His Name is Kribal: Part Seven
Jess opened her eyes, and almost immediately wondered why she had even bothered. The darkness clouding the tiny room was at best only marginally different to the darkness that filled the back of her eyelids, and even that a difference she could not tell. Heaving a sigh, she closed her eyes again, welcoming back the familiar darkness again.
How long had she been here, with only the hard bed for company? It felt like days had passed since Kribal had confronted her in Sloth's office, but that was impossible. Nobody had come to deliver food or water, and the Kougra was not one to treat his prisoners with such callous disregard. That meant hours perhaps? Possibly even less, but that seemed unlikely. At least a few hours must have passed.
She opened her eyes again and stared up at the shadowed ceiling. Nobody had been to see her yet either. Somehow that fact brought her comfort, remembering how Chorana had gloated as she was led away. She had not bothered to resist, knowing how easily Kribal would have overpowered her, and simply allowed Chorana to bring her to this cell. Every step of the way the insufferable Aisha had taunted her, so if she had not returned for an encore it surely meant she was being kept busy. Gorix was still out there somewhere.
She smiled to herself and closed her eyes again, trying to spot the differences between the two darknesses, clinging tight to the meagre glimmer of hope she had found. It was not as though there was much else to do.
* * *
What felt like hours continued to trickle past at their weary rate, and still Jess was left staring blankly into the darkness, trying in vain to think of a solution to her problem. When nothing came to her she closed her eyes again and tried to sleep, but the hard, uncomfortable bed yielded no help and she soon found her gaze fixated on the darkness and the ceiling that existed somewhere within. Though invisible in the shadows, she knew it was there; hours ago she had grown bored and stood on her bed just to touch it, prove to herself there was more to this cramped space than just a hard bed and constant shadow.
It had done little to make her feel better about her predicament.
A sudden knocking roused her from the latest attempt to find some sleep. Hastily she leapt from the bed into what little space she could find, standing proudly against whatever visitor had come. With a gentle sigh the door slid open, the sudden blast of light blinding to her eyes. A familiar silhouette stood out against the light, short in height with large, prominent ears pointing upward toward the ceiling.
An unseen light burst into light in the centre of the ceiling, forcing Jess to recoil still further as her eyes grew accustomed to the sudden shift. Her hopes faded as the blurred silhouette took form, revealing a Grundo other than the one she had hoped to see.
It was Parlax.
'Where is he?' the split Grundo snarled, foregoing any pleasantries.
There was only one person who could get under Parlax's skin so easily. The glimmer of hope she clutched so tightly flared in her grasp, shining bright against the shadowed presence of her captors.
'You're asking the wrong person,' she replied politely, giving a gentle shrug. 'I haven't seen him since before you captured me.'
'You must have arranged a place to meet. I know Gorix; I know the way he works. After you stole the Thessalium you would have met with him again. Tell me where.'
Jess tilted her head to one side, trying to decide if the note of pleading in his voice was just her imagination. The hardened expression on his scarred face showed no trace of plea, but still she thought she could detect it just below the surface, a longing to finally catch up with his nemesis.
'We may have,' she said slowly, drawing out every word as long as possible, forcing his true desperation to show on his face. 'But I don't seem to be getting anything out of this deal, so why would I tell you? It means nothing to me what Sloth will do when he finds out you let Gorix get away.'
To her surprise a twisted smile crept across the Grundo's face. 'Why would I care what some conceited fool thinks about all this? This is between me and Gorix, and has nothing to do with Sloth. I doubt that idiot even realises the Resistance is running loose in the facility.'
Jess was taken aback by the sudden hostility shown by the Grundo for his master. Slowly the idea seeped into her thoughts, and realisation beckoned her on, the memory of a dark office standing out clear again. 'So you've abandoned Sloth,' she declared softly. Parlax's smile just broadened. 'I guess you are nothing more than some vermin fleeing a sinking ship. What's the deal then, you give Master Hog the secret Virtupets technologies Sloth keeps from him, and he gives you chance to settle your rivalry with Gorix?'
Parlax snorted in disgust. 'You really don't understand the way he operates, do you? There isn't a thing Sloth does that Master Hog doesn't already know about. He recruited me because I was useful to him. Although you are right on one thing: he did offer me the chance to settle the score with Gorix. So how about you tell me where is, and I can go and finish this?'
