Chapter 1: Prologue: Interim at a Cave
The thunderous sonor of grenades still echoed deep within Caesar’s ears. It shakes him on the inside, the sheer immensity of it --yet the grey-greens of the iron-wrought facility bursting into vehement orange and yellow wasn't the image that continued to burn into the back of his mind. There is something that chills him more, a much quieter scene, more personal, something of which only he was an audience to.
He will never forget the sound of when the Colonel shot himself.
The episode plays out in a sequence of separate noises and images in his head, sparse and deadening. Red, trembling eyes glistening with tears of anguish and self-disgust peered out at him, begging for Caesar to end his life --deliver him from the pitiful misfortune he had succumbed to. Caesar readied himself for the moment he had been waiting for --the sole chance for vengeance, for retribution, lay in the mere curling of his fingertips. He could feel the entire room fall silent as the man's final breaths drew nearer and nearer. How could he possibly stumble back in an opportunity like this?
But when the Colonel grasps his hand weakly with his own, urging him with mournful desperation to shoot--Caesar knows he can't do it. Not like this. He would gain no peace from killing a man who wanted to die. If Caesar had to kill him, it would have to be when they stood as equals. Now the Colonel lay like a wounded beast --helpless and choking on its own blood. So he drops his arm before he makes a mistake he knows he would later regret.
Being far more fastidious in his own beliefs than Caesar, the Colonel doesn't wait long before he raises the gun to his own head and blasts through it --spraying the wall opposite of him with a shower of red. The gun hits the floor with a hard clatter as it slips through the man's now placid fingers. Caesar leaves the room, but not before he catches a glimpse of the Colonel’s dead eyes --glassy and artificial. It is haunting in the way all deaths are.
In that instant, his horse skids on a rough patch of snow and he winces from the still fresh wound in his torso--as faintly as he can, he doesn't want to draw unnecessary attention to himself. He and his comrades, old and new, still had a long way to go before reaching their destination. Looking around, he breathes a shallow sigh of relief when no one seems to have noticed his slight show of pain.
Almost no one. When he's sure that all the other apes are focused on the road, Maurice turns to Caesar and faintly signs towards him:
“Where are you hurt?”
Caesar shakes his head and waves him off --making the orangutan grunt gruffly and jostle his horse alongside his --not too roughly, Nova is asleep.
“No lying,” He signed, more anxious this time. “-show me or I make everyone stop,”
He sighs and makes sure that no one else is looking and lifts his arm hesitantly, revealing the gaping hole --the size of a golf ball, in his side where he had wrenched out the arrow in crude haste. The blood is still damp and pours steadily from his wound despite the icy weather, looking far from healed.
Maurice glares at him with disapproval.
“Why hiding wound? You need help --now,”
Before he can stop him, Maurice falls back to meet with Bad Ape and gestures to him to catch up to Caesar. Upon arrival, he looks him up and down, but doesn't see anything wrong and feels confused.
“Something happened?” He asks with his shaky voice. “-you okay?”
Bad Ape’s eyes widen in alarm when he is shown the wound and Caesar clamps a hand over his mouth before he bemoans another one of his Oh nooos that would inevitably alert the entire tribe and cause a panic. He brings his mouth to Bad Ape’s ear.
“Quiet.” He hissed, making sure no one else heard them. Then in a lower, more hesitant voice. “-can you fix it?”
He nods eagerly, eyes brightening. Caesar uncovers his mouth.
“Bad Ape went to vet sometimes!” He chattered excitedly. “-saw how to fix these. Need to stop somewhere for fixing,”
“Will a cave do? There seems to be one coming up ahead,”
“Cave good!” Bad Ape nods again. “-lots of rocks --good for making fire,”
Caesar grimaces slightly when the resulting image enters his mind, but he nods back at him --it's the fastest way to tend to it and stave off infection --not to mention, they were devoid of any practical medical supplies whatsoever.
So he tells Bad Ape to persuade Maurice to tell the rest of the group that they would be taking a brief reprieve in a nearby cave to at least rest, if they couldn't find any food at the moment. Then, while everyone else was asleep, Caesar would get his wound tended. No one except the three of them, and maybe Rocket, would find out about it. A leader could not show any signs of weakness --especially not at a time like this. Caesar couldn't allow any more casualties. They needed to keep up the morale.
Arriving at the mouth of the cave, Caesar motions for Rocket and Bad Ape to go in and make sure it's unoccupied. After a few minutes of laboured coaxing and Maurice finally threatening to rip his beanie in half, Bad Ape tentatively slips off his horse. He reaches into his vest pocket and clicks on a penlight, offering it to the other. Rocket grunts in approval and grips it in his fist, heading off with Bad Ape falling a few steps behind. The slightly stouter ape had a much sturdier build --it seemed wiser to let him lead the way, in the case a strapping grizzly threw itself in their path. He even walked with a heavier step, no doubt from the several pounds of muscle on his frame.
