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The Gods of Sagittarius: Chapter Seventeen
Last updated: Friday, April 14, 2017 21:26 EDT
“Now what?” asked Bresk. “As much as I hate to ask.”
Occo didn’t answer immediately. That was for the good and simple reason that she had no answer. The information she’d just uncovered at the Human prison strengthened her belief that the culprits she sought were supernatural, true enough. But she had no idea where to proceed from here.
Other than to retrieve Ju’ula and the Teleplaser, at any rate. That would give them something to do while she pondered her next course of action.
Bresk farted derisively. “Got no idea, do you?”
“Shut up. Find the way back to the Warlock Variation Drive.”
“Go forward to the end of this sorry excuse for a plaza, turn left at the sorry excuse for a street you’ll encounter, turn left at the third alley — I’d call it a ‘lane’ but that would be ridiculous — and then turn right at the next alley. After that –”
The familiar droned on but Occo didn’t bother to memorize his instructions. When she needed further guidance she’d order him to provide it.
In the event, it proved to be a moot point anyway. They’d gotten no farther than the second left turn when Occo heard a peculiar sort of hissing sound. Something like:
Looking to the side, she saw a narrow alley in which a small Human lurked. So small that it had to be either a youngling or a mutant. Not being very familiar with Humans, Occo couldn’t make an educated guess as to which it was.
“Hey, mister,” said the Human, still hissing for some reason. “Want to see some feelthy pictures?”
The statement made no sense. “Some . . . what?”
The small creature shook its head. “Never mind. The stupid bug insisted I had to start by saying that. Don’t ask me why, I got no idea.” It pointed down the alley behind it. “It wants to talk to you. It’s waiting in a little restaurant around the corner. Look for a sign that says: Rick’s Café.” The Human shook its head again. “It used to be called Mama Cheo’s, but the bug paid to have the new sign put up. Got no idea why it did that either.”
“Describe what you call ‘the bug’,” Occo commanded.
The Human’s description was clear enough. It had to be an Ebbo. Which meant, since no Ebbo who ever lived was given to the slightest whimsy . . .
Bresk put her thoughts into words. “It’s that weird Envacht Lu heterochthonatrix. Got to be.”
Occo decided there was probably no harm in following the instructions, and could conceivably be problems if she didn’t.
“Lead the way,” she said.
The little Human stuck out its hand. “The bug didn’t pay me to be your guide. The fee is — ” There followed a meaningless term, which Occo presumed was a reference to local currency.
“I don’t have any of that . . . whatever it is.”
Bresk spoke up. “But we’re quite sure the Ebbo — that’s ‘the bug’ you’re talking about — will be good for it.”
The Human’s face scrunched up in an expression which Occo interpreted as dubiousness.
“It’s an Ebbo,” Bresk said. “The wretched things — ‘bugs’ is it? I like that — can’t stand being around unpaid debts. It’ll pay you, be sure of it.”
After a moment’s hesitation, the Human turned away and started moving down the alley. “Okay. Follow me. You better be right or I’ll report you to the Kneebreaker.”
A local gangster, presumably. Occo wasn’t particularly concerned. Breaking the knees of a Nac Zhe Anglan, especially a female, was actually quite difficult.
When they reached their destination a short while later, Occo recognized the Ebbo waiting for them. It was Proceeds-With-Circumspection, the Envacht Lu Heterochthonatrix’s factotum.
Occo gestured toward the little Human. “Pay it, please. I am lacking in the local currency.”
The Ebbo rubbed its hind legs together in a mannerism which Occo suspected was an indication of annoyance, but made no verbal protest. He extended his stylus, the Human matched it with a scruffy looking electronic tablet, and the transaction was quickly done.
“So long, then,” said the Human. Adding, on the way out: “I’m a she, you Knack dipshit.”
Bresk farted with surprise. “Apparently the females don’t grow their breasts for a while. Who knew?”
“Who cared?” muttered Occo. She looked around the dingy little room they were in. Judging from the odors emanating from the kitchen, the restaurant catered to a clientele best described as uncritical.
“I don’t recommend eating here,” Bresk said. “I can send out the probes for a more precise analysis, if you like, but my own olfactory sensors have already detected several aldehydes and at least two industrial solvents. That’s in the food, you understand, not the cooking equipment.”
