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The Gods of Sagittarius: Chapter Two

       Last updated: Saturday, February 11, 2017 09:09 EST



    Tabor was waiting for Shenoy in the lobby of the latter’s hotel.

    “Nice place,” he remarked as Shenoy emerged from an airlift, accompanied by two large, uniformed androids that were carrying his luggage.

    “I’m usually only here to sleep,” replied Shenoy.

    “#8220;Then why not rent an apartment?” asked Tabor. “It would have been a hell of a lot cheaper.”

    “Well, I suppose if I had been paying for it, I would have,” came the answer. “But I must confess that it comes with a bunch of amenities that I’m going to miss.”

    “Even though you were hardly ever here?”

    “Look around you,” said Shenoy. “Chrystal chandeliers every fifteen feet. Three times as many android servants as guests. Two all-night restaurants, both five-star, and a nightclub with excellent entertainment.”

    “Too bad you only slept here and didn’t avail yourself of all that,” said Tabor with a smile.

    “Well, perhaps I was here just a tad more that I implied,” replied Shenoy, returning his smile. “Anyway, my bill is taken care of, so we might as well go to the spaceport. I assume you’ve lined up a ship?”

    “Of course.”

    “According to my specifications?”

    Tabor nodded his head. “Seems a little big for just the two of us.”

    “There will be four of us,” answered Shenoy. “A man and a woman. I’ve worked with them before. I’ll introduce you when they arrive.”

    “I’d appreciate that, Rupert,” said Tabor. “I’d hate to call them ‘Hey, You!’ for the next few months.”

    Shenoy stared at him for a moment, then smiled. “That was a joke, wasn’t it?” he said at last.

    “You noticed.”

    “I’m not used to jokes.”

    “I noticed,” replied Tabor.

    “Give me time,” said Shenoy. “I’m very adaptable.”

    They reached a vehicle that floated a few inches above the ground, waited for the androids to load Shenoy’s luggage into a carrying compartment, then climbed into the vehicle themselves.

    Suddenly Shenoy looked around and frowned.

    “Is something wrong?” asked Tabor.

    “You don’t have any luggage of your own,” replied Shenoy. “I hate to mention it, but with no change of clothes for months on end you’re not going to turn into any nosegay. No offense intended. I mean, I’ve put up with worse.”

    Tabor stared at him, trying to determine if he was joking or not. Finally he spoke. “I sent my luggage ahead to the spaceport. Why carry it from the hotel?”

    “How very practical!” said Shenoy with a smile.

    I guess they don’t give out the Sagittarius Prize for practicality, thought Tabor. Aloud he said, “So what are we looking for on this . . . what was the name of it?”

    “Cthulhu,” answered Shenoy. “Well, we̵#8217;re not quite sure. Otherwise we’d know what to bring.”

    “What are we bringing?”

    “You, me, and my two assistants.”

    “Maybe I worded it wrong,” said Tabor. “What is it about Cthulhu that attracts a Prize winner?”

    “And two Ph.D.’s,” added Shenoy. “My assistants have excellent credentials.”

    “I’m sure they do,” said Tabor. I just hope I’m not the only one who can ask or answer a direct question.

    “There’s the racetrack,” noted Shenoy, pointing to a large coliseum as the vehicle floated past.

    “Yeah,” said Tabor in bored tones. “They run some kind of animal there.”


    “Pringles?” said Tabor, frowning.

    “Paringles,” repeated Shenoy. “A four-legged quadruped, about fifteen hundred pounds. Interesting animals. I go there whenever I have a free afternoon.”

    Tabor smiled. “Somehow you don’t strike me as a bettor, Rupert.”

    “Oh, I’m not,” Shenoy assured him. “But I love pitting my intellect against the laws of chance.” He began patting his coat pockets. “I keep a record here somewhere. Ah! Got it.” He pulled out a small notebook and began thumbing through it.

    “Paper?̶#8221; said Tabor, surprised.

    “I’m a traditionalist.” He turned a few more pages, then stopped and studied his near-illegible scrawl. “If I’d bet ten credits a race, after eighty-six races I would be . . . let me see . . . almost three hundred credits ahead of the game.”

    “Somehow I think you make more money solving the problems of the universe.”

    “Oh, I do,” agreed Shenoy. “But it’s not as much fun.”

    “At least you don’t go broke.”

    “There’s a method for beating the track. I just haven’t codified it yet.”

