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The Gods of Sagittarius: Chapter Nine
Last updated: Monday, March 13, 2017 21:15 EDT
As it turned out, Bresk was an optimist.
Nothing — not one single thing — went as Occo had planned.
To begin with, the command center of the shipyard denied them permission to land.
“– obviously no way you can control your craft. Under the circumstances, you are ordered to attempt a landing somewhere in the Glagnu Desert south of the shipyard. In the unlikely event you survive, a salvage and rescue expedition will be sent out as soon as convenient. We salute your imminent martyrdom.”
“How do you want me to respond?” asked Bresk.
“Make it seem as if our communication system is damaged.”
“That’s a good plan. Too bad it’s in service of lunacy.” The familiar went on, however, to carry out the order to perfection.
“– understand what you’re saying. Our comm unit is badly — screet! screet! baaaaaatooey! — interpret your fragmented — urgle-
urgle-urgle-thraa! — to land at the southern end of the yard — krupty-krupty-krupty-SCREEEEEEEET!!! — that correct? If not — quabbladingthrongtootootootootooSCREEEEETTTT!!!”
The shipyard’s command center repeated its demand that they steer the ship into the desert to the south. In response, Bresk continued to fake comm system damage.
“– southern end of the shipyard. Yes, we understand. But — screet! screet! — may not be able to — vraddavraddavraddakruptyKOOO!! — do our best.”
The command center became insistent.
“– most severe penalties if you persist — “
“– repeat, please. You now want us to land in the western portion of the — screet! screet! — that correct?”
“— punishments and chastisements so harsh and brutal that younglings will whisper about them for eons if you do not immediately — ”
All to no avail. The ship was now practically skimming the surface of the desert as it continued to race toward the northern edge of the shipyard. That is to say, the portion of the shipyard that was directly adjacent to the Repository of the Old Ones.
“– thank you again for your assistance. Wish us good fortune. We should — SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEET!!”
Bresk broke off all communications and said: “Too bad there’s no award for faked distress calls. I’d be sure to win — what are you doing? We’re supposed to end at the Repository wall not smash into it!”
Unfortunately, the second thing not going according to plan was that Occo really had very little control over the ship. The broken-off piece of the other ship, which had served so well as a surfboard to get them out of Vlax Broche’s atmosphere, was nothing but a hindrance now.
She’d wanted to wait until they’d almost reached the wall before detaching the fragment, in hopes that it would breach the wall when it struck. But she could wait no longer. Her own ship might crash far too short of the Repository if she didn’t detach the piece immediately.
She sent the signal to the grenade and it promptly exploded.
At which point, the third thing went wrong. For reasons that defied comprehension, the fragment of the other ship refused to break loose.
The fourth thing went wrong immediately following. The force of the explosion caused her ship to start cartwheeling through the sky — or rather, that tiny sliver of sky which still remained to her. On the third cartwheel, the fragment finally detached but the tail end of her own ship slammed into the tarmac of the shipyard.
The tarmac, as was always the case with major shipyards, was made of a ceramic material whose hardness made diamonds seem like pillows. Grendel’s Mother started to come apart as well.
The first parts to go — this could be labeled either the fifth or the fifth and sixth things to go wrong — were the forward directional jets.
Then the entire tail came off. Since Occo was wearing her combat armor with its self-contained breathing supply, the sudden decompression didn’t affect her.
Bresk issued a pronounced WHOOSH as it lost control of its flotation sac and began bouncing off the walls of the cabin. Fortunately, the same reflex that emptied the flotation sac caused its mantle to compress, so none of the drones were lost.
Even more fortunately, the collapse of the sac made it effectively impossible for the familiar to speak, thus saving Occo from a barrage of complaints and invective.
Not so fortunately, Bresk was powered by an internal energy pack and was not dependent on oxygen. Any sort of gas would do as long as it had some light elements. Carbon dioxide, the main gas of Zayth’s atmosphere, was heavier than Bresk would have preferred, but it served well enough as a medium of speech.
So, the silence was brief.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING? You’ll kill us both if you don’t — AKH!!”
The final inarticulate cry of despair was produced by the scene unfolding on the still-intact vision screen. What was left of Grendel’s Mother had pancaked on the tarmac, skipped into the air, and was now hurtling toward the Repository wall.