Since Occo had no intention of dining on the premises, the advice was unnecessary. But she paid the matter little attention, because she was primarily concerned with the Heterochthonatrix’s location — or lack of it, rather. Why had the Ebbo brought them here if not to meet Heurse Gotha Rammadrecula?
The mystery resolved itself. A haze in an alcove to the side that Occo hadn’t spotted — neither the haze nor the alcove — faded away. Sitting at a table was the Heterochthonatrix. Looking at the wall behind Rammadrecula, Occo could now see the small chamber holding the Gawad murkster. She hadn’t realized the device was portable.
“Of all the djinn joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine,” said Rammadrecula, looking immensely pleased with herself.
“I have no idea what that means.”
“Of course not! Unlike me, you’re not a Humanologist. Truth is, even scholars aren’t sure what it means. The most likely theory is that it’s a Human reference to supernatural entities. ‘Djinns’ were a sort of demon.
“But enough of that!” she continued. “Welcome, far travelers! Now that you’ve seen the evidence for yourself at the prison, I’m sure your next course of action is self-evident.”
Occo was taken aback. “Self-evident? I’m afraid it’s anything but. Yes, I agree that the killings were the work of a supernatural force or power of some sort, which confirms my suspicions. But I have no idea where to go from here.”
Rammadrecula slapped the table top several times. Occo couldn’t tell if the action resulted from irritation or enthusiasm or some other emotion entirely. The Heterochthonatrix was truly abnormal.
“Come! Come!” exclaimed Rammadrecula. “You’re overlooking the critical clue!”
“The Human! The Human!” Seeing the uncomprehending stare on Occo’s face, the heterochthonatrix slapped the table again. “The one you passed by on your way out. That was none other than the illuminatus Rupert Shenoy!”
The name meant absolutely nothing to Occo. But Bresk issued an exclamatory fart.
“No kidding?” said the familiar. “Shenoy — here?” Sensing her mistress’ confusion, Bresk added: “He’s famous in Human academic circles. Half-crazy, they say, but still really famous. If he’s here . . .”
Occo finished the thought. “Presumably he knows something.”
“I don’t think any ‘presumption’ is necessary,” said Rammadrecula. “But we’ll know soon enough. I will have him followed.”
Occo looked down at the Ebbo. “Not by Proceeds-With-Circumspection, I hope.”
Rammadrecula waved the notion aside. “Ebbos are no good for that sort of thing. No, for following someone in a Human environment you need to employ street urchins.”
“That term is unfamiliar to me.”
“As well it should be! Nac Zhe Anglan are a civilized people. ‘Street urchins’ are a caste Humans use for menial chores and spying. They orphan them at a very young age for the purpose. Yes, yes, it’s quite barbaric. Apparently the practice goes back to Human ancient history. Some savage named Sherlock Holmes who ruled over a land called Baker Street.”
She turned toward Proceeds-With-Circumspection. “Summon a street urchin.”
By the nature of their physiognomy, Ebbo lacked facial features mobile enough to indicate sentiments. Instead, they used wing-snaps and hindleg-rubbing. Judging from the complete immobility of the wings and hindlegs of Proceeds-With-Circumspection as it left the restaurant, the factotum disapproved of the Heterochthonatrix’s behavior but was being circumspect about it.
Shortly thereafter, the Ebbo reappeared with a little Human in tow. Occo thought it was the same one who had guided them here.
“What’s up, boss?” she asked.
Occo looked at the ceiling. Seeing the direction of her gaze, Rammadrecula shook her head.
“It’s just a Human expression,” she said, sounding amused. “It means ‘what do you want from me?’ Well, as a rule. Humans produce colloquialisms with profligacy and the things mutate like viruses.”
“Time’s a-wasting,” said the Human. “You got a job or not?”
Another colloquialism, presumably. Occo had an image of the fourth dimension, gaunt from starvation or some sort of consumptive disease. Bizarre. But what else would you expect from a species that thought deities were beneficent, in defiance of all empirical evidence?
“Show it the image,” said Rammadrecula.
“I’m a her, not an it. What is it with you people?”
Proceeds-With-Circumspection held up its tablet. The image on the screen was that of a Human — probably male, judging from the lack of thoracic extensions — whose principal characteristics seem to be a large proboscis, a great shock of white skin extrusions on top of its head, and a figure that was unusually slender even by Human standards.
“We need you to find this Human,” said Rammadrecula. “As soon as possible. His name is Rupert Shenoy.”
