Stretching his hairy arms Zackerius greeted the dawn sun as it peeked over the edge of the shimmering water. The wind had shifted during the night driving his small boat closer to the shoreline. His almost black eyes could see the sheer white cliffs and the jagged gray ruins of a once proud man made city.
"Ugly isn't it?" his companion, Usina remarked. The reddish light made her hair seem more burnt brown. She offered him an orange.
"Funny your brother never mentioning it." He peeled back the rind and bit into the sweet pulp. Juice trickled over his muzzle. The wind caught the make-shift sail and he reached to adjust it, almost dropping his breakfast, which he settled between his knees.
"My brother doesn't like to talk about anything except our own pre-history." Usina gingerly shifted on the wooden seat. "Guess he's afraid to say words contradicting the Lawgiver."
"Or makes Cornelius more curious." Zac finished with the rigging and and sat on the narrow seat, slowly finishiedng his orange.
"Just Cornelius?" She teased with a glint in her brown eyes. "I don't see HIM out here."
"I didn't want him endangering his career." Zac scratched his jaw. He needed a good dirt bath. His skin felt gritty and he could smell himself. And Usina.
She wrinkled her tan nose. "Oh-so-correct Cornelius? Sometimes I wonder why he ever married your sister. She's so opinionated."
"Yes Zira is." He turned his simian head toward her. "But then, I wonder why YOU came with me." Usina was Dr. Zaius's, the Minister of Science and Chief Defender of the Faith, younger sister.
The female orangutan gazed out at the shoreline. "Because my brother is hiding the truth." She smiled at Zac. "I liked the idea of shocking him."
Zac didn't doubt her unauthorized trip into the Forbidden Zone had done just that. He wondered what she'd put in the note she'd left her brother. He had gotten her to agree to that, since he'd also left one for his sister and her husband.
Sun light reflected sharply on the small waves. Zac thought about pulling back some of the sail. He didn't want to make landfall until they were well on the other side of the ruins. The idea they'd gone farther into the Forbidden Zone than any other ape excited him. And frightened him.
Usina finished the last of her orange. They sat in silence as the wind and wave kept them company. The shoreline drifted by and with it the melded buildings and an odd pointy headed statue. Zac finally gave the boat the appropriate sail and steered it carefully through the deep water.
"We're going in?" Usina asked.
"That's the idea." He'd been planning this trip in secret for a long time, ever since he'd gotten a good look at some maps Cornelius had left out. His brother-in-law hadn't meant for Zac to see them, but he'd always been a very inquisitive chimpanzee and had never been afraid of breaking the strict rules imposed on every ape in the city. He still remembered impulsively asking Usina to go with him.
He'd just left his office in the Ministry of Science. Usina was just leaving her brother's. They'd met in the hall, pausing as they recognized each other. He'd known her in school. Usina had been the head of every group championing the brutish dumb humans. Her brother Dr. Zaius had been shocked and tried to stop her. His attempts only pushed her zeal further.
"Been awhile Usina," he'd greeted cautiously.
"Yes," she agreed, self consciously straightening her pale tangerine skirt.
"I'd heard your brother had…encouraged you to work for him."
She snorted. "Just to keep an eye on me. He doesn't want my "rabble rouser" ideas to infect any more young people." She met his eyes. "Like they needed any help from me."
He understood what she meant. He'd seen the protest signs and demonstrations. There was a growing movement to be kind to the human animals. In fact, he'd been tempted to join them himself, if he hadn't known it would effect his position and end archeological his work.
He dropped his voice, "I'm planning a trip. Want to come?" He held his breath, uncertain of her reaction, not even sure he should ask her along.
"Authorized?" she replied quietly.
He took a deep breath. Dare he trust her? "No."
She smiled. "Good." She stepped closer. "Tell me when and I'll be there."
And she had been. They'd left in the middle of night on two horses he'd borrowed from the gorillas. He'd plotted his course well and they'd been out of the valley and well into the Forbidden Zone with no sign of pursuit. He'd also brought the map. It showed the location of Cornelius's last dig. Zac had used the extra lumber, and left-behind tools, to build a boat and used the canvas from the tent as a sail. Usina hadn't been too sure about his creation. It had taken several days, but soon they had been ready to sail.
"Are you sure this thing will float?" She waved her hand at his contraption.
"One way to find out." He pushed his boat, which looked more like a rectangular box, out into the water. It bobbed there. "Yes. It floats."
She'd made a face, then grabbed their provisions and got on. He'd pushed it out and they'd floated up the coast.
His mind returned to the present as a breeze tried to pull them back out into deeper water. He wrestled with the sail. Finally, the shore came closer and he jumped in, making a face at having to get wet. His simian strength made him strong enough to pull the boat onto the glistening sand.
"Any idea where we are?" Usina gingerly got off and ran a few steps inland.
"No." He secured his boat on the white sand with a rope tied to a tree stum and pulled off their supplies. He really wished they hadn't had to free the horses. Yet he'd known he couldn't make the boat large enough to carry the animals. Still, the horses would have made the next leg of their journey easier.
"Then where are we going?"
He surveyed the cliffs. "That way." He pointed up the beach and grabbed a bag of supplies. Usina did the same and the two of them trudged over the the gritty surface.
The scenery didn't change much - unending beach, cliffs with no visible trails up, the water swishing beside them.
"Walking. Walking. We should have stayed in the boat," Usina complained. "And my feet are hot."
"We could take a break," he offered.
"Why didn't we stay in the boat?"
Zac wasn't exactly certain. It had just seemed to be the right thing to do. He shrugged his answer and kept going.
Overhead they heard a cry. A large shadow passed over them. Zac saw brown outstretched wings as it disappeared over the cliff edge.
"What was that?"
"I have no idea," he told her truthfully. "But let's keep moving."
Shortly before nightfall they found a steep path up the cliffs. They reached the top just as the last ray of daylight fled. They went a little farther up untile they found a wide aread. They made camp and Zac managed to get a small fire going. They ate bananas for dinner and settled down to sleep.
Usina pulled a blanket around her on the other side of the fire. Zac lay on his back looking into the night sky. Clouds filled the darkness, sheet lightening sporadically flashing through them. Stars showed overhead in a strange shimmering effect. Thunder rolled. He finally closed his eyes and slept.
"Uh, Zac," Usina's voice penetrated his still sleeping mind.