The cold beam of white-blue light bounced off the coarse, corrugated cave walls littered in fist-sized potholes, casting long, sharp shadows against every little bump of rock. It's fearfully quiet, that even when Bad Ape occasionally nudges a few tiny rocks with his feet, their skidding and clattering against the ground echoes like scattered marbles against ceramic tile.
The elongated shadows of the apes made them look almost human-like --Bad Ape most of all, because he wore human clothing. It made Rocket bristle from the scalding memory he had of humans --how their stupid, clumsy brashness had cost him a family member --but he keeps it to himself. He still trusts Caesar, and Caesar says that not all humans are bad. So he brushes it off, if not a bit reluctantly and keeps his eyes on the lookout for any predators.
When they've walked undisturbed for quite some time, they hear the distant roar of heavy water and Bad Ape suddenly runs happily towards the noise --he'd never noticed it while they'd been trekking in the freezing cold, but he was dreadfully thirsty. He crouches to the edge of the rushing streams and dips his cupped hands down --drinking by the scoopful. Shivering fiercely when the initial iciness shoots down his throat, he soon gets used to it and eagerly quenches his thirst. Rocket joined him momentarily and drank his own fill.
Turning to the leaner ape, he signs:
“Go back to Caesar now?”
Bad Ape nods and they make their way back to the rest of the tribe.
Once everyone is settled inside, Caesar sends out a few of his most able-bodied members to gather enough firewood to last the night. They return with armfuls of branches and brush --caked deep in snow and ice. Bad Ape has a lighter in his vest pocket but it's still hours of dead smoke before a single spark catches alight. By the time a healthy fire is going, it may have well been early morning. Caesar could tell that everyone was exhausted. So he tells them to get some rest while he and Maurice and a few others took shifts on the night watch --it was still very dark out.
Moving to a deeper, more secluded part of the cave, Caesar walks with a hand over his side, stepping lightly --trying not to tear the wound deeper. Once he's sure he's out of earshot from the rest of his apes, he tells Bad Ape that he's ready. Maurice and Rocket stand back and watch the process with a sharp eye, prepared to help in case anything went wrong.
Taking a damp piece of wood, Bad Ape places it in Caesar’s hand, telling him to use it when he begins.
“Cauterize --very, very painful,” He warned nervously. Then he turns to face the other two apes “-hold him still when I say,”
When Bad Ape takes out his lighter again, he checks his pockets for any small items he could use for the procedure. Coming up short, he turns to Maurice, apologetically.
“Piece of metal?”
The orangutan nods and just the slightest bit reluctantly, hands over a shiny silver chunk --broken off of Nova’s name plate. It had been a pretty piece of metal.
When the tip is well heated --but not to the point of glowing red or white, Caesar takes in a deep breath and lies down, biting the piece of wood between his teeth and tightened his hands into fists. Bad Ape give the nod and Maurice holds down his arms while Rocket restrains his legs. The skinny ape sighs again and wants to say more --he had a habit of blabbering away when he was very, very nervous.
"Very slow process,” He informs Caesar earnestly, a bit of fear still flickering in his eyes. “-too much heat too long --kill healthy tissue. I do one-two second interval. Until wound seal,”
He nods and closes his eyes. When he feels the heat sear his bare, tender skin for the first time, the pain is unimaginable --Caesar has to bite down his tongue until he tastes blood to keep from howling out as the hot iron hisses fiercely against him. He feels sick when he smells the stench of burnt hair and flesh. The pressure over his arms and legs gets stronger and Maurice murmurs for him to endure for just a little while longer. He lets out a sharp exhale when the excruciating metal leaves the surface of his skin --the cold stung like knives for several moments before it gradually numbed down.
The second time is even worse. Caesar can almost feel the cells on his skin fusing into a crusted mass and when he finally decides to open his eyes he sees that the wound is slowly closing from ridges of melted dermis glued together but so far it was only about less than an eighth sealed shut. He closes his eyes again and tries to imagine a calm, faraway place --but all he can see is angry red.
By the fifth time, Caesar sees Koba hovering over him, perched on a rock at the opposite wall watching him with fascination. The room is cast in an orange glow that seems to bloom from the base of the cave. The ape points to Caesar’s wound and smirks.
“Human work,” He sneers.
Caesar shakes his head.
“An ape is helping me,”
“No,” Koba hissed, grinning wider. “-look again,”
The ape turns his head and sure enough, a large hulking man is bent over him, with a sparse ginger beard peppered with grey and cold blue eyes filled with contempt. There's a giant cigar pinched between his crooked yellow teeth --was that three front teeth--?--and he takes it out with his chunky fingers --nails caked in dried dirt and blood. Dense patches of red-orange hairs covered the backs of his hands to the edge of his forearms. It was as if he was some terrifying form of human-ape hybrid.
The man laughs and it rumbles like a mountain collapsing into jagged earth.
He presses the burning end of the stick into Caesar's skin and roars with sick amusement --loud enough to drown out the ape who is now screaming and pleading for him to stop.
When the man finally finished, Koba jumps down from his place and saunters over. There seems to be a softer look in his eye now. But it's hard to tell. The room has darkened and Caesar is still trembling from the pain.