    “People have been trying to beat racetracks since we were still Earthbound,” remarked Tabor. “No one’s done it yet.”

    “That’s why it fascinates me so,” replied Shenoy. “I’d be the first.” He paused. “I suppose it goes hand in glove with my work. You take the disparate parts of a puzzle that no one else can comprehend, and then, either through logic or a sudden burst of insight, you reconstruct the comprehensive whole.” Suddenly he smiled. “In fact, it’s invariably through that sudden burst. If the scientific method worked, the problem would have been solved long before it landed on my desk.”

    “I hope you don’t teach that to your students, Rupert,” said Tabor with a smile.


    “You worked for a university until this week, remember?”

    “But I never taught. They just paid me to do my work under their auspices for” — he searched for the proper term — “reflected glory.”

    “I suppose it makes sense,” said Tabor. “You turn out five or ten geniuses and they all go to work elsewhere, the university gets very little of that reflected glory. But win a Prize while you’re working for them . . .”

    “Absolutely,” agreed Shenoy, nodding his head vigorously. “Besides, I’d be a terrible teacher. I hate rigorous preparation.”

    “I hope you’ve done a little preparation for Cthulhu,” replied Tabor. “If I’m going to give up all the comforts of a civilized world, I’d like to think it’ll serve some purpose.”

    “Oh, Cthulhu’s civilized,” said Shenoy. He frowned. “Just very strange.”

    “I ran a computer check on it last night,” said Tabor. “Within five percent of Standard gravity and atmosphere, two oceans, a few city-states, never been at war with anyone. A few animal species, none of them sentient. Got some gold and platinum mines, and a couple of diamond pipes, which is why anyone moved there in the first place. Pays its bills. Never had a revolution. So what’s so very strange about it?”

    “That’s what we’re going there to find out.”

    “I’d like a little better answer than that, Rupert.”

    “I don’t mean to annoy you, Mr . . . Russ,” he said. “But I’m going to have to explain it to Basil and Andrea once we take off, Russ — so why tell you now when you’ll be on the ship as well, Russ?”

    “I’m glad we’re being less formal,” replied Tabor, “but one Russ per paragraph is really quite sufficient.”

    “I’m sorry, Russ,” said Shenoy. “I’m a little awkward in social situations.”

    “I would never have guessed,” said Tabor sardonically.

    “Really?” said Shenoy happily. “I guess it doesn’t show as much as I’d feared.” Suddenly he frowned. “Maybe I could have taught a class or two after all.”

    The vehicle entered the spaceport, and Shenoy gave the ship’s ID number to the autopilot, which veered around four nearer ships and then stopped in front of a reconditioned cargo ship. Three robots — not androids, for absolutely no effort had been made to give them any human features — stepped forward and began unloading the cargo space.

    “Are we planning to bring back a temple, or perhaps a pyramid?” asked Tabor, looking at the ship.

    “I’m not working for the university any more, Russ. These people watch their bottom line. I don’t know what we may bring back, which is why we need such a large vessel. But their budget is also why the ship looks so . . . ah . . . used.

    “Just out of curiosity, who are ‘these people’?” asked Tabor.

    “A number of scientific journals, Russ,” replied Shenoy. Suddenly he grinned. “I can just see them fighting over the rights to the story of my discovery — always assuming they’re willing to run what I discover.”

    “I don’t quite follow that,” said Tabor. “And you don’t have to call me Russ every time.”

    “My mistake, Russell,” said Shenoy, who seemed to have no idea what Tabor meant. “Anyway, my field of expertise is officially alien technology, but sometimes alien technology is so close to magic that the two are indistinguishable . . . and some of these journals are not going to like that.”

    Tabor was about to ask for an example when another vehicle floated up and two people got off — a tall, slender, balding man in his thirties, with intense staring blue eyes and a thin, delicate mustache that looked like it took more trouble than it was worth; and a short, muscular, redheaded woman with a perpetual scowl on her face.

    “Ah!” exclaimed Shenoy. “They’re here! Come along, Russ, and I’ll introduce you.”

    Tabor followed him as he approached the two newcomers. “Hello, Andrea,” said the scientist. “You’re looking well. And you too, Basil. I want you to meet the fourth member of our party, Russ . . . uh, I’ve quite forgotten your last name.”



    “Russ Tabor,” he said, reaching out and shaking each of their hands in turn.