He opened his eyes and sat up. A short distance away a canine-like creature stood regarding them. That couldn't be a dog! Records indicated they, along with all the cats, had either died or been destroyed, because of a plague long ago.
It moved closer. "Don't move," Zac advised.
The creature lifted its long nose and howled. The sound drifted through the air. Zac now noticed they'd spent the night in a large alcove where the only path out was a narrow canyon where the animal stood baring their way, or they'd have to retreat back to the cliff edge.
Echoing hoof beats sounded. Zac and Usina glanced at each other. Surely, no one from Ape City had found them. Zac shook at the thought.
Horses and riders appeared in the small gap. Zac's heart began to beat fast and all sorts of explanations went through his mind. What could he tell Dr. Zaius that would exonerate both of them and not land them before the judges charged with heresy.
"What strange horses," Usina said with a frown.
"What?" He squinted at the figures.
"See," she rose to her feet, shaking out her skirt. "Their legs are longer and the bodies stockier. And those people seem to be wearing blankets."
She was right. He got to his feet as well shaking itching sand from between his shoulder blades. The canine creature ran to meet the riders, marking harsh sharp sounds and ran beside them until they came to a stop. One of the strangers dismounted and pulled the blanket off its head.
He heard Usina's sharp intake as he stared stunned. There before them was a tall, stately chimpanzee, with a graceful muzzle, light brown hair and the oddest blue eyes he'd ever seen. She wore trousers, like a male, which were purple in color.
"You're a very long way from home," she said with a slight smile.
"Uh, yes," Zac replied not sure what to make of this turn of events. "Is that a dog?" he asked.
"Wolf. Genetically adapted for the desert."
Whatever that meant. "I see."
"I'm Suzan." She waved at the others who faces he could now see. "Turk," A big burly orangutan bowed slightly, "Lucy and her brother, Shawn," He blinked. Humans? "and Nu'un." The fifth rider bowed its sleek scaled head at them. It reminded him of the snakes who ate the small rodents in the gardens back home.
"Jez," the wolf, as she'd called it, came to her side, "you've already met. Laran," she trilled and a large shape soared over them, landing on a rocky outcrop, "spotted you yesterday. She's been tracking you so we could find you."
"Why did you want to find us?" he asked. He still didn't know if he should trust them.
Her eyes swept over them. "Because the scavengers" she shuddered, "are tracking you too. If they had found you first, you'd both be a pile of bones."
Zac shivered. Did she mean to say they would be eaten? What a repulsive thought!
The wolf made a noise. Suzan nodded. "We'd better get goin'." She pointed at Usina. "You ride with Turk." She smiled at Zac. "You can ride with me."
"My name is Zackerius. Hers is Usina."
The chimpanzee woman gave him an odd look. "We know."
Impatiently she shook her head. "Gather up what you don't' want to leave behind. We have to get out here."
He scowled at her but pulled a few things into a bag. Usina did the same. The male orangutan pulled Zac's friend up onto his horse. Suzan remounted and he got on behind her. The five, plus wolf and whatever the flying creature was, all headed through the canyon.
As they cleared the narrow gap, Zac got his first glance of the land beyond. Glaring glittering sand, dancing heat waves, and some distant hills. The party turned and the horses gathered speed seeming to glide.
"How far?" he asked, holding tight and trying not to fall off.
"About two days travel."
They camped the first night in what looked, to him, like a dried up riverbed. Turk built a fire, while the others pulled out provisions. Suzan handed him a thick, rolled tube and then flung out her bedroll. Zac Cautiously sampled it. It tasted like oats and raisins. He noticed the snake creature trotted off into the dark. Suzan sat down and fed the wolf some strips of what had to be meat.
"Laran," she called. The winged animal landed on a rock. She feed it meat as well. "Carrier Hawk," she answered his unasked question.
"Rather large," he commented, peering closely at it. It was as large as the top portion of his body. Its feathers were russet and its beak a pale yellow. Sharp green eyes examined him.
"She's very intelligent." Suzan turned to him. "Laran has to be. That's what makes her a good scout."
A shriek sounded. "Nu'un found dinner," Turk commented from his place beside the fire. He took a sip of water from a skin.
"Least he only hunts every three days." Lucy shivered and pulled her cloak tighter around her. Zac had finally learned what the odd blanket-like wrappings were.
"But good in a fight," her brother Shawn said. He plopped down in the sand.
Zac hadn't really paid much attention to the two humans. They all looked the same to him. He still didn't know what to make of their talking. He was used to humans being dumb animals.
He noticed Usina settle down beside Turk and earnestly engage him in conversation. He didn't know if he should be jealous or not. Probably not. Chimps and Orangutans didn't mix socially.
"He's a fine ape." Suzan reached up and touched his arm. He sat beside her. "Plenty of females back home have been trying to catch his attention."
"Where's home?" How HAD she known what he was thinking?
"Free Port Hold." She rubbed the wolf's head which lay in her lap. "Founded over two thousand years ago. We have the idea apes and humans should live together."
Odd concept. "Unlike my own city. Humans are hunted by the gorillas for sport and used…for other things."
Second time today she'd said she knew things about Ape City. "How do you know?" he demanded.
"We have spies living there. They send us reports via the hawks."
Spies? He blinked at her revelation. "Really?"
"Yes." She watched Nu'un return to camp. The wolf ran over yipping excitedly. Nu'un feed Jez some meat. The reptile then curled up under its cloak and went to sleep. " We should get some rest. I want to be up before dawn. Maybe we can get home before nightfall. Turk," he glanced up at her. "You take first watch."
They rode hard the next day, yet the horses never tired. As the sun began to set he could see in the distance, a city, a stone wall erected all around, with stone houses and odd spiral sparkling towers. Lights flickered in windows and he could hear laughter drifting over the sands.
"Home," Suzan murmured as she leaned forward more.
The horses picked up speed and soon they entered the wooden gate, which had been opened for them. Suzan stopped her horse at the stables.
"Council up?" she asked as she dismounted. Zac followed her.
The young gorilla male took the reins of her horse. "Yeah. Expected you in yesterday."
"Had to stop and pick up these two."
He spared Zac and Usina a glance. "Better hurry. They're worried."
Suzan and her party rushed down a side street. Zac and Usina ran after them. Zac wished he could look around. Peach colored walls rushed by and voices fluttered around them. A scent of cinnamon and cloves tantalized his nose. Finally, they reached a large building. They all mounted the stairs and entered a huge hall. Seven stone chairs sat along the far wall. Seated in them, were three simians, two humans, a snake creature, and one empty chair in the center marked with a symbol he didn't know. Zac wondered who occupied the empty seat.
