Chapter 14

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„You know, when I told Galen that I wanted to play a bigger part in this little adventure than just whipping up Mango Miracles in my kitchen, I wasn't exactly thinking of crawling through a hedge in my second best hunting suit." Melvin was surprisingly agile for an ape of his size, and except for a slight wheezing, didn't make any sound; Virdon was beginning to believe him that he actually did hunt on his father's estate. At least he didn't endanger their scouting mission by snapping every dry twig in his path, like Galen.

If something would give them away, it was the smell of cat urine that hung in the ape's clothes, as inseparably fused into the fabric as the cat hair.

That, or the incessant chatter.

When Galen and Zana had returned, giddy with relief at having made it back alive and undetected, and with elation over their find, they had both fought over who would accompany him to the abandoned water tower outside the city to break out 'Peet'. It had filled his heart with a strange ache - yes, he had known that Zana loved his friend, though he had never dared to examine that love too closely for fear it might turn out to be the same feeling you had for a beloved dog - but to see them almost get into a serious spat about who would be the one to save Pete's life had driven home how much these... these aliens had come to regard them as friends. As equals.

He should begin to allow himself to let his guard drop. Allow himself to see them as friends, too, not just circumstantial allies.

He'd had to turn both of them down, in the end - Galen was the son of a high-ranking council member, and his face had been on the wanted posters that had been plastered all over town for months, just as Zana's had. They simply were too visible; it was a miracle that Galen's street vendor persona had worked so flawlessly.

But he wouldn't be able to go on that mission alone, either - any human attempting to leave the city would be thoroughly questioned at the gates, and his identity as Melvin's slave just wasn't watertight enough to try that. In the company of an ape, on the other hand, nobody would spare him a second glance - he was already under supervision, after all.

So it had to be Melvin. The fat chimp actually wasn't too bad, in a thoughtless, upper-class way. He was the first ape after Polar who regarded him as neither a pest, nor a person. It was an... interesting experience.

It was damn irritating, to be honest.

But it was also irrelevant; Melvin was nothing more than part of his cover, and as long as he didn't draw unwelcome attention from the guards who were circling the perimeter below them, Virdon could ignore his prattle, or at least tune it out enough not to strangle him.

He and his chaperone were lying on their bellies in the high grass, and observing the bustle at the entrance. Something was happening down there, and Virdon didn't like it.

„Looks like they're getting a delivery from 'Orvan's Delights'," Melvin remarked in a low voice.

„More like making a delivery," Virdon murmured back. He had planned to learn the number of guards, their pattern of movement, and the times of shift changes, and then to neutralize one of them after dark and go in and... improvise from there. There just was no way to learn the layout of the prison, or the strength of forces inside - he'd just have to be faster, and more ruthless, than the apes.

That wouldn't be a problem.

But now it looked as if that plan had been rendered moot - a covered cart had been drawn up at the gate, and Virdon could think of only one reason for its presence... someone was being transferred from this prison.

What he couldn't begin to guess was the reason for the transfer. Maybe they had managed to break Pete and gotten everything they needed from him (and he wouldn't blame him for it, everyone broke at some point, everyone), and were just taking him to another prison, or maybe Urko had gone overboard and they needed a bit more help now than a police medic could give...

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