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The Gods of Sagittarius: Chapter Seven
Last updated: Monday, March 6, 2017 18:27 EST
Occo and Bresk passed through the first wormhole on their voyage a short time later. This was the wormhole which would take them to the Masc Bleddin system, the largest wormhole nexus in their stellar vicinity. From there, they would have a choice of no fewer than seven wormholes to take in the next stage of their mission. Five of those seven wormholes were located within the magnetosphere of the Masc Bleddin system’s gas giant planet, Tranxegg.
The planet was so huge that it was almost a brown dwarf and had a magnetosphere to match. That made it effectively impossible for detection systems to keep track of an object as small as a spaceship that came close enough to Tranxegg to use one of the wormholes, unless the detection was done at close range or by the use of visible light. But since all of the wormholes were also within the orbit of the giant planet’s spectacular — and obscuring — rings, that made Tranxegg an ideal wormhole cluster for anyone to use who did not want their destination to be self-evident.
The Envacht Lu knew or at least suspected where Occo was headed, but everyone else would remain unsuspecting — especially the Nedru Concord Skein of Creeds. The Nedru were powerful but she thought she had a good chance of succeeding in her purpose if she took them completely by surprise.
It was always possible, of course, that the Nedru or someone else had placed a string of monitor satellites in a ball-of-twine orbital pattern that would enable them to detect the wormhole she used. But it was highly unlikely that the Nedru would have done so, given the great distance between Tranxegg and Vlax Broche. And if anyone else had done so, why would they inform the Nedru, who were as unpopular as they were powerful?
The term “wormhole” was a misnomer stemming from the earliest days of interstellar exploration. One of the first sublight ramjet expeditions set out to investigate one of Angla’s closest neighbors, a G4 star which it had been determined was orbited by at least one possibly habitable planet. The planet was not only inhabitable, it was inhabited by Ebbo. They were not colonists; the Ebbo rarely engaged in colonization, then or since. Instead, they were a survey expedition themselves, one of many sent out by the Ebbo to chart the pathways that permitted travel between the stars that was effectively faster than light. “Effectively” faster, because no vessel actually exceeded the speed of light. But from the standpoint of the traveler, the distinction was purely theoretical. One entered a wormhole, as the Ebbo called the peculiar pathways, and one emerged in another star system that might be as much as thirty-seven light-years away. For reasons no one had ever determined, thirty-seven light-years seemed to be the maximum distance one could travel using this method. Longer distances required two or more wormholes.
The Ebbo were not a species much given to purely abstract science, however. They were, here as in all things, the galaxy’s nonpareil practitioners of obsessive-compulsive behavior. They found the wormhole network, as they saw it, through purely pragmatic endeavors. Using it to full measure required charting the intricate complexities of the network, which — in the absence of theoretical analysis — required centuries of painstaking (and sometimes quite dangerous) exploration.
But Nac Zhe Anglan theorists eventually realized that what the Ebbo saw as a network of wormholes — as if there really were some sort of tunnels all through the spacetime continuum — was actually something quite different. They concluded that the pathways were fissures produced by the constant intersection and interpenetration of the untold number of branes which seemed to be the basic structure of a multi-universe reality. The fissures were temporary, not permanent, but since the time scale on which branes operated was vastly greater than the scales used by sentient species, the distinction was of purely theoretical interest. By the time a fissure that allowed travel from one star to another finally closed or evaporated, at least one of those stars would have moved off the main sequence or become a supernova.
That discovery — if such it could be called; it was really more in the way of a theoretical hypothesis — came just in time to forestall what had looked to be a great religious war in the making. By the time Nac Zhe Anglan theorists decided that the Ebbo analysis was incorrect, hundreds of expeditions had explored Angla’s stellar vicinity to a distance of several hundred light-years. And everywhere the Nac Zhe Anglan went, they found the traces and relics of a civilization so ancient it predated the emergence of multicellular life on Angla itself.
Traces and relics only, however. They found no living members of the race they came to call the Old Ones, nor even any species that seemed to be their descendants — although that was purely an hypothesis also. No one actually knew what the Old Ones had looked like. No fossils had ever been found, nor any visual images. The assumptions made about them were basely purely on the size, dimensions and details of their ruins.
