Gods of Sagittarius – Snippet 37
“So how do you plan to do it?” asked Jaemu.
“I’ve no idea,” admitted Tabor. “Yet.”
“I’d be happy to overpower any jailer who enters the cell, but no one’s done so since I arrived here.”
“There’s always a way,” replied Tabor, sitting down cross-legged and leaning his back against the wall. “Damn!” he said. “That’s chilly.”
“Aren’t dungeons supposed to be wet and chilly, except maybe for the wet part?” asked the Vitunpelay.
“This isn’t a dungeon,” said Tabor. “It’s a prison cell.”
“How much difference can there be on a world like this?”
“Not much,” admitted Tabor. He looked around. “How does the food arrive?”
“Poorly cooked and incompetently prepared,” said Jaemu.
“I mean, how does it get into the cell?”
“Oh, a guard, or sometimes a pair of them, carries it up to the doorway on a tray.”
“And then,” continued Jaemu, “if there are two guards, one of them trains what looks like a sonic pistol on me and tells me to back up against the far wall. The other hits some kind of switch out there, slides the tray into the room, and hits the switch again. The whole process takes about six or seven seconds. Maybe ten if I move slowly.”
“And how do they take it back?” asked Tabor. “Same way?”
“They never take it back.”
“Then I don’t understand,” said Tabor. “Why haven’t you got a growing pile of used dishes and trays?”
“Well, I suppose if I were any less fastidious, I’d certainly have such a pile,” said the Vitunpelay.
“I just hurl the trays and dishes through the doorway when I’m done with them,” answered Jaemu. “They’re instantly disintegrated. Most efficient housecleaning service in the galaxy.”
“You’re not making this any easier,” grumbled Tabor.
“My job is to escape and get rich and plunder the galaxy in ways it’s never been plundered before. Making your escape easier isn’t part of my job description.”
“Helping you to leave here when I make my escape isn’t part of mine,” Tabor shot back.
“You’re really leave me behind?” asked Jaemu, genuinely surprised. “A sweet, friendly, good-natured person like myself?”
“A sweet, friendly, good-natured mass murderer,” Tabor corrected him.
“I resent that!” snapped Jaemu.
“Eleven doesn’t constitute a mass.”
Tabor stared at him. “You killed eleven Paskapans?”
“Only eight of them were Paskapans.”
“Well, that makes all the difference,” said Tabor sardonically.
The Vitunpelay smiled. “I knew you’d understand.”
“Why didn’t they just execute you on the spot? No jury’s going to find you innocent.”
“They don’t have juries here,” answered Jaemu.
“I come from a wealthy family. I’m sure they’ll offer to set me free for a few million credits or crugmos.” An amused smile spread across his face. “Little do they know that my family has disowned me.”
“Hardly surprising,” commented Tabor.
“It was just a difference of opinion,” continued Jaemu. “Nothing serious.”
“Couldn’t you patch it up?”
“For all that money, why not?” asked Tabor.
“Like I said, it was a difference of opinion,” replied Jaemu. “They saw themselves alive, and I saw them dead.”
Tabor stared at the burly Vitunpelay. “Just stay on your side of the cell.”
“And now I’ve upset you,” said Jaemu apologetically. “Maybe we should change the topic of conversation.” He paused thoughtfully for a moment. “I could tell you twenty-seven separate and distinct sexual sins in which I have indulged.” Suddenly he shook his head. “No, you’d only be able to understand eight of them. Nine at the most.”
“Why don’t we talk about escaping from here?” suggested Tabor.
“I thought you had it all solved.”
“You thought wrong.”
“Well, you’d better get busy,” said Jaemu.
“We had better get busy,” Tabor corrected him.
“Nonsense,” said the Vitunpelay. “My contribution was telling you that you’re looking for artifacts in the wrong place. Yours is getting us out of here.”
“I wouldn’t dream of asking you to lend your prodigious brain to the operation,” said Tabor. “But I may need some of your muscle.”
“Perhaps,” said Jaemu.
“Perhaps?” repeated Tabor, frowning.
“Strike that,” said Jaemu. “Enough negativity.”
“So you’ll lend your muscle?
“Goddammit!” snapped Tabor. “I thought you were through with negativity!”
“‘Probably’ is much more positive than ‘perhaps’.”
Tabor stared at Jaemu for a long moment. “I’m surprised they let you live long enough to kill any of ’em,” he remarked at last.
“I’m really a very pleasant, good-natured fellow for a murderer,” replied the Vitunpelay. “I mean, here we are, thrown together by an unfeeling Fate into close, uncomfortable quarters, and we immediately strike up what figures to be a lifelong friendship, especially considering our life expectancies in this hellhole.” He paused. “Know any exceptionally vile dirty jokes?”
“Just the one about the idiot Vitunpelay and the Man he pushed too far,” answered Tabor.
“How does it end?”
“I don’t know yet,” said Tabor.
“Well, let’s set our minds — your mind, anyway — to the task at hand. We’re incarcerated, we’re unarmed, we’re kept in by an incredibly powerful force field, if we get out we’re outnumbered hundreds to one, we’re unarmed, and we’ve got two days to break out and join your friend before he leaves without us.” Jaemu paused. “Does that pretty much sum it up the situation?”
“I sure don’t envy you, having to come up with a solution.” He clacked his mandibles a couple of times. Tabor had no idea what the gesture — or was it an expression? — meant. “On the other hand, I don’t envy either of us if you don’t.”
“Shut up,” said Tabor.
“Ah!” said Jaemu enthusiastically. “You require silence while thinking.”
Tabor shook his head. “No, I’m just sick of the sound of your voice.”
“Is this any better?” asked Jaemu in a high contralto.
