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The Gods of Sagittarius: Chapter Ten

       Last updated: Friday, March 17, 2017 22:16 EDT



    Seeing nothing else to do, Occo squatted and began frantically paddling with all four hands, trying to position herself to catch the wave. But within minims she knew it was hopeless. The wave was about to crest, at which point they would be hammered under by a mass of water whose weight was almost incomprehensible.

    “What fun!” chirped the Warlock Variation Drive. “There’s no thrill like bodily destruction! We’re done for!”

    “It’s not real!” Bresk shrilled. “Well, it is, but it’s a virtual reality produced by your own mind!”

    “So it won’t kill us?”

    “Of course it will! We now exist in your mind. In your pitiful, pathetic –”

    The wave began curling over. It looked more than a planet approaching than anything else.

    Planet. Occo wondered —

    The wave vanished. No — the whole sea vanished. They were now apparently floating in some sort of mist.

    Well, no. They were now apparently plunging down into some sort of mist.

    Hurriedly, Occo looked around. They seemed to be in some of valley or dell, although she could detect no landscape. The mist covered everything. Up above, she could see what looked like two moons and some sort of enormous bridge.

    Well, no. That was actually part of a ring system, she realized.

    The surroundings suddenly came into focus. They weren’t in a valley of any sort. They were in the atmosphere of a giant gas planet. About to enter a storm cell, in fact.

    “Oh, this is even better!” chirped the Warlock Variation Drive. “Being crushed to death by ever-mounting atmospheric pressure is so much more invigorating than being drowned!”

    That assumed that they survived the violence of the storm cell, regarding which Occo was doubtful. At a rough estimate, the storm cell was three or four times wider than the diameter of most rocky planets. Her armored suit could withstand a lot in the way of simple pressure, and it might even survive the turbulence of the storm. But she’d be so battered about that by the time they fell out of the storm she’d be nothing but meat paste.

    “Pure hydrogen!” squealed Bresk. “Lots of it! I got this!”

    Within minims, the familiar’s mantle began to swell as its flotation sac exchanged its contents for hydrogen.

    And swelled. And swelled. And swelled. It has now reached a size that was simply impossible. The mantle spread out as it expanded, too. It now looked like a huge, bloated wing.

    The attachments thickened at the same time. Bresk began lifting them out of the storm and into the upper atmosphere.

    This was not possible. Granted, Bresk’s mantle and flotation sac were somewhat flexible. But an expansion this great was simply not —

    The mantle began to sag, shrink.

    “Stop it!” shrilled Bresk. “It’s your mind, you dimwit!”

    The mantle stabilized. A gust of wind seized them and flung them out of the storm altogether.

    “This is so exciting!” chirped the Warlock Variation Drive. “What will Mama think of next? How about a volcano?”

    The image of a volcano came to Occo. Hurriedly, she tried to force it aside but the effort simply brought the image into sharper focus.

    Sure enough. They were now plunging into the crater of a volcano.

    “Oh, look, it’s erupting!” chirped the Warlock Variation Drive. “You are such a good Mama — and I’ve had lots and lots and lots and lots of them! Most of them don’t last this long!”

    Occo didn’t doubt it at all.

    Bresk’s mantle collapsed back to its normal size. That was enough to keep the familiar itself afloat in most atmospheres but not enough to support Occo, even if she hadn’t been in an armored suit.

    “Doomed! Doomed!” chirped the Warlock Variation Drive. “But what will kill us first? The searing heat? The flaming bolides? The pyroclastic cloud? Oh, the tension! The uncertainty!”

    “‘We won’t need a ship with the variation drive,’ you said,” Bresk groused. “You didn’t mention that we’d need a bedlam pit for the blasted thing!”

    Bedlam pit. Down the hole . . .

    No modern creed subscribed to the belief that lunatics were demonic except four sects of the Vaest Cult. All of them had modified the ancient practice of tossing lunatics into volcanoes in hopes of propitiating the angry gods to suit the conditions of post-interstellar conditions. The Red, Velvet and Nacre sects sent lunatics into black holes. Occo blocked that image instantly in favor of the practice of the divergent Xylemites, who chose to cast their lunatics into the maelstrom in Berth’s Bay on the planet Chtazz.

    It was the largest maelstrom in the explored galaxy. Hardly an ideal environment! But it couldn’t be worse that an erupting volcano or a black hole.

    They were now plunging into the maelstrom. To be precise, they were now riding a crest, being swirled down into a watery chaos so vast it looked as if they were descending into the heart of a galaxy.

    Except galaxies weren’t wet. Very salty water, at that.

    At least, she hoped it was salty. She didn’t know much about the Berth’s Bay Maelstrom.

    “Toxins!” chirped the Warlock Variation Drive. “Mama’s just full of surprises!”

    “I’m melting!” shrilled Bresk. Occo extended an eyestalk and swiveled it around. Sure enough. Her familiar’s normally-durable mantle was showing discolored spots, which looked to be rapidly expanding.

