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The Gods of Sagittarius: Chapter Six
Last updated: Wednesday, March 1, 2017 19:39 EST
“This is Gadraxpath Grendel’s Mother, formerly known as Naccor Jute Vessel Kurryoccoc, notifying whatever agents of the Envacht Lu might be present in the system that we are approaching the wormhole terminus with the following coordinates.” She let the ship’s computer transmit the precise details while she relaxed on her command bench and considered the various beverage options open to her.
They were a bit limited until they passed through the wormhole. There was not much chance of an emergency during transit, but there was enough that she didn’t want to risk being even mildly impaired, as she would be if she indulged her taste for inebriating liquors. Inhaling veddash vapor was entirely out of the question.
She’d settled on hyrroxt tea with a squeeze of bni’am blood when, to her surprise, the ship’s transmitter came to life. She hadn’t expected any response from the Envacht Lu until they were much closer to the terminus.
“Gadraxpath Grendel’s Mother, this is Envacht Lu Revanship Suffer and Die, Execrable Ones. You are required to dock with us before any further approach to the terminus. We are now in orbit around this system’s eighth planet. Failure to follow our instructions will make you subject to Level Cadda-Bra-Thry chastisement.”
The transmitter fell silent. Startled by the announcement, Occo glanced quickly at the ship’s navigation screen. There was no sign of the revanship. But at this distance, there wouldn’t be.
Bresk’s fart resembled a minor thunderclad. “Hru!” it exclaimed. “Cadda-Bra-Thry? Are they joking? That’s where they –”
“Dismember the offending party before or after removing all sensory organs, I forget in which order. Yes, I know. And you should know that the Envacht Lu never joke.”
She’d already entered the new astrogation commands before she finished speaking. The ship’s AI completed the necessary computations and Grendel’s Mother set off on its altered course toward the eighth planet, Tridhab.
What conceivable reason could the Envacht Lu have for summoning her? They couldn’t possibly be objecting to her newly-recorded gadrax status. The Envacht Lu maintained scrupulous neutrality in all inter-creed disputes.
Well, she’d find out soon enough. Tridhab’s orbit had brought it closer to Flaak than it usually was, less than twelve light-medims away.
“Just looking at that thing makes me nervous,” said Bresk.
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Really? Your attitude reminds me of an ancient Human adage: ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself.’ Proving once again that they are the least sane intelligent species in the known galaxy. Leaving aside the Vitunpelay.”
As ridiculous as Bresk’s anxiety might be in any rational terms, Occo didn’t have any trouble understanding it. Especially when seen at close range, Envacht Lu revanships were . . .
To begin with, the ship was huge, as all revanships were. Suffer and Die, Execrable Ones was two and half times the size of the largest spacecraft made by any other species. Even Humans, with their notorious penchant for gigantism, never tried to construct vessels that large.
There was no reason to. Excessive size presented problems for interstellar travel. Revanships exceeded the capacity of smaller wormholes and their sheer mass would have precluded the use of any other method of FTL travel, even if Nac Zhe Anglan were not forbidden to use them by the terms of the Dessetrai Pact.
Other intelligent species ignored the provisions of the Pact and, with the exception of the Ebbo, routinely used one or another FTL technique besides wormhole travel. But all Nac Zhe Anglan creeds observed the Dessetrai protocols — and the Envacht Lu stood always ready to chastise apostasy. Only those who declared and registered themselves gadrax were exempt from the provisions.
The design of revanships was also bizarre. The flimsy-looking inverted cone which formed the craft’s bow was immense even in its purely material form. Once the revanship was in full flight, the electromagnetic field which the cone would project forward to scoop up interstellar gasses would be larger than most moons.
The cone at the stern was not as big, since its function was to exhaust the gas after the hydrogen was fused. But its diameter was still enormous. The fuselage of the revanship which connected the fore and aft cones looked downright slender in comparison, but it was actually larger both in dimensions and mass than any other type of spacecraft, even the bloated battleships favored by Human military forces.
There was a purpose behind the design, though. The Envacht Lu’s mission was not simply investigation and record-keeping. The order also served as the ultimate sanction against Nac Zhe Anglan creeds which transgressed the Dessetrai Pact, inimical alien species, and whoever or whatever else the Envacht Lu deemed a severe enough threat to propriety.
Revanships were the flaming spears of the Envacht Lu. Once the ramjets reached their maximum acceleration of 0.55 light speed during interstellar transit, they were for all practical purposes undetectable — and utterly unstoppable once they reentered a solar system.
At that speed they were useless in space battles, since their trajectories were difficult to change and impossible to change quickly. But against their intended targets, that mattered not at all. The trajectory of planets was even less changeable. Essentially unchangeable — unless it was struck by a revanship. A gas giant would probably survive such an impact, although no one had ever tried the experiment. But no small rocky planet would. Once a revanship was launched on such a retaliatory or punitive mission, it was in effect a planetary-scale suicide bomb.