"You're late," a gray muzzled chimpanzee stated.
"Forgive me," Suzan begged with a slight bow of her head. "But Laran spotted two apes from the City and we detoured to get them."
"Wisssse," the snake creature hissed.
"What did you find out?" one of the humans asked.
"It's as we feared. The Underdwellers have the Doomsday bomb."
"Caaan it beee takkken from themmmm?"
"If we have a strong telepathic team who can resist their silly illusions. Yes."
The six nodded. The other human spoke up. "In the morning, we'll talk with all of you. Tonight, go and get a well deserved night's rest."
Suzan and her party bowed and turned to go.
A second simian greeted, "Welcome to Free Port Hold, Zackerius and Usina."
"Thank you," Zac replied with a scowl, wondering how they knew their names. Hesitantly, he followed the others out.
Nu'un was already gone when Zac got outside. Lucy and Shawn waved goodbye, leaving Turk and Suzan with Zac and Usina.
"Ill drop Usina off at my sister's, " Turk offered.
"Good idea, " Suzan agreed with a knowing smile.
Usina gave Zac a wink and willingly left with Turk.
"He must like her," Suzan commented leading the way down a side street. "I've never heard him offer to take ANYONE to his sister's house." She opened a pale golden door and waved him inside.
Zac openly looked around. Soft colorful cushions littered the floor and the walls were light pink. A small kitchen alcove sat to one side with a small pantry. Just off the main door, soft-chiming stones on thin strings covered a doorway. He assumed it was the bedroom.
"Home. When I'm here." She tossed her cloak on a tall pole. "You must be starved. We didn't stop to eat."
Now that she mentioned it, he was hungry. She rummaged around in the pantry and brought out some apples. They were plump and deep red. She also found some raisins. She poured them both juice in clear glasses. Zac was used to clay ones. They sat down at a small wooden table and ate.
"Who are the Underdwellers?" He licked a bit of apple off his finger.
"They live in the ruins of New York City."
Must have been the ruins he and Usina had seen from the boat. "People actually lived there?"
"Luckily, my scouting party all know how to shield. The Archives found an old report stating they had a weapoen. We went in and did some recon." She trembled. "By the Maker, they have no idea what they've got."
He wondered why they would go there in the first place. He refilled his glass. The juice was tangy and not familiar to him.
"The Council decided it would be best if someone went in and checked to see if what documents stated was true. If there really was an Alpha-Omega bomb."
He looked at her oddly. How did she keep picking up his thoughts? "And you found it was."
She nodded. "It'll be up to the Council to decide what to do next. But I'm betting they'll send in another team to retrieve it. Then they'll probably contact my father and have him fly it out into space and detonate it."
He sputtered. "Space?" Everyone knew flight was impossible!
She cocked her head at him, then laughed. "Sorry. I forgot. I was born off world. My people made contact with Free Port about fifty years ago. My father trades in horses. You noticed the ones we were riding." He nodded. "My father specializes in breeding them. They're well adapted for the desert. As you noticed."
There was a how and the wolf entered through one of the open windows, landing lightly on the bare floor. Jez trotted over to a bowl, lapped water and then curled up on one of the cushions.
"Laran's staying in the tower tonight," Suzan informed him. " She likes to gossip."
Zac rose late in the morning. Suzan was already gone. She'd left him some muffins and bananas out for his breakfast. Also a hastily scribbled note asking him to stay at the house until she returned.
He wandered around the small abode, marveling at the number of parchments she had. He did notice Jez's eyes watching him, but the wolf didn't get up from the cushion where it lay.
Noise drifted in from the windows. Zac peered outside. Chimps, orangutans, gorillas and humans hurried in all directions. He wondered about the city and where they were all going. It was very different than his home.
The door opened and Suzan greeted him with a smile, shaking out her light blue robes with a silver clasp shaped like a star at her throat. "Hope you didn't mind sleeping out here last night or that I snuck out without saying goodbye this morning."
"I didn't hear you leave."
"Good. I didn't want to wake you." She rubbed Jez's head and put on a pot of water. "I'm dying for some tea."
"I knew you were going to the meeting with the Council this morning." Zac was curious but he didn't want to come out and just ask. He also wished he had a change of clothing.
"They wanted all the details we'd noticed on our recon. They'll be picking a team to go in sometime this afternoon." She poured the hot water into a green cup, and pulled out some leaves and dumped them in. "What they really want to do, is replace it with a dud so the Underdwellers don't know what we've done."
She faced him. "They contacted my father and he's having someone back home work on a safe place to detonate the thing. By the time he arrives, the team will be trained and ready to go in."
"You'll be one of them."
She shook her head. "I doubt it. Lucy and Shawn probably. Maybe Turk. I know of a couple of others who would be better choices than me." She strained the leaves from her tea and added sugar as she sat down at the table. "In the meantime, let me share my city with you." She pointed at a bundle just inside the door. "Figured you'd want a change of clothes."
Six months went by. Zac learned his way around Free Port and took an offered job to work in the Archives. He continued to share a house with Suzan, who was gone frequently on long patrols. The young chimp found he missed her. He was also privy to many of the reports coming in by Carrier Hawk from Ape City. Many times he'd debated on sending a message home, but decided against it. He didn't really want the apes, especially Dr. Zaius, to know anything about this marvelous city.
He kept in touch with Usina. She and Turk had finally decided to marry and moved into a house of their own. Suzan hadn't been surprised and he was happy for Usina. Turk also continued taking patrols and Usina found a place working as an aid for one of the Council members.
Zac shook impatiently as his crimson robes and bumped an artifact on the long stone bench. He'd been working in the artifact room since early morning. The thing beeped at him.
"We keep wondering what that is," Avis commented, hurrying in, the yellow caftan he always wore billowing around him. The very young chimp worked as an apprentice under Morry, the curator.
Zac pushed the object aside and ignored it. "New message?"
"Yeah." Avis handed the rolled parchment to Zac and darted out.
Zac opened it and read the message. "Reports are that Taylor, the astronaut from the crashed space ship we tracked several days ago, is now in Ape City. We can't make a move now to retrieve him. Will have to watch. Dr. Zira seems to have taken a strong interest in him." Sounded like his sister. She was always trying to prove the intelligence of the primitive humans. He took the note to Morry. The bored curator filed it for review by the Council later.
