8. Village of the Apes
As they drew near the huts Jay began to see other gorillas moving around; working in a garden behind the village, stoking the fire, weaving and carving in the open central area. Jay stuck close to his guide, a little nervous.
Pretty soon the gorillas noticed he and his guide, too. They stopped what they were doing as Jay walked between the huts, and those tending the garden stopped and began to gather in the central area with the others.
Jay’s guide stopped at the edge of the open area, between two huts, and put a hand out to stop Jay. Jay stopped. His guide walked into the centre and began to speak to another gorilla, low growls and occasional brief gestures. The gorillas were all watching Jay closely, and he shivered under their gazes.
Presently the second gorilla – the one his guide had been talking to – lumbered over. This gorilla looked older and larger than the first, and had a bright silvery streak running down his chest.
“Mrr.” He pointed at Jay, and mimed emptying out pockets.
Jay cautiously began to empty his pockets, turning them inside out to show. Miraculously, he discovered the message cylinder and whisky flask still intact and in his breast pocket; he carefully placed these on the ground. His keycard came out of his pants pocket – and that, he realised, was all he had.
The large silver-chested gorilla bared his teeth, although not particularly maliciously. He shuffled closer, and looked into Jay’s face for a long moment. He experimentally patted Jay’s pockets, appearing satisfied. He nodded, turned his back, and began shuffling back to his seat on the log in the centre. He waved Jay towards him, then gestured at one of the smaller, slimmer looking gorillas.
“Hurr,” he said, “bmm grr.”
“Grr? Mm drr?” she replied, in a much softer growl.
“M bmm.” he growled back, a little sharply.
She knuckled off rapidly towards the lake, and the elder gorilla turned back to Jay. He pointed at Jay’s overalls, and waved the keycard.
“Oh, those.” said Jay. “Um, it’s a long story, but basically – hey!”
The elder gorilla was using the keycard to comb his chest hair. He looked up, shrugged, and bared his teeth in a not unfriendly grin. He waved at Jay to carry on.
“I stole them to sneak into the building.” He stopped. He had no idea where the loyalties – if that was even applicable – of these people lay.
The elder looked up. He looked at Jay a moment, then began quietly wheezing. As he began rocking backwards and forwards, Jay realised he was laughing. The gorilla reached out and patted Jay’s shoulder, and gestured again to carry on.
“They kidnapped my partner,” he said “and I came to get her back. I haven’t found her yet, is all, and I didn’t do so well at the sneaking in. Hence the condition of my face.” He shrugged.
The elder looked him up and down with a sweep of his hand, as if to say “…and the rest of you…” Jay chuckled.
“I guess that’s fair enough. I’m in pretty bad shape.”
The small gorilla returned from the lake, with a large bowl of water, and offered it to Jay. Jay took it carefully, and began to drink.
Maui in a tree! was he thirsty. He drained the bowl in a handful of gulps, and handed it back to the smaller gorilla. “Thanks.”
“Mrrr drr?” she asked.
“More? Yeah, please.”
She hurried away, back towards the lake, and this time another gorilla followed her. Jay looked back to the elder.
The elder shrugged, spread his hands as if to say “what now?”
Jay thought for a moment. “I need some rest. Then I’m going to go get Melissa back. Then I’m going to go home and sleep for a week.”
The elder nodded. He held up one finger, then pointed at a hut. He held up two fingers, and brought his arm in a circle, gesturing at the other gorillas, then pointed towards the cleft Jay had entered the village through.
He held up three fingers, shrugged, and grinned again. Then he pointed at the hut, and with a hand in the small of Jay’s back steered him through the doorway and onto a woven mat on the floor.
Jay was taking his boots off when the two female gorillas entered with more bowls of water. Jay drained one, and half of the second.
“Thanks.” he said. The gorillas nodded and backed out of the hut. Jay lay back and slept.
Jay dreamed. He was on a plain, much like the one he’d been shot down over. In fact, he was sure he could see the same hills in the distance.
He looked around him. The sky was dark, and black clouds were sweeping in from the eastern horizon. Lightning lit the hills to the west with flashes of blinding blue-white light. He was standing by a small stream, flowing with clear cold water. He peered into the water; what had at first looked like a large white stone on the bottom appeared to be the skull of an animal – something like a sheep, maybe, but larger.
He left it, looked elsewhere. Further down the line the stream followed was a small rise, a rounded hillock a few meters high. On top of the mound, illuminated by flashes of lightning, was a man.
One flash of lightning showed enough to reveal that the man had a long white beard. In the next flash Jay could see that he wore a coarse brown coat of some fashion; a long coat, almost to the ground. A third flash showed Jay enough of the man’s face that Jay could see his wide, slightly flat nose and brown skin – both much like Jay’s own – and the swirling tattoos down one side of the man’s face.
Jay was now standing at the foot of the mound, and the man was looking down at him.
Jay. The word – his name – arrived in his head, bypassing his ears.
Do you know why you are here? Again, directly in his head. Jay shook his head mutely.
You are going to need something, Jay. You will know what, and you will remember this, when the time comes. You are to seek me out, here, in these hills. I will be waiting.
“Who are you?” Jay found his voice. “What am I going to need?”
Not yet, Jay.
“But… come on, give me something, please?”
Very well, the man spoke. He reached forward – impossibly far. He was several meters from Jay, yet he touched Jay’s forehead as if he stood right in front of him. Jay felt a stinging, a tingling, as the man brought his fingers across Jay’s forehead, and down the side of Jay’s face.
Seek me out when the time comes.
