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The Stranger

Help me if you can
Just that this
Is not the way I'm wired
So could you please,
Help me understand why
You've given in to all these
Reckless dark desires

You're lying to yourself again
suicidal imbecile
Think about it, put it on the faultline
What'll it take to get it through to you, precious?
I'm over this, why do you wanna throw it away like this
Such a mess, why would I wanna watch you

Disconnect and self destruct one bullet at a time
What's your rush now? Everyone will have his day to die...

Medicated, drama queen, picture perfect, numb belligerence
Narcisistic, drama queen, craving fame and all this decadence

If you choose to pull the trigger,
Should your drama prove sincere,
Do it somewhere far away from here!

-A Perfect Circle
"The Outsider"



That word had been echoing in Peter Burke's mind for the past ten miles. Or maybe it had been twenty. Hell, for all he knew, they'd gone sixty. That was an interesting thought to consider. Once upon a time, he could've gone this distance in an hour. Even less than an hour. What he wouldn't give for a dirt bike right about now...

But that wasn't going to happen. Come back down to Earth, Pete... Or at least... what had once been Earth. He wasn't entirely sure what it was now. The long-lost planet of Apeworld... beyond the charted ends of the universe. Hell, it might as well have been for as close as they were to home...

The tinkling of the brook in the not-too-distant foliage was welcome relief: a promise of fresh water and maybe even a place to cool off. He'd been waiting for it - praying for it - for more than an hour now. The singing sound of the water flowing over the rocks confirmed it: there was still a God. Now if only the water was cooler than the temperature of the ground, which seemed to be burning his feet through his thin-worn shoes...

"I think I know this area." He glanced back, over his shoulder at the chimpanzee tho was trudging a few steps behind, looking around as if he were in an art exhibit. "Yes, I'm quite sure of it." He shook his head, seemingly awestruck. "My, we are quite far from Central City! I did not realize we'd come this far!"

"How far are we?" Alan asked, pausing and wiping his brow with the back of his hand.

Galen shook his head. "Oh... days and days." He gestured to the brush in front of their path. "I believe the creek just ahead runs into Kotar City..."

Pete's eyes narrowed, but only briefly. "Sure it does," he answered Galen. He glanced toward the sound and felt his throat burn, then back at Galen and offered him a slight smirk. "Just like the last one lead us straight to Urko. Nice to have a such a competent tour guide isn't it, Alan?"

Alan shot him a look, but he ignored it. Galen straightened, and hesitated a moment as he tried to determine whether the statement was a real insult or only jesting on the part of his friend. "Now, there was no way I could have known that Urko was in that villiage," he stated. His glare was oh-so-slight, but it was enough to trigger Pete's half-smirk into a more pronounced grin. "Not any more than you could have."

"We're lucky that Galen knows this area at all," Alan mumbled, turning and staggering through the brush toward the much-needed water.

"Indeed," Galen agreed with a grin. "You two would get into all sorts of trouble without me..."

Pete rolled his eyes, and ducked out of the way as a branch snapped back and very nearly hit him in the head. He waited until it had already attacked Galen before giving a "Heads up!"

Alan slid down the dusty bank of the creek, followed closely by his human friend, and staggered to the crystal clear water of the stream. It wasn't a very wide creek, or deep. With a running jump, any one of them could probably make it to the other side. Still, Galen kept a safe distance, observing with slight amusement as Pete shoved Alan towards the water. Alan stumbled, but caught himself just on the edge. Sooner or later, one of them were going to get wet. Galen didn't want it to be him. Therefore, he was going to remain right where he was.

"Come on, Galen, the water looks nice..." Pete staggered a bit too close to the water's edge and grabbed a branch just in time to keep himself from falling in. Even so, his foot got wet.

Galen barked a laugh and shook his head. "Oooh... I don't think so. I'm staying right here and staying dry." Shaking his head a bit at the two water-loving humans, he craned his neck to look down the stream. He couldn't see where it ran through the city, but he knew it couldn't be more than a mile from where they were.