The chimp returned to the main office. His desk had dozens of maps spread all over it. Much more of the world had been mapped than he thought possible. Too bad Zaius had never chosen to explore beyond the vast eastern desert. Farther north dried lakebeds had been discovered by one expedition. Several archeological teams had been dispersed to explore them. To the west maps showed where a great river ran, and south, there seemed to be no end to the vast jungle areas.
He glanced sharply up at Suzan. She was back early. He found himself appreciating her graceful muzzle and sky blue eyes and the trim figure unselfconscioulsy showed off in brown trousers and loose purple top.
"More maps than before," she observed coming to stand beside him, gently running her hand over the paper.
He nodded. "More of the long-range patrols are reporting back in."
"Every year we get a better idea on what's out there now."
"The team who went to the Underdwellers succeeded," he informed her since he knew she'd been on patrol much further north. "They lost one, but the rest made it out alive."
"Did the Underdwellers…?" she didn't finish the question. They all knew the danger if the mutants discovered Free Port.
"No. Something about radiation from the bomb. They put in the dud and got the original out as far as they could. Your father landed close by and took the bomb to some sun about to go nova. He said it blew up."
Zac still had problems with the idea of humans and apes living together, not to mention the secretive reptoids, but was beginning to accept the concept of spaceflight. The mechanics of it, though interesting,still eluded him, despite the open acceptance of everyone else in the Free Port.
"Good. Now we have some breathing space without worrying about them blowing up the planet." She sneaked a peek at him, her blue eyes sparkling. "I invited Turk and Usina over for dinner tonight."
"Fine." He turned over a map. His eyes absently traced the lines to Ape City, a known five-day ride. "One of our far western patrols are following a lead about a very large human settlement."
"My father said something about that last trip in."
"Can he map the planet from his ship?"
"Yes." She lightly rested her hand on his. "But we learn more by riding out and exploring."
He shifted uncomfortably, more than aware of her strong female presence. "I'm surprised with all the obvious advances you grew up with, you chose to stay here." He bit his lip. Now why did he blurt that out?
"Zac," her voice tinged with gentleness. "My people are explorers. I'm doing what I want, despite what my father," she stopped.
"What about your father?"
"He wanted me to be a trader like him. To fly between the stars."
"And you didn't want to."
"Not after I came here."
"He left you a note."
"I found it. He asked me to come home."
"And?" He held his breath. Dare he put into the words the feelings he thought were growing in his heart toward her?
"I may or not, think about it."
"Do you want to go?" He knew he'd miss her if she did.
Some emotion flickered across her face. "I…"
"Please, don't' go," he pleaded. "I…I'd…miss you."
"I'm not here a lot as it is, Zac." She squeezed his hand.
He brushed her cheek. "Doesn't mean I don't wish you're here. With me."
"Really?" Her eyes grew round.
"Yes." Did he dare kiss her? He touched his muzzle to hers.
"Oh, Zac," she whispered, tears leaking from her eyes.
"If you want to go," he paused, "I won't stop you." He pulled her hand to his heart. "But I'm asking you to stay." He waited for her reply, his pulse racing wildly.
She sniffed, pulling her hand away and rubbed at her eyes. "I have to talk to my father." Not the answer he wanted, but he'd give her time to think. She backed up a step. "I'd better go home and tidy up a bit. I'm thinking about making a cake."
She offered him a shy smile and left.
He returned to his maps, his thoughts reeling. Should he have kissed her? Maybe he should have waited for her to say how she felt first? Had he been too forward?
He shuffled from one foot to the other. He knew her father wouldn't be back for awhile. He'd have more than enough time for the two of them explore any possible feelings they had about each other and decide if they wanted to share a future together. Zac found himself hoping, longing that they would.
"We're expecting a baby," Usina, draped in a pale orange gown, announced over dinner as Turk beamed beside her.
"That's wonderful!" Suzan cried. "When?"
"Just before winter comes," Turk informed them. His brown robes shifted as he put an arm around Usina. "The doctor told us today."
Zac poured grape juice in their glasses and sat down. Suzan had prepared a wonderful dinner of tossed salad, fresh baked bread and a carrot cake, his personal favorite, for dessert.
Each ape reached for food around the carefully prepared table and Zac relaxed in took his first bite of salad.
"I've decided not to patrol anymore," Turk said. "I always wanted to learn to blacksmith and Ogden has an apprenticeship opening at his shop."
"Has the Council approved?" Suzan asked. She tore a piece of bread, lathered it in butter, and daintily ate. some of the melting oil dripped on her burgundy caftan.
"They understand why, although I could tell they weren't happy about it."
Suzan nodded. "Good scouts are valuable."
Usina smiled at her husband. "He wants to be home with me and help raise our baby."
"Turk will be a good father," Zac agreed. He'd watched the male orangutan with sister's children. Turk always played with and read to, his numerous nieces and nephews.
"How are things at the Archives?" Usina inquired.
"Interesting. We have more maps now." He sipped his juice and grimaced. Tart. "A lot of Carrier Hawks bringing reports back in."
"Eventually," Turk boomed, "we'll need to spread out. Even now, we have too many living within the city's walls."
"Yes," Suzan agreed, "Has seemed crowded of late."
"Hmmm," Turk munched thoughtfully on a bit of celery, "maybe I should suggest to the Council we start thinking about a colony. I hear there's a prize piece about ten days from here."
Usina threw her mate a pouting look. Turk noticed and patted her paw. "I'm only going to SUGGEST to the Council. Not volunteer to go. I still have to learn my new trade and we're not going anywhere until after our baby is born."
She smiled up at him. "Good."
Suzan rose slowly to get the cake. Zac watched her slender form glide around the kitchen and return with their dessert. They enjoyed the rare treat, especially Zac. After dinner they sat around on the rainbow cushions.
Usina commented, "I heard a message arrived about the space travelers. Do we know where they are?"
"Ape City or at least one of them is," Zac responded. "Our agents can't risk getting him out just yet."
"They will," Turk burped. "Good dinner Suzan."
Zac shuffled around the Archive office. More maps had been brought in and he found the one with the area Turk had spoken of the night before. Yes, there was a massive jungle there and a very large lake. The site would make an excellent place for a new colony.
He wondered when Turk intended to speak to the Council. Maybe he should offer to loan the other male the map. Now there was an idea.