“See? Human work,” He murmurs into his ear. “-run. Before kill Caesar,”
But he can't run. He looks down and his arms and legs are locked tight by massive iron shackles weighed down by a seemingly endless pile of chains. Caesar looks at his feet and sees they are blurring in and out of existence --sometimes reemerging as ape feet, at other times, human ones. His eyes shift to his hands --the same aberration is happening.
He's about to scream again when he feels a warm, familiar hand on his wrist and the comforting smell of someone he knows.
Will looks at him with bright, glistening eyes. He smooths the hair on his arm, trying to calm him down.
“Caesar --look at me. Hey. It's okay,” His voice was gentle, but firm. “-we’re going home soon. I promise,”
Then the room slowly darkens and before Caesar can reply, Will is gone.
When Caesar wakes up again, he's back with the rest of the group and the fire is merely a smattering of glowing embers now. Everyone is asleep except for Maurice sitting across from him, whose face brightens upon seeing him awake.
“Feeling okay?” He signs empathetically.
Caesar looks down and sees that his wound has been completely sealed. There doesn't appear to be any swelling or redness --he seems to have evaded infection, much to his relief. Bad Ape had done a good job. He would find a way to thank him later.
“You passed out. Halfway through,” Maurice continued, a bit concerned. “-see anything strange?”
Caesar casts his eyes to the dying fire. He nods, after a while.
“Saw Koba again,” He replied, signing so as not to wake anyone up. “-also saw my father,”
“Your father?” Maurice’s eyes widen.
“Human father,” Caesar signed. Then, with a slower, heavier motion. “-never knew my real one,”
A silence hangs between them and then Caesar looks out towards the entrance of the cave --and it's a blurred motion of white, a furious blizzard that doesn't look like it will let up for hours. Maybe they will have to stay another day. They had enough firewood. But they would need to find food soon.
Maurice sees a strange look in Caesar's eyes --a quiet melancholic glimmer, that is gone after he blinks a few times. But it worries him still.
The ape meets his gaze and says nothing, but his eyes reveal otherwise. So Maurice waits patiently. The embers are going out, one by one.
When the fire has smoldered, Caesar sighs.
“Will --my human father,” He said in a quiet, hesitant voice. “-he said we were going home,”
Maurice chuckles softly and Caesar believes he can almost see his friendly smile in the darkness.
His deep, warm voice is comforting and reminds Caesar of the faint glowing lights of San Francisco, a long, long time ago. Somewhere among those lights sat his old house, he could almost see it --the scattered spheres of light in that kitchen, almost smell the red blanket he had been wrapped in when he'd first arrived to his new family.
“We are going home,” Maurice murmured gently. “-soon,”
Chapter 2: Cornelius goes fishing
Hello everyone! The adventure begins :)
Caesar awakens to the feeling of a small, furry object furiously bouncing against his chest. He slowly opens one eyelid and squints --it's still hours before dawn and he can barely see a thing. While the ALZ-113 had made him smarter, it hadn't done much for his eyesight. He had about a year of sleep to catch up on, and from the looks of it, it was unlikely he'd be getting any --for the next five or six. Or seven.
With a deep sigh, Caesar gets up and grabs at the darkness for the little intruder who had slid down and leapt just out of reach. Cornelius had a habit of needing to go pee in the middle of the night, which was already exasperating enough, but was made worse because Caesar didn't trust him enough to let him go alone. He was so tiny --what if he fell into a river or got trampled flat by a passing moose--? They’d just arrived here a day ago and who knew what other creatures dwelled here as their new neighbors? Caesar hopes they don't run into grizzlies again.
The energetic little ape jumps into his arms and chatters anxiously, but it doesn't seem like a bathroom plea --rather Cornelius seemed to be itching to go somewhere to play. He was puffing up his cheeks in and out and fanning his hands on either side of his face, wriggling his fingers and hooting excitedly. He hadn't learnt any sign language yet --at least not enough to form coherent sentences, so whenever he was too impatient to sign he would do his best to imitate the main subject of his speech.
It drove Caesar crazy sometimes --most of the time it would take him several minutes to understand the first part, and by the time he'd gotten the second, he would've forgotten the first. Maurice was a lot better at this. The only reason Caesar understood “Need to go pee” was because Cornelius would be pacing back and forth like a jumpy horse --and making hissing sounds to imitate the sound of peeing until he finally got up and took him to a nearby tree.
And sometimes, when even that wouldn't work, Cornelius would slowly fill his cheeks full of his own saliva and then tilt his head back and spew it up sky high like a fountain. Not surprisingly, in the darkness Caesar wouldn't be able to see the fountain. But more often than not, it would land on his face and then he'd get the picture.
Not wanting to spend another minute trying to decipher his son’s own version of Morse Code, Caesar carries him and stumbles off to find Maurice.
The orangutan was still fast asleep --as was everyone else at this ungodly hour and Caesar gently shakes his friend's shoulder a few times to rouse him. He shoots up and roars like an angry tiger, making Cornelius squirm and bury his face into Caesar's chest. Upon seeing him, Maurice shrinks back in surprise, laughing softly.