WHAM-WHAM-WHAM-WHUMP. Skeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee . . . . . The crippled ship skipped several times, landed on its belly, and was now skidding across the tarmac. The nose of the ship — what was left of it, anyway — would be smashing into the Repository right about —
Bresk just had time to get into its own safety harness before —
The noise was indescribable. Partly because Occo and Bresk were too shaken up to be paying much attention to any sensory inputs.
Amazingly, the vision screen still functioned. Gazing up at it, a bit groggily, Occo saw that Grendel’s Mother had taken down the wall itself. As her vision cleared and she saw the dust still billowing in the hole the ship had torn in the Repository wall, she realized that not more than a few minims could have passed.
Thank that which obscured the vision of the Old Ones! This was the first piece of good luck they’d had since they left Vlax Broche. Now all she had to do was figure out how to get out of the wreckage of the ship and find her way to the hole.
Belatedly, it dawned on her that she was looking at the hole. Right in front of her, with her own eyes. Not through the screen, which . . .
She glanced around. Seemed to be in a thousand pieces. Apparently the impact had destroyed the front part of Grendel’s Mother along with the Repository wall.
She removed her safety harness and approached the hole. Gingerly, she tapped the ragged edge with her gauntlet and studied the temperature reading.
The torn metal was hot, naturally. But she thought if she moved fast enough she could get through without any serious damage to her combat suit. On the other hand, there was no way Bresk could do the same. Her familiar didn’t use combat armor, just its own tough integument, since it was indifferent to whatever atmosphere it might encounter. Bresk could even handle the hard vacuum of space as long as it wasn’t subjected to too much radiation.
How to get it through . . .
The familiar provided the answer itself. “Just toss me. The hole’s big enough if you don’t fumble it. Which you probably will given the way you’ve fumbled everything for the past –”
Occo pitched the creature through the hole.
“– but I’ll admit that was a pretty good toss.” This was said after Bresk landed on the floor of the Repository. It inflated its sac but remained on the surface.
“What I feared,” the familiar complained. “I’ll need to reconfigure my catabolic settings to work from carbon dioxide instead of water vapor. In the meantime, you’ll have to carry me.”
Carefully, doing her best to avoid any contact with the hot edges of the hole, Occo came into the Repository.
She was sorely tempted to tell Bresk to use its own feet, but restrained the impulse. She needed to move quickly and her familiar’s waddle would simply be an impediment.
Besides, it didn’t really weigh very much. She picked Bresk up and settled it on the attachments provided for the purpose on the rear torso of her armor. Then, looked around.
Where was the Warlock Variation Drive? She’d seen enough of the Repository to know that the building was huge.
Glancing around, she saw no diagrams or maps on the walls — which were entirely bare. In fact, the Repository itself seemed entirely bare, from what she could see of it. The large room they were in held nothing at all. That portion of the adjoining room that was visible looked to be more of the same.
There being no other place to go, she passed through an archway into the next room.
Empty. But there were archways on all three walls, leading into further chambers.
Quick glances showed that two of those rooms were just as bare and seemed to have no further means of egress. The third room she examined was also bare, but there was an archway on the wall to the right. She headed that way.
Before she’d taken more than three steps into the room, however, a robot rolled into the chamber. The robot was half her height. Like her, it had four legs, but they ended in wheels instead of pads.
“Greetings!” it chirped. “Welcome to the Repository of the Old Ones! May I be of assistance to our distinguished guests?”
Not programmed by a security force, clearly.
“Yes. I’m looking for the Warlock Variation Drive.”
“One of our most treasured items! We have it on display in the Hall of Saints. Follow me, please.”
The robot spun around and headed off. Fortunately, unlike the Ebbo who’d been their guide in the revanship, the robot took its responsibilities quite seriously. It monitored Occo with its rear vision orbs and adjusted its speed to match her pace.
Which was swift. Not quite a canter, but close. There was no time to spare.
Even so, it took a fair amount of time to get where they were going. The Repository was labyrinthine as well as huge. It didn’t take Occo long to realize that all the things that had gone wrong really didn’t matter in the end. Even if every part of her plan had gone as she’d hoped, it would still have come to nothing if it weren’t for the sheer blind good fortune of having encountered the guide robot.
