Gods of Sagittarius – Snippet 38

The book should be available now so this is the last snippet

Gods of Sagittarius – Snippet 38

CHAPTER 23

An hour passed, then another.

“How many times a day do they feed you?” asked Tabor.

“Sometimes two, sometimes three. It depends.”

“On what?”

“On whatever idle thought wanders through the minds of the Paskapan jailers, I imagine. There’s never been any logic I could see to it.”

“Okay,” said Tabor. “When they come the next time, just sit here in plain sight.”

“I thought we were planning an escape,” complained the Vitunpelay.

“We are,” answered Tabor. “But I want to see them performing their duties once. When do they stand? Do they ever look up? Do either approach with their weapons in their hands?”

The Vitunpelay was about to reply when they both heard the sound of their jailers approaching. One was pushing a cart on which sat two dishes filled with some of the most unappetizing food Tabor had ever seen, plus what seemed to be a solid green pitcher of water. It was only when they got closer that Tabor was able to see that the pitcher itself was transparent and the liquid inside it was green.

“Hungry?” asked one of the guards as they came to a stop just beyond the door.

“No,” replied Tabor, touching his chest with his thumb. “Tabor.”

“Idiot!” muttered the guard.

“No, that’s him,” answered Tabor, jerking a thumb in Jaemu’s direction.

The guard glared at him and uttered what Tabor took to be an obscenity in Paskapan.

“Back,” said the guard.

Tabor and Jaemu moved to the farthest corner of the small cell. The second guard touched a button or control they couldn’t see, and the first one leaned down, placed the tray on the floor, pushed it into the cell with his foot, then reached in and set the pitcher down next to it. He straightened up and took a step back, and Tabor knew that the force field was operative again.

“Next time remember the ketchup,” said Tabor as the two guards began walking away.

“You know,” said Jaemu, “you don’t look exceptionally stupid, although I’m not familiar enough with your species to tell.”

“A high compliment indeed,” replied Tabor, staring at the food but feeling no need to approach it.

“So why did you go out of your way to offend them?” continued Jaemu.

“Because I want them mad at me.”

The Vitunpelay stared long and hard at him. “Why?” he asked at last.

“You’re going to be clinging to the ceiling right above the doorway,” explained Tabor. “I don’t want him looking there until he’s gone past it and you’re behind him. If I’m at the back of the cell, and he knows he’s got to enter to see what happened to you, he might as well feel an urge to beat the crap out of me while he’s at it. Otherwise, he might just stand in the doorway, and we don’t want to give him a chance to back out of here.”

“Ah!” exclaimed Jaemu. “Of course I knew that all along, but I’m delighted to see that you didn’t just stumble on it but thought it out step by step.”

“I don’t think I can stand any more praise. Go eat the food.”

“Half of it’s yours.”

“The second half. I want to see how sick it makes you — especially that green stuff — before I try it.”

“I don’t want any,” replied Jaemu. “I had a little bit yesterday morning. That will hold me.”

“That bad, huh?”

“I’ve had better,” replied the Vitunpelay. “In fact, I cannot recall having had worse.”

“We might just as well put it to some use,” remarked Tabor, finally walking over to the tray. He picked up a handful of food and hurled it toward the upper left-hand corner of the doorway. It vanished immediately.

“No buzz, no zap, no flashing of lights,” he said. “Okay, I know what it’s not powered by. Now let’s see how thorough it is.”

He threw bits and pieces of the meal toward the doorway. None got through. Then he began pushing the plain metal tray with the toe of his boot until the far edge of it was in the doorway. An inch of it vanished, and he immediately picked up the remaining tray and ran his fingers across the new edge.

“Not even warm,” he said.

“Did you expect it to be?” asked Jaemu.

“Not really.”

“What difference does it make?”

“Probably none, but it’s always best to know what you’re up against.” He stood, hands on hips, facing the corridor on the other side of the doorway. “Where do you suppose that leads?”

“To freedom, obviously,” said Jaemu.

“But to what kind?”

Jaemu looked puzzled. “How many freedoms are there?”

“There’s the hard-won freedom and the surreptitiously-obtained freedom, for starters. Does the corridor lead to the outside, or a guardhouse, or a police office, or possibly even a courtroom?”

“Let’s get out of here first and then worry about it,” suggested Jaemu.

“Let’s have a plan for every eventuality,” replied Tabor.

Jaemu stared at him. “I don’t understand it,” he said.

