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The Gods of Sagittarius: Chapter Fifteen
Last updated: Saturday, April 8, 2017 09:21 EDT
“Please,” said Heterochthonatrix Rammadrecula, gesturing toward a broad bench against the side of the chamber. “Make yourself comfortable. Would you care for some refreshments?”
Occo shook her head. Then, after an instant’s hesitation, moved over and perched herself on the bench.
“Are you aware that a lateral shake of the head is almost a universal negative indicator for intelligent species?” said the heterochthonatrix. “And a vertical nodding motion is almost as universally a positive indicator. The only exception among the major starfaring races is the Vitunpelay.”
More from a desire to be polite than because she actually cared, Occo said: “What do they do instead? Reverse the gestures? Nod instead of shake, and vice versa?”
“They have no uniform rule. Sometimes they nod, sometimes they shake — the gestures can mean either one. And there seems to be no logic to the choices they make. Experts I’ve consulted think the Vitunpelay do it just to be contrary.”
Occo wondered why anyone in their right mind would bother to consult experts over such a picayune matter. Who cared why Vitunpelay did anything? The species was at least half-insane.
“We’ll have to exterminate them eventually,” Rammadrecula continued, in that same oddly cheerful tone of voice. “But enough on that. So tell me, Gadrax-whatever-your-name is — and please note that I do not inquire — why did you come here?”
“As I just explained to your associate — ”
Rammadrecula made a rude noise. “Please! I heard what you told Proceeds-With-Circumspection. Who, I might mention, is my subordinate, not my associate. Surely you don’t think me so obtuse as to believe for one moment that a gadrax on a mission of malevolence would waste her time on a pesthole like Cthulhu” — the hetero-chthonatrix paused dramatically, rearing back in her posture — “unless she had reason to believe the Old Ones or their demonic antitheses were somehow involved. To put it another way, the gadrax does not — as she so shrewdly misled my subordinate — believe for one moment that the perpetrators of whatever rough deed caused her to assume gadrax status — and please note that I do not inquire as to the nature of that deed — are actually ‘unknown miscreants.'”
She rose up from the bench. “So! My response is clear. I must provide you with all possible assistance, no matter the cost. To do otherwise would allow my enemies — I can state with assurance that the ranks of the Envacht Lu are infested with them — to accuse me of dereliction of duty. ‘How so?’ you ask.”
In point of fact, the question had never once crossed Occo’s mind.
“It should be obvious,” Rammadrecula continued. “I am a scion of the Flengren Apostollege. I should rather say, was a scion of the Flengren Apostollege, for naturally I abandoned all previous affiliations when I pledged myself to the Envacht Lu. Nevertheless! There are many who insinuate that I retain those relations and allegiances. Given the well-known stance of the Flengren Apostollege concerning the identities of the High and the Low, were that true I should naturally be inclined toward thwarting your mission, even to the point of ensuring your own destruction. For — clearly! only a lackwit could fail to see this! — your mission at least calls into question that aforementioned divine ipseity.”
She lowered herself back down onto the bench. “As I said, my course is thus clear. I will assist you insofar as possible.”
Occo tried to grapple with the Heterochthonatrix’s reasoning.
Bresk was still neutrally connected. <The technical term Humans use for this unsane behavior is “paranoid.” The concept is itself not sane, since it presupposes that beings who worry about enemies may not have any enemies at all. Which is preposterous, of course, since everyone has enemies. Still and all, in this instance I think the term could be applied. The heterochthonatrix inhabits an alternate mental universe where people care what she thinks.>
Bresk’s assessment was probably correct, Occo decided. The question which remained was: how to extricate herself without producing unnecessary tensions? As witless as Rammadrecula might be, she was still an Envacht Lu official. To arouse her antagonism could lead to awkwardness.
“I thank you for your offer of assistance, Heterochthonatrix Rammadrecula, and rest assured that I will call upon that offer as soon as I determine my course of action. For the moment, though –”
“Don’t be vacuous!” said Rammadrecula. “The nature of my assistance is obvious. Since I am an expert on matters involving Humans, and since Humans are clearly at the center of this affair — why else would you have come to Cthulhu? — I will provide you with an introduction to the official in charge of their prison. They call him the Warden, by the way. He thinks me to be his friend because I possess a definite interest in Humans although in my cunning I have disguised all traces of my actual antipathy toward the species. They are fascinating, yes; but ultimately repulsive. However, I do not believe we shall find it necessary to exterminate them.”