“Well, get to work. The sooner you break us out of here, the sooner you won’t have to listen to any of my voices.”
“I couldn’t ask for any better encouragement than that,” replied Tabor dryly.
Tabor got to his feet, and carefully paced off the cell, which was about eighteen feet on a side. The doorway was four feet wide and approximately seven feet high. The ceiling was ten feet above the floor. There wasn’t a soft or pliable surface anywhere. In one corner was a hole in the floor, perhaps eighteen inches in circumference. He paused and looked down into it.
“I’ll turn my back if you’re shy,” said Jaemu.
“It’s a toilet?”
Tabor stared into the hole. “Where does it go?”
“Toilets don’t go anywhere,” said the Vitunpelay. “They just sit there.”
“There’s no odor and nothing seems to be moving,” said Tabor.
“Why should there be?” responded Jaemu.
“I assume the waste doesn’t get washed away?”
“No, it’s just like the doorway. Drop anything down there, natural or artificial, and it’s turned into its composite atoms in a fraction of a second.”
Tabor sighed. “Too bad.”
“You’d prefer the traditional toilet?” asked Jaemu, frowning.
“Of course,” answered Tabor. “We could have saved all the dishes, glasses and trays from a couple of meals and clogged the damned thing, then fought our way out when they entered the cell to fix it.”
Jaemu chuckled, a harsh atonal sound. “That presupposes they care whether our toilet is working or not.”
“Well, it was a thought,” said Tabor. He walked to a wall and sat down, leaning his back against it.
“So we’re stuck here until they execute us or we die of old age,” remarked Jaemu with a sigh.
“What the hell are you talking about?” snapped Tabor. “We still got forty-seven hours to go.”
“I like your attitude,” said Jaemu. “I hope you come up with something. I’d hate to kill and eat you.”
“You eat men a lot, do you?”
“Never,” admitted Jaemu. “But it would help dissipate the boredom.”
“I wonder what a Vitunpelay tastes like,” mused Tabor.
“Terrible,” Jaemu assured him. “I have it on the best authority: we’re tough, stringy, and filled with noxious acids. Take my word for it, a Vitunpelay is the very last thing you want to eat.”
“Relax,” said Tabor. “I wouldn’t even consider it until tomorrow. Now shut up and let me think.”
The Vitunpelay leaned back against the wall. A moment later he closed his eyes and began what passed for snoring in his race. And a moment after that he started leaning to his left. It looked like he would soon be sprawled on the floor when, still asleep, he reached up with one of the big tentacles, spread his palp, and pressed it against the wall. The palp spread out to twice its normal circumference, and he stopped sliding down the wall and remained motionless.
“Son of a bitch!” yelled Tabor.
“What?” said Jaemu groggily, sitting erect now. “What happened?”
“I know how we’re getting out of here!” enthused Tabor.
“Show me your feet.”
The Vitunpelay unfolded his legs and stretched them out toward the man.
“Take off your footwear,” said Tabor. Jaemu made a wriggling motion with several of his small tentacles that Russ interpreted as a shrug, and started removing his boots — using the term “boots” loosely. The footwear looked more like covers for huge golf clubs than anything else.
The reason for the design became obvious once the Vitunpelay’s feet were exposed. Jaemu had them clubbed when they first emerged, which must be the way he used them when he walked. But when he relaxed the feet, they spread out to form palps that were close analogs to the ones on his big tentacles.
“Good!” said Tabor after briefly studying them. “You’ve got little suction cups on all of your palps.”
“So what?” asked Jaemu.
“So like I said, I know how we’re escaping,” said Tabor.
“Would you care to share that secret with me?”
“Can you reach the ceiling?”
“Certainly not,” said Jaemu.
“I mean, if you jump.”
“Yes,” said Jaemu, jumping up and touching the ceiling.
“Very good,” said Tabor.
“Nothing to it,” relied the Vitunpelay with a shrug.
“Now do it and stick up there.”
“I just saw you do it on the wall,” said Tabor.
“I have to press against the surface for a few seconds to attach myself,” explained Jaemu. “I can’t do it if I’m jumping. Gravity and all that.”
“Not a problem,” said Tabor, getting on his hands and knees. “Use me as a stool.”
The Vitunpelay stood atop him, reached up, and pressed his palps against the ceiling. “All right,” he said after a few seconds.
“Good,” said Tabor, rolling away and climbing to his feet. He stood, hands on hips, surveying Jaemu, whose feet dangled about twenty inches above the floor.
“I feel damned awkward,” said Jaemu.
“But you’re in no danger of coming loose?”
“Good. Now swing your feet up to the ceiling and grab hold of it the same way.”
The Vitunpelay did as he was told.
Tabor shook his head. “No good. You’re middle section is hanging down. I want you flat against the ceiling.”
“Just a minute,” said Jaemu. “Let me manipulate.”
He released the suction cups on his right foot, then stretched it straight out, as flat against the ceiling as he could, and reattached it, then repeated the procedure with the other foot and leg.
Tabor walked over to the door, then turned and looked.
“Of course I can see you from here,” he said, “but I’m in the same open cell you are. The doorway’s only about seven feet high, and if you take up this position exactly over it, rather than across the cell from it . . .” He nodded his head. “It just might work. If you’re missing, someone’s got to come in to see where you went to.”
“There might be two of them,” noted Jaemu, loosening his feet and letting them hang down, then releasing his fingers and dropping lightly to the floor.
“Let’s assume it’s one,” said Tabor. “Or if there are two, then seeing you here where you belong will be so shocking that they both enter.”
“And if two show up and only one enters?” asked Jaemu.
“Then I’ll have to think of something else,” replied Tabor.