    “And I’m Basil Stone, and this is Andrea Melander.”

    Basil stared at him, as if sizing him up. “I wasn’t expecting a fourth member of the team. May I ask what your function is?”

    “I’ve been hired to guard the most valuable part of the expedition,” answered Tabor.

    “Oh?” said Andrea curiously. “And what is that?”

    Tabor jerked a thumb in Shenoy’s direction. “Him.”

    “Of course,” said Basil. “It makes sense. Especially if Cthulhu’s half as weird and dangerous as it sounds.”

    “Everything that’s unknown sounds weird or dangerous or both,” replied Shenoy. “I’m sure there’ll be an explanation for it.”

    “Good,” said Tabor. “I like logical explanations.”

    Basil smiled. “Did he say ‘logical’?”



    “All set,” said Shenoy, walking back to the bridge from his cabin. He frowned. “I hope it’s not too cold. I only packed one heavy coat.”

    “I thought we were going to mostly be inside,” said Andrea, frowning.

    “Right,” agreed Shenoy.

    “Well, then?” she said.

    He shrugged. “You never know.”

    Tabor shot Basil an Is he always this pixilated look, and Basil sighed, smiled, and nodded his head.

    “Well, we’re all on the bridge,” continued Shenoy. “Let’s go.”

    “Are we waiting for a pilot?” asked Basil.

    “From what they told me, everything’s programmed in,” responded Tabor.

    “Okay,” said Shenoy, staring at the viewscreen. “Take off.”

    Nothing happened.

    Shenoy cleared his throat. “Take off!” he said with greater volume.

    Still nothing.

    “May I?” asked Tabor.

    “Be my guest,” answered Shenoy.

    “Ship, respond please,” said Tabor.

    “Awaiting your orders,” said a mechanical voice.

    “You were given a flight plan to Cthulhu,” continued Tabor. “Can you access it?”


    “And you’ve filed it with the various authorities?”


    “Are all systems operative?”


    “Okay, take off.”

    Nothing happened.

    “Ship, did you hear me?” said Tabor.

    There was no response.

    “Oh, hell!” muttered Basil. “The goddamned engine is dead.”

    “That fast?” asked Andrea.

    Tabor pulled out a communication device and contacted the spaceport, spoke softly for a moment, then frowned and put the device back in a pocket.

    “Well?” asked Basil.

    “They checked the ship two hours ago. Everything was working, and it had enough fuel to get us there and back twice.”

    “They must be mistaken,” said Basil. “Ships don’t just die two hours after passing inspection.”

    Tabor turned to Shenoy. “You’re the genius, Rupert. What the hell happened?”

    “I’m not sure,” answered Shenoy. “But it is interesting.”

    “It’s a pain in the ass, is what it is,” said Andrea. “Now we’re going to have to make arrangements for a new ship, move all of our gear, and –”

    “Perhaps not,” said Shenoy, a puzzled expression on his face.

    “What are you getting at?” she said.

    “I don’t think we’re going to need a new ship,” said Shenoy. “Or at least, I don’t think it will be any better than this one.”

    “But this one stopped working,” said Andrea irritably.

    “Curious, isn’t it?” replied Shenoy.

    “Curious, hell!” she snapped. “It’s just goddamned bad luck!”

    Tabor had been watching Shenoy carefully since the ship had died, and now he spoke up. “What was so curious, Rupert?”

    Shenoy blinked his eyes rapidly for a few second, then frowned. “That it was working fine until you mentioned Cthulhu.”

    “Are you seriously suggesting that the damned ship doesn’t want to go there?” demanded Andrea.

    Shenoy shrugged and offered her a gentle smile. “Are you seriously suggesting that a ship that passed inspection this morning suddenly gave up the ghost for no reason?”

    “It’s more likely than that the damned ship is afraid to go to Cthulhu!” she shot back.

    “Oh, I don’t think it’s afraid,” said Shenoy. “I don’t believe a ship can feel fear. Or hate or love, for that matter.”

    “Then what about mentioning Cthulhu made the ship shut down?” asked Tabor.

    “That’s one of many things we must find out,” replied Shenoy. “But I have a request that is something in the nature of an experiment.” He looked at each of them in turn. “Let us pledge not to mention our destination by its proper name, but refer to it only by its coordinates.”

    “That’s fine,” said Basil. “But the ship is dead.”

