Exit Strategy

by London Lampy

Chapter 11

I can only assume the angry boy is Topher, and as he scowls at me I try and answer him. "I'm Exit, and I have no idea why I'm in here, but in case you hadn't noticed I can't really be anywhere other than on this bed." I raise my manacled hand to make my point.

"Who put you in here?" He asks me in an accusing tone. He has a strange accent, he seems to almost slur his words into one another and I have to concentrate to understand him.

"Er, Zizi?" I say, hoping I've got the visk's name right.

"Huh!" He exclaims loudly, then turns and leaves the room, slamming the door behind him.

While finding a strange person chained up on your bed would be surprising, it's not like it's my fault. It's a shame he looks so cross, because he'd be pretty if he wasn't, not that I should be thinking about things like that at this time. After a few minutes the door opens again, this time it's both the captain and Topher, with Topher dragging him in by the hand.

"Look!" He points at me. "He says Zizi put him in here, why?"

"Because I told her to." Quint replies.

Her? I really can't tell the visk sexes apart. Topher glares at me as if he wishes I would drop dead on the spot.

"But Captain, this is my cabin." He protests.

"And from now on you will be sharing it with..." He turns to me. "What's your name?"


"Stupid name." I hear Topher mutter under his breath.

"He's here to keep us company." The captain explains, I don't seem to have a say in this.

"I don't want company, and I don't want to share with anyone, especially not a monkey."

I've had enough. "I'm no more a fucking monkey than you are!" I shout at him, while Captain Quint cuffs him round the head.

"Topher, behave. Exit, I know you're not a monkey and so does he. Shall I tell Tallis what you said?" He asks.

Topher looks worried. "No Captain, don't do that." He replies.

"All right, I won't, this time, but you're staying in here until we reach home. Clear all that crap off the other bed." He commands, and Topher does so, throwing most of it on the floor.

"How did you even get so much stuff?" The captain asks, looking at the mound of belongings.

"You gave most of it to me."

"Remind me to give you fewer presents in future." I get another dirty look for this.

Captain Quint puts his hand in his pocket and pulls out what looks like a dog leash with a padlock attached to one end of it and shows it to Topher, who sighs and pushes up the sleeve of his cream coloured shirt. Underneath he's wearing what looks like a silver bangle with a D ring set into the side of it. The captain loops one end of the leash through the ring in the wall by the head of the bed and links the other end to the boys wrist, snapping the padlock shut. He is now in much the same situation as me.

"We'll make land in a few hours, I'll let you both out then, if you behave." That's aimed at Topher.

"What about lunch?" He asks, and while I hate to agree with him over anything, I am feeling hungry.

"I'll have something sent in." And with that he goes, leaving us alone together.

"This." Says Topher, lifting his leashed arm to indicate his meaning. "Is all your fault."

"No it's not." I reply. "I don't even know what I'm doing here." Actually I'm starting to get an idea of what's going on.

"Then you're stupid, just like everyone else from your nasty country. You don't have the sense to leave alone what's not yours."

I have absolutely no idea what he's talking about and I tell him so.

"You don't even know where I come from do you?" He accuses, and I have to admit I don't.

"I am Surosian." Well that explains the accent, but he's still not making any sense.

"You lay claim to land that's rightfully ours and strip it of it's assets one by one, and when we try to take it back you slaughter us like dogs."

"Are you talking about the war? The one fought over the Boswell islands?"

"Pah! They are the Quillians, they had a name long before your ships reached there."

"All right, but the war ended years ago, I was just a child, it's got nothing to do with me."

"I was a child too, you think children are not affected by war?"

I give up, if he's blaming me for Surosa's defeat in the Boswell war then there's nothing I can do about it.

After that exchange we stay silent for a long time until the cabin door opens and Zizi appears with a tray of food. I take a close look at her to try and work out if anything gives away her sex, I suppose she's a little smaller than some visks, but that's all I can see.

"Lunch boys." She says cheerfully, handing us each a plate and a glass of water. "Although since when playing waitress to the captain's pets has been a first mate's job I don't know."

"Thank you." I say to her, wondering if what she means by "captains pet" is what I think it is.

"Topher." She says looking expectantly at him.

"Thank you Zizi." He says, and she nods.

"Politeness costs nothing." She turns to me. "Has he been annoying you?"

"A bit." I confess.

"He's a total brat who refuses to learn anything about sailing or make himself at all useful, but Quint likes him so we have to put up with him."

"Captain Quint." Topher corrects.

"Sorry, Captain Quint, but he's actually not so bad when you get used to him."

Topher scowls at her but ruins the effect by sticking out his tongue. I don't want to get used to him, or any of this. I need to get back to Vio and the crew and complete the mission, although I'm not sure how, I can't even get the lock picks out of me with an audience.

Zizi leans in the doorway and looks at us with her black eyes. It's hard to tell but I think she's smiling. "You know what Topher, you might want to rethink your stance on getting your hands dirty, you're going to have to learn to share now and this one looks like he might actually be useful. I'm sure Tallis would love to take him aloft and teach him how to work the rigging. If you want to stay in the captain's favour you could do worse than help out a little." And with that she's gone.

I examine the plate of food, I think it's some kind of stew, but it doesn't smell like any thing I've ever eaten before, it also seems to have a small pile of fried banana on the side. I taste a bit of the sauce, it has a sweet spicy flavour and a slightly gritty texture. I decide to risk asking Topher what it is, he's already eaten a third of his and he looks at me like I'm stupid.

