NOT YET DOOMSDAY

NOT YET DOOMSDAY

2003

Alma, weeping over the memory of the dead General Kolp, was preparing to set the controls of the doomsday weapon that had been created as their last resort, but Mendez took her away from the panel.

"This is the Alpha-and-Omega bomb. It can destroy not only Ape City but the entire Earth. Activate it, and we become nothing. Leave it, and its very presence will ensure that we remain something-and may become something better."

Mendez looked at the scarred mutants who had survived the battle with Ape City. "This place is our home-and must remain so. As long as the Apes leave us alone, we shall have peace. We will disarm the weapon-but future generations of our people will not know. We will let them keep the knowledge of its destructive power-but we will not allow that power to fall into the hands of another Kolp."

3978

Taylor was delirious; Zaius could see that. "Help me!" Taylor pleaded.

"Help you?" Zaius scoffed. "Man is capable of nothing but destruction!" But even as he said those words, he could hear gunshots being fired in the nearby tunnels as more humans were killed. And hadn't it been Ursus who had wanted the Bomb?

Taylor fell forward onto the crystal rods. His bloody hand pushed one of them down. From the red light it generated Zaius gathered it was supposed to do something important. He tensed himself, closed his eyes…but nothing happened. Taylor slumped to the floor of the cathedral, unconscious.

Zaius looked down at him. I told you that you might not like what you find, Zaius thought almost regretfully. Finally, he made up his mind.

"Lieutenant! Come here! Help me get this man back to Ape City."

"You want to save him?" The gorilla wrinkled his nose. "But isn't he the enemy?"

"The ones we came to fight are all dead. Taylor is the property of the state until I decide otherwise."

The gorilla nodded. He called back to his troops: "Forget about the human weapon! We're pulling out!"

Zaius shook his head. I must be insane for doing this, he thought. But he had seen far worse blasphemies than Taylor here. This place was called the Forbidden Zone for a reason- and Zaius anted to make sure it stayed that way.

A pair of gorillas carried Taylor's body on a stretcher under Zaius' watchful eyes. "We found a human female, the one who had been with him, in one of the tunnels," one of them said.

Zaius raised his eyebrows. "Is she still alive?"

"Yes, sir. It looks like she got hit in the back but if we can get her back to Ape City in time the doctors there might save her."

Zaius nodded. "Of course. It's only logical that Taylor would have been here with his mate. Very well, sergeant-bring her, too."

APE CITY, SIX WEEKS LATER

Taylor once again found himself facing a tribunal of apes, but this wasn't the same kangaroo court he'd been forced to endure as a prisoner, denounced as a freak of nature. This was a hearing being led by both chimpanzees and orangutans. Dr. Zaius was among them, but he didn't look too happy-not surprising, since his position in Ape City had been dramatically reduced since their return from the Forbidden Zone.

"So I leave it to you, learned judges, to allow this man, Taylor, and his mate to go in peace as they originally intended. The threat we faced from the Forbidden Zone is no more, and Taylor has proven once and for all that my colleague, Dr. Zira, was right about humans." The words were being spoken by his defense counsel, an elderly but wise chimpanzee historian named Maya who had been a close friend of Zira's. She was a member of the anti-vivisection league and had done more than any other chimpanzee to make sure that Taylor was treated fairly this time.

"Does the defendant have anything to say on his behalf before we pass judgment?" That was professor Maximus, who had been an ally of Dr. Zaius but who had since apparently seen the writing on the wall and changed sides.

Taylor looked at the historian, who nodded. "Go ahead, Taylor," she said. "This hearing is on your behalf, after all."

"I only want to say that I never came here intending to harm you or your society. Now that I know the truth-that this world really is my home-I intend to take Nova with me so that we can start over and maybe give humanity a second chance. I can't promise that our descendants won't be enemies-but I hope our children, at least, can someday learn to be friends."

Maximus nodded. "Very well. Court is in recess until our verdict is rendered."

Maya and her colleagues-the chimpanzees and a few orangutans who had supported Taylor's release-protectively surrounded him while the judges deliberated.

"So it's true," Taylor said. "Zira and Cornelius have disappeared?"

"Yes, along with Doctor Milo, one of our most brilliant scientists." Maya seemed saddened. "Cornelius was one of my students. I always thought he would make important discoveries someday-I just never imagined it would be someone who would turn our entire society upside down!" She grinned at him. Taylor smiled back. He had liked her from the start-her passion for the truth was as great as Zira's had been, and she and young Lucius had led the way in reforming ape society, including the nonviolent coup that had granted equality to the chimpanzees and reduced most of the orangutans to figureheads without real authority.

The judges returned from their chamber and everyone respectfully sat down.

"It is the judgment of this court-with one dissenting opinion"-here Maximus looked at Zaius-"That Taylor be granted his wish and be given safe passage out of Ape City." Maximus looked at Taylor. "You do understand this means that you and your mate may not return to Ape City?"

Taylor nodded. He had been expecting this. "I understand."

"Then this hearing is concluded and these proceedings are closed."

After the clamor of celebration from the chimpanzees died down, Dr. Zaius came over. "Do you still intend to seek out others of your kind-those who can speak and think like apes?"

"If I can, yes." Taylor's expression was thoughtful. "I suppose I owe you some thanks for not leaving me behind to die. What made you change your mind?"

"Zira and Cornelius were as close to me as my own children," Zaius replied. "Whatever I might have thought of their radical beliefs, they were honest. Now that they're gone…perhaps I don't want to live with the thought of Zira hating me for the rest of my life if I had let you die. But remember the tribunal's judgment, Taylor-you may never return to Ape City." Zaius left to go back to his office.

"Where will you go?" Maya asked.

"Doctor Zaius believed there was another jungle beyond the Forbidden Zone. Could he be right?"

Maya shrugged. "It's possible. There are only a few Ape Cities scattered along the coast of this continent; we know little about what lies beyond our borders."

"Then maybe it's time somebody found out." Taylor looked out the windows of the courtroom. Nova was in the Ape City Hospital, waiting for him. Together, they would find a way to start over. Maybe he really had come home, after all.

THE END