The scariest thing about a revanship, in the end, was not the ship itself. It was the crew, which had been selected for that purpose. Self-selected, rather. They were all volunteers.
Grendel’s Mother reached the revanship’s dock. Connecting to the airlock took surprisingly little time. Or perhaps that was just a function of Occo’s none-too-relaxed state of mind.
What could the Envacht Lu possibly want from her?
The airlock began cycling.
“And Daniel enters the lion’s den,” said Bresk. The familiar was wheezing a little with trepidation.
“Who or what is a ‘daniel’ and a ‘lion’?” demanded Occo. “This is no time for word games.”
“It’s another Human reference. Daniel was more-or-less the equivalent of a Nac Zhe Anglan disciple — although no Nac Zhe Anglan creed ever subscribed to such lunatic notions as she did — I think she was female, anyway, although I’m not sure; it’s hard to tell with Humans — and as punishment for her theology she was apprehended by a Human demi-goddess by the name of Darius — who might have been a demi-god, now that I think about it –”
After they cycled through the airlock and entered the loading dock of the revanship, they were greeted by an Ebbo in a powered liftchair.
“Follow me,” it commanded. Quite abruptly, by Ebbo standards. The scholiasts were normally given to longwindedness on formal occasions — and they considered all occasions to be formal. With no further ado, the liftchair spun about and the Ebbo set off down a passageway entering the loading dock at a ninety degree angle. After taking a moment to orient herself, Occo realized the Ebbo was leading them toward the aft portion of the central fuselage. The loading dock was situated almost exactly in the middle of the huge craft.
They had to hurry to catch up. The Ebbo was making no attempt to moderate its speed to suit the normal walking pace of a Nac Zhe Anglan.
“Rude little bug!” commented Bresk, accentuating the statement with a fart.
Occo shared the sentiments, but she thought her familiar’s indignation was artificial. Bresk had attached itself to its mistress the moment it saw the Ebbo darting off, leaving it to Occo to haul it along floating just above and a little behind her.
The passageway came to a T-intersection ahead. The Ebbo zipped around the corner heading to the left — that was to say, deeper into the interior of the ship. Occo hurried her steps, but even so she could see no sign of their guide — using the term loosely indeed! — when she reached the intersection. The passageway the Ebbo had taken was a short one, ending in a small chamber with three hatches. The Ebbo must have gone through one of them — but which one? All three were shut.
She entered the chamber and examined each of the hatches.
“When in doubt,” Bresk pronounced, “always take the center option.”
“You have a one-in-three chance it will be the right one.”
“The same odds apply to all the doors.”
“Where does it come from, this fastidious obsession with mathematical minutia?” her familiar wondered. “Fine. Take the center option in line with your Naccor Jute doctrine of moral isotropy.”
“That’s ridiculous. Moral isotropy applies only to sublime issues, not choosing a pathway or a meal.”
“Fine. Take the center option –”
“Shut up. I’m thinking.”
Thought proved unnecessary. The hatch on the far left opened and the Ebbo peered through. The shelves above its eyesockets which were an extension of its exoskeleton were very pronounced and colored a pale green, indicating vexation.
“Why are you dawdling?” the Ebbo demanded. “Amerce Imposer Vrachi does not like to have her time wasted.” An instant later, it was gone again.
Occo restrained herself from making an equally rude response. She just headed for the still-open hatch. “Always choose the center option,” she muttered derisively.
“Not my fault,” said Bresk. “The Ebbo was obviously misgui — ark!”
Occo whistled with amusement. She’d moved so quickly that Bresk, still attached to her thorax and floating above her, had almost been rammed into the top edge of the hatch. The familiar shortened the attachment lines just in time to avoid the collision.
“You might have warned me!”
“There’s something wrong with your legs?”
That wasn’t really fair. Bresk did have legs, of a sort, but they were not designed for walking quickly. Occo didn’t normally mind having her familiar attached to her. She was just edgy and ill-humored because of the unexpected Envacht Lu demand for their presence.
But she made no apology. Just as it was a given that familiars were annoying, it was also a given that one of their functions was to be blamed for anything their mistresses and masters chose to blame them for.
The intrinsic injustice of the universe was the third of the four great truths, so why should familiars be exempt? Indeed, one could argue that heaping arbitrary and unjust accusations upon the creatures was simply an exercise in theological prudence.
They had to pass through two more hatches and connecting passageways before they finally reached the quarters of Amerce Imposer Vrachi. Each time the Ebbo would race ahead and then have to return to guide them through the next stage in their progress. Perhaps it was mentally defective. Occo had never heard of a mentally defective Ebbo — leaving aside the psychological peculiarities to which the entire species was subject — but she wasn’t all that familiar with them. No one was, really, except the Envacht Lu and a few scholars.