Jay woke. His first thought was that he desperately needed water. He sat up and grabbed for the half bowl he’d left before he slept, and discovered that it and the other had been refilled while he was asleep. He drained both of them, then flopped back down onto the mat. He was pretty stiff, but nowhere near as sore as he’d been earlier. He started to look out the door to check the light, then remembered that the light had looked pretty constant down here, as deep underground as they must be.
He started wriggling his toes, turning his foot at the ankle. A little stiff, sure, but five minutes walking would have everything back to normal. He rubbed his face, remembering the tingling from the dream; he couldn’t feel anything too odd, beyond the felt that his cargo-net welts seemed to have completely disappeared.
“Are you wake, human?”
Jay started. The voice had come from outside the hut, and it had a strange mechanical quality, but robots, as far as he was aware, generally had a reasonable grasp of english.
“Uh, yes?” he called out. “Who is it?”
“Ah, true. Apologies.” The head and silvery chest of the elder gorilla poked through the doorway. He was holding a small metal cube up to his throat.
“Yes, we remember we have this hidden. We find it to talk with you.” Ah, a translation device of some sort.
“Our vocal chords are not good for your languages, but this box acts as an aid, by changing the pitches.” Now that Jay listened properly, he could hear the elder’s growls behind the metallic sound of the device. Not really a translator, then. Even better, really – they could speak the same language.
“That’s great,” Jay said. “Do you often meet humans?”
“Not very often, maybe every ten or twenty years. At least, until the grub-chewers started digging down here.” He cleared his throat as if he wanted to spit.
“They caused you trouble, too, then?”
“Hah! Trouble, that’s a word for it.” the elder barked. “They tried to enslave us; they practically started a war with us. What do you think was happening up at the entrance?”
Jay shuddered, he suddenly realised all too well what had been happening. “They’re… your soldiers?” he asked.
“No, nothing so human. They’re the remnants of another tribe. Their village was discovered before ours. It was burnt to the ground, and the young ones stolen. Those animals” – he used the word bitterly – “were once as gentle and intelligent as us; now they’re blind with rage, and want nothing but blood. They even fight us now, as you see.”
“No, if they were soldiers,” he continued, ”you might have had a chance. But these ones were just out to kill you for being human.”
“Speaking of which,” Jay said, “where’s the one who saved me up top? I’d like to thank him.”
The elder pulled his head back out of the hut and growled, “Gree, bmm!” A second head pushed into the hut, and Jay recognised his rescuer.
“Thanks for saving me, earlier.”
“Grr dr…” the gorilla paused, then reached for the vocal device the elder had. “No problem. Hope I didn’t frighten you too much back there.” He grinned.
“Well, not half as much as the other guy did,” Jay smiled. “I owe you one.”
“Well, perhaps we can find a favour to ask,” the gorilla said. “I’m Gree, by the way.”
“Sure thing, Gree. I’m Jay.”
The elder reached for the voice box. “Well, that out of the way, you had a friend to find, correct?”
“Yes.” Not that he’d forgotten, but things had been, well, busy recently.
“Well, it stands like this. There’s a couple of sets of large, very closed doors between you and the rest of the humans, and where your friend likely is. There’s also a number of very angry beasts who would like nothing better to kill you. You’re going to need our help to get past them.”
“On the other side, we feel it would be more than beneficial if a few of us could also get past those doors and start causing a little havoc upstairs. But there’s no way they’ll open the doors for us.”
“So…” Jay said, “you’re going to help me get up there, and I’m going to open some doors for you?”
“I think that would work nicely.”
“But how do you get me up there in the first place?”
“Well, Jay, it just so happens that we are not quite as dull as you humans seem to assume. We do have other ways of getting in and out of here. What do you think we did before the doors were put in?”
”Tell me, Jay, do you swim well? How long can you hold your breath?” the elder asked.
“Uh… average, for a human, I guess. A couple of minutes breath at most,” Jay said.
“That should be enough,” the elder said. “Here’s what we’ll do. Gree here will take you to that exit, from which point you’re going to have to find your way back into the building. You’ll need to get back to the doors, and open them for us. We’ll be waiting.”
“You don’t have any advice for getting back into the building?” Jay asked.
“Not as such; we haven’t had much occasion to look around. My only suggestion would be that you try to approach from the water; they won’t be expecting you there.”
“Okay. That sounds like as much of a plan as we’ll ever have,” Jay said. “Shall we do it?”
“Alright. Do the honours, Gree?”
“My pleasure. Jump on my back; it’ll be quicker.”
The gorillas backed out of the hunt, and Jay followed. Gree turned around and crouched down, and Jay jumped up on his back, wrapping his arms around Gree’s neck.
“GRARRRRR!” Gree yelled, and the other gorillas echoed with an equally frightening shout.
He jumped up, and began galloping across the plain on all fours, towards the opposite side of the circle from which they’d entered. They reached the cliff, and Gree barely paused before beginning to climb. He wasn’t wasting any time, clambering from rock to rock, occasionally leaping between outcroppings, or throwing himself straight up, meters at a time. Jay hung on tightly.
They were so high that the huts looked like small blotches, with the gorillas dark ant-sized dots moving between them, when Gree pulled himself into a hole in the cliff. A cave receded back into the dimness.
Gree lowered Jay to the ground, and signalled further into the cave. Jay started walking, Gree following. The cave grew dimmer, lit only by the occasional glow of super-heated rock coming from cracks in the floor.
Presently they came to a pool, lying across the width of the passage. Gree stopped, pointed at Jay then at the pool. He made a dipping gesture – down, then up – and pointed back at the pool. This was Jay’s exit then.
Jay started taking deep breaths, hyperventilating to get as much oxygen into his body as he could. As he felt himself getting light-headed he took a final deep breath, patted Gree on the arm, nodded, and stepped into the pool.