“Sorry. Bad dream,” He signed, still chuckling. “-what’s wrong?”
Caesar set his son down onto the ground and gestured to him, sighing.
“Can you help me figure out what all the fuss is about…? He's making funny faces again and I can't understand what he's saying,”
The orangutan nodded and observed Cornelius closely. The little one was still skipping around making puffy cheeks and jazz hands --he seemed to be trying to blow bubbles or something from his mouth. Maurice scratches his chin absently and imitates him a few times --eyes widening when he finally got it. He chuckles and turns to Caesar.
“He wants to go fishing,”
“Fishing…?!” He sputtered in disbelief. “-he doesn't even know how to swim -- if he falls into the pond they'll be catching him instead…!”
Seeming to have understood his father's clear objection, Cornelius skimpers sadly to a corner of the cave and mopes, doing sulky talking hands and attempted to imitate Caesar's deep, grumpy voice. The other ape rolls his eyes and racked his brain in trying to find a solution to get his son to quiet down.
“Is everyone still asleep?” He asked tiredly, already knowing the answer.
But Maurice shook his head, gesturing to the outside of their dark, comfy abode.
“Nova and Bad Ape are out,” He signed. “-catching crickets and fireflies,”
Caesar squints in confusion.
“Are they going to eat them…?”
The orangutan has another laughing fit, tossing his mane from side to side.
“No, silly,” He managed. “-they catch them and let them go,”
“What's the point of catching them, then…?”
“It's fun,” Maurice replied, shrugging his shoulders. “-and come on. Bugs have feelings too,”
“I'd like to hear you say that again after a mosquito bites you in the face…” He mutters, lying down.
The cave was still so nice and warm, he could catch a few more hours if only Cornelius would just shut his yammering mouth for a couple minutes.
The orangutan gets up and goes over, scooping Cornelius up in his arms. He hoots gently at Caesar, whose eyelids are about to droop shut again. He grunts in reply, not moving his head.
“I'll take Cornelius to go join the others,” He signed, after resting the little ape atop his broad, slippery shoulders --who gripped tightly onto tufts of his hair for support. He chattered cheerfully again --it was like riding a horse but better because Maurice had lots of fur, so was much more comfier. “-you sleep,”
He smiled and watched as they made their way into the outside world.
“Thanks, Maurice,” He mumbled. Soon enough, he was dozing off to sleep again.
“You need a stick. A long, strong and pointy stick,”
Being unable to say Caesar's words back to him, Cornelius imitates his hand gestures describing the attributes of the desired stick to show he understood. Then he ran off to look for one.
Crouching down at the edge of the forest, the little ape is greeted by an array of many twigs and branches of various sizes and shapes. From the corner of his eye, he sees one that fits almost exactly the description Caesar had given him. He picks it up, and then shrieks and flinging it away into the bushes. There were tiny little green things crawling all over it and upon closer inspection, Cornelius sees that they are diamond-shaped green bugs who have congregated to one region of the stick and seemed to be communicating to each other with the flicking of their antennas.
He recalls the story Bad Ape had told him the other night over the campfire, under a clear night full of bright, glittering stars. Caesar had gone off to bed early --complaining of a mild stomachache, and went off to retire to the cave they had settled in upon arriving here. When he was gone, Bad Ape asked Cornelius if he wanted to hear a story. Cornelius loved stories and nodded, chattering happily.
The story began in an old farm --the home of one of Bad Ape’s past handlers. He had overheard a conversation between his handler and one of his colleagues, at an animal clinic, one afternoon. He was being treated for some minor cuts after having a scuffle with the local cat. He'd just wanted to touch its soft little whiskers and the feline hissed and lashed out at him, marring his left forearm. It had been a nice, sunny day. He could hear the bees busily buzzing outside, about the red tulips bobbing gently in the breeze.
His handler had woken up in the middle of the night to a strange, sudden blast outside. It seemed that something massive had crashed in his cornfield and he went outside with a large flashlight to investigate the matter. Brushing through the thick, heavy stalks that towered several feet above him, he came to the cleared area of the field and aimed the beam at the huge, dark object that had fallen in the centre.
Large chunks of the unit were scattered about on the ground and the man bent over to pick up a piece with his hand, in awe at the heavy weight of it. The type of material it was made of was unidentifiable --it seemed like some kind of metal --maybe a synthesis of several different kinds. It was smooth and had a mild iridescent gleam to it. From his flashlight, it looked deep blue --but it seemed to change colour every time he shone it at a different angle.
Suddenly a giant pool of light fell upon him and as he was washed in the blinding white glow, he felt his body disintegrating into the air until he was nothing but scattered particles. Though his form was now skewed beyond recognition, every tiny piece of him still buzzed with consciousness --he could feel himself being sucked upwards into an enormous mass floating in the sky.