“What don’t you understand?”

“I am arrested and incarcerated all the time, and I never consider every possibility awaiting me if and when I escape. But you . . . you plan the escape, you plan for every possibility, I’ll bet you’ve even planned how to find your friend and escape from the planet — and yet I’ll bet this almost never happens to you.”

“I’m just a naïve beginner,” answered Tabor, “so I have to try to be prepared for anything. Unlike you, who has doubtless experienced just about everything that can happen when you’re breaking out of jail on an alien planet.”

“When you put it that way,” said Jaemu, “I suppose you do have a point.”

“Okay,” said Tabor, sitting down cross-legged and leaning back against a wall. “I figure they’ll be back with dinner — or whatever the hell meal it is — in maybe four or five hours.”

“And then we escape!” enthused Jaemu.

Tabor shook his head. “Two meals from now. Probably.”

“Why not the next one?” demanded the Vitunpelay.

“There were two guards. Let them see that there’s no food left, and of course you’ve been throwing yours into the force field for more than a day now, and once they know that I’m not leaving any leftovers either, they should go back to one guard — assuming what you told me was accurate. And believe me, it’ll be a lot easier to subdue one armed guard who doesn’t know what he’s walking into, than two of them.”

Jaemu uttered an alien growl. “I just hate it when you’re right.”

***

As Tabor had predicted, their next meal was brought by two armed guards.

When he felt the meal after that would be arriving within an hour, Tabor had the Vitunpelay take up his position on the ceiling, just behind the doorway.

“How long are you good for?” he asked.

“Oh, thirty or forty more years, at least if some authority doesn’t shoot me down somewhere along the way.”

“I mean, how long can you stay stuck to the ceiling?”

“Quite a while,” answered Jaemu. “Long enough for what we need.”

“And how quickly can you drop to the floor?”

“You mean on top of a guard?”

“No, I mean if I see we guessed wrong and they send two guards again.”

“They’ll see you’re alone and know something’s wrong,” said Jaemu.

“Not necessarily,” answered Tabor. “Stand over there.” He pointed to a section of the wall just to the left of the doorway. Jaemu walked over.

“It’ll work,” said Tabor. “They’d have to be just a couple of steps from the doorway to see you there, so if you can lower yourself from the spot right above your head if I tell you there are two guards, you’ll have fifteen seconds to do it.”

Jaemu stared at him. “Do you teach college in your spare time?”

“That’s my associate,” replied Tabor. “He’s the genius.”

“Makes me wonder why your race hasn’t conquered the galaxy,” said the Vitunpelay.

“We damned near have,” said Tabor. He got back down on his hands and knees. “Now take your position on the ceiling.”

Jaemu clambered onto him, extended his tentacles, opened the palps, and pressed them against the ceiling. In a short while he had solid contact, and Russ felt his great weight easing off him. Jaemu began to maneuver his legs and within a minute he was stretched flat against the ceiling.

By then, Tabor was back on his feet. “Okay, enjoy yourself,” he said. “I’ll keep an eye out for our friend.”

“Don’t leave it behind in the excitement,” said Jaemu. “You may need it again.”

“Figure of speech,” replied Tabor.

He walked to the back wall, sat down, and watched the corridor. Just when he was half-convinced that there wouldn’t be another meal that night, he heard footsteps, and an instant later a solitary Paskapan guard approached the cell, pushing a cart that contained another tray and pitcher. When he was a few feet away his nostrils and ears began twitching, as if he were seeking any scent or sound that could convince him not to believe his eyes.

“Did that idiot try to walk out of here?” he demanded.

“Absolutely not,” said Tabor.

“Then where the hell is he?”

“He told me he’d discovered a secret way out of here, and that he’d come back for me once he knew it was still operative. Then he told me to check and make sure you weren’t coming, I did as he instructed me, and when I turned to tell him that no one was in the corridor he was gone.”

“Nonsense,” said the guard. “You threw him into the force field and are making up this story so I’ll enter the cell.”

“Fine,” said Tabor with a shrug. “Don’t enter. Go away. There’s no secret exit, no false wall, nothing like that. Just go away and leave me alone.”

The guard’s eyes narrowed. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” He pulled out his sonic pistol, reached up, and killed the force field. “I’m coming in to see for myself,” he said. “You take one step toward me, just one step, and you’re dead.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” said Tabor.