“ASAP jobs require a surcharge. That’ll be” — here the little female used a term that meant nothing to Occo but presumably referred to a sum in the local currency. “Half upfront, half on delivery.”
She pulled out her scruffy tablet and held it up. The Ebbo already had its stylus in hand. The transaction was quickly made and the Human left.
She returned a short while later. “It’s time for the delivery payment. The Human you’re looking for has a ship waiting for him at the spaceport. He’s already left the prison and is headed that way.”
Occo wouldn’t have been surprised if the heterochthonatrix had tried to cheat the Human of her delivery payment, but Rammadrecula paid immediately. Either she was honest or knew something about the likely retaliation that thwarted street urchins would undertake. Occo had no way to judge the capabilities of the orphans of an alien species. Perhaps they could be quite dangerous.
As soon as the Human left, Rammadrecula burst into an enthusiastic little dance. “The chase is on! It’s on! But we must hurry — or Shenoy will leave before we can reach my spacecraft and set out in pursuit.”
Occo pointed to the Ebbo. “Easier to just have Proceeds-With-Circumspection check the registered passage. They must have filed one or the Humans won’t let them pass through the portal.”
She didn’t add what she could have, which was: how did Rammadrecula think she could pursue an FTL Human spacecraft with the STL craft she would have at her own disposal as an Envacht Lu official?
She didn’t add it for the good and simple reason that she needed to make clear to the now-exposed-as-certifiably-unbalanced heterochthonatrix that there was no “we” involved in this project in the first place.
But before she could utter those peremptory phrases, she felt Bresk’s neural connectors probing behind her earflaps. The familiar wanted to link without bringing attention to the fact.
Bresk was often a nuisance but he was not stupid. If he wanted to link, there would be a reason for it. Occo exposed her neural sockets and a moment later they were linked.
<Don’t quarrel about it> Bresk said. <Her ship probably has better records than I do of whatever destination we’ll be headed for. Even with those records at our disposal, getting there via Warlock Variation Drive is going to be what Humans call “hairy.” Without them . . . >
He had a point. And now that she thought about it, Occo realized that Ju’ula could surely set out as easily from a spaceship as anywhere else. So why bother arguing with the Envacht Lu lunatic? They’d go aboard her ship, lift off the planet — and then go their separate way.
“We need to make a stop first,” she said. “I have some essential equipment I need to take with us. A deific works detector and a demonic de-energizer.”
As descriptions of the Warlock Variation Drive and the Skerkud Teleplaser, those were . . . creative. Thankfully, Rammadrecula didn’t seem inclined to pursue the matter. She satisfied herself with uttering the phrase make haste! make haste! at least thirty or forty times as they went to the chamber where Occo had left Ju’ula and the Teleplaser and thereafter made their way outside the human habitat to the place where the heterochthonatrix had left her vehicle.
Though no sentient being would ever confuse him with the operator of a sports racer, Proceeds-With-Circumspection proved to be a less stodgy driver than his fellow Ebbo, Circumvents-Jeopardies-and-Exposures. So, they arrived at the spaceport not more than a short time after the Humans reached their ship and took off.
By then, however, a search of the public records using the Ebbo’s tablet revealed the intended destination of their quarry. It was a planet occupied mostly by Paskapans which Human called “Cornwallis IV.”
Bresk found the name Cornwallis IV in his own records. “The appellation seems to refer either to an obscure military figure of Human history, a peninsular extension of one of their islands, or possibly a miniature avian which figures in their cuisine. Which, by the way, is loathsome. Would you believe Humans extract the bodily fluids of one of their domesticated animals — cows, they’re called, or sometimes goats — and then deliberately expose the already-nauseating substance to environmental degradation using a multitude of bacteria, microbes and enzymes, the purpose of which — brace yourself — ”
“Shut up. I don’t need to know any of this,” said Occo.
“Well, no, you don’t. But it’s actually rather interesting, in a sickening sort of way.”
Bresk was silent for a bit, and then resumed with more relevant information. “There are several terms for the planet in our own tongues, depending on which sect or denomination is involved. But the two used most often are Uingha Va Vra — after one of the three founding sages of the Lesser Obscurati, which doesn’t seem too useful for our purposes — and Aztrakaçetif.”
“That’s a peculiar name.”