The discoveries triggered a great religious awakening in the Nac Zhe Anglan. All faiths predating interstellar travel were either swept aside or subsumed within the new and far more vigorous creeds that emerged. There was no single persuasion that prevailed but rather a great constellation of dogmas, which conflicted with each other as often as they agreed. A few basic principles, however, were generally shared by all:
First, that the Old Ones were either deific or demonic in nature. That was the first point of agreement — and also, of course, the initial great schism. The first of the religious wars which dominated the early centuries of interstellar travel was fought (more or less) over this matter of dispute.
Second, that such immensely powerful beings could only have been destroyed by still more powerful antagonists. These might be either deific or demonic themselves, but they presumably had to be one or the other. The second great schism — it would be better to say, bipartite schism — thus produced four basic doctrines. Or rather, four basic doctrinal constellations:
There were those who held that the Old Ones were deific and had been utterly destroyed by the demons. The conclusion which inexorably followed was that the universe was dominated by evil — a proposition in support of which, of course, there was much evidence.
Secondly, there were those who held that the Old Ones had been demonic and had been destroyed by beings still more demonic. The conclusion which inexorably followed was that the universe was dominated by great evil — a proposition in support of which there was still greater evidence.
Thirdly, there were those who held that the Old Ones were deific and had won the great conflict, but at such a terrible cost that only a few survived, and those much weakened. The conclusion which inexorably followed was that the universe was dominated by chaos — a proposition in support of which there was enormous evidence — but which held the possibility, at least, of the eventual triumph of good. For which the evidence was admittedly very slender.
Fourthly, there were those who held that the Old Ones were demonic and had lost the great conflict, but at such a terrible cost that only a few of the greater demons had survived, and those much weakened. The conclusion which inexorably followed was that the universe was dominated by chaos but that the possibility existed that chaos would be eventually superseded by supreme evil.
This fourth doctrinal constellation then fell out among themselves over the issue of whether the triumph of evil over chaos was to be welcomed or opposed. Thus arose the factions between whom eight fierce religious wars had so far been fought, none of them with decisive conclusion.
In addition to these major divisions, innumerable smaller sects and creeds emerged as well. Naccor Jute, the one to which Occo belonged — or had belonged; she still didn’t know if there were any other survivors — was considered outrageously agnostic by all other creeds. Just barely short of outright atheists! For it was the Naccor Jute#8217;s basic proposition that the distinctions between the Old Ones and their destroyers — whom the Naccor Jute simply called the Other Old Ones — were all meaningless. Deific or demonic? All one and the same, from the perspective of the Nac Zhe Anglan, or indeed any sentient but non-divine species.
The conclusion which inexorably followed was that the universe was dominated by chaos and evil but that taking sides in this conflict was the height of irrationality. All that a sane intelligent species could hope for was to stay unnoticed by whatever deific/demonic/it-made-no-difference-beings might still exist while it searched — quite possibly in vain — for some method to destroy the whole lot of supernatural monsters.
Whatever their disputes, however, all Nac Zhe Anglan creeds were agreed on some points of a practical nature. They had forged the Dessetrai Pact centuries earlier and had created the Envacht Lu as the neutral arbiter to enforce its provisions.
The first of those provisions was that no one should do anything to attract the attention of whatever Old Ones or their enemies might still be at large in the universe. The second provision — perhaps assessment would be a more precise term — was that any form of interstellar travel which in any way disturbed or transgressed or contravened or trespassed upon the innate structure of reality was likely to draw such unwanted attention. Thus, the only permissible forms of interstellar travel were either sublight or used the natural fissures produced by the brane intersections.
At the great convocation which produced the Dessetrai Pact, debate and dispute also waged hot and heavy as to whether the provisions of the Pact should be enforced on alien species as well, up to and including the penalty of extermination if violated. In the end, however, the position advanced by the temporary faction known as the Epistemological Inducement prevailed. According to this school of thought, having stupid or irredeemably optimistic aliens around who drew the attention of malevolent supernatural beings was entirely to the advantage of the Nac Zhe Anglan, since it would distract such gods and/or demons from the Nac Zhe Anglan themselves.
The dispute was so intense, however, that it could only be resolved by the adoption of the so-called Gadrax Clause. This permitted individual members of the Nac Zhe Anglan species to withdraw from certain provisions of the Pact, provided they did so by notifying the Envacht Lu and formally registering themselves as having chosen gadrax status. Thereafter, they became outlaws — but outlaws with a recognized and, if you will, quasi-legal status. Any creed which chose to do so was free to liquidate any or all gadrax, with no penalty accruing therefrom. But the Envacht Lu would remain scrupulously neutral in the matter.