"Say your prayers Alan... Time for a baptism."

Galen looked just in time to see the two of them tumble into the water. Alan staggered to his feet and shoved his friend down into the knee-deep water, but the slight smirk on his face made it perfectly evident that there were no hard feelings. Galen shook his head again, and returned his gaze upstream.

"You said something about a city nearby?"

Galen's eyes turned briefly to the blond-haired man who was again on dry land, and filling his canteen. Pete was still in the water. "Yes," Galen nodded. "Kotar City. It's not far from here."

"Yeah, how far?" Alan prodded.

Galen shrugged a bit and looked again upstream again. "Oh... not more than a mile, I suppose." Suddenly, he shook his head. "Oh, but we cant go there. It's absolutely a bad idea."

He looked back to his two friends as if he actually expected them to just take his word for it. Both of them were staring back at him blankly, waiting for an explanation. He sighed. "They have a sort of... reputation," he explained. "You see... for me to go there would be no problem at all... In fact, I have an acquaintance who lives there. But for you two to go..." He laughed slightly, but it held no trace of humor. "That is an entirely different story."

"Uh huh." Pete's voice dripped with sarcasm and cynicism in equal amounts. "Just like it would be 'different' for a black man to walk into a KKK meeting. I think we get the picture."

Galen's head tipped to the side as he attempted to make sense of that statement. "KKK?" He chose the most obvious question from the many he could have asked.

"Ku Klux..." Pete trailed off at the confusion in his uneducated friend's eyes. "Nevermind."

Alan looked upstream, in the direction that he assumed the city was. It seemed to be the direction that Galen was most interested in. That the city wasn't human-friendly was not a real surprise. "How unfriendly are they?" he asked, more out of curiosity than anything.

"Oh, they'll shoot you," Galen answered simply. "With or without a cause."

Pete laughed again, just as cynical. "Yeah, what else is new..."

"It's getting kind of late." Alan turned to look up at the sky. "We're going to need to bed down pretty soon..." His eyes turned back to Pete. "I don't know how much further we can go east before we hit the mountains. We've been headed in the same direction for weeks, at least... I don't imagine we're still in what was once California..."

Pete nodded, glancing up at the colored sky as the sun set over the area. "Yeah, figure we're probably Nevada." He looked around. "How long before we hit the desert?" It wasn't really a question aimed at either one of them; he was musing to himself.

"That's a good question," Alan mumbled.

"I don't know, Kotar City is as far as I've ever come from Central City," Galen offered. "It's four days ride if you stay on the roads..."

"Yeah, maybe if we get lucky we can find a ski resort in the Sierre Nevadas," Pete offered, finally pulling himself out of the water. "This time of year they should be having discounts."

Galen stared. He was lost, and he didn't try to hide it. But this time, he didn't ask. Sometimes it was safer not to ask. Sometimes asking only made things more confusing.

"What we really need is a map of the area," Alan stated, his brow furrowed as he considered that.

"Yeah, but where are we gonna get one?" Pete added as he filled his canteen. "Unless maybe Chebacca over there has one in his pocket."

Galen knew, by some brilliant inside, that he was the one being referred to, but he hadn't the slightest idea whether he was being complimented or insulted. It was often hard to tell with Pete... Instead of questioning it, he turned his attention to Alan. "Well I might be able to go into the city and get one..." he offered. "It should be no trouble for me. As I said, there's a friend of the family who lives there..." He tipped his head, waiting for some kind of approval.

Pete glanced at him, then at Alan, then back again. "Hey, whatever floats your boat."

Galen blinked. "Boat? I have no boat..."

"No, he means... whatever you want to do is fine," Alan explained. "But I'm not so sure it's a good idea for us to split up."

Galen laughed. "Oh, nonsense," he chuckled. "I'll be fine."

