James Nexis - Betrayal: Part Eight
James stood up, grateful that he’d put the incriminating cufflink into his pocket. Juhan came to a halt in front of him, a smile on his face, his eyes sparkling warmly. “How are you, James?”
The Hissi felt a wave of disgust wash over him as he wished he’d never encouraged the Ruki to call him by his first name. Sense told him to play it cool, though, so he shrugged.
“I heard about what happened to Deirdre,” Juhan said, his smile dropping slightly, and his eyes flicking over James’s face for any hint that the Hissi knew more than he should. “I’m very sorry.”
James felt like clawing the Ruki’s eyes out, but he gritted his teeth and kept his self-control. At the moment, he was useful to Juhan. He had the power to convince thousands of people that the Shunans had destroyed their own warehouse; therefore, Juhan wanted to be his friend. But, as soon as he became worried about Deirdre knowing more than she should, he had her knocked out of the game. If he got so much as an inkling that James was having doubts, it was more than likely that he would meet the same fate.
Normally he would have relished a fight, but this time James had Deirdre to think of. And so, he forced a smile onto his face. “Hey, thanks. I’m sure she’ll be fine.”
“I hope so,” Juhan said, sitting down. His eyes were still wary, so James decided to play it safe and sat down as well.
“Poor girl. She’s always been clumsy.” This was a complete lie, but James was desperate to establish a neutral position. “She must have tripped and hit her head.”
Juhan gave him a piercing stare for a second, but then relaxed and leaned back. “I really want to help, James. I’m sure we can do better for her than leaving her with these barbaric nomads.”
James clenched his fists. Juhan was still trying to turn him against the Shunans. The Ruki looked out at the tents and continued. “I sent one of my men to Sakhmet just a minute ago to bring back my physicians. They’re the leading experts in their field; they should be able to help Deirdre.” Juhan smiled warmly and stood up. “They should get here by late afternoon. You won’t have to worry much longer.”
James’s heart sank and it was all he could do to force a happy smile onto his face. “That’s brilliant.”
Juhan nodded, looking pleased. “Glad I could help.” The Ruki turned to walk towards his tent. “I’ve got to finish writing my report; just give me a call if the Shunans give you any trouble, okay?”
“Sure,” James agreed. “See you later.”
As soon as the Ruki was out of sight, James collapsed back into his seat and dropped his face into his hands. “Brilliant.”
Juhan must be concerned that he hadn’t done the job properly to call in his ‘physicians’. It was quite probable that, once they arrived, Deirdre’s condition would worsen dramatically. This was bad. And, to make everything worse, James didn’t have any coffee to help him think.
The Hissi stood up and began to pace furiously, gnawing on his lower lip. He had until this afternoon to get himself and Deirdre out of here... but how?
As far as he knew, there was no way to communicate with the outside world. Therefore, he couldn’t call help in. The only other option was to go out... and that meant one thing.
James stalked through the Shunan camp, avoiding the natives’ eyes, and made directly for the plot of ground behind the tents where he knew the Hover was parked. As it came into view he felt a wave of relief. It looked like it was still in one piece. Time was running out, and he couldn’t afford any delays.
When they’d arrived the day before the pilot who had flown the hover had caught a ride to Sakhmet, where he was staying until they needed him. There was no time and no way to call him now, but James suspected the plane’s controls wouldn’t be that hard to master.
As he approached the Hover, four cloth-piles appeared out from behind it and approached him.
James smiled weakly. “Lovely day, isn’t it?”
“Why you come here?” the one on the far left asked him with a heavy accent. “No allow. No allow. Go back.”
“It’s okay,” James said. “I just want to have a look at the Hover. Make sure it’s working, and everything.” He took a step forward, and the four Shunans stiffened, while the two in the middle pulled out knives from the folds of their clothes.
“No allow,” the first one repeated angrily. “You go back. Now.”
James didn’t move. On one hand, he didn’t particularly want to become a Hissi kabob, but the alternative- leaving Deirdre to the mercy of Juhan- was out of the question. He tried to come up with a coherent sentence which would stand even a small chance of convincing the Shunans to let him pass, but a lanky Ruki suddenly stepped out from behind a tent.
“Hello, James,” Juhan said, face smiling, eyes taunting. “What’s going on here?”
James considered lying for a second, but the dangerous look in the four guards’ eyes warned him against it. “I wanted to check on the Hover.”
The Ruki loped over to James and draped an arm around his shoulder. “Oh, don’t worry about it, James. I had some of my technicians look over it just this morning. It’s fine, trust me.”
James gritted his teeth and forced a happy look onto his face. “Hooray. Look, I really would feel better about having a look at it- just make sure it can still fly- just in case we need to take Deirdre back to Shenkuu, or something.”
