Part four in the Brangxi serial. A table of contents for the series.
Xebla leaned against the pillows as she puffed a cigarette held in her ivory quellazaire. Her long legs, capped by knee-high boots with stiletto heels, stretched over the never-ending bed. Terrance stared at the top of the bed, nearly eye level from the Brangxi chair where Terrance buttoned his waistcoat over a tatterred shirt where long rips exposed blood-crusted scratches.
"After your mishap on the airship, you landed in Graklii territory."
"Yes," said Terrance. He had described his escapades earlier, before she'd proven herself more than just an interrogator. Breathing the nicotine-filled air, he couldn't think of her as an enemy.
"You skimmed over the week where you stayed with the Graklii. Did you battle their champion to gain their confidence?"
"No." Terrance strapped a watch underneath his cuffs. "They nursed me back to health; I wasn't conscious at first."
Almost too quiet to hear, Xebla muttered. "Rakxi's wrong about his scheme."
Xebla twisted to her bedside table where a tray stood supporting a series of pipes that dropped from the ceiling. Xebla lifted one of the cylinders over the pipes. Air screeched as she exposed black slits beneath the sheath. "Don't worry about it. Time to return to your -- shall we say -- room."
Terrance braced his arms on the footboard. "I thought you said I would go free."
"Perhaps. You have amused me." She rummaged in a drawer beneath the piped contraption and held a chain with a glass vial, which she tossed to Terrance. "A sleeping powder, the rest is up to you. I would hide that if I were you, the guard will arrive to escort you. They are punctual when the whistle sounds."
Terrance looped the chain over his neck and dropped the vial beneath his shirt as the door opened.
That evening the steel door to the cells opened as a Brangxi guard entered with three dinner trays balanced on his arm. Terrance moved forward as Chester slept on his bed with his back to the cell. Careful to not breathe in, he sneezed into his hand causing dust particles to scatter away from his hand into the guard's face. The guard's muscles became slack and the dinner trays splattered to the ground. Holding his breath, Terrance backed away from the iron bars and took one of his blankets to fan the billowing dust away.
"Hey," shouted Alexander. "That's our dinner."
"We won't need dinner." Terrance inched forward, preparing to retreat if he felt any sleepiness. He'd spoken with Alexander, the snorer from the previous night, when he returned from Xebla's rooms. Alexander might be jailed but he wasn't gruff like Chester. Terrance snaked his arms through the bars to try and grab the ring of keys. He pressed his shoulders against the bars, but the keys teased him out of reach. He grabbed a shoe and tried to hook the key ring on the heel of the shoe, but his shoe bumped the keys, pushing them away.
Terrance looked around the room, but saw nothing to help him retrieve the keys. He was so close. So far away. He took his frock coat and tried to use it to slide the keys to no avail. He turned surveying the cell. Chester snored. Yes, the boots. Chester's boot was long enough that he could hold the boot and spear the ring with the toe to pull the keys. Terrance unlocked his door and ran down to Alexander's cell to free him as well.
As they returned past Terrance's cell, Alexander stopped. "We should bring Chester with us." Alexander slapped Chester's face.
"He's not going to wake." Terrance hadn't trusted Chester and he'd guaranteed that Chester wouldn't interfere with the escape. "Come on."
Outside the steel door, Terrance turned to the right but Alexander placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Fewer guards this way," whispered Alexander.
They zigzagged along the corridors to hurry to a corner where they could peek to see if anyone approached. Alexander watching to ensure that no one approached from the rear. At the third corner they stopped, Terrance peeked around the corner to run into a Brangxi. He slipped to the ground as the Brangxi's grasping arm brushed Terrance's collar. Alexander pulled Terrance away from the guard and together they turned, barreling down the hallways. They passed a stairwell and Terrance paused to run up the steps but Alexander tugged on his arm.
"The only way out is the upper deck," said Terrance.
"No, I know better way." Alexander ran down the hallway.
Terrance pressed himself against the edge of the stairway as the Brangxi turned the corner and ran past the stairway to follow Alexander's retreating footsteps. Terrance paused, caught his breath, and climbed up the stairs. He watched the tall steps as he climbed and missed the Brangxi sailor waiting at the top of the steps with his hands on his fists. A single motion and Terrance found himself struggling upside down held over the Brangxi's shoulder.
Stay tuned for part five, Doublecross.