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The Gods of Sagittarius: Chapter Five
Last updated: Friday, February 24, 2017 21:03 EST
Occo didn’t go far to set up her own camp. Just far enough from the Envacht Lu encampment to get away from them and find a location that didn’t remind her of her now-vanished home cloister.
She settled on the far slope of a rocky, barren crag which had a meadow large enough to land her flyer.
“Why are we stopping here?” Bresk demanded. “The whole planet’s a pile of effluvium. Let’s just go back to the ship and leave the system altogether.”
Occo was tempted to order the miserable literally-a-creature (hers, sadly) to shut itself down but refrained. There were actually some good reasons the familiar should understand her plans, even if that triggered off another flood of complaints.
“We can’t. Once we get to the ship I want to depart the system as quickly as possible in case there are any spy craft lurking on one of the moons. But now that the Envacht Lu has established their paramountcy in the system I can’t get clearance from their traffic control unless I give them the wormhole coordinates we’ll be using.”
“So? We’re just returning to Redlych, right? I have those coordinates right here in my data bank.” Briefly, it manifested a virtual display above its mantle crest.
“We are not returning to Redlych. We’re going somewhere we’ve never been. Finding the coordinates we need to get there via sanctioned wormholes will require working through a good chunk of the night.”
“Ridiculous. You may be hopelessly inept at mathematics but I’m not. Give me a few medims and I’ll have them worked out for you.”
“Not for this location. We#8217;ll need to search the Gray Archives and piece together the information. I know it can be reached by using the sanctioned wormhole grid, but I have no idea what route we’d need to take. You know what the Gray Archives are like.”
Bresk issued a very loud fart. “Whatever’s the antonym of well-organized and coherent. Humans have a clever expression for it: mare’s nest. The modern meaning of the phrase is ‘a place, condition, or situation of great disorder or confusion’ but the original meaning might be more appropriate to whatever madness you’re contemplating now. It seems a ‘mare’ was a type of large animal on the humans’ home world which didn’t make nests to begin with. So it meant going in search of a nonexistent thing, just as you’d expect of the blithering fool you’re turning into.”
“Why are you suddenly plaguing me with Human references? They’re the most ridiculous sentient species in the known galaxy. Well, leaving aside the Vitunpelay — but in theological terms even the Vitunpelay are rational compared to Humans.”
“Exactly. Who better to cite when I’ve been dragged against my will –”
“You’re a familiar. By definition, you have no will.”
“Fine. Against my virtual will into a maelstrom of unreason. Which I’m sure is where you’re thinking of taking us next. Bound to be, if we’ve got to muck around in the Gray Archives. So where are we going?”
“The moon — I can’t remember the name — orbiting Vlax Broche.”
“The Vlax Broche? The seventh planet in the Hrea system?”
“Is there any other?”
“Not that I know of. I was just grasping at any faint hope that might remain that we weren’t plunging into complete folly. You do know that the Repository of the Old Ones is guarded by the Nedru Concord Skein of Creeds?”
By now, Occo had emerged from the flyer onto the relative expanse of the meadow. The sun was setting. Between that and the high altitude, the heat was tolerable. And the weather looked to be decent, although on Flaak that was always unpredictable. But she thought they’d be able to work out here instead of in the cramped confines of the flyer. She ordered the flyer’s computer to manifest itself.
“The Nedru haven’t been challenged in so long that I think they’ll be sluggish,” she said, watching the virtual screen emerge before her. “We’ll need to move fast, though.”
“Move fast to do what?”
“Steal the Warlock Variation Drive.”
Bresk fell silent. The familiar’s mantle flared for a moment, exposing the drones nestled within. The tiny cyborgs peered out at Occo as if they were observing a great wonder for the first time. That was just an illusion, since their eyes were always big and round. Still, they were awfully cute.
Completely brainless, of course. Too bad familiars couldn’t be designed the same way.
Bresk’s mantle flared in and out a few times. That was its way of hyperventilating.
The blessed silence ended all too soon. “There must have been a mutation somewhere as you were gestating which stunted the portion of your brain that gauges risks. Luckily for your species, you won’t live long enough to pass it on to future generations. Unluckily for your familiar, you probably will live long enough to take me down with you.”
“I have a plan.”
“Of course you do. That’s part of the risk-gauging impairment. You think that if you have a plan that it will work — which are actually two completely different propositions. Like thinking that because you can jump off a cliff intact you can land the same way. Humans have a term for this too, being the most insane species in existence. Well, leaving aside the Vitunpelay. They call it the Evel Knievel Syndrome, after their god of folly. It’s worth noting, though, that Evel Knievel is said to have the divine power to heal all its broken bones — a power which you notably do not possess.”
