I want your heart broken, some sign of emotion
I want to see the tears tumble down
Show me I meant something and that you feel nothing
But your world crashing to the ground
“So you’ve seen his personnel jacket. What did he put down for religious preference?” Major Pete Burke asked his mission commander. He fed some more sticks into their small fire and watched the trail of sparks float lazily upward. His gaze continued traveling up to the stars overhead. Stars that should have been comforting in their familiar patterns but instead had enough small differences to feel strange and alien.
Colonel Alan Virdon, of the recently doomed Hyperion mission, peeled the bark off a twig, tossing the small pieces into the fire. “Protestant. Nothing more specific than that.”
“Well, shit, Alan, that’s a lot of leeway there.”
“Yeah, I know.”
The third member of their little group tilted his head to one side and made a quiet humming noise. Oh great, here come the questions. Again. Burke thought with an irritated eyeroll.
“If I may ask?” inquired the chimpanzee Galen, his nose wriggling with unsuppressed curiosity. Virdon nodded. “Exactly how many religions are there in your time?”
“Oh, hundreds, I suppose,” Virdon answered, “or only a handful, depending on how you look at it. There are a few major ones, but some of them have a lot of variations, even though they share a core set of beliefs.”
“How interesting,” exclaimed Galen in astonishment. “And these were all human religions? Didn’t it bother them that they couldn’t all be right?”
Virdon started to answer patiently, as he had every other question in the constant stream that had flowed from the chimpanzee during the last three days, but Burke interrupted.
“Look, Galen, can we save the comparative religion class for another time? We’re trying to plan a funeral for our friend here!” he snapped.
Their third crew member, Major Steve Jones, had died when their ship had crashed, marooning them a thousand years in Earth’s future. Even though it had only been a week since the crash, sometimes it felt like they had been on the run from the apes forever already. Between being captured and interrogated by the Ape High Council, then having to engineer Galen’s escape from prison after he accidentally killed a guard to save the astronauts’ lives, they hadn’t had much time to spend thinking about their departed colleague.
But they had evaded the authorities while working their way back to the crash site. Virdon was determined to see if the ship was salvageable. Or at least to try to recover the magnetic disk that contained the flight data from their mission. But Burke’s mind had been set on finding out what had happened to Jonesy’s body.
“Do you think they at least gave him a decent burial?” Burke murmured to Virdon. “I mean, they just left Farrow laying there in the dirt…”
“Oh, they took the other ast-ro-naut back to Central City for dissection and study. I carried the order from Zaius myself.” Galen reported as matter-of-factly as if he’d been informing them of the weather patterns in the area.
Virdon closed his eyes with a pained expression, but Burke sprang to his feet. “God damn it, Galen,” he exploded, fists clenched tightly at his sides. “That’s a person you’re talking about, not a science experiment. Someone’s husband. Someone’s father. Not some fucking piece of meat.” He stalked off into the surrounding darkness.
A high-pitched whine escaped from the chimp. “I…I…I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…” he stammered in Burke’s wake. He looked at Virdon, his face crestfallen. “I didn’t mean to be…insensitive. I didn’t realize it meant so much to him.”
“To us, Galen,” Virdon growled. “Yes, he meant that much to us. He was our friend,” He pushed himself off the ground. “I’m gonna go find Pete.”
Burke sat with his back against a tree a short distance away. Close enough that he could see the glow of the fire through the trees and would hear if the others called an alarm. But as the night folded around him, he was far enough away that he wouldn’t have to look at Galen. Not that he thought the chimpanzee was a bad guy—ape, Pete, he’s not a guy, he’s an ape—but sometimes he could just be so damned annoying. Burke was grateful, no doubt about that, that Galen had saved their lives when that Urko guy…ape… gorilla… thing—he shook his head and gave up trying to keep it all straight—tried to have him and Alan killed. And having Galen travel with them while Virdon insisted on his ridiculous quest to find a way to go home was going to be an enormous help. But sometimes he really just wanted to smack the smug superiority that radiated off of Galen right out of his head. Who the hell did he think he was? Well, Galen was about to meet his match in this human, that’s for sure.
He picked up some small acorns and began tossing them into the grass. Not for the first time, he wondered if maybe Jonesy didn’t get the best deal out of this whole messed up situation. Jonesy wouldn’t have to know that his own race had destroyed themselves, that they were now barely above dumb animals. Jonesy wouldn’t face Virdon’s dilemma of trying to return to a wife and kid who had turned to dust a millennium ago. Shaking his head, he smirked at the irony. Maybe the survivors weren’t the lucky ones after all.
He didn’t even look up when Virdon squatted against the tree next to him. They sat in brooding silence for a few minutes until Virdon spoke.
“You and Jonesy were pretty tight—“
“Actually, Alan, we weren’t.” He scowled in the darkness and whipped a larger acorn into the trees with a sideways flick of his wrist. “I mean, c’mon, I don’t even know if the guy was religious. We spent a lot of time together during training, and we liked to goof around together, but beyond the practical jokes and the Monday morning bragging sessions, there’s a whole lot I never found out about him. Makes me wish now that I’d paid a little more attention, y’know?”