The guard entered the cell and an instant later was standing directly beneath the Vitunpelay.  Jaemu landed full force on top of the guard, who grunted in surprise and fell forward on his face. Jaemu seized his head and with a powerful twist of his tentacles broke the guard’s neck.

“You didn’t have to do that,” said Tabor angrily. “He was already unconscious. Now we’re cop-killers, and the whole damned force is going to be after us.”

“Were you planning on remaining on the planet?'”

“Of course not.”

“Then what difference does it make?”

Tabor stared at the Vitunpelay. “You are a very strange critter. Now give me the pistol, since you can’t use it anyway with those tentacles, and follow me.”

Jaemu handed over the weapon and fell into step behind Tabor as he walked to the end of the corridor and followed it as it took a hard right. They walked another sixty feet, then came to two doors on the right, each with a native inscription on it.

“Do you read Paskapan?” he asked.

“Why would I?” responded Jaemu.

“Beats the hell out of me,” said Tabor. “Maybe because you were on the goddamned planet.” He stared at the two doors. “What the hell, we can’t stand here all night.” He opened the nearest one.

A large rectangular room spread out before him. A number of strange scents, most of them organic, some of them quite foul, assaulted his nostrils. He saw a trio of metal cabinets, opened one, and was greeted by a blast of frigid air.

“Seems like a kitchen, or at least a helluva pantry,” he whispered. “Could be worse. See if there’s any way out of here beside the door.”

A moment later Jaemu stumbled upon a tiny control, and a section of the back wall slid aside, revealing the Paskapan equivalent of a parking lot.

“This is obviously where they unload the food,” said Tabor. “That means if we go out this way, we ought to find ourselves on a road pretty soon. At any rate, it doesn’t figure to be guarded the way the area around the cells must be.”

He walked to the open area, stepped outside, waited to make sure he hadn’t set off any alarms, and motioned Jaemu to follow him.

When they were about fifty feet away, and in clear sight of a road, Tabor looked back.

“Seems a shame we can’t close the damned thing,” he said. “Now they’ll know how we got out.”

“So what?” asked the Vitunpelay. “Were you planning on being incarcerated there again.”

“Only if you annoy me beyond endurance,” replied Tabor. “Fifty-fifty chance.” He turned back to the road. “All right, we can’t stand here all night. Let’s get going.”

“Where to?”

“This world’s equivalent of the Tudor Arms.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Right there,” said Tabor, pointing to a run-down hostelry about half a mile distant. “That’s where Shenoy is staying.”

“Shenoy?”

“You met him briefly.”

“He is the genius?”

“Sometimes he hides it well, but yeah,” responded Tabor.

They stuck to the shadows, made it to the shabby little building in five minutes, and were just about to enter when Shenoy walked out the front door.

“Well, I’ll be damned!” he exclaimed when he recognized Tabor. “What are you doing here?”

“I’ll tell you all about it, but let’s go to your room first. We’re currently fugitives.”

Shenoy shook his head. “I’ve checked out.”

“Was something wrong?”

“No,” said Shenoy. “But I’ve sent for your lawyer, I’ve filed a protest with the government, I’ve done everything I can do for you, and I can’t see any use sitting around for months or possibly even years until your case is disposed of. So I’m off to the desert to hunt for” — he suddenly became aware that Jaemu was listening intently — “the Secret.”

“You don’t have to be vague,” said Tabor. “He knows what we’re looking for.”

“I also know that you can go anywhere on the planet you want,” added Jaemu, “but you’re not going to find what you’re looking for.”

“And you know where it is?” demanded Shenoy.

“I most certainly do,” said the Vitunpelay.

“Well?”

“I’m afraid I was a little . . . impetuous . . . when we were taking our leave of the jail,” replied Jaemu. “You may not know it, but you want to leave the world to find your Old Ones’ artifacts. I want to leave it to avoid another unpleasant encounter with the local authorities.” He clacked his mandibles. “Do you see what I am suggesting?”

“All right!” shouted Shenoy. “You’re hired! Now where is what I’m looking for?”

“On a moon in the home system of the Mank Empire,” answered Jaemu.

“Well, that’s that,” said Tabor.

“Yes!” said Shenoy excitedly. “Very well done, Russell my boy!”

Tabor stared at him with a puzzled expression. “What the hell are you jumping for joy about, Rupert? We’re going home. It’s over.”

Shenoy frowned. “What are you talking about? We know where to look now!”

“Rupert,” said Tabor, as if speaking to a child, “the Mank Empire is a goddamned military stronghold.”

