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The Gods of Sagittarius: Chapter Fourteen
Last updated: Monday, April 3, 2017 19:44 EDT
Occo was abruptly pitched onto the sand. Looking up, she saw that the Skerkud Teleplaser was expanding rapidly. But where Bresk’s expansion — now receding, she noticed — had been uniform, that being undergone by the Teleplaser bore more resemblance to a youngling’s toy being unfolded. One peculiar-looking appendage after another extended outward. Within a few minims, the relatively small and simply-shaped Teleplaser had become a towering . . .
Whatever. It looked vaguely like a cross between a construction derrick and one of the crude mannequins used by primitive farmers to scare away pests from their fields.
“SECURITY BREACH!” the Teleplaser boomed. “SENSORS HAVE BEEN SPIRITALIZED! COMPONENTS OF REPRIMAND ARE BUOYANT!”
Some sort of sea creature surfaced a short distance from shore. One of the Skerkud’s new appendages whipped in that direction. There was a blinding flash from the tip of the appendage and that portion of the sea creature above water was vaporized. Presumably that portion still below the surface was parboiled, because the Teleplaser’s weapon also turned a goodly-sized patch of the ocean into steam.
Then, two more of the Skerkud’s new appendages made a peculiar waving motion. To Occo’s astonishment, the sea itself was parted, the waters somehow pushed back as if by a mighty force screen, exposing the ocean floor to a distance of several leagues.
A number of marine animals of various kinds were left behind, flopping and wriggling and squirming on the wet sand and rocks.
“TRANSGRESSORS EXPOSED!” the Teleplaser boomed. “ABASEMENTS IMPEND!”
More of the slender attachments came to bear on the exposed sea floor. Within moments, everything that flopped or wriggled or squirmed was incinerated or hammered into paste — or, usually, hammered into paste and then incinerated.
“THREATS, HAZARDS, MENACES, JEOPARDIES AND PERILS OSTRACIZED! ATARAXIA RESTORED!”
The Teleplaser’s attachments folded themselves up out of sight as rapidly as they had been extended. As soon as the last one vanished, the Teleplaser shrank back down to its original size and shape.
Occo and Bresk stared at the device.
Bresk made that little rippling motion in his mantle that indicated bemusement. “It’s really not too bright, is it?” Ju’ula opened one eye. “What do you expect? Skerkie works in security.”
The other eye appeared and Ju’ula brought both to bear on Occo. “You got to watch that, Mama. You can’t use trigger words like ‘Fiends’ and ‘Old Ones’ around Skerkie.”
“But . . . you just did.”
“Sure. It’s okay for me to use them. I’ve got a Caliber Twadda Grade 51 Duke clearance. Plus, in this instance, a clear need-to-know. You only have a Caliber Olog Grade 2 Duck clearance. And no need to know anything at all since the Fiends and the Old Ones — and the Hoar Ghosts and Unfriendlies and Estrangers and They-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named — are either long gone or never existed or are doing a good imitation of one or the other.”
“May ignorance and obscurity preserve us,” Bresk said softly, intoning one of the three prayers sanctioned by the Naccor Jute’s auditor board.
In her mind, though not aloud, Occo intoned the other two.
Seek not revelation lest you be revealed.
Leave unto others what you would have others expose.
It was now clear to her that the Warlock Variation Drive was far more than simply a transportation device. In some way still unclear, the Drive — no, best to call her Ju’ula — knew many of the secrets of the Old Ones and the Other Old Ones that had eluded all sects and denominations of the Nac Zhe Anglan.
(And who were the Hoar Ghosts and the Unfriendlies and Estrangers and They-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named? Had that ancient war of divinities and devils been a many-sided one instead of the straightforward clash of two parties it had always been thought to be?)
It was just as clear, however, that attempting to probe Ju’ula directly on these matters would be unwise so long as the Skerkud Teleplaser was in the vicinity. For that matter, it was possibly unwise under any circumstances, at least until Occo had learned more of the Warlock Variation Drive’s nature. So far, Ju’ula had done nothing inimical — leaving aside the inherent dangers of its bizarre method of travel — but it was obvious that if she ever did have her animosities aroused she would be an even greater peril than the Teleplaser. A device that could literally transmute reality could . . .
Could . . .
Could . . .
Occo had a momentary image of herself transformed into the shredded nerves of a vast creature being subjected to torment by —
It did not bear thinking about. Once more, in her mind, she recited the three sanctioned prayers and drove the image under.
“Right, then!” she said vigorously. “Let’s get about finding this Envacht Lu outpost. Bresk, lead the way.”
For a moment, the familiar looked as if he might complain or protest. But after casting a wary glance at Ju’ula, he just flapped his mantle a couple of times. Eight probes were dislodged and came to swarm above him. Bresk emitted the signals by which he controlled the probes and an instant later they were speeding off along the shoreline.