Bresk was quick to point that out. “Since Naccor Jute’s history anyway, you might as well adopt one of the Human creeds. They have a goddess of good luck called Las Vegas who has obviously cast her favor upon you. Be careful, though. By all accounts she’s fickle and can turn instantly into her wicked twin, Lost Wages.”
“Please be quiet,” said the robot. “Some of the artifacts in the Repository are sensitive to noise.”
Occo wondered if she could kidnap the guide robot. The thing was well-nigh invaluable.
As it turned out, the Hall of Saints was devoted to portraits of various Nac Zhe Anglan. Explorers, mostly, judging from their accouterments.
The robot confirmed her guess. As it rolled toward a peculiar-looking object mounted on a pedestal at the far end of the Hall, it began what was clearly a memorized lecture.
“On your left, you will see a portrait of Khet Charras Navo Leur Zaa Mayres. She achieved sainthood –”
Khet Charras Navo, Martyr by way of Disembowelment. Occo had never heard of her.
“– whereupon the evil and savage autochthones — ”
Occo wasn’t paying attention, anyway. Her attention was riveted on the object they were approaching. Was this the Warlock Variation Drive? It seemed . . .
“– bestial beyond measure. The saint’s intestines were mummified and thereafter used as decorations –”
Quite small. Could an interstellar drive really be no larger than Bresk?
“– please to report that the expedition which recovered the relics found by Khet Charras Navo also visited the most severe scourges and skelps upon — ”
They were almost there. The objects was not only small, it was . . .
Bizarre. Really, really bizarre. It looked like nothing so much as a vegetable grown on a planet in the Xeft system that Occo had once visited. The shape was vaguely cruciform, of an unpleasant mauve taupe coloration, mottled both in hue and apparent texture, and with no discernable controls anywhere on its surface.
“Good luck finding a user’s manual,” said Bresk. “I guess Las Vegas just turned into her wicked twin.”
“Please be quiet!” the robot repeated, more vigorously. “The hallowed memory of the Saints is not to be –”
The sound of an explosion rocketed into the Hall. The blast was presumably distant, but must have been very large. About the size one would expect an assault unit to use blasting its way into a building in search of arch-criminals.
The robot fell silent. It seemed to be musing on something. Then, suddenly, it rose to twice its former height — it turned out those legs were extensible — and devices began to unfold from somewhere in its body. Devices which looked remarkably like weapons.
“You must immediately cease all movement!” the robot declared. “On pain of –”
Occo didn’t wait for the rest. Trying to kidnap the robot was not worth the risk. She had her own gun already in hand and fired twice. Not at the torso, which might be armored, but at the complicated-looking extension joints on the two front legs.
The robot collapsed forward, forced to use its hands to break its fall instead of taking up its weapons. The motion also exposed the top of its head.
Which did not look to be armored. Occo fired twice. The robot froze. Then, a few moments later, toppled over.
“And that’s that,” said Occo. “Let’s see what we can make of this drive.”
“If that’s what it is at all,” said Bresk. Like all familiars, it was naturally inclined toward pessimism.
Occo could hear more noise coming from the corridors outside. She interpreted them as the sounds of heavy assault vehicles moving into position.
She didn’t know how much time she had, but in this instance was inclined toward pessimism herself. Whatever she was going to do with the Warlock Variation Drive, she’d have to do it quickly.
She reached the pedestal. Bracing herself, since she had no idea how much the object weighed, she lifted it up.
It was rather light, as it turned out. And, oddly enough, the object felt like a vegetable also.
And now what? she wondered.
Eyes suddenly opened, one each in two of the cruciform . . . bulbs, for lack of a better term.
What looked like a mouth — of sorts — opened on yet another bulb.
“Mama!” the Warlock Variation Drive chirped. “Where have you been?”
The Hall vanished. Occo found herself at sea, perched on a pair of surfboards. A hollow roaring sound caused her to swivel her head.
The largest wave she’d ever seen — ever imagined — ever had nightmares about — was rushing toward her.
“Oh, look, Mama!” chirped the Warlock Variation Drive. “Our impending doom! Don’t you just love danger sports?”
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