Once inside the ship, his body returned to one piece and he felt himself being poked and probed by strange, little green men with giant ovoid heads and big, soulless black eyes. They seemed to ask him questions but they didn't speak English --their own language was a twisty, jumbled mess of many consonants and very few vowels. It sounded like the sounds you never paid attention to in everyday life --the buzzing of the radio when it was on a bad station, the scrape and swish of vehicles moving outside, the crunching of paper upon unwrapping a burger. Pure background noise.
He woke up in the morning back in his own bed and thoroughly confused yet fascinated. When he returned to the cornfield that day, the scraps of material had disappeared, as well as the ship in the sky, so his wife would not believe him when he said he had been visited by aliens. Everyone thought he was crazy.
Cornelius knelt closer until his face was almost level with the little critters still creeping about on branch. He wondered if they could be aliens. They were definitely little and green, but they did not look like men at all. Maybe they were in disguise. Bad Ape had also told him that aliens had special abilities that allowed them to do things that apes and humans could not do --one of their powers was called “shape-shifting”; they could change their outer body to look like something else.
The little ape then wonders if those large, green men that had captured them a while ago could have been aliens too. They had kept him and his family and friends locked in away in giant cages and refused to give them any food or water, for several days. It was very cold and he had been very hungry and lonely without his father. When Caesar had finally come to rescue them, he immediately called out to him, followed him along the cage wire, beckoning him to come free him, free them all, but the strange, green men had taken him to a different enclosure, removed from the rest of them.
These men looked human, but there seemed to be something wrong with them. They behaved like machines. As if they were lacking something inside. Cornelius wanted to study them closer to try to figure it out and maybe help them return back to humans but whenever he tried to hoot for them to let him out, they barked angrily at him and shooed him away.
There seemed to be aliens all around him. Maybe the reason everyone didn't notice them was because they lived everywhere among them, in their many disguises --some in tiny bug suits, others in larger, human suits.
Cornelius sighs and skips off to get a better stick. His father would be looking for him now and waiting to start his fishing lesson. The real reason Cornelius had wanted to go outside was to go alien-hunting but he didn't know how to explain it because he only knew how to imitate things he'd seen before and he'd never seen any aliens. He wouldn't be able to say “alien” either because he couldn't seem to speak properly yet. Maurice told him Caesar had spoken his first word when he was eight years old, in a primate shelter with lots of other apes. Cornelius was only two. He still had lots of time to grow.
So he'd resorted to making fish faces as a ruse to go outside because he knew that even the wise orangutan would probably not be able to decipher his attempt at expressing alien-hunting intent. Seeing a decent stick for the job, he grabs it and runs back to Caesar whose begun swatting at mosquitoes and dragonflies who seem to find his head an excellent resort location.
The ape gestures to the water and tells him to wait silently. Fish are pretty smart, even if they do fall for the same bait time and time again. And even if they weren't that smart, they were still very fast --too fast to catch most of the time. When a medium-sized bass swims up below them, Caesar holds Cornelius back with his hand, signing for him to just watch this time.
In a swift, skillful motion he strikes the stick dead centre into the creature’s back, piercing it clean through and lifts the speared fish out of the water. Cornelius regards it, wrinkling his nose slightly from the smell and watches the droplets of water rolling off its shiny body mix with the dark blood trickling from the wound. The sight of blood doesn't scare him, not really, but he doesn't like the way the colours in the fish’s eye fade and become milky as it dies. It's rather unsettling.
Caesar removes the fish neatly and tosses it onto the grass.
“It's quite small. We should be able to catch bigger ones here,” He takes a few steps back and gives Cornelius a bit of space. “-here. Now you try,”
Cornelius had gone fishing before --while Caesar had been away, dealing with some territorial issues with the humans. Dreyfus’s militia had been quite resilient --much more than Caesar had anticipated and it had given a Cornelius a fair bit of time to go with Blue Eyes and the older apes to do older ape stuff that he wouldn't be allowed to do if his father was around.
He'd found out he was not very good at fishing. It was also not helpful that Blue Eyes and his friends would jump out behind him and scare the fish away just for fun. Cornelius liked his older brother --even if he was not that nice when he was around his friends. Maybe it was payback for their mother doting on him and subconsciously putting the older son in second place. But Blue Eyes seemed to like being alone just as much as he liked company. Maybe he just wanted to live a little when Caesar wasn't around.
The little ape took a big breath and decided he would catch one fish today and call it a day. He wishes he could just hold his stick underwater and wait for a crazy fish to drive its head into the spear, but he knows that won't happen. He believed in aliens but that didn't make him unrealistic.
When a slightly larger bass finally arrives, Cornelius drives the stick down but hesitates the moment the tip makes contact, jolting when he felt his spear graze the live, pulsating body. It was an icky feeling --like being scared to smack flies that landed on his arm because he didn't want to clean off their dead, crunchy corpse guts off his fur.
He shook his head and decided to try again. But this time, he aims too early and misses by just an inch. As the fish keep rolling by, his accuracy worsens as his patience thins and by the time he's missed about a dozen fish, he drops his bottom onto the ground --an angry little ball of sweat and hurls the stick about six yards into the pond, yelling indiscernible jumbled monkey curses at the stick, the body of water and every single thing living inside it.