The Ruki was still dragging James away from the Hover, and he wasn’t entirely sure if he had imagined the cold undertone to Juhan’s voice. “I told you, James, that isn’t necessary. My medics are coming. It’s safer to keep Deirdre where she is at the moment. Just trust me and try to relax.”
James looked at the Ruki who was pulling him away with an iron grip. He glanced back, where he could still see the hover outlined at the edge of the camp. He looked at the four guards, two of them still gripping knives. And then, he looked back at Juhan, who had been the cause of all of this, and it took all of his limited supply of self-control to take a deep breath and say, “Okay.”
It would be useless to fight. As Juhan smiled and began to drag the Hissi back to the main tents, James went back to thinking. As far as he could see, there was only one other option, and it wasn’t pretty.
Juhan, thankfully, left him at their tent, and James slunk inside. Ignoring the urge to wash under scalding water and burn any of his clothes that Juhan may have touched, he pulled out a backpack and began throwing spare cloths in, along with a thermos of water and a loaf of bread which had been ignored during lunch. Not entirely sure of what he’d need to survive in a desert, he also added a compass and the book he was currently reading.
He was halfway out of the tent before it occurred to him that it might be a good idea to bring a map. He scrabbled through Deirdre’s meticulously neat rucksack until he found one, and added it to the backpack.
As James slunk through the tents, keeping his eyes open for Juhan, he caught a glimpse of a very dark, very official tent. The Hissi’s mind flashed back to the evening before, when he and Deirdre had questioned the prisoner, Lee. It was obvious now that the Kougra was innocent.
James half-turned away from it before the image of Deirdre handing Lee water flashed before his eyes. He hesitated for a second before dropping to the ground to pick up a large rock, and turning back to the tent.
It was void of guards except for one at the tent’s entrance. James raised a hand in greeting as he approached. “Long day, eh?”
The Shunan eyed him warily and said nothing. James widened his smile held out his hand. “I’m James. Do you people have names, or what?”
Still looking cautious, the guard held out his own gloved hand to shake James’s. With reflexes honed by years of working in an office, James grabbed the offered paw and tugged the Shunan towards him, simultaneously bringing the rock down in his other hand to collide with the back of the Shunan’s head.
The cloth-clad native dropped like a lead balloon, and James, glancing around to make sure no one had seen him, grabbed his victim under the arms and dragged him back into the tent.
Grinning, the Hissi turned and paused to let his eyes adjust. Lee was still tied to the chair, slumped back with his head lolled to one side. If he’d looked a mess the night before, he was positively ghastly now. His chest rose slowly, the only indication that he was still alive.
James grabbed Lee’s shoulder and shook it roughly. “Hey, wake up.”
Lee grunted and opened his eyes to squint at the Hissi weakly. “Wha...?”
“I’m breaking you out. C’mon, wake up.” James pulled out a knife, and quickly cut the ropes holding the Kougra to the chair.
Lee shook his head slowly, trying to clear it. “You’re what?”
“Here, have this,” the Hissi said, holding out one of his flasks of water and the loaf of bread. “You’ll need your strength.”
The Kougra blinked a few times and coughed. He seemed to be having a hard time understanding James. “You’re... letting me go?”
“That’s right. But keep it close to your chest, okay? I’m not exactly the most popular person around here at the moment.” An idea occurred to the Hissi and he frowned at Lee. “What’s your job, anyway?”
Lee shook his head as he took the water, looking stunned. “Err... trade moderator. I travel through the cities, checking out trades to make sure there’s nothing illegal going on.”
“Heh, figures he’d kill two birds with one stone,” James muttered, shaking his head.
Lee stood up and shook himself. Colour was starting to return to his face. “I’m seriously not complaining, but care to explain the sudden change of heart, Mr Nexis?”
“Let’s just say things have taken a turn for the worse.” James lowered his voice and carefully began to explain to Lee everything that had happened in the last day. The Kougra’s jaw went slack when he got to the part about Juhan being the traitor, but let the Hissi finish without interrupting him. When James finally came to the end of his story, Lee’s eyes hardened. “I owe you my life, Mr Nexis. Tell me what you need me to do.”
“Stay here and look out for Deirdre,” James said. “It’s not going to be easy on you, but I can’t let anything happen to her.”
“I understand, Mr Nexis.”
“I’ll be back in a day or two, I hope, and we’ll go from there. In the meantime, I’d be eternally grateful if you hung around.”
“That’ll be difficult,” Lee said warily. “In case you didn’t notice, I’ve kinda got the death sentence here.”
A broad smile swept across the Hissi’s face. “Which means you’re going to need a disguise.” Simultaneously, they turned to look at the unconscious guard.
To be continued...