    She had to get out of here. This was — marginally — better than a giant wave, an erupting volcano or a black hole, but not good enough. Not anywhere near good enough.

    She was beginning to get a sense for how the Warlock Variation Drive worked, though. She tried to picture herself perched on a comfortable bench in a park somewhere.

    Instantly, she was perched on a bench. And in a park, to boot!

    Unfortunately, she’d been a little unclear on the “somewhere.” This somewhere turned out to be a bench in a park located on what, judging from what she could see and — mostly — the data reeling across her instrument screen, was . . .

    Probably the floor of Gnu Gorge on the third moon of Klaxk.

    The most famous big game hunting park in the Nac Zhe Anglan portion of the galaxy.

    A herd of enormous creatures was stampeding toward them. Being driven in their headlong frenzy by some sort of carnivore looming behind them.

    She presumed it was a carnivore, anyway. The fangs protruding from its upper jaw — lip? mandible? whatever-it-was — were longer than any of her own legs.

    “We’re lost!” chirped the Warlock Variation Drive. “If only you had a weapon! Oh, wait, you do have a weapon!”

    More out of reflex than because she really thought it would be of any use, Occo drew out her sidearm.

    “But it’s much too puny! You need a cannon! Or maybe –”

    Occo pictured the Hall of Saints in the Repository.

    Instantly, they were there.

    Unfortunately, so were two Nedru guards. Staring at the now-empty pedestal upon which the Warlock Variation Drive once rested.

    Happily, their weapons were still holstered — or perhaps had been put back in the holsters once the guards concluded that the culprits were gone. Occo shot them both in the back.

    That stirred a ruckus coming from beyond the Hall. She had to assume that other guards would soon be arriving.

    “Take me to the Skerkud Teleplaser!” she commanded.

    “What a silly Mama!” chirped the Warlock Variation Drive. Then, in a singsongy sort of chirp: “What’s it look like? What’s it look like? What’s it look like?

    Occo had no idea what the Skerkud Teleplaser looked like.

    “Link!” shrilled Bresk.

    Occo raised her earflaps. A moment later, Bresk’s neural connectors were in place.

    She could now sense her familiar’s thoughts, though only in a blurred manner, as if they were next to a waterfall.

    < — either this — something — or, no, let’s try — >

    An image came to her a mind of something that looked like a cross between a derrick and one of the elaborate-shelled snails she’d once seen on Yaaqua.

    Instantly, they were in another chamber in the Repository. On a dais in front of them was the object Occo has imagined.

    Except —

    It was the size of a small spacecraft.



    It had eyes, too, as it turned out. They peered at her from somewhere deep within the ornate shell.

    Huge eyes, of a size to match the thing. Red eyes. One might almost think they were furious —

    “The Great Glai! Oh, and it’s angry!” chirped the Warlock Variation Drive. “If you don’t immediately worship it by chanting the secret text known only to the Devotees of Glai the last of whom perished forty-six geological periods ago, it’ll lose its temper! And it’s short-tempered! Look! It’s already –”

    The something-like-a-derrick-arm began to unfold. Objects emerged that looked very much like weapons.

    < — okay, not that one. Try — >

    The image that Bresk brought into her mind this time was that of a simple sphere, with three large dots — eyespots? who knew? — located equidistantly on the side.

    Now they were in still another chamber. A much smaller one. The sphere was perched on a small pedestal on top of a larger one on top of a larger one in the middle of the floor.

    It was very small. No bigger than one of Bresk’s eyes.

    The sphere began to spin. It felt as if something was sucking at Occo’s consciousness.

    “The Marble of Mental Mayhem!” chirped the Warlock Variation Drive. “No one knows how it works because by the time they find out — well, probably long before then but who knows? — their brains have been transformed into the state known by the Psychists of Lawal as Consistently Uniform Paste. ‘CUP,’ for short.”

    Occo sent a psychic snarl at her familiar.

    < — think this is so easy you try — something — ever organized this stupid catalog — something — maybe this one — >

    The image came to mind of an object that looked vaguely like a ceremonial tureen. Seeing no other option — her brain now felt like it was starting to shred at the edges — Occo brought it into focus.

    The chamber they were now in was about half the size of the Hall of Saints. There were alcoves inset along the walls which contained small statues of . . .

    Whatever they were.

    “The Absolutist’s Toy Army!” chirped the Warlock Variation Drive. “And look! They’re coming alive!”

    Sure enough. The hideous-looking little things — she’d call them creatures except they looked more like misshapen lumps of coal and clay — hopped out of the alcoves and landed on the floor.

    And began growing. Quickly. As they grew, features began to emerge from their surfaces.

    She found herself missing the simplicity of mere lumps.