“Yeah, I do.” Virdon sighed. “We talked about our families a bit; he showed me pictures of his new baby. Sally and I,” his voice cracked a little bit on his wife’s name, “were supposed to go out to dinner with him and his wife before we blasted off, but things kept coming up.”
They fell into silence again, each man deep in his own memories.
Burke nudged his shoulder into Virdon’s. “He did have a knack for pulling one over on everyone, though, didn’t he?”
“Oh yes, that he did,” Virdon agreed. “Remember when he glued that rounded bottom onto McGinty’s coffee cup, and every time he set it down on the desk, it tipped over? I thought the guy was going to have stroke trying to figure out why the thing wouldn’t sit flat. What a terrible thing to do to an engineer.”
Burke chuckled. “Yeah, and remember when he decked out the cockpit of the simulator with fake fur on every surface and a disco ball hanging over the screens?”
“Yeah, pink fur. With zebra stripes. I don’t even know where you find pink fur with zebra stripes.” Virdon laughed harder, reaching up to wipe the corners of his eyes. “I’ll tell you though, I learned pretty fast not to take naps with you two on the loose.”
“What did your wife ever say about your red toenails, anyway?” Burke teased.
“I’m still trying to figure out how you pulled that one off.”
“Oh, vee haff our vays,” Burke intoned in a bad accent. Then he sobered. “Had our ways. Damn.”
Now it was Virdon’s turn to nudge Burke’s shoulder with his own.
“So, what do you think of the new guy?” asked Virdon, feigning nonchalance.
“Ape. Not guy. What’s the correct term for a male ape, anyway?” Burke shook his head. “I don’t know. I think he means well and all, but sometimes…”
Virdon cocked his head to one side. “Yeah. But think about how far he’s come in the last week. He’s trying to overcome some really deep-seated prejudices. At least he’s trying.”
“I know, I know,” admitted Burke. “He’s had his whole view of the world turned upside down. But y’know, so have we. I guess maybe we all just need to cut each other some slack.” He thought for a minute and a sly grin touched his lips. “And if there was ever an easier mark than this one for some new pranks, I don’t think I’m going to find it.”
The next morning, the three fugitives stood before a small cairn. Burke had gathered the rocks while Virdon whittled a marker from a flat piece of wood, which simply said “Jonesy”. Galen had been subdued since the argument last evening. When Burke and Virdon had returned to the fire, they’d all muttered brisk apologies and turned in for the night. And this morning, while Burke and Virdon had worked on their memorial for their friend, Galen had busied himself gathering food.
“Well, you wanna kick this thing off, Colonel?” Burke asked quietly, regret heavy in his voice.
“Yeah, okay.” Virdon replied wistfully. He closed his eyes for a moment to help him gather his thoughts, then opened them and began to speak.
“We dedicate this place to honor our fallen comrade, Major Stephen Jones, who gave his life in pursuit of the exploration of space. He was a brave man, decorated by his country for his service in the military. He was a good friend with an infectious sense of humor.” Virdon stole a quick glance at Burke. “He was a loving husband and a dedicated father. I’m sorry—“ Virdon’s voice cracked, and he swallowed hard before continuing. “I’m sorry we couldn’t do better by you, Jonesy, but know that we won’t forget you. And I hope you are at peace, in the arms of those that loved you best.”
Burke scrubbed a hand across his face. “That was great, Al.” He knelt down next to the marker and spoke softly. “I’ll miss you, pal. I hope you’ve gone to a better place.” Better than this, that’s for sure.
“Is it…is it all right if I say something?” Galen asked when the solemn astronauts seemed finished.
“Yeah, Galen,” Virdon murmured.
“I… I didn’t know Jones,” he began haltingly, head tilted to one side. “I never met him while he lived. And up until a few days ago, if you asked me if humans even had souls, I probably would have said no.” He glanced at Burke, who looked like he was about to interrupt, and rushed onward. “But you’ve changed all that, shown me a truth I can’t unknow. So I think that maybe a… a person’s life might be a lot like a painted window. You don’t need to see the window to know the image it portrays or the beauty that inspired it. When the sun shines through it, you can see the picture projected on the walls or on the ground.
“I never met Jones, but I can see the projection of his life through the feelings his absence causes in you, his friends. I think for someone to be missed this much, for you to go through this much trouble to pay tribute to his passing, he must have been a good person. And so I’m honored to be part of marking the moments of his life, and saddened that I did not have the opportunity to know him myself.
“But I hope as our friendship grows, which I truly believe it will, that you’ll tell me more about him and about yourselves. Because I know now that humans are capable of so much more than I ever gave them credit for. And I just… I wanted to thank you for that.”
Virdon smiled sadly. “That was very nice of you, Galen.”
“Don’t thank us yet, Galen,” Burke chided. “Once you taste Alan’s cooking, you might decide it’s not worth it after all.”