The Ebbo had played a critical role in the development of the Nac Zhe Anglan, both as a species and as a civilization. No one denied that incontrovertible truth. But that was all ancient history. Not for millennia had the Ebbo been of any great significance in the affairs of the galaxy. If it weren’t for their connection to the Envacht Lu — which no one outside of that secretive order understood at all — they would simply be one of several minor and obscure intelligent races confined to a small number of planets.
Much as Humans had been before their Diaspora. And as most other species wished Humans still were.
The personal quarters of Amerce Imposer Vrachi doubled as her office, as it turned out. One could as easily say “tripled” or even “quadrupled.” The gigantic scale on which the revanship was built meant that all permanent members of the crew had very expansive quarters. If a revanship set out upon a punitive strike — what the Envacht Lu called an Uttermost Reproach — there would only be a skeleton crew aboard. Just enough to keep the ship operational during the long years of relativistic travel, as the small crew rotated the duty of standing watch. They would spend most of the time in suspended animation.
Occo knew enough about Envacht Lu doctrine to know that the order believed such long and tedious watches were best done by solitary crew members. Two or three were likely to start quarreling. So, each member of the crew who had volunteered for Uttermost Reproach missions were provided with spacious quarters and a great deal in the way of what would be considered frivolous luxuries by most military units.
When they entered her quarters, Amerce Imposer Vrachi was squatting on a bench behind a desk which was of a size to match everything else on the revanship.
She wasted no time with pleasantries. “I have had your course analyzed. You are headed for one of four locations. The first is Nabborothrapto, whose Paskapan residents call a ‘sin planet.’ But since the sins involved are only suited to members of that noisome species and they label every one of their planets a ‘sin planet,’ I believe we can eliminate that possibility. The second is the Human world named New New Jersey. But even though Humans seem to title all of their settled colonies ‘new’ something, this one actually is new. Apparently it has less than a thousand permanent inhabitants. So I believe we can rule that one out, also. The third –”
Occo could see where this was going and saw no point in obfuscation. Attempting it, rather. She was quite sure that trying to fool an Envacht Lu Amerce Imposer was an exercise in futility.
“I am headed for Vlax Broche.”
Vrachi inclined her head. “As I suspected. More accurately, you are headed for the habitable moon of Vlax Broche known as Zayth. Where you intend to assault the Repository of the Old Ones despite its Nedru Concord guard force, presumably in order to steal one of the sacred relics. At a guess, either the Skerkud Teleplaser or the Warlock Variation Drive.”
Occo hadn’t realized the Skerkud Teleplaser was also contained in the Repository. She made an immediate decision to steal it as well, if at all possible. The Teleplaser was reputed to be a fearsome weapon. If one could make it work, of course — always an uncertain proposition when using Old One relics.
But she said nothing. She was beginning to get angry, regardless of the Envacht Lu’s ominous reputation.
“You have no right under the provisions of the Pact to question me concerning my gadrax intentions. I remind you –”
The Amerce Imposer raised a forehand. “Please. I am aware of that. But I do not raise this matter either to question you or to caution you concerning your plans. As you say, that is none of the Envacht Lu’s concern. What is our concern — and recognized as such by the Dessetrai Pact — is the possibility that the destruction of your home cloister transgressed the bounds of propriety. In which case, we may be obliged to deliver an Uttermost Reproach.”
Occo stared at her. “But . . . Against who?”
Vrachi inclined her head again. “Precisely the question that needs to be answered. And I believe the question whose answer you are determined to ferret out, no? So I am requiring you to maintain regular contact with the Envacht Lu –”
She extended her forehand to forestall Occo’s gathering protest. “Gadrax! I am well within my perquisites to make this demand, so long as I understand that you are not required to deflect your own mission — whatever that may be, and please note that I do not inquire — for the sake of maintaining such contact. That said, it is quite possible your travels — wherever they may take you and please note that I do not inquire — will bring you within reasonable proximity of an Envacht Lu station or vessel. In which case you will be required to report whatever you have learned.”
The Amerce Imposer grew stiff and angular, foreboding in every aspect. “And do not doubt that we will discover if you choose at any point to evade that responsibility. The penalty is severe.”
Vrachi wiggled a digit at the Ebbo, who had been busily working at its scribe station. “The specifics, Academe Lwa.”
“It’s quite elaborate,” said the Ebbo, for the first time animated by enthusiasm rather than irritation. “One begins by immobilizing the miscreant and surgically removing –”
“Enough!” snapped Occo. “I do not contest your right to require such reports, Amerce Imposer Vrachi. I will do as I am obliged. Assuming, of course, that the opportunity arises. Is our business here concluded?”
“I believe so. I cannot wish you well on your project, of course. On the other hand, I cannot wish you ill, either.”
Occo rose. The Ebbo eyed her in a manner which made clear than the past moment’s gaiety had been replaced by the scholiast’s normal sour mien.
“I know the way out,” said Occo. And with no further ado, made deed follow word.
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