    “Aren’t they ugly?” chirped the Warlock Variation Drive. “We’re menaced by a fate so horrible that even the Nebular Harpies refuse to sing –”

    <I think that’s it.>

    Occo stared at the elaborately-decorated tureen resting in the center of the floor. It was fairly large, but delicate looking. She hurried over and picked it up.

    The thing was heavier than it looked, but she could hold it easily enough, at least for a while.

    The Warlock Variation Drive began chirping excitedly. “It’s the Skerkud Teleplaser! The Skerkud Teleplaser! Oh, the Toys are done for now unless they get back into their niches!”

    But the Toys didn’t seem at all fazed by the sight of the Teleplaser in Occo’s hands. They began moving toward her, in a gait that was something like a snail’s movement. Slime was left on the floor behind them.

    Happily, they were moving at a snail’s pace. Unhappily, the pace of a very large snail. They’d be upon her in a few minims.

    “How does it work?” she demanded.

    < — supposed to know? This catalog was compiled by a cretin, from what I can — >

    “Who will eat who first?” chirped the Warlock Variation Drive. “Oh, the terror! The trepidation!”

    Eat . . . Tureen . . .

    Occo imagine the tureen full of Toys. Tiny ones.

    The tureen was instantly full of very small Toys — and they’d all vanished from the chamber itself.

    The Toys looked angry, though. At least, they were flopping around energetically and some of them were already sliming their way up the side of the bowl.

    Soup. She pictured the tureen full of boiling water.

    And so it was. The Toys began squirming frantically.

    “They won’t last long! They won’t last long!” chirped the Warlock Variation Drive. “The Teleplaser uses only the fiercest blight!”

    Occo looked more closely. The Toys were starting to dissolve. And the boiling water . . .

    Didn’t look much like water, actually. More like . . .

    Transparent mercury?

    She didn’t know. She was pretty sure she didn’t want to know. Only traces of the Toys were now left and they’d be gone within . . .

    They were gone. The liquid vanished from the bowl.

    “You are the meanest Mama I’ve ever had!” chirped the Warlock Variation Drive. “This is such a grand adventure! What next? What next?”

    Occo could hear noises coming from beyond their chamber. That was the sound of troops and military equipment being brought forward.

    She didn’t know the capacity of the Teleplaser, but she was skeptical that it could devour entire armored vehicles.

    And she saw no reason to find out. She was by now confident of her grasp of the Drive’s workings to think that she could finally use it to reach her destination.

    “Stay linked,” she ordered Bresk. “Show me VF-6s-K55.”

    The image of an astronomical photograph came to a mind. An arrow pointed to one of the multitude of faint dots on the image.

    They were still in the chamber in the Repository. The sounds were getting louder.

    “Oh, you sillies!” chirped the Warlock Variation Drive. “You need to see where I’m going! That’s not a place! How am I supposed to find it?”

    “What does the planet look like?” Occo demanded.

    <How am I — something — when all you gave me was — something — images in my records are only — something — names, not stupid — something — alog numbers. Give me a name!>

    Occo didn’t know the name of the planet. She wasn’t even sure it had one. For Nac Zhe Anglan, anyway. But she remembered that there were some Humans living on the planet. And now that she thought about it . . .

    The creatures did have a name for it. Katha . . . something.

    “Do your records include Human catalogs?”

    <Sure. Humans are stupid and crazy — something — never boring.>

    “Look for a planet named Katha-something. Or maybe it’s Ktha-something.:

    <Katha . . . nothing. Ktha . . . nothing.>

    Kathi? Kthi? Ktho?

    No — she remembered!

    “It’s Kthu-something.”

    <Kthu . . . Here it is! Cthulhu!>

    The image of a murky-looking planet came to Occo’s mind. Murky-looking, because superimposed over the planet’s image was that of some sort of peculiar . . .

    What was that thing?

    “Cthulhu!” chirped the Warlock Variation Drive. “I haven’t visited the old guy in such a long time!”

    They were hurtling toward a gigantic monster perched on a cliff. Its torso seemed to be that of a reptile. Its head . . .

    The closest analog Occo could think of were some of the molluscan predators she’d seen on the water world Tweddle. But they’d been tiny compared to this horror.

    “It never goes well! He’s eaten all five of my Mamas who came to visit! Well . . . Using the term ‘eaten’ pretty loosely. What will Mama do now?”

    The tentacles were spreading out, beginning to engulf them on all sides. At their center gaped a beak that looked like a cavern.

    Or a wormhole.

    Well, of sorts. Close enough. Occo brought the image of the planet into clearer focus, doing everything in her power to blank out the monster.

    “No Mama’s ever thought of that before! Wheeeeeeeeee!!!

    They swept into the beak, through the — maw? the gullet beyond? who could say? — and —

    Emerged in empty space. Floating before them was a brick-colored planet with no visible seas and little in the way of cloud cover.

    “The hell-planet of the Old Ones!” chirped the Warlock Variation Drive. “Oh, you are the very very best Mama I’ve ever had!”

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