Gods of Sagittarius – Snippet 02
Tabor was waiting for Shenoy in the lobby of the latter’s hotel.
“Nice place,” he remarked as Shenoy emerged from an airlift, accompanied by two large, uniformed androids that were carrying his luggage.
“I’m usually only here to sleep,” replied Shenoy.
“Then why not rent an apartment?” asked Tabor. “It would have been a hell of a lot cheaper.”
“Well, I suppose if I had been paying for it, I would have,” came the answer. “But I must confess that it comes with a bunch of amenities that I’m going to miss.”
“Even though you were hardly ever here?”
“Look around you,” said Shenoy. “Chrystal chandeliers every fifteen feet. Three times as many android servants as guests. Two all-night restaurants, both five-star, and a nightclub with excellent entertainment.”
“Too bad you only slept here and didn’t avail yourself of all that,” said Tabor with a smile.
“Well, perhaps I was here just a tad more that I implied,” replied Shenoy, returning his smile. “Anyway, my bill is taken care of, so we might as well go to the spaceport. I assume you’ve lined up a ship?”
“According to my specifications?”
Tabor nodded his head. “Seems a little big for just the two of us.”
“There will be four of us,” answered Shenoy. “A man and a woman. I’ve worked with them before. I’ll introduce you when they arrive.”
“I’d appreciate that, Rupert,” said Tabor. “I’d hate to call them ‘Hey, You!’ for the next few months.”
Shenoy stared at him for a moment, then smiled. “That was a joke, wasn’t it?” he said at last.
“I’m not used to jokes.”
“I noticed,” replied Tabor.
“Give me time,” said Shenoy. “I’m very adaptable.”
They reached a vehicle that floated a few inches above the ground, waited for the androids to load Shenoy’s luggage into a carrying compartment, then climbed into the vehicle themselves.
Suddenly Shenoy looked around and frowned.
“Is something wrong?” asked Tabor.
“You don’t have any luggage of your own,” replied Shenoy. “I hate to mention it, but with no change of clothes for months on end you’re not going to turn into any nosegay. No offense intended. I mean, I’ve put up with worse.”
Tabor stared at him, trying to determine if he was joking or not. Finally he spoke. “I sent my luggage ahead to the spaceport. Why carry it from the hotel?”
“How very practical!” said Shenoy with a smile.
I guess they don’t give out the Sagittarius Prize for practicality, thought Tabor. Aloud he said, “So what are we looking for on this . . . what was the name of it?”
“Cthulhu,” answered Shenoy. “Well, we’re not quite sure. Otherwise we’d know what to bring.”
“What are we bringing?”
“You, me, and my two assistants.”
“Maybe I worded it wrong,” said Tabor. “What is it about Cthulhu that attracts a Prize winner?”
“And two Ph.D.’s,” added Shenoy. “My assistants have excellent credentials.”
“I’m sure they do,” said Tabor. I just hope I’m not the only one who can ask or answer a direct question.
“There’s the racetrack,” noted Shenoy, pointing to a large coliseum as the vehicle floated past.
“Yeah,” said Tabor in bored tones. “They run some kind of animal there.”
“Pringles?” said Tabor, frowning.
“Paringles,” repeated Shenoy. “A four-legged quadruped, about fifteen hundred pounds. Interesting animals. I go there whenever I have a free afternoon.”
Tabor smiled. “Somehow you don’t strike me as a bettor, Rupert.”
“Oh, I’m not,” Shenoy assured him. “But I love pitting my intellect against the laws of chance.” He began patting his coat pockets. “I keep a record here somewhere. Ah! Got it.” He pulled out a small notebook and began thumbing through it.
“Paper?” said Tabor, surprised.
“I’m a traditionalist.” He turned a few more pages, then stopped and studied his near-illegible scrawl. “If I’d bet ten credits a race, after eighty-six races I would be . . . let me see . . . almost three hundred credits ahead of the game.”
“Somehow I think you make more money solving the problems of the universe.”
“Oh, I do,” agreed Shenoy. “But it’s not as much fun.”
“At least you don’t go broke.”
“There’s a method for beating the track. I just haven’t codified it yet.”