“Shut up.” Occo keyed the initial search parameters into her forearm comp. The virtual screen began taking shape and displaying what little coherence the Gray Archives possessed.
“I can’t shut up. You programmed me to caution you when you were on the verge of doing something foolish. It’s my bounden duty — my sacred calling, you could almost say — as your familiar. Stealing the Warlock Variation Drive qualifies as foolish. I should say, trying to steal the Warlock Variation Drive qualifies as foolish.”
“I told you, I have a plan.” She began accessing the data in the Gray Archives; as always, a tedious process.
“Even worse, if the plan succeeds. Trying to use the Warlock Variation Drive qualifies as dementia. Or are you unaware of the reason for the word ‘variation’ in the title?”
Occo decide that ignoring Bresk was her best course of action. There was always the chance the familiar would cease and desist.
Faint chance, of course.
“I interpret your silence as an indication of ignorance. Let me enlighten you, then. The Warlock Drive held in the Repository of the Old Ones, as opposed to the other three known or rumored to exist, is called the ‘Variation’ version because its workings are not only unpredictable — that’s true of all of them — but change as the Drive unfolds. I say ‘unfolds’ because, assuming that you are ignorant of this matter also, the Drive does not actually work like an engine. Insofar as anyone has ever been able to discern its mechanism — using the term ‘mechanism’ oh so very very loosely — the Drive is actually not a ‘drive’ at all but a device which develops alternative modes of existence. At apparent random. Whatever its logic might be, it is said to be indecipherable.”
Occo couldn’t bear the jabber any longer. “Shut. Up. You know what I think of the Nedru Concord’s gospel. The reason they believe functioning artifacts of the Old Ones cannot be analyzed is because they believe the Old Ones used technology based on scientific knowledge beyond our ken. Whereas –”
“Oh, that’s right, I forgot. My creator and mistress subscribes to the — happily now extinct — creed of the Naccor Jute, among whose many whimsical notions is the idea that the Old Ones used actual magic.”
“Just ‘magic’, please. The phrase ‘actual magic’ is tautological.”
“Only if magic exists.”
The search program finally reached the desired section of the Gray Archives. Occo began studying the records of ancient voyages, concentrating on those in this spiral arm.
“And the proposition that magic exists,” Bresk continued, “is not accepted by any of the creeds except your own — excuse me, that should be ‘except the creed you used to belong to but do no longer because it’s deader than last eon’s fossils’ — and the two schismatic branches of the Meije Salmagundi, about which nothing further needs to be said because –”
Occo decided that Bresk didn’t need to witness the rest of the search process. And — again — congratulated herself for having included a lockdown procedure when she fashioned the familiar.
“Up you must shut.”
Bresk fell instantly silent. Its mantle sagged and the faceted eyes turned dull. Peace and tranquility returned to the meadow as Occo continued her search of the records.
Eventually, Occo determined the route she’d need to take. It would be circuitous but she’d expected that. Even as arrogant as they were, the Nedru Concord Skein of Creeds had been prudent enough to situate the treasury of their most precious relics on a planet that could not be reached easily from anywhere in the Nac Zhe Anglan commonwealth.
Darkness enfolded her as soon as she shut down the Gray Archives and the computer’s virtual screen vanished. Startled, she looked up. She hadn’t realized how much time had gone by.
The night sky on Flaak was drab, even when it wasn’t overcast. Neither of the small moons cast much light, and only one of them was visible now anyway. Flaak was one of those rare planets on which multicellular life had evolved despite the absence of a large moon. Fairly primitive multicellular life, admittedly. No flowering plants had ever evolved. Even the gymnosperm analogs were very simple, and the only animal life on land was small and exoskeletal.
There was almost no starlight, at least in this southern hemisphere. Flaak’s stellar neighborhood was dominated by a nebula that obscured most of the galaxy. That was one of the reasons it had been chosen as the site for the Naccor Jute’s home cloister. Given modern astrography, trying to hide within or near a nebula was of minimal concealment value. But the Naccor Jute had been a weak creed in military and political terms and had taken advantage of every safeguard it could.
Which had still not been enough, as it turned out. Someone had found them. Occo still didn’t know that someone’s identity. All she knew so far was that it had been someone in possession of usable Old One weaponry — or perhaps derivative of such weaponry — and someone who possessed an unusual degree of animosity toward the Naccor Jute. Even by the standards of the ancient and never-ending struggle among the many creeds of the Nac Zhe Anglan, completely obliterating a creed’s home cloister was unusual. Not exactly unheard of, but certainly not standard or normal behavior.