Avis dashed in, his yellow robes flapping. "Got another message."
Zac took the offered parchment and opened it. "New development. Doctors Zira and Cornelius helped Taylor escape. Zaius is organizing a gorilla detachment to go after them."
He rolled the paper back up and started to hand it back. "Take this," no, he had a better idea, particularly since he probably knew where Cornelius was going. "I'll take this myself. The Council needs to see this immediately."
Avis gave him a puzzled look. "Shouldn't Morry decide?"
Zac shook his head. "No."
He hurried out hoping Avis didn't report his decision. Zac stepped into the packed streets. He wound his way to the impressive columned building and mounted the massive steps. Entering the echoing room, he stopped in awe. The first and only time he'd been here, he hadn't noticed the pale beige walls, nor the murals painted all around. He stepped to one side to examine the details
Many scenes splashed in vibrant colors met his black eyes. A male chimpanzee in odd red clothing leading apes in revolt against their human masters; stark white mushroom like explosions over cities; a lone ape leading many others out of the ruins into a jungle valley; another ape leading both humans and apes to safety; and the building of the walls around Free Port Hold.
"Our leader," a voice stated behind him.
Zac started recognizing the older chimpanzee Council leader. The simian, slightly stooped, a cane in one hand to help him walk, gazed calmly back. His hair and muzzle were gray and his pale ebony eyes radiated great wisdom.
"Who was he?" Zac asked in hushed tones.
"We only know he was born in a circus. The second infant to some captive female. Seems the human owner recognized his intelligence and raised the chimp. How he came to lead the rebellions and later our ancestors here," he shrugged, "isn't really clear." He rested both knarled hands on the cane." Seems some of our historical records are precise while others are either lost or were never written."
"Yet all live here in peace here."
"We were taught to live together. Now after years of self-imposed isolation, we feel we are ready to explore and contact other survivors." The older chimp caught his eye. "What has brought you here, Zackerius?"
Zac looked beyond to the seven chairs. The two of them were alone. " A message arrived today." He started to hand the parchment over but the other shook his head. "My sister and her husband are aiding Taylor, the astronaut. I think I know where they're going."
"You want permission to go after them." He stated as if he already knew the answer. Zac often wondered how much the Council actually knew.
"Yes." He thought about not mentioning Zaius, but did anyway.
"You think perhaps you can arrive before Zaius and his gorillas."
"Truthfully, probably not. But I know Zira's and Cornelius's fate if I don't at least try." Imprisonment. And with gorilla guards, they would be tormented for their entire internment.
"Hmmm," the older chimp rubbed his muzzle thoughtfully. "I will consult with the rest of the Council. We will inform you of our decision by nightfall."
Zac restlessly paced the floor. Suzan sat on a bright cushion pretending to read. The sun sat slowly in the west, lighting the sky in vibrant reds and danced over her violet robes. He paused to momentarily admire the color and her body
He shook his head. He needed to concentrate. What was taking the Council so long?
"We've tried to keep Free Port a secret for a long time, Zac," Suzan finally said, pushing the parchment she'd held aside. "You and Usina are the first from Ape City we've allowed here."
"And my wishing to help Zira and Cornelius," Zac began.
"Could endanger us all." Her eyes held sympathy.
"They'll be taken back to Ape City and charged with heresy. Zaius will to see to that. "
"Zac," Suzan rose placing an arm around him. "I'm sure the Council will make the right decision."
He wasn't sure about that. He knew his sister too well. She'd get herself into serious trouble because of her convictions. Poor Cornelius would simply get dragged along. What had she been thinking to aid that human?
A firm knock and Zac jumped. Suzan gave him a reassuring smile and answered the door. The older chimp stood there.
"Come in," Suzan invited.
He hobbled in. His eyes measured up Zac and a slow grin spread over the ancient face. "We've read over many of the reports on Doctors Zira and Cornelius."
"We've decided they'd make excellent additions here."
The young chimp grabbed the table edge, giddy with relief.
"We also want you to bring back Taylor. He's knowledge of the past is extremely valuable." The Council member paused. "There is one catch. You must do so BEFORE Zaius arrives. We want no official contact between us and Ape City. Yet."
"We might not make it by horseback," Suzan informed him.
Zac looked at her surprised. He hadn't thought about her going along. He was both delighted and worried.
"That is true." The older chimp agreed. "But any display of advnaced techonlogy would only frighten them. By horseback is best. You should both leave tonight." He chuckled. "Our agents in Ape City are delaying the good Minister of Science."
The sound of pounding surf filled Zac's ears. They stopped their horses on the sharp cliff edge. They'd been riding hard for two days and had at least one, maybe two more, before reaching the site where Zac was certain Zira and Cornelius would be. Over head Laran soared casting shadows over the hot white sand.
Jez trotted beside Suzan's horse. Their final day of riding would be along the cliffs and hopefully after on the damp sand below. Suzan's suggestion would help shelter them and give them a guarded approach.
"How much further?" Suzan asked him.
He moved his horse beside hers. "I'd only be guessing. Usina and I made most of this trek by boat."
"Very brave of you," she teased. They both knew chimpanzees couldn't swim.
"We have to keep going." Zac urged his horse into a canter.
Suzan followed behind with the wolf. They traveled in silence until dark fell and camped in a hollow between two small hills. The ocean below played a soothing night song tingeing the air with brine.
Zac sipped from his water skin and ate dinner. Chill air crept in and he pulled his rough cloak tighter around him.
Lightening zapped across the sky. Jez's head popped up and she whined. Suzan laid a hand on the canine head and whispered softly. The wolf snuggled closer. Zac envied the wolf. He also wanted to be close.
Laran's screeching call echoed as the hawk landed. Keen green eyes met Suzan's. She blinked and said, "Laran sighted their camp. We have maybe about a half days ride left."
The hawk hadn't used verbal speech or delivered a rolled message. Finally, intrigued, Zac leaned forward. "How do you know?"
Suzan shrugged. "Laran showed me." She fed the hawk some meat.
"You haven't followed the hawk anywhere."
Blue eyes met his. "No. But I can read her thoughts."
He frowned. "Read her thoughts?"
With a sigh, Suzan sipped some water while continuing to feed the hawk. Jez nudged the female's hand. "It's called telepathy, Zac." She again rubbed the wolf's head and gave Jez some meat. "It means I can read minds. A gift I inherited from my mother."