“Let’s go north,” he said. “The big river is that way and it’s probably our best bet.”
His innate familiar nature resurfaced. “Keep in mind that I use the term ‘north’ out of sheer whim, since the insane method of transport you used to bring us here did not allow for adequate geographic orientation.”
The weather on Cthulhu, as it turned out, seemed to run toward torrential rainfall right around noon as well. Once again, Bresk was pressed into service as an impromptu parasol. With, once again, the inevitable verbal accompaniment.
After some medims of that, Ju’ula had had enough.
“I can’t bear this any longer,” she said. “Mama, give me an image.”
“That one’ll do.”
Belatedly, Occo realized that she’d half-imagined herself lashing Bresk with a multi-tongued whip while the familiar was suspended in chains over an open fire.
Sure enough. They found themselves in some sort of dungeon. With Bresk suspended in chains over an open fire and Occo holding the instrument of chastisement in her hand.
Never in her life had she struggled so mightily against temptation. In truth, she probably would have succumbed — just for a few minims, only a few, so richly warranted and deserved! — except that a large creature was even now advancing upon her. The creature was clad in some sort of metal harness, which could barely be seen because the thing was encased in that bizarre skin excretion so highly favored by mammal-analogs. Fur, they called the stuff. Or, sometimes, hair.
“Don’t let it touch me! Don’t let it touch me!” Bresk shrilled. “That fur-shroud is bound to have vermin in it. Not to mention — ow!” — the thing had cuffed Bresk as it passed by — “noxious oils.”
“Intruders are forbidden!” the creature bellowed. “You have no right to be here!”
“I know you’re not going to let that furball talk to me like that, Mama,” said Ju’ula. She brought her eyes to bear on the creature itself. “He — it’s bound to be a he — doesn’t have any better than a Caliber Flizz Grade 1 Du clearance.”
The creature came to an abrupt halt and peered down at Ju’ula. “It’s Grade 1-A Du.” Its tone was aggrieved.
Occo had been rapidly considering her options. She decided that an arrogant display of overweening status was the best tactic.
“Silence!” she bellowed. “I demand the location of the nearest Envacht Lu outpost. And be quick about it or I’ll have your — ah — whatever that’s called that your fur is attached to — stripped right off.”
“It’s called his hide,” Ju’ula provided. “But you don’t actually want the location of the nearest Envacht Lu outpost because we’re no longer in your sidereal universe and the way the branes are fluctuating at the moment the odds are no better than 90,000-odd-to-1 that Dimwit here will know the right one. What you really want is –”
“Hey!” protested the creature. “Don’t call me –”
“– just the ambiance of the dungeon. I’ll take it the rest of the way.” Ju’ula’s eyes seemed to grow a little unfocused. “It’ll help if you beat your familiar.”
Occo set to that task with a will.
“You’re not doing it right,” complained the creature. “The way that stupid thing’s built, whacking it like that won’t hardly hurt at all. You shouldn’t be using a flail in the first place. Red-hot pokers, that’s what you need. Give me a moment. I’ll fetch some.”
The creature lumbered off. Bresk’s wails of pain echoed throughout the dungeon. Occo reflected that the day wasn’t turning out so badly after all.
“Got it,” said Ju’ula.
An instant later, the dungeon vanished and they found themselves in the vestibule of a building. A startled Ebbo perched behind a desk looked up from its notescreen.
“What is this? Who are you? By what right –”
“Silence!” Occo bellowed again. “I am here on the express direction of Amerce Imposer Vrachi. She has required me to make a report whenever possible to the nearest Envacht Lu mission.”
She gave their surroundings a dubious appraisal. “This is the Envacht Lu outpost on Planet Catalog Number VF-6s-K55, is it not?”
That brought the Ebbo up short. Carefully, it set its notescreen down on the low table.
“I see,” the Ebbo said. “Yes, this is that outpost. Why did this Amerce Imposer — Vrachi, you say? Would that be Kyu Gnath Vrachi or Esmat Bala Vrachi? — require you to make a report? And a report concerning what?”
“I have no idea which Amerce Imposer Vrachi she was. She required me to make a report whenever possible because my home cloister was destroyed by unknown miscreants using unknown weaponry, which has led me to declare myself gadrax and led the Amerce Imposer to suspect that proprieties may have been transgressed severely enough that an Uttermost Reproach is necessitated.”
“I see. And I presume you came to Planet Catalog Number VF-6s-K55 because of its suspected status as an Old One site. If so, your visit will almost certainly be fruitless. Since the first discovery of this planet there have been — one moment, please” — the Ebbo’s digit flitted over the notescreen for a few instants — “Yes, my memory was correct. There have been four hundred and twelve recorded investigations, which excavated a total of 8,377 square leagues, and an untold number of unrecorded and unauthorized explorations. Not one of those turned up results that were not confusing and contradictory.”
