Gods of Sagittarius – Snippet 35
Tabor opened his eyes, spent a moment focusing them, and found that he was lying on a stone floor, facing an open doorway. He placed a hand to his head to assess the damage, winced at the touch, and frowned, trying to remember exactly what had happened.
“Damn!” he muttered. “You’re always nailed by the one you didn’t see.”
He got carefully to his feet, stared out the doorway at a long corridor with numerous open doors lining it, and prepared to leave the cold stone room in which he found himself.
“I wouldn’t do that,” said a harsh voice from behind him.
He turned and found himself facing a very large and heavily-muscled creature. Its overall appearance was vaguely reptilian, but that was mostly due to the scaly, armored, crocodilian hide. The creature’s face wasn’t the least bit like that of a reptile’s. It was quite flat, with no sign of a nose at all. Four bulging orange eyes rested above a gaping maw which had insectlike mandibles instead of jaws. What looked like a rasping tongue covered with spines substituted for teeth.
The monster was a quadruped as far as locomotion was concerned, but had six tentacles emerging from the shoulder area. Four of them were supple and ended in a delicate trifurcation, suited for complex manipulations. To make up for it, the remaining pair of tentacles were thick and ended in flat palps covered with brutal-looking hooks. Those were clearly designed for grappling and rending.
In short, it boasted the worst features of a pocket dinosaur, a giant praying mantis and a walking squid combined in one package. Its epidermis was mottled, the colors best described as jaundice-yellow, puke-green and disemboweled-entrails-pinkish-red. A sensitive enough interior decorator would probably drop dead just at the sight of the creature.
“Who the hell are you?” demanded Tabor.
“A fellow prisoner,” was the reply. Tabor now spotted something that looked like gills just above the tentacle ring, from which the voice emerged. But these organs were apparently designed for speech rather than breathing. Or maybe they could do both, if the monster was submerged.
“What prison?” said Tabor. “We’re in some room somewhere, and I’m about to walk out.”
The creature picked up a plate that had once held its breakfast and tossed it through the open doorway. There was a crackling sound and a flash of light, and the plate totally vanished.
“Iron bars do not a prison make,” said the creature. It gaped its mandibles wide, which Tabor interpreted as its way of grinning. “I heard that somewhere.”
“So we’re in prison?”
It made no reply, but the quasi-grin became even wider.
“You’re a Vitunpelay, aren’t you?” continued Tabor. “I’ve seen images but never met one of you in person.”
“I am indeed a Vitunpelay.”
Tabor extended his hand. “I’m a Human. My name’s Russ Tabor.”
“Rusty Bore?” repeated the Vitunpelay. He gazed at Tabor’s outstretched hand but made no move toward it. “I like you already!”
Tabor decided not to correct him. He withdrew his hand, just as glad the huge alien hadn’t touched it. “You got a name?”
“Certainly,” came the reply. “What day of the week is it — any kind of week you prefer to use?”
“And the month?”
“I think it’s November on Earth,” said Tabor. “It’s Sixth Month on my home world, and who the hell knows what it is on this dirtball?”
“Splendid!” enthused the creature. “My name is Jaemu.”
Tabor stared at his curiously. “Why is that splendid?”
“Who wants to go through life with just one name?” answered Jaemu. “If you didn’t have names for the months of your year, I couldn’t change mine every month, and that would have left me with just the merest handful of names.”
“So Jaemu is just one of your names?”
“One of my two hundred favorites.”
“Does it mean anything in your native language?”
“Shameless Footkisser Who Betrays His Friends,” answered Jaemu.
“And you’re pleased with that?”
“Certainly. It is unique among my acquaintances.”
Tabor stared at him for a long moment. “You are a very strange critter from a very strange race.”
“Perhaps,” agreed Jaemu. “But I wasn’t preparing to walk through a forcefield that could reduce me to dust in a microsecond.”
“You got a point,” admitted Tabor.
“What are you doing in here?” asked Jaemu.
“Waiting for my friend to make my bail, I suppose.”
“I mean, why were you incarcerated?”
“I slugged a few policemen,” answered Tabor. Jaemu frowned.
“Just disorderly conduct, I should think.”
“You didn’t kill them?” said Jaemu, surprised.
“No, of course not.”
Tabor stared at him, and decided that he was even more alien than he looked. “I’m almost afraid to ask what you did?”
“Oh, something exceptionally trivial,” answered Jaemu.
“Trivial?” repeated Tabor.
The Vitunpelay shook his head. “Yes. And once the survivors get out of the hospital, I’m sure the insurance policies on the others will pay for their artificial limbs and keep them in comfort for the remainder of their lives.”
Tabor stared at Jaemu for a long moment. “Fucking clown,” he muttered.
“You see?” said Jaemu. “You don’t have to be Jarkko Jarvinen to call us that.”
“How long have you been in here?”
“Eleven days,” answered the Vitunpelay. “Or twenty-two exceptionally vile meals. Or half the life expectancy of that no-legged thing that is crawling alongside your foot.”
Tabor looked down, saw a large worm or small snake opening its mouth to take a bite out of his toe, shoe and all, and stomped on it with his other foot.
“Well, half the life expectancy if he was eleven days old,” continued Jaemu.
“Just out of curiosity,” said Tabor, “what are you doing on Cornwallis IV?”
“Are you what?”
“On Cornwallis IV?”
“Yes,” said Tabor.
“How comforting to know,” said Jaemu. “Anyway, I was invited to come here.”
“By the government?” asked Tabor.
“Well, by a government.”
“They have more than one here?”
“You are understanding me too fast,” said Jaemu. “It was suggested I come here by the government of Batelliot VII.” He paused thoughtfully. “And I’m pretty sure the government of Milago II was in full agreement.”
“I take it you’re not the most popular clown in the galaxy,” said Tabor.
“Not even the second most popular, if truth be known,” answered Jaemu. He paused thoughtfully. “What planet or planets were you thrown off of?”
“Really?” said Jaemu, surprised. “Then what are you doing here?”
“I told you,” replied Tabor. “I slugged some police officers.”
“I mean, what are you doing on this planet at all?”