I could have prevented all of that from

happening."

 

Duncan's face became a mask. "Then why didn't you?"

 

"Because Pete Burke saved me from Hunters - after they came back with

Galen. How could I keep him from returning, when it would have meant

that I would have died a thousand years ago?"

 

"That's the great conundrum about time travel, Richie. If you killed

Burke in this time line, then you wouldn't even be alive now, so how

*could* you kill him?"

 

"But was I thinking only of myself? Maybe I could have prevented all

this destruction and suffering."

 

Duncan shrugged. "Maybe. Or you might have made it so much worse. It's

hard to second guess what would have happened. Man could have found some

other way to destroy the world, and everyone on it. It's best not to

risk it."

 

"Thanks, Mac. It's nice to get a second opinion."

 

"How much did you tell them about what was in store for them?"

 

"Nothing. I didn't even tell them whether they ever made it back. I did

kind of cheat a little - I suggested that Pete visit his cousin Angie

*if* he should ever return. And I told them about Immortals, as well as

Hunters." Richard grinned. "I'm still here, so I guess I haven't changed

the past, yet."

 

"I'm glad about that. Now then, why are you packing?"

 

Two weeks later, the Immortals headed out on their own travels.

 

*****

 

October, 2001. Seacouver, Washington.

 

Pete Burke slowly strolled through the park. It probably wasn't a good

idea to be out here after dark, but he needed to get away for a while -

to be out in the open, away from people. They'd been back to their own

time - or close to it, anyway - for almost eight months, and it was just

short of a nightmare.

 

First had come the military debriefings, then the press conferences.

Those weren't easy because he'd been ordered to never reveal that they'd

been in the future. That order had come all the way down from the

President, so he couldn't ignore it. He guessed it made some sense to

keep it hidden. If people knew what was in store for Earth in the

future, it could lead to mass hysteria. On the other hand, if they

didn't know, they couldn't stop it, either. All he could do was hope

that plans were being made by those who did know.

 

So, he went around the country, telling people they'd somehow traveled

to a planet far away and found intelligent life - Galen being the proof.

Alan had been given a reprieve from the tour circuit while he tried to

reconcile with his family.

 

It was difficult to get used to the throngs of people, and modern

conveniences again. Sometimes, he felt just like Galen did - overwhelmed

by the technology of this world. It wasn't until he visited Seattle,

Washington, that he remembered a long-ago conversation. He'd looked up

his cousin, and arranged a get-together. He'd been at their house

tonight, and met Angie for the first time, but couldn't figure out a way

to ask about Richard. He couldn't come up with a good reason why he

would have known him.

 

Suddenly, the sound of gunshots broke the silence of the park. Without

thinking about it, Pete headed in the direction of the commotion. As he

entered the clearing, he found two men standing over the body of another

who was lying face down. One man was still holding a gun, and the other

had an ax.

 

"What are you doing?" he yelled at the men. Since when had muggers

started carrying axes? He couldn't believe things had changed that much

since they'd left.

 

For a moment, they did nothing, then they took off running. Pete almost

followed, but decided he should see if he could help the victim. He

knelt down beside the body, and reached for the man's wrist. There was

no pulse. Standing back up, he looked around, trying to decide what to

do next. He needed to call the police, but he didn't like the idea of

leaving the man alone - even if he was dead.

 

Pete almost jumped when a loud gasp came from the body. He stared down

as the once-dead man rolled over. He almost let out his own gasp when he

recognized the face. It was Richard. What did he do now? How could he

explain that he'd met the man a thousand years into the future? Should

he tell the Immortal what was in store for him? Tell him about the bombs

and the destruction and the suffering? How could he? And why hadn't

Richard recognized him when they'd met? Had he forgotten this encounter

in a thousand years? Or had something changed the timeline? But how

could he be alive now if Richard hadn't been there to remove his

appendix?

 

It was too mind-boggling. For now, he decided to act like they'd never

met.

 

"Take it easy. The men who attacked you are gone. Are you okay?"

 

Richard coughed a couple of times before standing up. He pulled his

jacket tighter, but not before Pete saw the bullet hole in his shirt -

right over his heart. "Yeah, I'm okay. They just knocked me out. I'll be

fine."

 

"Why did they attack you?" Pete wondered if the men had been Hunters.

The ax sure made it seem possible.

 

"Oh, they probably just wanted to rob me. By the way, I'm Richie Ryan."

 

"Pete Burke." The men shook hands.

 

"Oh, the astronaut! I've seen you on TV. Hey, did you know you have a

cousin who lives here in town - she's a big fan of yours. Her name is

Angie."

 

"Yeah, I know. Actually, it's her father who's my cousin. I'm here

visiting them." Pete paused for a moment, then asked, "Maybe you can

tell me where to get a good beer around here."

 

"Well, as a matter of fact, I know just the place. It's a blues bar

called Joe's and it's not too far away.

 

"Great," Pete said. "You want to come along? I hate drinking alone." It

would be interesting to compare this much younger Richard to the one

he'd known in the future. The face was the same, but what changes would

a thousand years bring?

 

"Sounds like fun, but I need to stop by my place and change first.

There's nothing like being mugged to mess up your clothes."

 

Or being shot, but Pete didn't mention that. He'd let Richard maintain

his secrets - at least for now. "No problem."

 

"I'll even buy you a beer," Richie added as they started walking toward

the parking lot. "It's the least I can do to thank you."

 

Pete knew it was the other way around. Richard had saved his life three

times, but there was no way he could explain it to the other man. A

chill ran down his spine as he realized that if he hadn't been here

tonight to save Richard, then there wouldn't have been anyone to help

him when he got appendicitis in the future! And if that was the case,

then how could Pete be alive now? It was enough to make his head hurt

when he tried to figure out all the ramifications.

 

He decided to keep their future meeting a secret. He didn't want to do

anything that might change Richard's future, and therefore his own past.

But maybe he should drop some hints to the Immortal to make sure he

studied medicine in the future. It couldn't hurt - could it?

 

The end.