Caesar looks at him and tries to comfort him but Cornelius swats his hand away --he wants to sulk in peace. All he had wanted to do was find some aliens but he couldn't articulate that because of the language barrier and now he was stuck here until he caught a fish. Or if Caesar got another stomachache and had to go back to the cave, which from the looks of it, might be pretty soon. He didn't seem to have as much stamina as usual these past few days. Cornelius wonders if the strange, alien-like men had fed him some bad berries when they'd been locked up.
He looks around and sees Bad Ape and Nova a few yards away, picking yellow dandelions and making flower crowns out of them. They seemed to be having fun. Cornelius squeaks at his father and points to his new friends over there and the ape nods, letting him go off to join them. He was glad to take a break and sit down. After he'd rested for a bit, he'd catch a few dozen more fish and have a nice roast for lunch with the others. Maybe he'd look for Rocket to help him out. He was very good at it --he'd speared three large fish at once one time when they’d went on an outing --a swarm of fish had pooled into a single region of the lake, teeming with food.
When Cornelius reaches the two of them, Bad Ape turns and smiles warmly and gestures for him to come over.
“Hello, friend!” He greeted, handing him a flower crown. “-want one?”
The little ape shrinks back and shakes his head --there were probably dozens of bugs hidden inside every flower and he wouldn't be able to tell if they were real aliens or not if he couldn't see them. Then he sees Bad Ape’s head and claps his hands merrily, getting an idea.
He climbs onto his leg and swings himself atop Bad Ape's shoulders, who is very confused but says a shaky “okay…” and stays still so Cornelius doesn't fall off. The clever little chimp snatches the beanie clean off the other’s head and slides down his fur, running back to meet with Caesar --who's caught a few more fish by now.
When he sees his son grasping Bad Ape's beanie, and then kneeling down and holding it in the water, staying very still, he smiles faintly, impressed.
They wait for the next fish to come.
When one finally does arrive, Caesar sighs a little --it's too large to fit exactly in the beanie and he doesn't want Cornelius to get discouraged again. But the little ape shakes his head --he wants to at least try catching this one and he hoots gently for Caesar to lure it into the makeshift net. The ape feigns a true strike and spooks the fish into shooting forward, and the second it drives its head into the very back of the beanie, Cornelius flings it wildly out of the water and it goes flying straight behind him and smack dab into Rocket’s face.
The ape is knocked sideways and spun backwards a couple times--he'd come over to help Caesar bring in some more fish, but this wasn't exactly the kind of catch he'd had in mind. Once he'd stopped seeing stars in the back of his eyelids, he looks down at the fish and nods in approval, impressed by its size and shape. It was a plump, glossy catfish, still breathing and moving its whiskers. Maurice joins him momentarily, carrying a slab of wood he'd carved to make a shallow pan for carrying fish.
They go over to meet up with the other two apes by the pond, Rocket bringing over the fish by its tail.
“You like it?” Caesar asked, not completely able to hide his beam of pride for his little one. “-Cornelius and I caught it together,”
Rocket pats the little ape on the head and Maurice bends down to congratulate him too.
Caesar winks at his son.
“We make a pretty good team, huh?”
He chirps in agreement and proceeds to do his best to twist the hat dry, but doesn't get very far. Rocket nudges him gently and he hands it over, watching in amazement as the ape seems to squeeze every last drop of water out of the beanie.
In a snap, Cornelius takes it back and runs off to return it to his friend.
Chapter 3: Maurice gets a new hairstyle
The searing, snappy aroma of smoked fish swirled cozily in the air. Gathering themselves in a large, scattered circle about the robust campfire, Caesar and his apes were heartily enjoying their first proper meal eaten together as one, large happy family. The skin of the fish was crispy and cracked, sizzling with aromatic oils. Nothing was more satisfying than taking a big bite and feeling the juicy, flaky meat and crunchy skin fill the taste buds with fresh, savoury flavour.
When they'd first arrived, the apes had been too exhausted to even eat --they simply found another unoccupied cave and just about doubled over into deep, much needed sleep. Most of them, anyways. Bad Ape had sat around a small campfire, telling stories to those who still managed to stay up, while Lake and Maurice had gone into the forest with makeshift torches, gathering handfuls of fallen nuts. Soon a sweet, pleasant musk had filled air about the sleepy campers. Roasted chestnuts never tasted so good.
Caesar nudges Rocket who is in the midst of chowing down on a deliciously toasted bass. He turns to him, nodding in reply.
“How's construction coming along? Can we move base soon?”
The ape puts down the half-eaten fish in his lap and signs:
“The wood here --very good. But might need a few weeks, maybe months. A little short on tools. Also depends on weather,”
Caesar nods, and Rocket acknowledges him before he resumes eating.
