Escape From Prison Planet! Part 2

Escape From Prison Planet! Part 2

Previously

Ganash Publi eyed her personal time keeper, making sure she didn’t dawdle past the end of her break again. From her perch on the roof of Ziziva Prison Number 2, she could see almost every cloud layer above her all the way up to the edge of the void. The spot was perfect for cloud watching; so perfect it had gotten her into trouble more than a few times. She liked to watch the sky, liked to marvel at how her world could be so mysterious while never seeming too hidden. Like a magician that reveled in showing the secret behind her tricks.

The clouds of Uranus came in many varieties, but one could boil them down to two main types. First were the solid, luminous ones the size of continents, where most Oranosians lived and built their cities. No one lived on the surface anymore, as far as anyone knew. Second were the wispy puffs that decorated the highest reaches of the atmosphere, though they sometimes strayed to lower layers. The two were linked in an important cycle that changed one form of cloud to the other, in a process that renewed them and kept them floating. In this way, the clouds reflected an essential element of Oranosian biology; from one, two and from two, one.

Ganash, or Gani as her friends knew her, thought it was interesting that Oranosian life cycles were so similar to the clouds. Two, then one, then two, then one, merging and splitting and merging over and over again. Gani was meditating on this when the hatch behind her opened. The other half of her birth tengl poked his head out and called to her.

“Gani. I have need of you,” Publi said. Gani smiled and shook her head.

“You never start with a greeting, do you?” she asked.

“Unlike you, I am on the clock,” said Publi.

“The clock is your tool, not the other way around.” Publi tossed a wooly blanket at her, not trying to hit her, but not not trying to either. Unlike him with his fiercely shorn head, Gani had decided to keep her wool. It kept her head warm from the elements. “You should come up here with me sometimes. I think it would make you less uptight,” Gani said, wrapping the blanket around her.

“It is not conducive to my tzvilu,” Publi replied.

“What is more stoic than watching the clouds?” Gani asked.

“With my restless other half? Not stoic in the least.”

“Then find something else. Your tzvilu didn’t pick you, you know,” said Gani.

“And you didn’t pick your tzvilu,” Publi shot back, grinning despite himself.

Gani was everything her other half was not. Easy going, warm, and considerate to a fault. Publi couldn’t fathom why she followed him into the Court system. Investigators led solitary lives working in a field that turned people into bitter cynics. He could only imagine what being an Interrogator did to the soul. And yet his other half seemed much more happy than him. Puzzling. Troubling maybe. But definitely puzzling.

“I take it you need my expertise cracking someone open?” Gani asked, pulling Publi back to the conversation.

“Yes. An Instruman in fact,” Publi replied, handing her a file.

“Oh! How exciting.”

“Or so he claims. Part of your job will be to verify that.”

“Did this… Emilio have an Instruman’s Tool with him?” Gani asked perusing the file’s contents.

“Yes.”

“Then he is definitely an Instruman. Tools cannot be wielded by anyone without special training or enhancement. They are very particular about it.”

“The Instrumen?” Publi asked.

“The Tools,” Gani clarified.

“I see.”

“Have the Tool brought to Interrogation. Carefully, please. I will have a look at our Instruman in the meantime,” Gani said.

They parted ways and Gani made her way down to the interrogation wing where she found the Earthman already chained to a compliance table. He had a fresh black eye and a bloody lip.

“Hello. I am Interrogator Gani,” she said as she entered.

“Oh no, she’s cute. Why’d she have to be cute?” Emilio said with distress.

“Is that a compliment? Does the Earthman think he can persuade me with charming words?” Gani asked with something approximating a smile.

“If it works. Are you into Offworlders?” Emilio asked.

“They can rarely handle my type of fun,” she replied.

“I’m sure you say that to all the Earthmen,” said Emilio. Gani pulled up a seat near Emilio’s head and removed her gloves. Her hands looked so soft. “Listen, is all this really necessary? I’d be happy to send a missive your way regarding my purpose here if you return my things and let me go.”

“Missive? You don’t have to be so formal. We’re just getting to know each other right now,” she said. Her pleasantness somehow made Emilio even more nervous. She placed her hands on the sides of his head.

“I know you’re just doing your job, but you need to believe me. The less you know about why I’m here the better off you’ll be.”

“Well that just makes me even more curious!” Gani said. Emilio’s head started to buzz.

“This is weird,” he said.

“I was born a Sensitive,” Gani began.

“You like to share your feelings?”

“I can see into your mind.”

“I don’t believe you,” Emilio said.

