Chapter 3

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Virdon stepped out of the nautilus-inspired building and drew a deep breath. Damn Pete for yammering on and on about time travel and lotteries! What did he expect of him - to break down and make a teary-eyed confession that he had dreamed of his son choking on Sarin in a subway car?

Pete would just call him irrational. No, he'd call him desperate, which was as accurate as it was condescending. Just like deciding to withhold the fact from him that they had travelled through time, when he had stumbled over it in Zaius' private study. Burke hadn't told him because he figured that the hope of being found by ANSA would keep him going, as long as he assumed that ANSA was still in existence.

Well, it worked, Pete - too bad you don't like the itinerary.

When he opened his eyes again, his gaze fell on the apes, staring at him. Galen had slung a protective arm around Zana's shoulders, glaring at him with the clear message to stop forcing his fiancée to endure the horrors of human history. After one look in Virdon's face, though, Zana shrugged off Galen's arm and stepped forward, closing the distance between them until she could grab his hand with both of hers.

„I don't like it here," she whispered. „It's too quiet. Where are all the birds?"

She was right, Virdon realized. In the ruins of Atlanta, everything had been covered by a thick blanket of greenery, and the silence had been one of wind in high grass and the rustling of little animals in the undergrowth... the silence of a buried battlefield. Birds had been singing in the trees, unaffected by the tragedy those ruins had born witness to.

But here, the only sounds were made by the wind that was strumming the spires and whistling through the ribs of the giant towers, and the rustling of dead leaves that it had carried into the polished corridors at their feet. Despite the patches of grass and vines that the creators of this complex had allowed to grow in designated pots climbing those towers, Virdon hadn't seen any bird - or any other animal, for that matter - moving through them. It was as if the city kept all outsiders at a distance.

Before Virdon could say anything, Burke had caught up to him; Virdon wondered absently what had taken him so long. „Okay, so what's your plan, Al?" he gasped. „We can't search every building in here, even if the damn mon... Urko wasn't on our tail."

„I know," Virdon admitted after a moment. „Let's try to determine which of those buildings might've been an official one... perhaps we'll find something that'll give us an overview of the city - a map, or even some records... some clue what happened here. I'd actually prefer a map; we could go straight to their university, find their physics labs..." It wasn't even a plan, he admitted to himself; just some desperate poking around in the dark.

„Fine," Burke muttered, „an' jus' how are you going to determine what's a public and what's a private building in here? They all look the same to me."

That... was a legitimate question. The designer of this city had decided to make all the towers be the same model. Virdon wiped the sweat from his face and turned around to scan the area. Going by the size of those towers, they had to have been the residential complexes, while the conches were meant to provide services... shops, cafés, maybe even hairdressers, as Burke had jokingly suggested. Perhaps there was a third kind of building for the administrative and educational services? They would be all in one place, probably - maybe closer to the center.

„This way," he pointed down another white, winding path that led down into the shadowy canyons under the towers. He didn't turn back to acknowledge the others' disagreement; he wasn't forcing anyone to come with him.

But he couldn't stop now. Not when he could feel this world sinking its roots into his soul like ivy, choking him and dragging him to the ground, until he'd be content to serve the apes and never lift his gaze again. He'd take a woman from this world, and raise children who would never know anything else but servitude...

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