"And have you read MY mind?" he demanded. He knew he'd be embarrassed if she had.
He digested that. It explained the many odd moments she commented about something before he said anything. He wondered if she was reading his mind right then.
"I can block. Gets tiresome always knowing what others think." She smiled at him making her nose crinkle. "Sometimes, I just like surprises."
And how many more surprises, Zac wondered, would he be in for?
Morning danced across the desert sand lighting the sky like an orange-pink fan. Zac rolled up, rubbing grit out of his eyes. Jez yipped, greeting him with a very wet kiss. "Yuck," he wiped the slobber off his cheek.
"At least she likes you," Suzan commented, giggling.
He met her gaze and smiled in spite of himself. Suzan handed him a warm mug. He sipped the sweet contents. They shared a travel roll while breaking camp.
"I feed the horses," Suzan told him. "They're saddled too. I figured you'd want to make an early start."
Touched by her thoughtfulness, he reached out and took her hand. "Thank you."
She looked down. "You're welcome."
They mounted the strong horses and headed south. By mid-morning they found a path down the cliffs and onto the beach. The horses broke into an easy run, covering the distance to the final jutting edge leading to Cornelius's dig quickly. There they stopped.
Laran landed with ease on an outcropping, and Jez trotted up to them and poked her canine head around the rocks.
"I'd better go first," Zac said, easing his mount around. He took a deep breath. In spite his resolve about wanting to help his sister, he was nervous. After all, he'd been gone for a long time and Zira had every reason to believe he was dead.
"Laran says there are five. Three chimps - one male, one female and another very youngone; , plus two human,s one of each sex." She edged closer. "They also have horses with them."
That was good. He hadn't thought to bring extra mounts. And who, he wondered, had come along with them besides Taylor? Zac urged his horse into the water and worked his way around the rock edge.
Shouting reached his ears, "Aunt Zira! Uncle Cornelius!"
He recognized Lucius. His nephew limped along the beach.
Figures hurried out on the log platform above. Lucius pointed at Zac and Suzan who had stopped about half a length from the ladders leading upward.
"Who are you?" a very cocky voice inquired.
Zac thankfully was already used to intelligent humans so the man speaking didn't startle him. "You must be Taylor."
"I am." The mostly naked human wearing only a leather loincloth, acknowledged. "And just who are you?" The gun he carried never wavered from its aim.
Zac noticed his sister and husband descending the ladder to the beach. "My name is Zackerius."
"Where'd you come from?"
Zira and Cornelius hurried over the thick white sand.
"Zackerius?" He could hear his sister's surprise. The shock was clear on her face and in her dark eyes.
Slowly he dismounted, making certain the human saw he carried no weapon. "Hello, Zira. Cornelius."
"We thought you dead," Cornelius managed. The older chimpanzee pushed his muzzle forward and didn't seem to believe the evidence of his eyes.
Zac smiled. "I planned my expedition well. What I hadn't counted on," he turned to Suzan who now stood beside him, "was meeting more of our kind."
"Great. More cities full of apes." Taylor now carried his gun carelessly slung over his bare, tanned shoulder. A human female, with long black hair and brown eyes, and nearly naked body, cocked her empty face at him while standing slightly behind the blond-haired man as if his presence would protect her.
"Not just apes," Suzan informed him. "but also humans and reptoids. We all live together in peace and cooperation as our founder always intended."
"You don't say?" The human's expression indicated he didn't believe her.
"Together?" Zira stared at them surprised.
"It's a long story." Suzan smiled at her. "My name is Suzan and I was born on another planet. My people contacted the city of Free Port Hold about fifty years ago."
"Now, now, now," Cornelius shook his head. "That's preposterous. I don't believe that anymore than his," he pointed at Taylor, "story about landing here in a space…ship."
"But very true, Cornelius," Zac corrected. "We tracked Taylor's ship and then him, to Ape City."
"How is that possible?" Zira wanted to know.
"We have agents in your city," Suzan answered. He noted she carefully avoided telling them about the mechanical tracking systems. "They send us regular reports on what is going on there."
"Is that really you, Uncle Zackerius?" Lucius reached them and moved his head to one side and then the other.
"Hello, Lucius," Zac greeted.
"Are you coming back home?" His tone was hopeful.
"No." His gaze swept across all of them. "We're hoping you'll agree to go back to Free Port with us."
"Why would we want to do that?" Taylor demanded.
"To escape Zaius's wrath to start with. You already know what he'll do with you." At Taylor's paled face he continued. "My sister and her husband will be charged with heresy and then imprisoned. I'm sure you don't want that."
"No," Taylor reluctantly agreed. "I don't. They saved my life."
"We wanted to clear ourselves," Zira objected.
"I doubt Zaius will see it that way," Zac responded, knowing how the good doctor thought. He glanced longingly at the canvas-covered platform. The heat beat upon him and his clothes, though light, were sticking to his body.
"Unfortunately, you're probably right," Cornelius conceded.
Lucius stared at them. "Not go home?"
Zac kindly smiled at his nephew. "It won't be safe. Not for Zira and Cornelius. You're underage so there's nothing Zaius can charge you with. But," Zac knew he had to warn the younger chimp, "he could block any future plans you have."
"Like to see him try it."
"Good for you," Taylor praised him. "Now, where is this Free Port?"
"About two and half almost three days ride north," Zac replied.
"We made it here quickly because of our horses. They were bred for the desert," Suzan proudly told them. "Although," she added thoughtfully, "it'll probably take longer with yours."
"I noticed yours were different." Taylor slowly walked around their mounts. "Their hooves are wider, legs lean and long, bones lighter?"
Suzan nodded. "They also can run longer on less water, hence the heavier bodies."
"Makes sense. Bred at Free Port?"
"No. On my homeworld."
"I'd be curious to know about that. Did any human colonies survive?"
"A few. We've had limited contact due to the fact many fled just after the nuclear holocaust. From what little we've gathered, they seem to blame the apes."
"What an upside down world you have."
Suzan met the human's blue eyes. "You really don't know?"
"Don't know what?"
"You're back on Earth, Taylor."
"What!" His face registered his shock.
She nodded. "Suppose we all sit down and have something to eat. I don't know about Zac, but I'm starving."
So was he. Zac did know some about the past. Morry had finally allowed him to read some of the earlier records. "I'll help explain. Working in the Archives I've had access to some very interesting documents."