“But why would I wish to meet the . . . ‘Warden,’ you call him? I see no reason I would have any interest in a Human prison.”
“You don’t, as such. But you will be interested in what has happened there a while back to some Human prisoners. In the course of your report to my Ebbo associate, you made reference to ‘unknown weaponry.’ Am I correct in assuming that the term was a nugget of honesty in a sea of dissemblance?”
<Be careful!> warned Bresk. <That’s a trick question!>
Occo thought her familiar was giving the heterochthonatrix too much credit. She thought Rammadrecula’s remark derived more from conceit than subterfuge.
So . . .
“Yes,” she said.
“Well, then! Examine the recent destruction of some Human prisoners — and see for yourself that only ‘unknown weaponry’ could be the cause. One moment, please.”
Rammadrecula leaned to her right and spoke. “Proceeds-With-Circumspection, provide the gadrax with an affiche for Warden Chadwick. Nothing elaborate. Just a statement of my full confidence in her and a request for his assistance in her investigation.”
Looking in that direction, Occo got her first glimpse of the Gawad murkster. The crustacean was at the bottom of a large aquarium in the corner of the chamber.
The glimpse was a fleeting one, however. Within less than a minim, the flickering haze hid the creature from sight again.
The Ebbo’s voice came into the chamber. “Yes, Heterochthonatrix. What size bribe should I include?”
Rammadrecula looked at Occo, shaking her head. “Humans! They’re quite corrupt, you know. Almost as bad as Paskapans.” Then, speaking in the direction of the murkster: “The usual. We don’t want the Humans to think there’s anything special about the gadrax’s mission.”
She turned back to Occo. “Godspeed, Gadrax. If you’re not familiar with the term, ‘God’ is the Human superstition that there exists some sort of undetected and undetectable supreme being who has created everything and oversees the workings of everything despite having left not a trace of evidence to that effect. You can see why I do not foresee any need to exterminate them. The imbeciles will surely do the work themselves.”
In one respect, at least, the heterochthonatrix was indeed helpful. She placed one of her mission’s transports at Occo’s disposal. She even provided her with a chauffeur.
That was perhaps a mixed blessing, since the chauffeur in question was a male Ebbo named Circumvents-Jeopardies-and-Exposures — an insalubrious monicker, it would seem, for someone in that line of work.
Still, there seemed no particular hurry required. If Occo’s presumption that the villains she sought were of supernatural origin — divine or demonic; that distinction meant nothing ̵#8212; then it seemed unlikely that they operated according to a time schedule measured in days, or even years. And if Circumvents-Jeopardies-and-Exposures operated the vehicle in a stately manner of progression, at least there was none of the nerve-racking uncertainties associated with travel-by-Teleplaser. Much less travel-by-Warlock-Variation-Drive!
They left the Envacht Lu station in late afternoon, flying at a low altitude over the soggy terrain that bordered the river on whose banks the station was located. A torrential rainfall came after sundown, as it had before. Stolidly, the Ebbo chauffeur ignored the downpour and continued onward, now flying entirely by instruments.
He continued to do so through the night. Even after the rain ended, visibility was very poor. Apparently, Cthulhu possessed no moon; at least, none large enough to cast a noticeable amount of light.
Shortly after sunrise, another downpour began.
“The weather here is predictable, I take it,” Occo commented to the chauffeur.
Circumvents-Jeopardies-and-Exposures, heretofore as stolid in his demeanor as in his driving, brightened up a bit. “Yes. It’s quite delightful. The planet’s only redeeming feature.”
Shortly before noon, they arrived at the outskirts of a bedraggled-looking town.
“Where is the prison?” she asked.
The Ebbo pointed at a jumble of buildings more-or-less in the center of the town. “You will find it there. More or less.”
“What do you mean, ‘more or less’?”
Circumvents-Jeopardies-and-Exposures opened his vestigial wings and snapped them shut again. “As you will see, Human architecture can best be described as haphazard.”
He clittered at the controls with a digit for a moment, and the hatch at the rear of the transport began to open. “Can you read Human script?”
“Poorly. But my familiar can handle that problem.”
“In that case, instruct it to look for a large sign that says PEN-TENT-ARY. That’s supposed to be ‘penitentiary’ but the illumination mechanism has been failing for some time and Human repair procedures are even more haphazard than their architecture.”