"Yeah, well, they're looking for you too, you know," Pete nodded to him.

"Oh, I'll be there and back in a few hours," he reassured. "I'm quite sure I'll be just fine."

He looked to Alan, the unofficial leader of the three of them, and awaited the expected release to go. Finally, Alan nodded. "Yeah, okay. But you make sure you're back in twenty-four hours, or we're coming after you."

Galen jumped a bit as he nodded his head, clearly pleased. "Oh, it won't take me near that long." He took a few steps back, and then looked over his shoulder at the two of them. "Is there anything else we need?"

"Uh... yeah, can you pick me up a bottle of JD on your way back?"


"Right. Nothing then."


Alan lay on his back, staring up at the hazy, colored sky through the leaves and branches overhead and absently chewing on a weed from nearby. He wasn't sure what time it was exactly, but by the light from overhead, it was close to dawn. He was wide awake, and might have even been ready to get started with the day if not for the fact that Galen was still missing.

His thoughts wandered. He wasn't sure what had woken him, but whatever it had been, it did a damn good job. His mind kept returning to Galen, and he had to keep reminding himself that his friend was probably just fine. He'd probably decided to stay the night in the company of the aforementioned friend of the family. Dawn hadn't officially broke yet. When it did... then he could start to worry. Not until then.

A sound from nearby made him sit bolt upright, and he squinted into the darkness. But there was nothing. A squirrel, maybe. If they had squirrels here... As he thought about it, he hadn't seen one yet. Several species of birds, both familiar and unfamiliar, but no squirrels. He made a note to ask Galen about it later, and lay back down.

"What is it?"

Alan started again at the sound of Pete's voice, and looked to him before relaxing again. He looked just as much asleep as Alan had thought he was. "Nothing," Alan answered quietly. "At least I don't think it was anything." He reached for another nearby weed to replace the one that had fallen out of his mouth and lay down again. "I guess being hunted makes you paranoid sometimes..."

"I know what you mean. As a kid I always thought it would be fun to live in the woods without anyone tell you what to do or where to go, but now..." Pete let his speach dangle. Alan let it go. Growing up in large city hadn't exactly prepared him for this adventure, and he knew it. Better not to talk about it...

Pete rolled onto his back and opened his eyes to stare up at the overhead branches. "What time do you suppose it is?"

"Probably about six thirty, at a guess." Alan sighed, and chewed again on the end of the weed. "It's got to be getting to the end of summer. The days are getting shorter. Sun's not rising as early as it used to. At least... assuming that everything's the same now as it was two thousand years ago..."

"Yeah, who knows," Pete mumbled, cynicism evident in his voice. "We could have blown the earth right off her course." He rubbed his face with his hands and sat up, raking his fingers through his thick, unruly hair. "Oh, what I wouldn't give for a good cup of coffee right now." He smirked as he considered that for a moment. "Or maybe a jelly filled donut."

Alan chuckled under his breath. Somehow, the weed paled in comparison to a jelly-filled donut. "You know what food I miss most often?" He paused for just an instant, even though it was a rhetorical question. "Chicken. Like, Kentucky Fried Chicken? With their mashed potatoes and cole slaw..."

Pete's stomach rumbled loudly. "Aw... see what you did now?"

Alan laughed again, quietly. "Sorry."

"Honestly, you'd think that the apes would have come up with some decent food by now. When was the last time we had any meat?"

"That would depend on whether or not fish counts..."

"Think of a nice juicy steak sizziling on the grill. Makes the mouth water."

"Yeah, and think of farmers and their pitchforks when you get too close to their cows..."

Pete shrugged, but didn't answer. His mind was still clearly on the steak. Alan looked away, and his brow furrowed as he considered the rumors that ran rampant about barbaric Man. As if, like wild animals, they would eat any living thing they could get their hands on. The scary thing was, after the world fell apart, who knew what kinds of things Man was reduced to. Eating raw beef may have been the lesser of two evils. "Well, I'm sure they have their reasons," he concluded. "Most of their laws probably stem from what they saw the humans doing."