“All the more reason to go,” said Shenoy.

Tabor frowned. “What part of what I just said don’t you understand?”

“They’re a hostile and aggressive empire, right?” said Shenoy.

“Right.”

“That’s all the more reason to continue our mission.”

“You want to explain that, please?” said Tabor.

“I don’t know what the secret of the Old Ones is,” replied Shenoy. “I don’t know if it’s magic, or science, or some combination of the two, or even some new technological concept that is entirely unknown to the civilized races of the galaxy. But whatever it is, we’ve got to learn the Old Ones’ secret before the Manks find it and unlock it!”

“Just you and me?” said Tabor disbelievingly.

“And him,” said Shenoy, jerking a thumb in Jaemu’s direction.

“Why would he come?” asked Tabor.

“I’ll be happy to come,” interjected Jaemu, “as long as we leave immediately.” He turned to Shenoy. “My companion seems to have forgotten that we’re escaped felons.”

“We’d better get to the ship,” said Shenoy.

“Right,” said Jaemu. “We’ll discuss my fee later.”

“Your fee?”

“I’m the one who knows where to find what you’re looking for.”

“So what do you want for your services?

“Half,” said Jaemu.

“Half the Old Ones’ artifacts and secrets?” demanded Shenoy. “That’s outrageous!”

“Okay, you don’t want half, so be it,” said the Vitunpelay. He paused for a moment. “I’ll take sixty percent.”

“Out of the question!” growled Shenoy.

“Up to you.”

“May I make a counter-offer?” said Tabor.

“Go ahead,” said Shenoy disgustedly.

“We’ll be happy to give you sixty percent,” began Tabor.

“Deal!” said Jaemu.

“But we’re going to charge you fifty percent for your passage to and from the Mank home planet.”

“To quote your employer, out of the question!” said Jaemu.

“Fine,” said Tabor with a shrug. “We’ll find someone on the planet who can help us. Have fun dealing with the posse, which figures to be along any minute now.” He turned to Shenoy. “Let’s go.”

“Just a minute!” said Jaemu urgently.

“Yes?”

“I’ve reconsidered your offer.”

Tabor smiled. “I thought you might.”

“But for ten percent I’m just a guide. Murder, mayhem, and revolution cost more.”

“We’ll take that under advisement,” said Tabor.

“Of course,” continued the Vitunpelay, “if you could supply me with some weaponry before we land I might under the proper circumstances add mayhem . . . ”

“We’ll consider it,” said Tabor.

“If you’re all through with your high-level negotiations,” interjected Shenoy nervously, “can we please be going. I see a lot of activity over at the jail.”

Tabor nodded, gestured Jaemu to follow him, and fell into step behind Shenoy, who led them through unlit streets and back alleys to the spaceport. Two hundred credits caused the guard to look the other way, and a moment later they were aloft and streaking for the stratosphere.

“What have we got to eat?” asked Jaemu.

“Nothing a Vitunpelay would like,” replied Tabor.

“Any kind of dead flesh will do,” said Jaemu. “I stopped being fussy eight or nine incarcerations ago.”

Tabor shrugged. “There’s the galley,” he said, pointing.  Jaemu walked over to it, and Tabor sat down in the co-pilot’s chair.

“Was it rough?” asked Shenoy.

“I was only there for a day,” replied Tabor.

“I’ve read about alien jails.”

“That’s probably a level or two better than experiencing them,” said Tabor.

“They didn’t beat you?”

“I’m sorry to disappoint you, but you could make an incredibly boring ten-minute holo about it.”

“I didn’t mean to intrude,” said Shenoy.

“There’s nothing to intrude on. They locked us up, we sat there for a day, and we escaped.”

“But –”

Tabor smiled. “You’ve been reading too many cheap adventure stories.”

Shenoy sighed. “I’m a scientist. I spend most of my time with computers, and the rest of it finding and examining things that most people would walk right past. I’ve led a . . . ”

“If you say ‘cloistered’, I may laugh,” said Tabor.

“An uneventful life.”

“You won the damned Sagittarius Prize,” replied Tabor. “I’d call that an event. And then you did it again.”

“But you lead such an exciting life!” said Shenoy.

“Well, cheer up,” said Tabor. “If half of what I’ve heard about the Mank Empire is true, we’re about to experience a little more excitement than any sane man” — he glanced at Jaemu — “or crazy Vitunpelay wants to handle.”

 

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