Occo pondered the peculiar term. Penitentiary. “Is this intended to be a place where Humans come to express sorrow at their own misdeeds?”
“Yes. As you may have deduced by now, the species is pathologically optimistic.”
“So it would seem.” The function of Nac Zhe Anglan prisons was rational: to inflict suffering on criminals in order to provide law-abiding individuals with vengeance and retribution.
“You had best hurry,” said the chauffeur. “The noon downpour is about to begin and I am not waiting for it to end before beginning my return journey.”
Occo made it into shelter before the rainfall began. Just barely, for her progress had been slow. Not wanting to risk their modes of travel in the tight confines of a town, she’d had to carry not only the Teleplaser but Ju’ula as well. Unfortunately, while Bresk could be of great assistance at many tasks, the familiar was not strong enough to lift much weight.
Nor buoyant enough, although . . .
Occo made a note to herself to investigate the possibilities of — what had Ju’ula called it? — disemboguelled hydrogen. Bresk would complain bitterly, of course. But while that would be irritating it would also be entertaining.
Fortunately, however haphazard Human notions of building construction might be, they seemed to dislike being drenched as much as Nac Zhe Anglan did. So, while it took a fair amount of time for Occo to find her way through the ramshackle half-maze that was the Human town’s peculiar design, at no point was she exposed to the downpour that she could hear pounding on the roofs above her.
Eventually, they came into what passed for a covered plaza of sorts. Across the way, above an entrance that seemed to be more solidly designed than most they’d passed, Occo saw a flickering sign whose weirdly angular Human script . . .
Might say most anything, so far as she could determine. But since she and her familiar were neutrally linked again, that didn’t matter. Long ago, Occo had programmed the familiar to know the dialects of every major sentient species in the explored galaxy.
<Yes, that’s it. The pen?tent?ary. Or maybe it’s called the pen[k!]tent[k!]ary.>
The word came out with two bizarre interspersions, either way. That’s not how the chauffeur pronounced it, Occo pointed out.
<He’s an Ebbo clerk. What does he know? Clearly, the word is in one of the minor Human dialects. Logic leads me to assume that it must be one of those featuring either what Humans call a glottal stop or a dental click. Maybe Hebrew or Xhosa.>
Well, which is it?
<How should I know? You’d probably do best to assume Hebrew. All Human theologies are preposterous, but at least the ancient Hebrews weren’t soppy about it.>
They went across the plaza. As they neared the entrance, the force screen went down. More precisely, it flickered away. If that was a fair indication of the prison’s general level of maintenance, it was something of a wonder that it still held any prisoners at all.
Inside, they were met by a robot. No polite and cordial guide robot, this one, however. The robot was almost as big as the corridor it stood in, was festooned with what seemed likely to be weapons, and had a disposition to match.
“WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU WANT?”
Occo wondered if her universal translator was malfunctioning. The robot’s syntax was puzzling. “It seems to be using the fuck-word as a noun in this instance.”
<Don’t expect consistency from Humans. Generally the fuck-word is used as a verb, but it has many applications. The fuck-word is often encountered as an essential auxiliary verb, as well as a gerund, a participle and an adjective. Keep in mind, though — >
One of the robot appendages extended toward them. At the tip was something that might be a Human version of a flamethrower, an intestinal discombobulator, or . . . a performance award, for all Occo knew.
“WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU WANT? THIS IS YOUR SECOND WARNING.”
Under the circumstances, Occo decided the presumption it was a weapon was warranted.
“We wish to speak to the Warden.”
“FUCK YOU. THE WARDEN’S BUSY.”
“Any suggestions?” Occo asked her familiar.
<Try being equally rude. It’s either that or waking up the Skerkud Teleplaser and that could get out of hand.>
“All right, then.” Occo raised her voice, trying to emulate the robot’s booming peremptory tone as best she could. “I’m not asking you, I’m telling you! Take us to the warden. Now!”
The robot stood there motionless.
<You forgot to use the essential term.>
“Oh, right.” She raised her voice again. “Take us to the fuck warden!”
The robot remained motionless. But the appendage holding the probable-weapon was retracted.
<Okay, we’re making progress> said Bresk. <Try using it as an adjective.>
“Take us to the fucking warden!”
The robot swiveled on its base. “FOLLOW ME.”
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