"Coconut goat curry and fried plantains." He says, and goes back to his food.

Goat! I try the bananas, they don't taste as sweet as I expected, but are all right mashed into the sauce. I finish them but am still hungry so I risk the meat, it's not too bad, a bit chewy but I eat most of it.

Once he has finished his food Topher puts his plate and glass on the floor and turns on his side, facing away from me. I don't try to speak to him again, and I lay back on the bed and doze until I'm woken by the ship lurching and the shouts of the crew above us, that I assume means we've reached land.

Topher rolls over and looks at me. "You still here? I was hoping I'd just had a really bad dream."

I don't bother to reply and we ignore each other until the captain comes to let us out.

"Have you two made friends?" He asks from the doorway, I shrug and Topher shakes his head. He unlocks Topher than speaks again. "It's in both your best interests to get along, I'm not going to put up with you fighting forever."

He looks at me. "Now Exit, I'm going to let you out, and I don't recommend that you try running away. Firstly we are at our home port and there's nowhere for you to run to, and secondly if you do I will punish you, and that's not something you want, is it Topher?"

He looks over at the Surosian who shakes his head again.

"In fact if you do decide to try anything stupid I may just take it into my head to punish both of you." He gives us a long, searching look and I'm inappropriately struck again by just how handsome he is.

"Do you understand?" He asks me.

"Yes." I don't like the idea of being punished, I'm not sure what Quint would do to me but I'm guessing it would be worse than the ruler over the knuckles the nuns favoured.

"Good." He sets to work freeing me, when he's done he looks at my wrist and strokes his thumb over the red mark that's left there.

"I'll have to see about getting you something more like Topher has sorted out." With this he brings my wrist up to his mouth and kisses it, and I hear a squeak of protest come from the bed behind him, if the captain notices he ignores it. He then stands up and leads us out of the cabin and up onto the deck.

"We are on the largest island of the Devil's Fingers, it's called Nightport and it's our home when we're not at sea." Captain Quint is explaining this to me while I try to pretend I'm not watching the crew of the coal freighter being herded towards a building in the distance. I can see Vio's white blond hair among the sailors and I will her to turn around, but she doesn't.

Most of the buildings around us are a single level, but further away there are a few larger ones, painted white and shimmering in the sun. There don't really seem to be any roads or pavements, just hard packed earth which we are walking along. On the ship there was always a breeze, but it's not so strong here and the heat is more than I'm used to, even in the height of summer Parnell never gets like this.

"We will only be staying here for two nights before we set sail again, we have some business to attend to further north."

Out of the corner of my eye I see the freighter's crew disappear inside the building, I need to try and get to Vio before I'm taken off to sea again. If I'm lucky I may be able to break into the building, find the evidence we need and pass it on to her, at least then we wouldn't have completely failed our mission.

We walk past the door the crew were led into and Topher catches me looking at it. "Captain, I think he's missing his friends, maybe you should put him in with them."

"Nice try, but no." The captain says. "He's staying with us."

I then realise that Topher and me both want the same thing, but for very different reasons. We end up outside a medium sized house set back some way from the track. It's walls are covered with some sort of cream coloured rough textured plaster, it's roof has strangely curved red tiles and there are blue painted shutters at the windows. The front door is not locked and we walk straight in, it feels cool after the heat of the sun and I'm glad to be indoors.

Quint leads us through to a living room furnished with a large sofa and matching chairs, and Topher flings himself down into one, pulls off his shoes, throws them onto the floor and slumps back. I remain standing and the captain looks me up and down.

"Do you have a tail in there?" He says pointing to my trousers.

"Yes." I reply, surprised he even asked.

"So why do you keep it hidden?"

"Because where I come from no one else has one, it would attract too much attention."

"Well it wouldn't here, so you can get it out."

I'm not sure I'm comfortable with doing this and I tell him so.

"You misunderstand Exit, that wasn't a suggestion, it was an order."

At this Topher sits forward, rests his chin in his hands and watches me with interest.

"Could I, um, go to the bathroom and do it?" I ask hopefully.


I take a deep breath and unbutton my trousers. Whoever made them did a good job of hiding the opening in the back and I fumble to find it, while the captain stares at me with a small smile on his face. When I've finally managed to get my tail through and my fly buttoned up again he has me turn around. I feel his hand stroke down my length and he murmurs. "Very nice."

Topher throws himself back down into the chair, crosses his arms and glares at me.

Quint steps back and I turn to face him again, he's looking at me with a thoughtful expression.

"You're going to need some more clothes, I'll have someone come up tomorrow and take your measurements. Topher, show him where he's going to be sleeping."

"Which room do you want him to have?" He asks the captain sulkily.

"He'll be in with you, of course." Quint gives an evil smile at this.

"But...but...Captain! There's plenty of other bedrooms, it's not like on the ship." He protests.

"Are you questioning me?" He says with a dangerous edge to his voice.

"No captain." Topher's reply is little more than a whisper.

"Then show him."

Topher leads me in silence up a wooden staircase and along a landing until we reach a door at the end.

"I hate you." He says as he opens it.

The room inside is quite small, it contains the same sort of clutter as the cabin along with a chest of draws, a wardrobe, and one double bed, my heart sinks.

Topher looks at me darkly. "Whatever Captain Quint says, this is my room." I sigh and nod, I'm not about to argue with him.

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