    Shenoy shook his head. “The ship is momentarily dormant, but we already know that there’s nothing wrong with it, so I expect all of its systems will come back to life very soon now, when we take off for” — he rattled off the planet’s galactic coordinates — “and the trick for us is not to put it back to sleep again, especially once we take off and we are dependent on it for the air we breathe.”

    “And you really believe this shit, Rupert?#8221; asked Tabor, frowning.

    “Believe is a very strong word, Russ,” answered Shenoy. “Let us say rather that I suspect that this shit is true.”

    Tabor stared at him, trying to decide if Shenoy was making fun of him, and finally decided that he wasn’t.

    “Okay, so what do we do now?”

    “We wait,” said Shenoy.

    “How long?” persisted Tabor.

    “I’m inclined to say as long as it takes, but perhaps there is a way to speed up the process.”

    “And what might that be?”

    Shenoy seemed to stare at some spot at the top of the bridge that only he could see. Finally he spoke: “Let’s have some coffee.”

    “And then will you tell us?” said Tabor.

    Basil chuckled. “You don’t know how the Brain thinks.”

    “The Brain?” repeated Tabor. He turned to Shenoy. “That would be you?”

    Shenoy shrugged. “It’s what he calls me. I’d much rather be referred to as Lord Shenoy.”

    “I know I’m surrounded by geniuses,” growled Tabor irritably, “but I feel like I’ve wandered into an animated entertainment for three-year-olds.”

    “You don’t like coffee?” asked Shenoy, who seemed genuinely concerned.

    “Coffee’s fine,” muttered Tabor. “Let’s get on with it.”

    “And you, Andrea?”

    She nodded “Yeah, whatever it takes.”

    “Good,” said Shenoy. “I just hope you’ve all answered sincerely.”

    “What the hell difference does that make?” demanded Tabor.

    “Keep your temper, dear boy,” said Shenoy gently. “There’s no call for ill behavior. Basil, I’ve already forgotten where the galley is. Go fetch us a pot of coffee, four cups, and a tray.” Basil got up and began walking to the galley. “Oh, and bring some cream and sugar, and of course spoons, for those who might want them.”

    This is clearly going to be an exercise in futility, thought Tabor. All the ship’s systems are dead, so how the hell can the galley make coffee? Can’t any of these geniuses figure that out?

    “Well, goddamn!” cried Basil. “It’s working! How did you know?”

    Shenoy allowed himself the luxury of a satisfied smile. “Just a hunch.”

    “Uh-uh,” said Tabor. “You’re a scientist, not a psychic. How did you know?”

    “Knowing that it would happen was the easy part,” answered Shenoy. “Knowing why it would happen is the tricky part. I’m still mulling on that.”

    “Explain the easy part to us,” insisted Tabor.

    “I had to convince, well, not the ship, but whatever was influencing the ship, that we would not use that word again, and that we had no intention of leaving just because the ship had gone dormant. So by brewing up some coffee, someone or something realized that we weren’t abandoning the ship.”

    “Then why didn’t the ship just stay dormant?” asked Tabor.

    “It’s a ship. Its function is to transport us. Eventually it had to do that or die.”

    “A ship has no sense of self-preservation.”

    “Nonsense,” scoffed Shenoy. “Do you know how many safety systems are built into every ship these days?”

    “So if you’re right . . .” began Tabor.

    “He often is,” said Andrea as Basil began approaching them carrying the coffee, cream and cups on a very plane metal tray.

    “If the ship is incapable of independent action, something controlled, or at least influenced, it,” said Tabor.

    “Most likely,” agreed Shenoy pleasantly as he poured himself a cup of coffee.

    “Who or what would or could do that?” asked Tabor. “And more importantly, why?”

    “Ah!” said Shenoy. “That’s what makes this business so much fun.”

    “Fun?” repeated Tabor. “Whatever put the ship to sleep could have done it while we were in space, or traversing a wormhole.”

    “But it didn’t,” replied Shenoy. “That makes us one step smarter than it is.”

    “You really believe that?” asked Tabor dubiously.

    “Not really,” answered Shenoy. Suddenly a smile crossed his face. “But it does make one feel better, at least for a moment, doesn’t it?”

    Tabor stared at him silently for a long moment.

    Great. Just great. I’m working for a genius who can solve the mysteries of the universe, but probably can’t dress himself or figure out how the lock on the bathroom door works.

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