“Let me know if you need anything,”
After finishing his fish and about to start on another one, Rocket pauses and taps Caesar's shoulder lightly, adding:
“Should restock inventory --more bows and arrows. Need to hunt bigger game --storing food for winter,”
“Good idea,” He agreed. “-I'll gather a team this afternoon,”
Having gotten bored of sitting around and eating with all the bigger apes, Cornelius wanders about the campfire, itching to go exploring again. Lake sees him feeling anxious and signs to Caesar that she'll take him for a walk, with Maurice and some others. With his father's approval, the little ape joins his buddies and they go off to roam deeper in the woods.
Carrying a newly woven basket, Lake had already snugly wrapped some catfish in fresh, wild cabbage leaves --she was taking the crew to go gathering for some forest herbs that would go wonderfully with the meat. She was going to make some rich, fragrant fish soup in the evening --it should soothe Caesar's stomach and help Cornelius sleep better at night. Lake had also consulted with Caesar earlier while she had been eating --she wanted to have a large cellar built near their current location --they needed somewhere to store dried goods and if they could find some way to build an ice box, it would greatly improve their supplies for the wintertime. Rocket seconded her request. Caesar said he would see what he could do.
The forest was a completely different place in the daytime. Sunlight shimmered through the leaves of trees towering hundreds of feet above them and the ground was overgrown with a multitude of endless varieties of shrubs, ferns and small fruit-bearing plants. The black bark of the surrounding trees was scattered with brightly coloured fungi stacked like tiny stairways into the sky. Fresh moss, hundreds of years old, draped the bases in a rich, green carpet, soft and dense. Cornelius could hear nearby brooks bubbling with water and the excited chatter of birds perched in happy groups above them. Nature was a paradise in the springtime.
When they'd walked for a little while longer, Lake gently signalled for them to stop and look around. They could split up if they wanted to, but she warned them not to go too far from their current rendezvous --marked by a patch bright red mushrooms with white speckles. They grew along a giant, overturned log riddled with numerous woodpecker holes and lumpy insect galls, likely struck down by lightning some time ago.
Bad Ape goes with Maurice, while Lake accompanies Cornelius and Nova. They go opposite ways and promise to meet back in around ten to fifteen minutes.
Peering down amongst the greenery before her, Nova breathes in the scent of the flora that sprung about the rich soil around them. She sees a cluster of oddly familiar-looking plants -- a long, thin stalk with tiny, triangular leaves sprouting alternately along it. Picking one and bringing it to her nose, she remembers it immediately upon experiencing the soft, spicy scent.
She brings a sample over to Lake and the ape gives it a whiff, a warm, gracious smile spreading across her face.
“Rosemary,” She signed, very pleased. “-wonderful job, Nova. Let's gather some more,”
They returned to the herb patch together and began picking them by the handful until Lake says they've gotten enough --they need to leave a portion in the patch for regrowth. She adds them to the basket of which she'd also picked some snatches of flat-leaved parsley and fresh chives.
Before going back to their checkpoint, Nova signs for Lake to wait a few more minutes. She runs off and ducks under the boughs of a group of pine trees. It was still rather early in the day, so she might be able to find what she was looking for. Careful not to get the sticky sap caught onto her clothes, she twists off some pine cones, first weighing them in her hand to find the most likely contestants. Grabbing a few good ones and some unripe cones for other purposes, she meets up with Lake again, a few minutes later.
A little confused at first, the ape then smiles when she sees the undersides of that the hardy cone scales are strewn with shiny yellow pine nuts --delicious on their own, even better coarsely chopped and roasted with freshly hunted game. Nova was a natural. They were going to be good friends.
Inquiring about the green, cylindrical cones, Nova winks and signs that it's a surprise. Lake shrugs --they still had enough space for a few more pounds of herbs, and Nova had done well, so she decides to keep them.
Now where did Cornelius go? They had been so absorbed on gathering that they'd let him out of their sight for a moment and now he was nowhere to be found. Lake was starting to get very anxious --the idea of Caesar losing his temper when they told him they'd lost his son, terrified her --particularly because he did not get mad very often. Nova puts a hand on her shoulder and signs for her to take a few deep breaths and calm down --they would not find him if they panicked.
They were in a very quiet part of the woods, so Lake signed that maybe they could track him by listening for him. Nova nodded and they both closed their eyes, listening attentively. Nothing but twittering birds and lazily buzzing insects invaded their eardrums for the first minute or two but then, Lake hears a familiar chattering of a very excited little ape.
Gripping tightly to her basket to avoid spilling the contents, the two of them rush over to the source of the sound and see a small dark shape, rustling in the bushes under a few slender birch trees. Lake reaches in and carries Cornelius out, spinning him around. Very relieved but a little upset, she is about to scold him rather strictly but then he uncovers his hands.
A tiny, barely feathered baby bird, possibly only a day old was resting in centre of Cornelius’s soft, small palms. It was still alive, due the healthy warmth of the ape’s hands but it would not survive very long without its mother’s care. It was incredibly weak at this stage --Cornelius must have caught the little creature just as it had slipped out of the nest --ultimately saving its life. Lake was very touched. She decided to save the scolding for later.