'You still haven't offered me anything in return.'
The Grundo snorted again, his composure faltering with each moment she toyed with him.
'Gorix is causing trouble in sector four,' a calm voice suddenly supplied, a new figure stepping into view in the doorway. 'Go and attend to him, Parlax.'
Parlax's eyes widened in shock for a moment before he dared turn and hasten away, hurrying past the newcomer faster than he intended. Kribal watched him go with little interest, not a flicker of emotion visible on his face. In another pet he would have looked bored, and yet somehow the Kougra managed to appear merely composed. It reminded Jess of Kakurain's apparent nonchalance, merely a front for a his graceful dexterity and preternatural reflexes. The bored silence was merely the sound of a pet attuned to his surroundings, aware of everything without needing to try.
Slowly he stepped into the cramped room. Automatically Jess felt her body recoil as though he were another blinding flash, pressing flat against the back wall of her cell. There was nowhere to escape to.
He reached out a hand, indicating her to sit on the bed. Hesitantly she obeyed, glad of the opportunity to busy herself with trying to find a position that was mildly comfortable on the unforgiving bed. The Kougra waited patiently, hands behind his back as he stood blocking her only path of escape. Not even the thought of trying to escape dared cross her mind however, not with Kribal's yellow eyes watching.
'You saw what was in the briefcase?' he asked without preamble, keeping his voice a level monotone.
'You know it's purpose?'
She just shook her head. There were far too many ways to refine Thessalium for anybody to guess how it a raw sample of it would be used in the end.
'How many others did Judge Hog send with you?'
The prospect of lying never entered her mind. 'None,' she answered truthfully, staring blankly at the floor. 'I was the only one he sent in. So far as I knew Chorana was the only other one here I could deal with, and I didn't even know who she was until I arrived. I guess that didn't quite go according to plan though. How much did it cost you to buy her loyalty?'
To her shock, Kribal answered, 'Master Hog can offer the Alien Aisha a lot more than Judge Hog can even dream. It was the logical decision.'
She grimaced at her own foolishness. 'Of course, the logical decision. You really did have us set up from the very beginning, didn't you? What was the point, though? This isn't another of Master Hog's stupid games!'
'Yes, it is. Just because he didn't warn you directly in advance, it doesn't mean this isn't another round of the great game he plays. My presence here was never a secret after all; it was publicly announced on the stock exchange that I was taking over as director of this facility. Judge Hog knew I was here from the very beginning, and we knew he would eventually send someone to investigate just why. In the end he behaved exactly as was expected of him. As did you.'
He had reached the end of what he came to say. Giving her a polite nod by way of farewell, he quickly turned and made to leave. Sitting on the bed, Jess felt her mind race, trying to disassemble everything had happened. They had been played for fools from the very beginning, just like every time before, but this time it made no sense. Why play his game? Why involve Judge Hog if not to have him add some excitement to the tedium with which Master Hog viewed the world? Why do all this if they were just going to play along?
Something suddenly stood out, something out of place in everything that had happened.
'Tell me one thing!' she called to his retreating back. 'The picture I found in your office? It's of you? You and Master Hog?'
Kribal paused on the threshold, one paw reaching for the switch to lock her in again. He nodded, almost to himself than anything else. 'A memory of days long passed,' he whispered delicately, the sound surreal coming from the typically emotionless Kougra. 'Simpler times, when Master Hog and I were just students at the academy.'
'Who are the others?'
'Friends. They were two years younger than us in the academy, but we were very close. Judicius was a righteous fool, average at best, but with unmatched spirit. Sarah was a genius, even more so than Mortimer, but her head was always lost in the clouds, until she couldn't even see what was right in front of her. The four of us... we were going to change the world. And now that's exactly what Master Hog is doing.'
'Why show me this?' she asked slowly, unsettled by the saddened look that now adorned the Kougra's face. 'What is the point of it all?'
Slowly he looked up and met her pleading gaze. 'I am not the one you should be asking.'
Softly the door sighed closed again, and with it the darkness descended, leaving Jess alone with her troubled thoughts.
To be continued...