Chapter 20

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Burke paused for a moment, consciously stopping himself from kicking in the door to the guest room. If he was really unlucky, other apes besides Zana and her pitbull were having a late breakfast in there, and would call the cops on him if he made a scene. So he just clenched his jaw and yanked the door open.

Their apes were the only two guests. As Burke marched towards their table, he noticed that Zana hadn't touched the food on her plate at all. She was staring out of the window, while Galen was cutting a banana into slices.

„Zana hates bananas," Burke said by way of greeting, and flopped into a vacant chair without waiting for the apes' permission. Neither Galen nor Zana reacted to his presence, but Burke had had too many girlfriends back home to be fazed by the silent treatment.

„But it's news that you also hate me an' Al," he continued, leaning in to Zana. „You're kicking us to the curb? You can't be serious!"

Zana slowly turned her head towards him. He expected her to say something, but she just blinked slowly, as if she hadn't really listened to anything he had just said, as if she was coming back from some gray daydream.

Instead, it was Galen who answered. „Sometimes, we need to eat things we don't like," he said, sliding the plate over to her. „And sometimes, we need to put distance between ourselves and... harmful influences, even if we have developed a fondness for them."

Burke chewed on the inside of his lip for a moment, to keep himself from saying something he'd regret later. „Harmful influences? You make it sound as if Zana needs to lay off the liquor."

„Whatever can be said about alcohol," Galen snapped, „at least it doesn't have a conscious will to destroy itself and anyone it comes into contact with!"

„Now hold on a moment!" Burke growled. „We don't have a, a conscious will to destroy you, or anyone here! That's just bullshit from your scrolls!"

„The scrolls say nothing about the monsters that your ancestors created!" Galen hissed. He thumped his fist on the table. „All those human cities weren't destroyed by apes! They were destroyed by man! Just like man created the deserts to the west, that huge wasteland that can't be crossed, let alone cultivated! Just like you intend to destroy this world again, with your insistence on returning to your own time!"

Burke rubbed his face, exasperated. „We don't plan to destroy anything, Galen, Al just wants to go home to his family..."

„He'll tell your Elders what will happen in their future, so that they can prevent it!" Galen snapped. „We'll be erased, we'll never exist!"

Burke's jaw dropped open as he stared into Galen's blazing eyes. It wouldn't be so bad for the poor bastards that you call animals, he thought, but he was careful not to let that thought show on his face. „C'mon, Galen," he said slowly, „you know as well as I that there's no chance in hell we'll ever get back to our own time. This world of yours just isn't up to sending us back, you've lost all that technological progress we had. You know it, I know it, and I bet even Al knows it - he just can't admit it to himself yet. He'll get there, eventually..."

„And how many ruined cities do we have to scour, before he'll accept it?" Galen asked sharply. „Do you really think I'd risk Zana's life... her health... a second time? It was my faulty judgment that cost the life of our baby, and destroyed our, our hopes..." He stopped, too choked to speak for a moment.

Burke flicked a glance at Zana's impassive face and swallowed hard. „Look, we..." He stopped, at a loss for words. Words simply weren't enough here.

But words were all he had, now. „You know we'd never have gone in there if we'd known about these things," he finally said. „We've been in two other zones before, and they were totally deserted. Hell, even Gres set up shop in one of our old bunkers! He thought it was safe, an' he was an ape!"

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