Taylor shook his head like he was trying to clear it, and the group settled themselves under the canvas cover. Zira poured them all juice and Lucius handed out some fruit. The human grimaced. Jez, instead of settling at Suzan's feet, ran and barked at the waves, playing as they lapped back and forth on the beach.
"I thought all the dogs died," Cornelius observed.
"Jez is a wolf." Suzan smiled. "She actually came from my world."
"What do you mean the dogs died?" Taylor demanded.
"And the cats," Cornelius added.
"Astronauts brought a virus back from space. A plague killed mankinds' pets," Zac told him. "Desperate to replace his companions, men took apes in. Later when discovered how quickly simians learned, humans made them servants and then slaves."
"And like most slaves," Suzan took up the tale, "they rebelled." She bit into an apple, chewed, swallowed and continued. "That was the 'Night of Fires'."
"Our records showed we won our freedom because an ape named Aldo said 'No' to his human masters," Cornelius interjected.
"That was just the start, Cornelius." Suzan gave the older chimp a rueful smile. "Unlike you, I've grown up with a more accurate account of our history."
"How'd your people end up off world?" Taylor asked.
She took a deep breath, Zac noticed. "My ancestors were part of an experiment at NASA. They were trained to fly ships on deep space missions. As their intelligence developed, they came to understand they were just expendable fodder. On the Night of Fires, they overthrew their human masters and escaped in a ship." She sipped her juice. "We don't have an entirely complete record, but we do know they flew, had young, and finally landed on a world they could colonize."
"From what I've read," Zac added. "It seems some of the humans also escaped just after the bombs fell."
"So we finally did it," Taylor stated regretfully. "Stupid bastards!"
"But good things have come of it," Zac began.
"And bad ones." Taylor pointed to his woman who stared vacantly at them.
"Agreed." Zac understood the human's point. "I had quite a shock to discover intelligent humans in Free Port. But I've gotten used to them."
"Do you talk to many?" his aunt inquired with her usual zeal.
Zac laughed. "Almost daily."
"I don't suppose you know if Dr. Zaius is coming after us?" Cornelius's scrunched muzzle expressing his displeasure and discomfort at the idea.
"Laran hasn't spotted them yet," Suzan answered, shielding her eyes as the hawk flew over.
"I was told our agents were delaying him to give us time to get here." Zac glanced uneasily at the cliffs above. "All of you will need to make a decision quickly."
"Humans aren't hunted or treated like second class citizens?" Taylor inquired, his face uncertain.
"They never were." Suzan reached out and touched the human's hand.
"And if I decide to leave?"
"You won't be stopped," Zac reassured him. "In fact, I'll give you maps we've recently made. I'm sure you can find somewhere you'd want to go."
"We need to talk, Zira," Cornelius told his mate. The two of them withdrew to whisper together.
Lucius had been silent during the exchange. Now he touched Zac's arm. "Wanted to make sure you were real and not spirit."
Zac laughed. He too remembered the night stories he and Zira had gown up with. No doubt his sister had shared them with Lucius. She'd raised the child after their older brother, Portus, died. "I'm quite alive and not some evil spirit trying to trick you."
"What's Free Port like?"
"You'll like it."
"Are adults as bossy there as they are at home?"
"When they need to be."
Cornelius and Zira rejoined them. "We've decided to come with you," Cornelius said. "We have no desire to be imprisoned."
"I hope one day our Council will meet with yours." Suzan offered a warm smile.
"Only after you get rid of all their superstitious prattle," Zira snapped.
Taylor threw back his head and howled.
They left early the next morning. Taylor helped Zac and Cornelius destroy the platform and all evidence they'd even been there. Suzan gathered blankets and wiped away their prints, as best she could, from the sand.
The first half-day, they walked the horses in the shallow ocean surf. That way Zaius' trackers wouldn't know which direction, they went, Suzan had said. They'd all agreed.
Finally, they left the beach and followed a steep trail to the top. Taylor had stopped them earlier, looking over an odd statue with points extending from its head.
"The Statue of Liberty," he'd informed them quietly. "A gift to the United States from France."
Zac hadn't heard of either the statue or France and was eager to ask more questions. For much of the rest of the day he and Taylor kept up a running conversation about Earth's past. The young chimp wished for parchment to record all he learned, but he hoped the human would stay at Free Port and give him a chance to write it all down.
They camped the first night on the cliff just above the statue. The human woman, Nova, Taylor called her, ate her food and slept. Cornelius and Zira wrapped themselves in blankets, as did Lucius, and they too fell asleep. Suzan prodded the fire while Zac sipped some of the tea she'd made during dinner. Taylor sat looking out at the moonless night sky.
Zac glanced at Jez and Laran as they shared meat from a fresh kill. Jez had drug something back from a short excursion into the desert and Zac looked away, sickened at the sight.
"Not all of us are vegetarians," Taylor commented, glancing at him and then at the animals.
"I've sort of gotten used to it." Partially true.
"Even the humans at Free Port eat meat," Suzan added.
"I'm getting curious about this city of yours." Taylor moved closer to the fire and tossed a branch in. "And about where you grew up, Suzan."
"I've told you our start." Suzan pulled her cloak about her shoulders. Zac did the same. The evening chill settled over the camp.
"Did your people fall back to barbarism?"
"No." Suzan smiled slightly. "They continued to evolve, both intellectually and technologically. We started exploring our closest planets a few hundred years after we'd settled and kept expanding out. About seventy five years ago, we managed to trace the original course back to Earth."
"And then finally contacted Earth itself." Taylor scratched his jaw. "How'd they chose Free Port?"
"I doubt your first expedition would have made it back if they'd found Ape City."
"Hmmm," Taylor mused. "I wonder if you could…"
"Send you back?" Suzan filled in.
Zac started, hoping the human hadn't picked up on the fact Suzan had read his thought.
"You could say that." Taylor looked straight at her. "Can you?"
"There might be those back home who know enough theory about space flight and time travel to discuss the possibility, but to actually accomplish it?" She shook her head.
"It was a thought." The human's face was forlorn. "Good night." Taylor pulled Nova's rough blanket over them both and cuddled the female next to him.
"Jez will keep her ears open for any hint of pursuit," Suzan said, snuggling down to sleep.
Zac nodded. White lightening zig-zagged across the cloud-laden sky, followed by rumbling. He fed the fire another branch. Jez licked his hand and gazed up into his eyes.
He scratched her head. "Too much to think about."
