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The Gods of Sagittarius: Chapter Three
Last updated: Wednesday, February 15, 2017 21:04 EST
Tabor sipped his coffee and wondered what the hell would happen next. He was mystified by what had transpired already, both the ship shutting down and Shenoy’s off-the-wall solution to the problem, but he was pretty sure the problems weren’t over.
“Maybe we’d better take off before it falls asleep again,” suggested Basil.
“It’s not going back to sleep,” said Shenoy.
“How do you know?” asked Tabor.
Shenoy smiled. “The sun’s out and it’s a beautiful day. Who would sleep on a day like this?”
“How about: the ship, until five minutes ago?”
“Ask it,” said Shenoy.
“Ask it what?” replied Tabor.
“How it feels.”
Tabor frowned. “You’re kidding, right?”
“Certainly not,” said Shenoy.
Andrea shot Tabor a The boss gets like this now and then look and shrugged.
“Ask it yourself, Rupert,” said Tabor. “It hardly knows me.”
“It hardly knows any of us,” answered Shenoy. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“You’re in charge. It should come from you.”
“If you insist,” said Shenoy. He raised his voice. “Ship, can you hear me?”
“Yes, Captain,” said the ship’s metallic voice.
“I’d prefer you called me Sir Rupert.”
“Certainly, Sir Rupert,” replied the ship.
“How do you feel on this fine day?” asked Shenoy.
“I feel great!” bellowed the ship with as much emotion as it had lacked with its previous replies.
“Good,” said Shenoy. “It’s a lovely day, isn’t it?”
“Indeed it is!” enthused the ship. “A day like this makes me want to sing.” And it immediately burst into song at an almost deafening volume: “Roll me over, in the clover, roll me over and do it again!”
“Enough!” yelled Tabor.
“Did I do it wrong?” asked the ship.
“You’re deafening me.”
“I apologize, Sir First Officer. How about a nice harp solo?”
“How about a little silence?” suggested Tabor.
A sound that was almost a sob echoed throughout the ship, and then all was quiet.
“Why do I think it’s not natural for a spaceship to sing bawdy ballads?” asked Tabor.
“It doesn’t really possess all that complex a central processing unit,” answered Shenoy. “You could hardly expect Beethoven, or even Vivaldi.”
Tabor stared at him for a long minute. “I don’t think I’m getting through to you at all,” he said at last. “Ships don’t break into song, and then stifle a sob when you ask them to shut up.”
“I know,” responded Shenoy. “That’s what makes it interesting.” He turned to Andrea and Basil. “Don’t you agree?”
“You were expecting this?” asked Basil, frowning.
“No, of course not,” said Shenoy. “But I was expecting something. After all, we’re not being asked to solve a normal problem, are we?”
“But a ship singing sexy songs doesn’t bother you?” persisted Tabor.
“Are you any the worse for wear?” replied Shenoy. “It has a nicer, manly voice, at least when it sings.”
“And do you have any suggestion at all as to why all the systems went dead when we tried to take off?”
“Certainly,” answered Shenoy.
“Well?” demanded Tabor.
“Someone or something didn’t want us to take off.”
“Is that your conclusion every time a ship or vehicle fails?” continued Tabor.
Shenoy considered his answer for a moment, then shrugged. “I really don’t know.” He paused. “I don’t suppose you’d like to play a nice game of chess?”
“No,” growled Tabor.
“I would,” said the ship’s voice.
“Oh, I couldn’t ask that of you,” said Shenoy. “You’ll be too busy transporting us to Cthulhu.”
“I can do both,” said the ship eagerly.
“At the same time?” asked Shenoy.
Shenoy shot Tabor a triumphant smile. “Then we shall play a game once we’re beyond the stratosphere and on our way to Cthulhu.”
“It’s a deal!” said the ship. “We will take off in sixteen minutes and twenty-three seconds.”
“Well, we’re in business,” said Shenoy happily.
“Somehow,” said Tabor.
“You gotta hand it to the boss,” said Basil. “Somehow, when you least expect it, he pulls an ace out of the deck.”
“You’ve been very quiet,” said Shenoy, turning to Andrea. “Is anything wrong?”
She offered him a puzzled frown. “I’m seeing something,” she said.
She nodded her head dizzily. “Something,” she repeated, and collapsed onto the deck.
Tabor knelt down next to her, checked her pulse and her breathing.
“She’s alive,” he announced. “But we’d better get her to a hospital.”
“I quite agree,” said Shenoy. “Ship, open the hatch. We have an emergency here.”
“Does this mean no chess?” it whined as a hatch opened and a ramp leading to the ground appeared.
“No,” said Shenoy. “It just means we’re postponing takeoff for an hour.”
“Check!” said the ship. “Right! Roger that!”