“Electrical signals, impulses, chemical chain reactions, what you call thoughts, I can feel them as easily as you feel the cold. They buzz in your head like a nest of krell. I just have to find the right frequency and…

* * *

The street was alive with commotion unlike anything he’d seen in years. Lines of prayer flags flapped in the chill air above him. Damp pamphlets extolling the virtues of the New Guard were crushed underfoot. This was Ziziva. This was the Split City. It was more vibrant than he’d been led to believe. He’d expected a dead world, covered in ice and despair.

His senses were afire. His fingertips tingled with anticipation. All around him, Oranosian pedestrians excused themselves as they passed each other. Merchants and deliverymen tugged stubborn shli behind them, squawking and hauling their livelihoods. The grunts of beast and men alike filled his ears. Statues made from native sky crystal adorned every available surface so that there was no place to sit. At the corner, a firebreather knelt and spewed strings of prayer for the fallen and the risen, waving cards written with the names of the dead above her head.

* * *

She lay before him, waiting. His stomach was in knots. What if she found out the truth about him? What if she already knew? Her skin looked like scales in the starlight, but she was soft. Softer than anything he’d ever touched. So soft he worried she’d break. She was even softer on the inside. He wasn’t used to the lower gravity, but she seemed to know what she was doing, this was her ship after all, so he followed her lead. She clung to him like she would never let go, and if he was being honest, he didn’t want her to, but this couldn’t last forever. He looked into her eyes, hoping he’d find some sign that he was wrong about her, that she was empty like him. Instead she was full of life and love and hope. He knew it couldn’t go on. It had to end. They had to end.

* * *

He picked at the dead rat. It wasn’t dead long or another kid would have found it by now. He hoped it was still good. If it was struck down by some disease then he’d be dead soon too, but it didn’t matter. He had to eat. He stuffed the rat into his pocket, the one without the hole. He ran out of the alley, over rubble and past the empty shells of motor cars. The streets were very wide in this part of San Diejuana, but there was enough refuse and debris scattered about to hide when he needed to.

One particular hiding spot he favored was the rusting husk of a big old predator flier which had crashed in the middle of the freeway. He discovered it one day while scrounging for roaches. He had but to lift a loose metal panel on its exposed belly, climb the mangled levels of its wrecked interior, and pop up out of the open pilot’s screen and he would be on the top of it. The wing was angled just so, and he could lay comfortably on it and enjoy the sun in relative safety. He took out the rat and placed it in a solar oven which he’d made from scrap. It would be ready to eat in a few hours. All he had to do now was wait and hide.

“Hey! Hey, kid!” He looked down and saw a soldier wearing a tattered imperial uniform, his eyes mad with hunger. “Give me that rat!”

* * *

Emilio woke with a jolt, the bright lights of the interrogation room blinding him momentarily. “What was that?” he gasped.

“You’re fine. Just a bit of surface probing. You’ve got a lot on your mind,” Gani said, stroking his hair which she seemed fascinated with.

“Stay out of my head!” Emilio demanded, straining against his chains.

“Relax. Breathe. Just focus on the sound of my voice and…

* * *

“This is over,” the Neptunian lad said. Emilio spit blood on the floor and got to his feet.

“Giving up already?” the Earthman replied.

The residents of the Pit howled as the two combatants circled each other. Emilio closed in for a sweeping kick. The Neptunian dodged, but realized too late that the kick was a feint! Emilio elbowed him in the chest, sending him reeling back.

“You hit like my mother,” the Neptunian said, laughing.

“She thinks so too,” Emilio said with a wink.

The Neptunian went for a haymaker. Emilio grabbed his flying fist and flung him to the ground. The Neptunian was only able to get to his hands and knees, before Emilio brought his clasped fists down for a hammer blow to the skull. The gathered prisoners cheered while the Neptunian was dragged away from the makeshift fighting ring.

“You’re not a bad fighter,” the Jovian said. Even sitting down he towered over the rest of them.

“I learned from the best,” Emilio replied, catching his breath.

“Well. This should be entertaining then.” The Jovian stood and the others gave him a wide berth. “If you win, you can pass to the next level. If I win, you will become my new stool.” Emilio saw the poor Olympian that was serving as his current stool. His eyes begged for death.

“Do you like chess? I bet you’re real good at chess,” Emilio said. The Jovian smiled and charged full speed toward him.

* * *

“Oya!” someone cried. Emilio froze. “Nama! You! Earthman!”

He turned and saw the source of the commotion. A group of Oranosian militiamen were coming towards him. They proudly wore the green uniforms of the New Guard.

“What do you want?” Emilio asked.

“Where your papers?” the lead militiaman asked in broken Terrestrial. Emilio felt his pockets, realized they were empty.