Unless the devastation had not been carried out by a rival Nac Zhe Anglan creed at all, but by something else, in which case all assessments were haphazard. The exotic method of destruction at least raised the possibility that despite all their precautions the Naccor Jute had drawn the attention of supernatural entities. Those could be remnants or descendants of the Old Ones, or the demons who were theorized to have destroyed their rule of the universe.
(Or their rule of the galaxy, which had been the Naccor Jute’s own tentative hypothesis. Was it plausible that a divine race which could rule an entire spacetime continuum could be overthrown by any other power? It did not seem likely.)
It was also possible that whoever destroyed her home cloister could be supernatural powers altogether unknown or even speculated about. No creed of the Nac Zhe Anglan, not even the most dogmatic, believed that it understood everything about the Age of the Old Ones.
Occo began clambering back aboard the flyer. As always, the process of entering the small craft was arduous. The flyer was of Chlarrac manufacture. The Naccor Jute had been forced to economize wherever possible, and Chlarracan products were usually cheaper than those produced by any Nac Zhe Anglan creed. But their atmospheric flyers — the inexpensive ones, at any rate — were not well-designed for the Nac Zhe Anglan species.
The bauplan of the Chlarrac, like that of Humans, was centered on the spinal structural mechanism known as vertebra. Such a peculiar structure inevitably resulted in a rather delicate physique, but it had the undeniable advantage of imparting flexibility as well. Presumably — she’d never seen one actually engaged in the activity — a Chlarrac could easily wriggle itself through the small aperture leading into the flyer’s interior. But for Occo, with her sturdy Nac Zhe Anglan quadripedal and blocky-torsoed body, the task was a nuisance at best.
Once she was finally aboard, she extended her auxiliary speaking tube out of the aperture and called down to Bresk. “Revive you must.”
Immediately, the familiar’s immobility ended. Bresk’s eyes began to glitter again and it scanned the skies.
“That long!” it complained bitterly. “You had me out that long?”
“We’re leaving in ten minims. With or without you.”
Bresk farted anxiously and hurried into the flyer. With its ability to glide through the air and its small and semi-globular body, the familiar had none of Occo’s difficulty doing so. It was aboard in less than seven minims.
It took Occo less than fifteen medims to reach orbit and not more than another twenty to dock with their spacecraft.
Getting aboard the spacecraft was not difficult, leaving aside the task of squeezing out of the flyer itself. The spacecraft was also of Chlarrac design and manufacture, but the Naccor Jute had been willing to expend more credit to have it configured for Nac Zhe Anglan occupants. Senior castigants like Occo were hardly showered with luxuries, but they weren’t subject to the worst frugalities, either.
They received a few perquisites, too. One of them was the privilege of naming their spacecraft. When Occo was given this one after her ordination, she had named it Kurryoccoc: Shadow Wife.
It now needed to be renamed also. As she began the launch sequence, she pondered the possibilities.
Battan Kruy: Widow of Slaughter. That had a nice reek to it, like the stench of butchery.
Or possibly she should stray farther afield, sever all ties to her personal history . . .
Perhaps . . . Hrikk u Cha? Trader in Death?
Then a whimsical thought came to her. She swiveled her head to face Bresk. “What did you say that Human monster was named?”
“Grendel it is, then.” She brought her head back to face the computer. “Record name change of spacecraft. Eradicate Kurryoccoc. Replace with –”
Her familiar farted derision. “If you insist on pursuing this madness, at least name the ship after the greater monster in the legend.”
She paused. “There’s a greater one?”
“Sure. Grendel’s Mother.”
A new question occurred to her. “That’s right, I forgot. Humans have two genders also. Which was Grendel?”
That wouldn’t do at all.
“Ship,” she commanded, “rename yourself Grendel’s Mother. And set course for the wormhole terminus.” She didn’t need to specify which terminus since Flaak’s system had only one. Which, of course, was another reason it had been chosen as the location for the home cloister.
Again, in vain. Now that she was finally leaving, having settled on her course of action, she allowed herself to be flooded with sorrow.
To sorrow, alas, was added vexation.
“Oh, yes, Grendel’s Mother was by far the nastier monster!” Bresk enthused. “Just listen to this:
ides, aglæc-wifyrmþe gemunde
se þe wæter-egesanwumian scolde . . . “
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