“Oh, shut up!” snapped Tabor as he lifted Andrea into his arms and began leaving the ship. “Rupert, you’d better call an ambulance. I can’t carry her all the way to the nearest hospital, wherever the hell that is.”
“Done,” announced the ship. “ETA is three minutes and seventeen seconds, always depending on traffic and sudden cloudbursts and snowstorms.”
“It hasn’t snowed here in six years,” muttered Basil, accompanying Tabor down the ramp.
They stood just beyond the nose of the ship, and the ambulance raced up at the predicted moment.
“What’s the matter with her?” asked one of the attendants.
“I don’t know,” answered Tabor. “She just collapsed.”
“Pulse is fine,” noted the attendant. “Any nausea?”
“Did she complain of pain?”
Tabor shook his head.
“I don’t think it’s a stroke,” said the attendant.
“Just fix whatever’s wrong,” said Basil. “You can bill –”
“It’s already been paid for,” came the answer. “Whoever contacted us was as efficient as anyone we’ve ever dealt with.”
He placed Andrea on a cot in the ambulance, jumped in beside her, and signaled the robotic driver to speed off. Tabor and Basil watched it until it was out of sight, then returned to the ship.
“The situation is over,” announced Shenoy. “You can take off any time.”
“Ship?” said Shenoy.
“Sorry,” replied the ship. “I was just boning up on my Indian defense. Takeoff in six minutes and ten seconds.”
Tabor glared at where he imagined the essence of the ship was. “Why not four minutes and twenty-two seconds?” he said.
“Why not indeed?” replied the ship. “I’ve just informed the control tower that we are taking off in four minutes and twenty-two seconds.” A pause. “Well, it was four minutes and twenty-two seconds. Now it’s four minutes and . . . ”
The ship began counting down the seconds, and finally took off.
“Cthulhu, here we come!” it announced happily.
“I seem to remember reading or hearing about a Cthulhu a long time ago,” said Tabor.
“There’s probably no connection,” said Shenoy.
“Probably?” repeated Tabor, frowning.
“That one was fictional.”
The ship sped through the atmosphere and stratosphere, then announced that it was headed directly toward Cthulhu and produced a chessboard and pieces on the table in front of Shenoy.
“Well, at last we’re on our way,” said Shenoy.
Tabor exchanged looks with Basil. Tabor’s said Something Very Weird is happening.
Basil’s said Goes with the territory — or if not the territory, as least with the Boss.
It was two days later, and they were within six hours of touching down on Cthulhu. Tabor sat in a chair, feet on a console, sandwich in one hand and a container of beer in the other. Shenoy was asleep in his cabin, but Basil was on the bridge, a few feet away, sipping some hot tea.
“So tell me about this place,” said Tabor.
“You mean Cthulhu?” asked Basil.
“That’s where we’re going, isn’t it?”
Basil shrugged. “Unless the Boss changes his mind.”
“That’s some mind he’s got there,” commented Tabor. “You get the feeling he can solve the mysteries of the universe, but has trouble dressing himself or remembering where he left his toothbrush.”
Basil chuckled. “That’s him. You know, I think they were just on the verge of firing him before he won his first Prize. He’d been late four days in a row, and couldn’t even remember the number on his office door. The last day he drove there in his own vehicle instead of using the transport they’d supplied him and . . .” Basil paused and smiled. “He not only couldn’t remember the room number, but he forgot the combination to lock and unlock the vehicle!”
“That’s Rupert, all right,” said Tabor, returning his smile.
“So he’s ordered to report to the head office, which happens to be in the building,” continued Basil, “and as he does so, he walks past a trash atomizer — they must have one every forty feet — and sees something on the floor, something that someone tossed at the atomizer and missed. I don’t know what it was, a piece of fruit, something totally forgettable like that, and he stops, and he stares at it. The guy escorting him to the office pulls on his arm, and he refuses to go. He’s almost trancelike for a full minute. Then he grins ear to ear, goes into the office, and announces that he’s figured out a way to find and map wormholes that our ships’ sensors can’t find, and that this will open up maybe twenty million new worlds to us over the next century or two.” Basil snapped his fingers. “Just like that. Sees a half-eaten apple or some such, and sixty seconds later he’s come up with a Sagittarius Prize.”
“I’m impressed,” said Tabor.
“You want to hear the wild part?”
Basil leaned forward. “He managed to unlock his vehicle, and wound up spending the night — the whole night — at a restaurant.”
“He was celebrating?” asked Tabor.
Basil laughed. “He couldn’t remember where he lived!”
“You know,” said Tabor, “you read about geniuses like that when you’re a kid, or you watch funny holos about them, but even when you’re five years old you know no one like that really exists.” He smiled. “They’re going to have to move five thousand disks and e-books from the fiction to the non-fiction section of the library.”
“That’s why most of us would kill to work with him, even when he can’t put on matching socks or remember to comb his hair.”