"Ape shall never kill ape..." Pete mused.

Alan glanced to him, and saw by the look in his eyes that they were thinking along the same, horrible lines. Alan looked away again, and thick silence hung in the air for a moment. "Has Galen ever mentioned who the first talking ape was?" Pete finally questioned. Alan opened his mouth to speak, but Pete corrected himself first. "Or, well... of course the general public believes apes have always spoken. But don't we have stories about the first man and woman? They should too. I'll have to ask him sometime."

Alan shook his head. "I think the whole idea was to keep them uneducated and unquestioning. They don't want to know like we did. As a society, I mean." He sighed deeply. "When we didn't know something? We had teams of people who'd work night and day until we figured it out. Even if it wouldn't benefit us at all to know. They're... not like that here." His voice dropped, turning a bit sadder. "If they were... they wouldn't be hunting us..."

"Yeah, well, if we ever get back... I don't think I'll ever hunt an animal ever again." He paused for a moment to think, and half-laughed at the ridiculousness of what he'd just said. "Besides the fact that I've never hunted before in my life."

Alan fell silent. To say anything more would be preaching to the choir, and he knew it. He took in a deep breath, and looked to the side. The black shadows had turned to shades of gray as the sun slowly turned the color of the sky a few shades lighter. "I wonder how Galen's doing."

"Oh, I'm sure he's fine," Pete mumbled. Alan glanced over at him, clearly worried. He had a feeling Pete was worried too, but knew he'd never admit to it. "He' probably lying in the lap of luxury while we sit out here in poverty."

Alan sat up, and tossed the weed aside as he hunched over his knees. "I really hate splitting up. It just..." He shook his head. "It invites trouble..."

"Mmm." Pete cast him a sideways grin. "Maybe we should send out frilly little invitations to Urko's troops next time we plan to split. It would save a lot of time."

Alan shook his head and rose to his feet. It was too early for sarcasm... He walked to the edge of the water and knelt, splashing a handful in his face and pushing back his too-long, greasy hair. What he wouldn't give for a hot shower...

The sound of cracking branches and a quick approach made him bolt upright, spinning around so fast he nearly fell forward into the water. Pete swivled his head as well to see where the sound came from. Both men tensed, ready to make a run for it if need be. They had been caught unaware too many times...

After a lingering moment of uncertainty, Galen stepped past the treeline, kicking off the weeds that had gotten tangled around his legs. In spite of the hour, he looked wide awake and plenty excited. "Oh Pete! Alan! I have wonderful news!" He stumbled a few steps closer, and turned back to struggle for a moment more with a vine that had skillfully wound itself around his ankle.

Breathing a sigh of relief Pete leaned back against a tree and watched with amusement as Galen vanquished the vine that had captured him. "You brought food?" Pete asked, hoping for the best.

Alan dried his face with the bottom of his shirt before standing up and turning to face his friend. "Were you able to get the map?"

Galen struggled a moment longer with the vine, then turned back and stared blankly at both of them for a moment. "Map?" Then he remembered. "Oh! Map! Yes, yes, of course, but I have something much more interesting to share with you..."

Both men stared back with raised brows. Galen looked very smug as he held back the details of some great secret. "You actually found Jack Daniels?" Pete tried.

Galen blinked. "Who is Jack Daniels?"

Pete chuckled and shook his head, looking away, and Galen looked to Alan for an explanation. Alan crossed his arms loosely over his chest, waiting patiently for an explanation. "What did you find, Galen?"

Galen let the question go unanswered as he remembered the news he carried with him. He beamed, straightening a bit. "There's been another ship."

Alan choked. Pete's jaw dropped down to his toes. He nearly fell over. "A what! Are you sure?"