The Ebbo looked back up from the screen. “For almost a century now — calculated by the local year — Planet Catalog Number VF-6s-K55 has mostly been used by Humans as a prison planet. The reasoning behind that behavior has so far eluded anyone except, presumably, Humans themselves.”
Its vestigial wings rubbed together briefly, making a rather unpleasant noise. That was an Ebbo mannerism indicating contemptuous dismissal. “Insofar as the workings of the Human brain can be called ‘reasoning’ at all. And now, gadrax — please note that I do not inquire as to your identity — make your report.”
“There is nothing to report. That is the report.”
“Splendid.” The Ebbo’s digit flitted once more across the screen. “Your report has been filed. You may be on your way.”
Occo looked about and spotted an entrance behind her and to the left. As she turned in that direction, however, a new voice came into the chamber.
“A moment, please. I fear my assistant is being excessively formal.”
The Ebbo seemed to hunker down a bit. “The term ‘excessively formal’ is an oxymoron,” it said, in a tone that seemed even more aggrieved than that of the dungeon-keeper.
“Perhaps,” said the new voice. “Still, I would prefer a more personal interaction with our visitors. Please send them into my bastille.”
“As you wish, Heterochthonatrix.” The Ebbo’s digit worked briefly at the screen and a panel in the wall slid aside. Beyond could be seen another chamber although its contents were not clearly discernable. Vision was obscured by a flickering haze which Occo recognized as the work of a Gawad murkster.
She was impressed. The marine crustaceans provided superb anti-surveillance protection but they were rare, hard to capture, and harder to keep alive in captivity. She wouldn’t have thought even the Envacht Lu could have afforded one for a minor outpost.
Unless . . .
“Link,” said Bresk. Occo raised her earflaps and a moment later her familiar’s neural connectors were inserted into the sockets.
<There’s no way a Gawad murkster would be here unless one of two things is true> came Bresk’s thought. <Either this isn’t a minor outpost at all — despite all appearances to the contrary — or this still-unidentified Heterochthonatrix is stinking rich. And if that’s true . . . >
Gloomily, Occo provided the rest of the thought herself. We’re probably dealing with an incompetent or scapegrace sent into exile because their wealth and influence was too great to be simply discharged.
But there was no way she could see to avoid the encounter. So, she made her way toward the chamber. Brest floated above, attached to the hard points. Ju’ula remained behind, still perched inside the Teleplaser.
“Aren’t you coming?” she asked.
“No, Mama. I agree with the fussbudget. For some things, the term ‘excessive formality’ is an oxymoron.” Ju’ula’s eyes remained closed through the entire exchange.
Occo saw no reason to argue the matter. So, she and Bresk entered the Heterochthonatrix’s chamber alone.
Once they entered the chamber, the visual haze began to clear. After a few minims, they could see a female Nac Zhe Anglan perched on a bench in an elevated alcove.
Even at a glance, the bench was luxurious. And it took Occo no more than a moment — a moment produced by simple surprise at seeing it in person — to recognize that the kinetic fresco adorning the wall behind the bench was the work of the Green Pramusect’s famous Dextralyceum. It must have cost a not-so-small fortune.
“I bid you welcome,” said the figure on the bench. “I am Heterochthonatrix Heurse Gotha Rammadrecula.”
<Oh, marvelous> came Bresk’s thought. <The richest and most powerful affiliance in the entire Flengren Apostollege. Which, if you’re fuzzy on the theology involved, is about as far removed from the Naccor Jute as possible. How did someone from that pack of fanatics ever wind up an Envacht Lu official? And a heterochthonatrix, at that!>
Occo was wondering the same thing herself. There were no formal rules governing the matter, but the general practice of the Envacht Lu was to select its recruits from those creeds which tended toward ecumenicalism, so long as they stayed short of the outright agnosticism espoused by such as the Naccor Jute. The Flengren Apostollege, on the other hand, was anything but open-minded on the subject of the precise nature of divinity and daemoncy. They even claimed to know the names of the Highest and the Lowest figures in the ancient cataclysm.
One of the Highest of which had been the deity Rammad, to whom Heurse Gotha’s lineage claimed affiliation. Her name meant Swollen in the Esteem of Rammad’s Sodality.
<Humans have an expression for this too, came Bresk’s thought. “You’re fucked,” they’d say.>
Occo was in no mood for her familiar’s obsession with Human foibles. I have no idea what a fucked is, but I’m sure I’m not one of them.
A sense of amusement came through the neural connectors. <It’s not a noun, it’s a verb. It’s the human way of copulating. It’s really slimy. Not to mention complicated. Would you believe they — >
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