“They’re in the room where I’m staying. I can happily go retrieve them for you,” Emilio said.

“What is that?” the militiaman asked pointing to the thing hanging from Emilio’s belt.

“That’s my… personal protection,” he replied.

“You’re an Instruman,” the militiaman accused.

“Kupoza,” another militiaman cursed.

“Why Instruman here?” the first asked.

“I’m a tourist,” Emilio replied.

They surrounded him. Emilio cursed under his breath. He couldn’t let his quarry get away. Not when he was this close.

“Ah, so you were chasing somebody,” Gani said, standing amongst the blurry half remembered faces of the militiamen.

“I almost had him. If I’d had ten more minutes I wouldn’t be stuck on this damn popsicle,” Emilio replied.

“Get him!” the militiaman shouted.

Emilio unsheathed his Tool and went to work.

* * *

“You ever been to Uranus, son?”

“Never, sir.”

Captain Iomana of Red Eye station, the Instruman post on Jupiter, slid the briefing papers across the bar to Emilio. Everything in the Jovian bar was just a bit bigger, like everything else on Jupiter. The building shuddered and groaned. Emilio looked around, expecting the roof to fly away.

“Just the wind, don’t worry. The Storm never hurt anyone,” said Iomana. Emilio chuckled at the bit of black humor. Jovian storms had been known on occasion to send entire countries into the upper atmosphere. “Anyway, it’s an ice world,” Iomana continued. “Colder than Europa on a holiday, but it also has a super heated surface that’ll toast anything that comes close. Venture too high you freeze. Too low and you’re carbon. Probably the only place in the outer system where that kind of thing happens.”

“Saturn’s pretty weird. It probably happens there too,” said Emilio.

“People fall off the face of the universe there. Different beast altogether,” said Iomana. Emilio read the brief. He whistled a low note.

“A (<>), huh?”

“One of the worst, if the intel’s right. The boys at Saw Branch think he’s heading for the body bank at Charon.”

“Wait, back up. What was that?” Gani asked, sidling up to the bar.

“Captain Iomana of Jupiter. He’s the Instruman in charge of everything in Jupiter space,” Emilio replied.

“No no, what was it that you said before?” Gani asked.

“A (<>),” Emilio replied. Gani shook her head, smiling despite herself.

“You’re blocking me. That is impressive.”

“I’m doing you a favor. You don’t want to know what’s in that file,” said Emilio.

“Oh, but I do,” she said.

“Can we pay attention here, Emilio?” Iomana asked.

“Sorry. Why isn’t the post in Plutonian Space chasing this?” he asked.

“Because the (<>) isn’t going to get that far, is he?” Iomana said, not hiding the edge in his tone. Emilio hid his disgust. This was a Jovian problem that got out of hand and they were sending him to clean it up. He knew the answer to the next question but decided to ask anyway.

“Should I expect any support?” he asked.

“You’ll be on your own, mostly. We have someone planet side, but she’s stationed clear on the other side of the globe and she has her hands full dealing with the Ooranoshii political strife at the moment. She’ll be informed of your arrival and will have a channel open for you so feel free to drop her a line.”

“Fascinating,” Gani said. “Instrumen have always interested me. Not just your adventures but your history, lingo, culture.”

“You need to stop this,” Emilio said to the intruding interrogator.

“Do not resist me, Earthman. The more you do, the more your memories will slip away from you,” said Gani.

“The (<>) was last spotted in… um…” Iomana paused.

“Illapatwua. It means Hub Where the Transit Link Ends in Old Oranosian,” said Emilio.

“Ah yes. Oranosian. I forgot how the word sounded in Terrestrial,” Iomana said, lighting a cigar as big as a log. “Illapa… Illa… whatever it’s called, it’s the longest spur coming off of Ziziva. The city is split between two different cloud continents and the only connection is a megapaces long transit link so keep that in mind in your pursuit. Outside of Port Meridian, it is probably the most cosmopolitan place on Uranus which should help you blend in. Unfortunately, thanks to recent developments, the High Order have their star shield up to full strength. No day trippers or war enthusiasts. Approved transit only.”

“So how do I get in?” Emilio asked. The captain handed him a travel brochure.

“Do you like statues?”

* * *

Emilio shot up from the compliance table. “God damn it, let me off of this thing!” he cried.

“Calm down. We’re making good progress, though you’re giving me more trouble than I’d like,” Gani said.

“You need to leave this alone,” said Emilio.

“Who are you after and what do they have to do with the body bank at Charon?” Gani asked. Emilio didn’t answer. “I can help you, Earthman. We can help you. All you have to do is share.” More silence. Gani nodded. “That is fine. I have all the time in the world.”

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