Looking up, she sees that the nest is not too far off, but she would not be tall enough to allow Cornelius to reach it if she bolstered him upon her shoulders --and she was not confident of the safety of both the bird and Cornelius if the little ape tried to climb up the tree with only three limbs, whilst carrying it in one palm.
She bent down, placing a hand on Cornelius’s arm, signing:
“Hold it for now. We meet up with the others and get their help,”
By the time they get back to their rendezvous, Maurice and Bad Ape are already waiting, seated against the log. The two of them get up upon seeing the rest of the crew --Maurice was holding bundles of watercress and wild asparagus and while those were not herbs, they were good for soups and meats, so would suffice. Lake chuckled when she saw Bad Ape gripping large fistfuls of wild onions --their numerous, white bulbs knocking noisily into each other as he stood up, and from the slightly sour look on his face, it seemed he may have taken an unrewarding test bite.
They also placed their finds into Lake’s basket, which was now a bit closer to overflowing and were about to make their way back when Lake stopped them, gesturing to Cornelius.
The little ape showed them the baby bird in his hands and hooted, turning his head in the direction of the nest. Maurice nodded and the five of them made their way to the spot again.
Lifting him over his shoulders, the orangutan strains to get Cornelius high enough to put the little animal back to its nest. But his arms are too short and he is still at least a foot or two too low. He hoots for Maurice to bring him back down.
They couldn't use a stick to carry the bird back up --it was too fragile and they most definitely could not toss it back up into the nest --if they missed, the baby would be done for. Right then, Nova gets an idea and scoops up Cornelius who held the little bird still and motioned for Maurice to carry her up so they could stack as three.
The orangutan easily lifts the both of them and Cornelius is able to return the fallen hatchling back to its home. The mother -- a warm, brown cardinal, arrives soon after, her beak teeming with food. She had seen the actions of the little ape and his friends from afar and she nods at them, chirping with gratitude.
As they return back to their camp site, Lake sees a funny expression on Maurice’s face. She signs:
“Cornelius did a good thing. The baby would've died otherwise,”
The orangutan chuckled.
“That's true,” He agreed. “-but he will never eat eggs again,”
“Is that a problem--?”
“Not for now. But it's not good for him to become a picky eater,” Maurice cautioned. “-soon he’ll be saving baby deers and cubs --we’ll end up eating bark and dirt for the winter,”
Lake looked at him, miffed.
“Are you joking…?”
“Of course, I am,” He chuckled. “-Cornelius has a good heart. It will serve him well,”
The other ape gives him a knowing smile and places the basket in his arms.
“You carry. I'm exhausted,” She signed, shaking her head.
“No moving --almost ready,” Nova signed. She was still arranging the slender pine cones in Maurice's hair --she wanted the curls to hold. She had used a tiny bit of tree sap, not too much or the cones would be too difficult to remove, just enough to shape the hair.
“Leave on for few hours,” She told him.
The orangutan nodded. Now he just needed to find somewhere dark and cool, removed from the bugs. They were finding his head to be a wonderful roosting spot.
It's late afternoon and Caesar was casually examining the bark of a pine tree, listening for any wood-gnawing beetles when he sees a giant, hulking shadow against the trunk, towering right behind him.
He turns and almost jumps two feet into the air --about to hurl a stream of pine cones at the menace when it raises two large familiar leathery hands in surrender.
He'd thought it had been a grizzly bear --the orangutan’s face was almost entirely covered in an enormous mess of tangled locks --he looked like something that had come out of the swamp --the thing of nightmares.
“Nova did it,” He signed genially. “-what do you think? She was going for Marilyn Monroe,”
Medusa the Monstrous Humanoid would be more accurate, Caesar thought, but he decided complete transparency might not be appreciated at times like this.
“It's definitely… a different look…” He managed. “-h-how long are you planning on, uh…”
“I'm washing it out in the evening,” Maurice reassured him. “-want to enjoy Bad Ape's campfire stories --no bugs buzzing around my head,”
Thank goodness, he thought. He didn't know how much longer he could look at Maurice’s new hairdo. Heck, he looked like a campfire story.
Meanwhile, a familiar-looking ape passes them by a few meters off, carrying some lumber over his shoulder. Caesar squints but no matter how hard he looks, he couldn't seem to place who that ape was.
The orangutan chuckled.
“Don't recognize him? That's Rocket,”
Caesar looked on in half-horror.
“What happened to his--
Maurice sighed, shaking his head.
“Rocket’s very bald on the head,” He explained. “-but still wanted curl. So Nova found different place,”
“So she curled the hair on his butt…?”
The orangutan laughed softly.
“Thinks he looks very handsome,” He grinned. “-look --the gorillas are humouring him,”
The only thing Rocket seemed to be really attracting though, were bugs. He was going to have to break it to him, later. For now, Caesar supposed there was nothing wrong in letting him get some celebrity attention.
He was behaving almost exactly like a movie star --except instead of flipping the hair on his head, he was attempting to majestically flip the stiff, curly tufts around his behind --which proved to be both very unsettling and humorous at the same time.
What a day it had been, Caesar thought. What a day.