READ EXCERPT: 'Next,' by Michael Crichton

The white-streaked orang did not move away. Now he was hanging by one hand, swinging in the air, head cocked to one side as he looked at them. The younger animals in the canopy were gone. White-streak stayed where he was, and stared.

Ten yards. Hagar held his microphone out in front of him. The tourists were pulling out their cameras. The orang stared directly at Hagar and made an odd sound, like a cough. "Dwaas."

Hagar repeated the sound back. "Dwaas."

The orang stared at him. The curved lips moved. A sequence of guttural grunts: "Ooh stomm dwaas, varlaat leanme."

One of the tourists said, "Is he making those sounds?"

"Yes," Hagar said.

"Is he ...talking?"

"Apes can't talk," another tourist said. "Orangs are silent. It says so in the book."

Several snapped flash pictures of the hanging ape. The juvenile male showed no surprise. But the lips moved: "Geen lichten dwaas."

"Does he have a cold?" a woman asked nervously. "Sounds like he's coughing?"

"He's not coughing," another voice said.

Hagar glanced over his shoulder. A heavyset man at the back, a man who had struggled to keep up, red-faced and puffing, now held a tape recorder in his hand, pointing it toward the orang. He had a determined look on his face. He said to Hagar, "Is this some kind of trick you play?"

"No," Hagar said.

The man pointed to the orang. "That's Dutch," he said. "Sumatra used to be a Dutch colony. That's Dutch."

"I wouldn't know," Hagar said.

"I would. The animal said, 'Stupid, leave me alone.' And then it said, 'No lights.' When the camera flashes went off."

"I don't know what those sounds were," Hagar said.

"But you were recording them."

"Just out of curiosity--"

"You had your microphone out long before the sounds began. You knew that animal would speak."

"Orangs can't speak," Hagar said.

"That one can."

They all stared at the orangutan, still swinging from one arm. It scratched itself with the free arm. It was silent.

The heavyset man said loudly, "Geen lichten."

The ape just stared, blinked slowly.

"Geen lichten!" The orang gave no sign of comprehension. After a moment, he swung to a nearby branch, and began to climb into the air, moving easily, arm on arm.

"Geen lichten!"

The ape kept climbing. The woman in the big straw hat said, "I think it was just coughing or something."

"Hey," the heavyset man yelled. "M'sieu! Comment ça va?"

The ape continued up through the branches, swinging in an easy rhythm with its long arms. It did not look down.

"I thought maybe it speaks French," the man said. He shrugged. "Guess not."

A light rain began to drip from the canopy. The other tourists put their cameras away. One shrugged on a light, transparent raincoat. Hagar wiped the sweat from his forehead. Up ahead, three young orangs were scampering around a tray of papayas on the ground. The tourists turned their attention to them.

From high in the canopy came a growling sound: "Espèce de con."

The phrase came to them clearly, surprisingly distinct in the still air.

The heavyset man spun around. "What?"

Everyone turned to look upward.

"That was a swear word," the teenager said. "In French. I know it was a swear word. In French."

"Hush," his mother said.

The group stared up at the canopy, searching the dense mass of dark leaves. They could not see the ape up there.

The heavyset man yelled, "Qu'est-ce que tu dis?"

There was no answer. Just the crash of an animal moving through branches, and the distant cry of a hornbill.

Excerpt published with permission of HarperCollins. Copyright © 2006 Michael Crichton.

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