“Yeah, I can see that,” said Tabor. “Now, about this world . . . ”
“I only know what I’ve heard and read,” answered Basil. “And what it’s named for.”
“That puts you ahead of me. What is it named for?”
Tabor frowned. “What’s Lovecraft? Some other world?”
“Howard Phillips,” answered Basil.
“I’m still in the dark.”
“He was a writer,” explained Basil.
“And he lived on Cthulhu?”
Basil chuckled. “He created it.”
“Let me get this straight,” said Tabor. “This Lovecraft is brilliant enough to build a goddamned world, and even so he needs Rupert’s help?”
Basil smiled and shook his head. “I’m not making myself clear. Howard Phillips Lovecraft — he called himself H. P., or at least he signed his name that way — was a fiction writer centuries, probably millennia, ago.” He paused. “Yeah, it has to be millennia, because we were still Earthbound.”
“And he wrote about this world, and it actually exists?”
Basil’s lips seemed to rattle as he exhaled deeply. “No, I’m still not explaining it. Cthulhu wasn’t a world at all.”
“Then what was it?” asked Tabor.
“I’m not even smiling. What was it?”
“So this was some kind of religion?” asked Tabor.
Basil shook his head. “No, the whole thing was fiction. Fantasy, actually. Cthulhu was a terrible entity, evil from head to toe. He was either a member of a race called the Old Ones, or he was worshipped by the Old Ones, all of whom vanished ages before Lovecraft wrote his stories.”
“And someone named this world after an evil demigod?” said Tabor, frowning.
“An evil demigod who never existed,” said Basil.
“Or so we hope,” said a familiar voice, and they turned to see Shenoy standing at the edge of the bridge, looking like he’d just awakened.
“Sit down, Rupert,” said Tabor, getting to his feet. “You look like you could use some coffee.”
“That would be nice,” said Shenoy, trudging over to the seat Tabor had vacated. “With some kind of sweetener.” A pause. “I think.”
Tabor prepared his coffee and brought it back to him. “So why do we hope that this god never existed?”
Shenoy stared at him as if he was crazy. “Do you want to live in a universe that has evil, malign gods? If so, you should join one of the Nac Zhe Anglan sects.”
Tabor chuckled awkwardly and shook his head. “I mean, why do we think there’s a chance in a billion that this god does exist?”
“We don’t know,” answered Shenoy. “That’s why we’re going there.”
“Just because it’s named for a creature that some writer made up thousands of years ago?”
Shenoy stared at him, and Tabor had a feeling that he stared at small insects exactly the same way. “Do you really think that’s the reason that my various employers equipped and paid for this expedition? I assume Mr. Lovecraft’s readers were impressionable, but I’d rather hoped we’ve outgrown that over the eons.”
“I don’t know why we’re going there,” replied Tabor, unable to keep the frustration out of his voice. “And I would like for someone to tell me what the hell this is all about.”
“Didn’t you ask when they assigned you to me?” said Shenoy curiously.
“If they knew why, they kept it to themselves.”
“Good!” said Shenoy decisively.
Tabor frowned. “Good?”
“Absolutely. I approve.”
“Might I ask why?”
“The fewer people who know about this, and about what seems to have happened there, the better.”
“Well, your bodyguard still doesn’t know,” said Tabor, “and has absolutely no idea what he’s supposed to protect you from.”
“If I knew what we will find there, I’d certainly tell you,” answered Shenoy. “In fact, if I knew what we’d find there, I’d have no reason to go.”
“Are you telling me that this is just a fishing expedition?” demanded Tabor irritably.
“Certainly not,” replied Shenoy. “Fish have nothing to do with it.”
Tabor exchanged looks with Basil, who seemed half-amused and half-weary by Shenoy’s answers.
“Let me rephrase that,” said Tabor.
“Yes, please do.”
“Is this just a fact-finding expedition?”
“Certainly,” answered Shenoy. “Aren’t all expeditions?”
“No, not all of them.”
“Really? How strange.”
“There’s a lot strange around here,” muttered Tabor.
Shenoy shook his head. “No, we’re still more than five hours away from Cthulhu. That’s where it’s strange.”
Tabor stared at him and decided to make one last attempt at getting a comprehensible answer. “Just what do you expect to find on Cthulhu?”
“Answers, dear boy,” said Shenoy. “Answers.”
“Call me Russ. I haven’t been a boy in thirty years — yours or anyone else’s.”
Tabor grimaced, pulled out his pocket computer, activated it, and stared at the screen.
“What are you doing?” inquired Shenoy curiously.
“Looking at a book that was written in High Antarean,” answered Tabor.
“You read High Antarean?” said Shenoy, obviously impressed.
“Not a word of it.”
“Then why . . . ?”
“Because it makes more sense than anything I’ve heard for the past ten minutes,” growled Tabor with an expression that convinced his two shipmates not to speak to him for the next five hours.
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