When he woke up the next morning, he found himself against Suzan. She blinked and offered him a wrinkled nose.
"Good morning," she greeted.
"Morning," he mumbled, getting up and stretching, hoping his sister hadn't noticed where he'd spent the night. Zira from across the dead fire, glanced at him curiously, but kept her silence.
They ate before continuing on their journey, stopping several times to camp overnight before reaching Free Port Hold. Upon their arrival, they left their horses at the stable and threaded through the streets to the stately Council Hall.
"Nice architecture," Taylor complimented as they climbed the stairs.
In the shadowed building, Zac noticed all the Council members were present, except for one chair always left empty. He still wondered why there were only six council members.
"Greetings," one of the humans, clad in brown and green mottled robes called.
"Do you have any idea how nice it is to have someone else, human, to talk to?" Taylor approached the man.
"Given your circumstances," the other human replied. "I don't doubt you're happy to find other intelligent humans."
"Welcome Zira, Cornelius, and Lucius," the old chimp with the cane greeted and limped over to them. "We're very happy you've come to live here."
"We're happy to be here," Zira whooshed.
"Fine. Accommodations have been prepared for you. A fine house just a few blocks from Zac and Suzan."
Zira peered at Zac oddly. He knew the rules about not living together until married. Not that he and Suzan had ever shared the same bed. He did blush though, remembering waking up next to her in camp.
"We expect you two," now the elderly male addressed him and Suzan, "to wed soon."
"I haven't asked her yet." Zac peeked at Suzan. She still hadn't decided is she was staying or returning home. She met his eyes with an embarrassed smile.
"You'll get there. Now," he took Cornelius' arm and guided him to the murals he'd once shown Zac, "let me tell you about Free Port Hold…"
Weeks later, in a small ceremony attended by Zira, Cornelius, Lucius, and Suzan's father, Racin, as well as Turk and Usina, Zac married Suzan.
They exchanged their vows and endured the well wishes of everyone. When morning crept in with crimson fingers, Zac rose early and made breakfast. They had a few more days in this house before they joined a large group of chimpanzees and orangutans who had decided to start a colony in the area Turk had found so promising. Humans had been invited to join them, but many chose to stay in the comfortable surroundings of Free Port instead of the wilds of a new settlement. The adventurous ones, he noted with amusement, had chosen to travel to the large western human colony to help prepare the populace for eventual contact with the simians and reptoids.
"Good morning, husband," Suzan greeted, pulling her black robe closed and joining him at the table.
He kissed her and served them blueberry muffins for breakfast. The ate in silence both lost in thoughts of what still needed to be packed before they left.
"Has your…our…well, have Zira and Cornelius decided yet?"
Zac nodded. "Cornelius told me their decision last night. They're coming. Lucius will too, as soon as he finishes his medical studies."
"We'll need physicians."
"Taylor and Nova left a few days ago. He wanted to join the human colony they found in the west." Personally he was glad for the two. They'd just discovered Nova was pregnant and Taylor hoped by living with other speaking humans she and their baby would learn to speak. At least Taylor had spent some time at the Archives and filled in some of the gaps in history, as well as finding some answers of his own. Zac had made a point of thanking the human for all his help.
"Probably for the best. He was very uneasy around apes."
"I gave him a map to help find his way."
"Very generous of you." Her blue eyes sparkled.
"Least I could do." He hoped the coming child would help Taylor accept both this new world and himself.
"Good." Suzan sipped her juice and mused, "A child should give him some hope. He doesn't seem to have much."
She'd picked up his thought again, Zac realized.
Someone pounded on their door. They exchanged a glance and Zac answered it.
"Zac, old friend," Turk boomed.
Zac moved aside so the large orangutan could enter their home.
"I hear you're joining the colony group?" Turk smiled at Suzan, "Morning."
"Good morning Turk." Suzan came to stand beside her husband.
"I'll be joining the colony, too. They have a need for a blacksmith, and Ogden says I'm ready."
"It'll be good to have you." Zac would be glad to have old friends close.
"Usina isn't to happy about it. Hoped to have my sister close to help with Krik."
Zac hoped he'd also have a son soon.
"Nothing like fatherhood." Turk beamed.
"I'll see you two later. Have to help finish getting the horses shod." Turk ambled out.
Zac put an arm around his wife. "I'm not rushing."
"I know." Suzan hugged him back and headed for the bedroom. "I need to get dressed."
Zac followed her in and watched as she tossed aside her robe and put on her skirt and blouse, both bright blue.
"I do have one question," Zac said, sitting on the bed.
"Why are their only six Council members and seven chairs?"
Suzan sat on the bed smoothing the covers. "The high seat is for God. We believe he presides over the Council and helps them make wise decisions."
Very different from the harsh edicts of the Lawgiver Zac had grown up with. Maybe one day he'd ask about the God who sat in the chair.
The sun sat hot and bright in the sky. Wagons filled with provisions and belongings formed a long line out of Free Port Hold. Zac astride his horse rode beside the wagon being driven by his wife. His sister and husband were in the wagon behind them.
It was ten days travel to the new colony, but having the wagons would slow them, so it wold take longer. But that was okay. Zac knew he'd enjoy the adventure of going to a new place. Morry hadn't been happy about loosing him. Yet the old curator had wished him well.
Wind caressed his face, inviting him to follow. He smiled in happiness, sharing a meaningful look with his wife. Laran called from the sky and circled the wagon before winging her way ahead to scout. Jez sat on the seat beside Suzan yipping encouragement.
Turk and Usina, he'd found out the night before, had been joined by Turk's sister and family. They'd made the decision to come at the last minute and had hastily packed. He hoped they had everything they really wanted. Long trip back if they didn't. Usina was certainly happier with their addition.
He was glad for her. He knew it was hard starting a new life with an infant and no help. Now she'd have her sister-in-law there.
In many ways, he was glad they were leaving. The messages coming back from Ape City spoke of drought and famine and the rumbling of a gorilla general who had risen to power and talked of invading the Forbidden Zone. Just as long as he didn't push any further north and find Free Port, things would be all right.
Zac hummed a tune from childhood. His life was good. Better than he had ever expected growing up in Ape City.
'Yes," his wife's voice whispered in his mind, "Our life is good."
"And will be even better," he answered aloud.
The next few years in the new colony would be exciting and a lot of hard work. He was looking forward to the challenge.
Originally published in Of Dreams and Schemes #19, edited by Catherine Schlein. May 2004.