Galen nodded madly. "A city north of here reported it. They sent soldiers in the direction of Central City to give word to the High Council. And... I just happened to be there as they passed through. And... I just happened to overhear everything. There were survivors, Pete!" He looked to Alan and repeated it. "Survivors! Humans like yourselves!"

Pete found himself nodding slowly. Survivors... For the first time in months, there was a real possibility that they could... what? Go home? Was that even worth hoping for? He couldn't help but feel a twinge of disbelief at the prospect. Every time there was a hint of possibility... there was always something to stand in the way. Usually, that "something" was Urko.

He glanced to Alan, and cringed as he saw the look on his friend's face. Total awestruck wonder. He could tell already that there was going to be no chance of keeping Alan's hopes from soaring. A few seconds passed, and finally Alan found his voice. "What survivors? Is the ship in tact? Are they from our time period? Have they been captured? Has anyone seen the ship?" Pete knew he was totally unaware of the fact that he was firing questions faster than Galen could even hope to answer them. "If they're sending word to the High Council it won't be long before Urko catches wind of this and who knows what kind of trouble they'll be..."

"Slow down, Alan," Pete interrupted him. "One step at a time, right?"

Galen shook his head, ignoring Pete completely as he tried to work his way through the questions. "Alan, I don't know all that. All I know is that there is a ship, and it's north of here - just a few hours, by my understanding - and that there were survivors."

Alan staggered a few steps and leaned against the trunk of the tree he'd been sleeping beside, his eyes slipping out of focus. A ship. A few hours north of here. Maybe it even worked... Not that it would necessarily do you any good, Alan... You still don't know how to get home... But even so, it was a gigantic step in the right direction.

"Look, Alan, if they sent a message to the High Council, Urko could already be there."

"Oh, no no no," Galen shook his head. "No, they were just riding through on their way to Central City. It will take them four days to get there, and four days to get back. Perhaps three if they ride quickly."

"Six days at least," Alan mumbled, still staring blankly at the ground.

"That's assuming they don't run into Urko on the way there," Pete warned. "There's no guarantee..."

Galen's hands went to his hips and he tipped his head to the side. "Oh, honestly, Pete, would it make one bit of difference if there were? If there are more people out there like you, will you honestly turn and walk away? After all we've been through already?"

Pete shot him a pathetic look. "I'm not suggesting we turn and walk away," he corrected. "I'm suggesting we be careful 'cause if they're the new thing in town, Urko's gonna be just as interested in them as in us..."

Both sets of eyes turned to Alan. He was still staring, the awestruck, dazed look still on his face. Galen whimpered slightly, and looked to Pete for confirmation that Alan was indeed okay. Pete frowned, and waved a hand in front of Alan's face. "Hey, you okay?"

Alan snapped to attention, and looked to Pete with wide-eyed wonder. "Pete, do you realize what this means?" Pete nodded. He understood. But Alan apparently didn't believe him. "There's another ship, that came through the same time warp we did! It wasn't just a freak accident."

Pete opened his mouth to remind him that they'd already known that, but Alan cut him off again before he had a chance. "I mean... if we can find out what went wrong... if their ship is in better condition than ours was..." He faded out, eyes drifting again.

"Yeah, well, if we're gonna find that ship and its pilot, you can't be in a permanent state of comatose..."

"Do you reaslly think it could take you home, Alan?" Galen questioned, tipping his head to the side. His voice rang with sympathetic hope for his friend.

Alan turned and stared at Galen for a moment. "It's a huge step in the right direction, that's for sure." He looked up at the sky again. "But if they've already sent word to Urko... we should get going." He glanced to Galen. "How much will it slow us down to go around the city?"

Galen considered it for a moment and shrugged. "Oh, an hour at the most. It's not a very large city." His voice turned more firm. "And going around it is a far better option than going through it, I assure you."

Pete stooped down, picking up his knapsack and tossing Alan's to him. He slung it over his shoulder and looked to the north. "Alright... let's go find that ship..."

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