“It’s not really a name,” Bresk explained. “It’s just a sequence of syllables based on the linguistic theories developed by the Jekh Submergence, which they believe makes their communications opaque to occult powers because — ”
“Skip all that,” said Occo impatiently. “The Jekh Submergence — whether the Covenant, the Pact, the Assembly or the Debentia — are a mob of cretins. What use is the name for our purposes?”
“I was just getting to that,” Bresk responded. “What this particular string of syllables does is encapsulate a description of the planet itself. Translating — a bit loosely, that’s inherent when you’re dealing with Jekh twaddle — it means ‘looks sort of like a gwendgee, but with extra pustules.’ Talk about loathsome cuisine!”
Loathsome, indeed. A gwendgee was a small amphibian which originated on Hairrab, the cloister planet of the Jekh Assembly, but had since been spread to all planets occupied by the Submergence that had suitable ecosystems. The noxious creature was prized by the Submergence because of the poisons it secreted and retained in epidermal pustules. Steamed or parboiled and then usually mixed in a salad, the creatures were eaten and produced mystic visions. Such, at least, was the claim made by the Submergence. No other sect had ever corroborated their claims because eating gwendgees also resulted in a fatality rate exceeding seventy-five percent. Occo was by no means the only Nac Zhe Anglan who considered them a mob of cretins.
Still, they finally had a physical description to go by, which seemed to be the critical ingredient for successful travel using the Warlock Variation Drive.
They reached Rammadrecula’s spaceship. Not surprisingly, given the Heterochthonatrix’s lineage, it was an expensive luxury craft rather than a more utilitarian official vessel. She’d probably bought it herself rather than drawing on Envacht Lu funds.
Once aboard, Rammadrecula and Proceeds-With-Circumspection set about launching the ship, while Occo and Bresk set themselves up in the chamber they’d been provided.
“Wake up, Ju’ula,” Occo commanded. “We need you to get us out of here.”
The Warlock Variation Drive’s eyes opened and spent a few moments examining the chamber.
“Why would we want to get out of here, Mama?” she asked. “This is plush. Way better than where most of my Mamas put me — including you, I’m sad to say, at least up until now.”
“Plush or not, it’s a sublight vessel. We need you to get us where we’re going more quickly.”
“So? The two are not counterpoised. And where do you need to go?”
“It’s a planet called Aztrakaçetif.”
Ju’ula closed her eyes. “Oh, Mama, that’s just a string of nonsense sounds. I need an image.”
They felt and heard a slight rumble. Rammadrecula’s yacht was lifting from the planet.
“Better wait a bit,” Bresk cautioned.
That was probably good advice. Occo turned on the viewscreen and waited until they were well clear of the atmosphere. Then she closed her eyes and tried to visualize a planet that looked sort of like a gwendgee, but with more pustules.
The result, unfortunately, was something that looked a lot more like a particularly large and grotesque gwendgee than a planet of any kind.
“You want to visit Yuyu the Unfortunate? Well, okay. But I got to tell you, Mama –”
The planet in the viewscreen disappeared. An instant later, the viewscreen itself disappeared — and an instant after that, the entire chamber. Occo and Bresk found themselves on what seemed to be a large platter with a slightly raised lip. Rammadrecula and Proceeds-With-Circumspection were perched on the very edge, looking both surprised and alarmed.
The couch that Occo herself rested upon, on the other hand, was extraordinarily luxurious.
“Most people don’t want to have anything to do with the God of Misfortune of the now-extinct Misundai,” Ju’ula continued, sounding very dubious. “Who used to be the Chaik’s God of Catastrophe before they went extinct, and was the Race of Supremacy’s God of Affliction before they went extinct, and before that was –”
Rammadrecula started to shriek. Proceeds-With-Circumspection began scrittering frantically on its tablet, exclaiming: “This is most irregular! Most irregular!”
Ahead of them, squatting on what seemed to be a vast and illimitable field covered with fungi, was a being which . . .
Looked quite like a gigantic and particularly misshapen and discolored gwendgee covered with pustules. Seeing them come, the monster’s maw opened and an enormous tongue emerged. Coiled, as if ready to strike.
The pustules opened also. They did not secrete poisons, however. Instead, they produced huge insects that bore a close resemblance to the sort of winged predators that fed on . . .
Pretty much anything that moved. Such as themselves, literally served up on a platter.
The swarm of insects headed their way.
“Those look like stingers on their abdomens,” said Bresk. “Either that or ovipositors. I’m not sure which is worse.”
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