The convocation which produced the Dessetrai Pact was attended by observers from several alien species. These included one Human, and groups of Paskapans — at that time known as Jeffratu — and the species which had formerly gone by the name of Wravelli but which adopted the term Vitunpelay given them at the Convocation by the one Human attendee.
The Human observer was a Finnish explorer named Jarkko Järvinen, the analog for Humans in the early interstellar era of Magellan or Captain Cook. The term “Paskapan” was a slightly corrupted version of the Finnish term for “shithead” and was universally agreed to be such an apt depiction of the species-formerly-known-as-Jeffratu that it was adopted over time by all other intelligent species. That included, eventually — sometimes grudgingly but more often with swaggering braggadocio — the Jeffratu themselves. Järvinen was also the one who bestowed the term Vitunpelay on those who had formerly called themselves the Wravelli. The term Vitunpelay was a corruption of the Finnish term for “fucking clowns.” It says something about the Vitunpelay that they were so charmed by the term that they immediately adopted it themselves, once they learned what it meant.
The Human explorer Jarkko Järvinen made no attempt to bestow a new name on the Nac Zhe Anglan, simply satisfying himself with the probably-disrespectful-but-who-cared-what-Humans-thought nickname of “the Knacks.” He left immediately upon the conclusion of the Dessetrai Pact, saying nothing about its results. Some Nac Zhe Anglan did observe, however, that he changed the name on the bow of his huge spacecraft from Sibelius to Been to the Madhouse and Escaped. The title was probably disrespectful but who cared what Humans thought about anything?
The Jeffratu made no public comment. They offered to sell their opinions, Jeffratu being indeed Paskapans. But there were no customers since by then all Nac Zhe Anglan attending the Convocation had come to adopt the term “Paskapan” as well.
As for the Vitunpelay, the only recorded remark made by one of them, upon the conclusion of the Dessetrai Convocation, was: “And they call us fucking clowns?”
The passage through the wormhole that Occo chose in the Tranxegg cluster was uneventful, at least in the sense that she was quite sure her spaceship had gone undetected.
The passage was unpleasant, of course. Gas giants often produced — or gathered; no theorist had yet been able to determine which — clusters of wormholes, so they were quite familiar to Nac Zhe Anglan interstellar travelers. As often as they were used, however, no one enjoyed the experience.
Which was, in a word, turbulent. From a distance, a gas giant planet looks serene and colorful. Up close, the colors shift from peaceful pastels to their true angry hues, and any craft which approaches close enough to use one of the wormholes will inevitably encounter traces of the atmosphere. Even such traces, given the velocities involved, will cause any spacecraft no matter how massive to experience a form of travel that was far more violent than anything usually encountered by interstellar voyagers.
Occo had been through the experience many times, however, so she maintained her stoic demeanor.
Bresk had been through the experience just as many times, but it was a familiar. Stoicism was not one of the creature’s modes of thought. So, it complained constantly and bitterly.
Complaints which Occo, of course, ignored. Being as she was, a stoic.
She did find herself wondering what the famous Human explorer Jarkko Järvinen would have called a Nac Zhe Anglan shaman’s familiar, had he ever met one.
Eventually, it occurred to her to ask Bresk itself. The familiar was an endless font of useless information, after all.
“How am I supposed to know?” Bresk demanded. “Järvinen spoke Finnish. Do you know what that is? One of the more obscure dialects of a species that produces dialects the way fungi produce spores. Ask me what he would have called me if he spoke one of the common dialects like English or Chinese or Arabic or Spanish. I only know a few hundred words in Finnish.”
A thought occurred to her. “Do you know the Finnish word for ‘fungus’?”
“‘Sietämätön,’ I think. No, wait. That might be the word for ‘insufferable’ or ‘unendurable.'”
“That’ll do well enough. Bresk, I hereby rename you Sietämätön.”
“You’re not pronouncing it right,” protested the familiar.
Whether she was pronouncing it right or not, Occo eventually decided the new name was too much work so she went back to calling her familiar Bresk. Still, the name-change distracted her enough to make the rest of the transit to the wormhole bearable if not enjoyable.
The passage through the wormhole was very brief, more so than most. They’d only traveled a few light-years to their next wormhole, this one located in the system of a very placid red dwarf.
“Three more to go,” she murmured to herself.
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