“People have been trying to beat racetracks since we were still Earthbound,” remarked Tabor. “No one’s done it yet.”
“That’s why it fascinates me so,” replied Shenoy. “I’d be the first.” He paused. “I suppose it goes hand in glove with my work. You take the disparate parts of a puzzle that no one else can comprehend, and then, either through logic or a sudden burst of insight, you reconstruct the comprehensive whole.” Suddenly he smiled. “In fact, it’s invariably through that sudden burst. If the scientific method worked, the problem would have been solved long before it landed on my desk.”
“I hope you don’t teach that to your students, Rupert,” said Tabor with a smile.
“You worked for a university until this week, remember?”
“But I never taught. They just paid me to do my work under their auspices for” — he searched for the proper term — “reflected glory.”
“I suppose it makes sense,” said Tabor. “You turn out five or ten geniuses and they all go to work elsewhere, the university gets very little of that reflected glory. But win a Prize while you’re working for them . . .”
“Absolutely,” agreed Shenoy, nodding his head vigorously. “Besides, I’d be a terrible teacher. I hate rigorous preparation.”
“I hope you’ve done a little preparation for Cthulhu,” replied Tabor. “If I’m going to give up all the comforts of a civilized world, I’d like to think it’ll serve some purpose.”
“Oh, Cthulhu’s civilized,” said Shenoy. He frowned. “Just very strange.”
“I ran a computer check on it last night,” said Tabor. “Within five percent of Standard gravity and atmosphere, two oceans, a few city-states, never been at war with anyone. A few animal species, none of them sentient. Got some gold and platinum mines, and a couple of diamond pipes, which is why anyone moved there in the first place. Pays its bills. Never had a revolution. So what’s so very strange about it?”
“That’s what we’re going there to find out.”
“I’d like a little better answer than that, Rupert.”
“I don’t mean to annoy you, Mr . . . Russ,” he said. “But I’m going to have to explain it to Basil and Andrea once we take off, Russ — so why tell you now when you’ll be on the ship as well, Russ?”
“I’m glad we’re being less formal,” replied Tabor, “but one Russ per paragraph is really quite sufficient.”
“I’m sorry, Russ,” said Shenoy. “I’m a little awkward in social situations.”
“I would never have guessed,” said Tabor sardonically.
“Really?” said Shenoy happily. “I guess it doesn’t show as much as I’d feared.” Suddenly he frowned. “Maybe I could have taught a class or two after all.”
The vehicle entered the spaceport, and Shenoy gave the ship’s ID number to the autopilot, which veered around four nearer ships and then stopped in front of a reconditioned cargo ship. Three robots — not androids, for absolutely no effort had been made to give them any human features — stepped forward and began unloading the cargo space.
“Are we planning to bring back a temple, or perhaps a pyramid?” asked Tabor, looking at the ship.
“I’m not working for the university any more, Russ. These people watch their bottom line. I don’t know what we may bring back, which is why we need such a large vessel. But their budget is also why the ship looks so . . . ah . . . used.”
“Just out of curiosity, who are ‘these people’?” asked Tabor.
“A number of scientific journals, Russ,” replied Shenoy. Suddenly he grinned. “I can just see them fighting over the rights to the story of my discovery — always assuming they’re willing to run what I discover.”
“I don’t quite follow that,” said Tabor. “And you don’t have to call me Russ every time.”
“My mistake, Russell,” said Shenoy, who seemed to have no idea what Tabor meant. “Anyway, my field of expertise is officially alien technology, but sometimes alien technology is so close to magic that the two are indistinguishable . . . and some of these journals are not going to like that.”
Tabor was about to ask for an example when another vehicle floated up and two people got off — a tall, slender, balding man in his thirties, with intense staring blue eyes and a thin, delicate mustache that looked like it took more trouble than it was worth; and a short, muscular, redheaded woman with a perpetual scowl on her face.
“Ah!” exclaimed Shenoy. “They’re here! Come along, Russ, and I’ll introduce you.”
Tabor followed him as he approached the two newcomers. “Hello, Andrea,” said the scientist. “You’re looking well. And you too, Basil. I want you to meet the fourth member of our party, Russ . . . uh, I’ve quite forgotten your last name.”