Gods of Sagittarius – Snippet 03
“Russ Tabor,” he said, reaching out and shaking each of their hands in turn.
“And I’m Basil Stone, and this is Andrea Melander.”
Basil stared at him, as if sizing him up. “I wasn’t expecting a fourth member of the team. May I ask what your function is?”
“I’ve been hired to guard the most valuable part of the expedition,” answered Tabor.
“Oh?” said Andrea curiously. “And what is that?”
Tabor jerked a thumb in Shenoy’s direction. “Him.”
“Of course,” said Basil. “It makes sense. Especially if Cthulhu’s half as weird and dangerous as it sounds.”
“Everything that’s unknown sounds weird or dangerous or both,” replied Shenoy. “I’m sure there’ll be an explanation for it.”
“Good,” said Tabor. “I like logical explanations.”
Basil smiled. “Did he say ‘logical’?”
“All set,” said Shenoy, walking back to the bridge from his cabin. He frowned. “I hope it’s not too cold. I only packed one heavy coat.”
“I thought we were going to mostly be inside,” said Andrea, frowning.
“Right,” agreed Shenoy.
“Well, then?” she said.
He shrugged. “You never know.”
Tabor shot Basil an Is he always this pixilated look, and Basil sighed, smiled, and nodded his head.
“Well, we’re all on the bridge,” continued Shenoy. “Let’s go.”
“Are we waiting for a pilot?” asked Basil.
“From what they told me, everything’s programmed in,” responded Tabor.
“Okay,” said Shenoy, staring at the viewscreen. “Take off.”
Shenoy cleared his throat. “Take off!” he said with greater volume.
“May I?” asked Tabor.
“Be my guest,” answered Shenoy.
“Ship, respond please,” said Tabor.
“Awaiting your orders,” said a mechanical voice.
“You were given a flight plan to Cthulhu,” continued Tabor. “Can you access it?”
“And you’ve filed it with the various authorities?”
“Are all systems operative?”
“Okay, take off.”
“Ship, did you hear me?” said Tabor.
There was no response.
“Oh, hell!” muttered Basil. “The goddamned engine is dead.”
“That fast?” asked Andrea.
Tabor pulled out a communication device and contacted the spaceport, spoke softly for a moment, then frowned and put the device back in a pocket.
“Well?” asked Basil.
“They checked the ship two hours ago. Everything was working, and it had enough fuel to get us there and back twice.”
“They must be mistaken,” said Basil. “Ships don’t just die two hours after passing inspection.”
Tabor turned to Shenoy. “You’re the genius, Rupert. What the hell happened?”
“I’m not sure,” answered Shenoy. “But it is interesting.”
“It’s a pain in the ass, is what it is,” said Andrea. “Now we’re going to have to make arrangements for a new ship, move all of our gear, and –”
“Perhaps not,” said Shenoy, a puzzled expression on his face.
“What are you getting at?” she said.
“I don’t think we’re going to need a new ship,” said Shenoy. “Or at least, I don’t think it will be any better than this one.”
“But this one stopped working,” said Andrea irritably.
“Curious, isn’t it?” replied Shenoy.
“Curious, hell!” she snapped. “It’s just goddamned bad luck!”
Tabor had been watching Shenoy carefully since the ship had died, and now he spoke up. “What was so curious, Rupert?”
Shenoy blinked his eyes rapidly for a few second, then frowned. “That it was working fine until you mentioned Cthulhu.”
“Are you seriously suggesting that the damned ship doesn’t want to go there?” demanded Andrea.
Shenoy shrugged and offered her a gentle smile. “Are you seriously suggesting that a ship that passed inspection this morning suddenly gave up the ghost for no reason?”
“It’s more likely than that the damned ship is afraid to go to Cthulhu!” she shot back.
“Oh, I don’t think it’s afraid,” said Shenoy. “I don’t believe a ship can feel fear. Or hate or love, for that matter.”
“Then what about mentioning Cthulhu made the ship shut down?” asked Tabor.
“That’s one of many things we must find out,” replied Shenoy. “But I have a request that is something in the nature of an experiment.” He looked at each of them in turn. “Let us pledge not to mention our destination by its proper name, but refer to it only by its coordinates.”
“That’s fine,” said Basil. “But the ship is dead.”
Shenoy shook his head. “The ship is momentarily dormant, but we already know that there’s nothing wrong with it, so I expect all of its systems will come back to life very soon now, when we take off for” — he rattled off the planet’s galactic coordinates — “and the trick for us is not to put it back to sleep again, especially once we take off and we are dependent on it for the air we breathe.”
“And you really believe this shit, Rupert?” asked Tabor, frowning.
“Believe is a very strong word, Russ,” answered Shenoy. “Let us say rather that I suspect that this shit is true.”
Tabor stared at him, trying to decide if Shenoy was making fun of him, and finally decided that he wasn’t.
“Okay, so what do we do now?”
“We wait,” said Shenoy.
“How long?” persisted Tabor.
“I’m inclined to say as long as it takes, but perhaps there is a way to speed up the process.”
“And what might that be?”
Shenoy seemed to stare at some spot at the top of the bridge that only he could see. Finally he spoke: “Let’s have some coffee.”
“And then will you tell us?” said Tabor.
Basil chuckled. “You don’t know how the Brain thinks.”
“The Brain?” repeated Tabor. He turned to Shenoy. “That would be you?”
Shenoy shrugged. “It’s what he calls me. I’d much rather be referred to as Lord Shenoy.”
“I know I’m surrounded by geniuses,” growled Tabor irritably, “but I feel like I’ve wandered into an animated entertainment for three-year-olds.”
“You don’t like coffee?” asked Shenoy, who seemed genuinely concerned.
“Coffee’s fine,” muttered Tabor. “Let’s get on with it.”
“And you, Andrea?”
She nodded “Yeah, whatever it takes.”
“Good,” said Shenoy. “I just hope you’ve all answered sincerely.”
“What the hell difference does that make?” demanded Tabor.
“Keep your temper, dear boy,” said Shenoy gently. “There’s no call for ill behavior. Basil, I’ve already forgotten where the galley is. Go fetch us a pot of coffee, four cups, and a tray.” Basil got up and began walking to the galley. “Oh, and bring some cream and sugar, and of course spoons, for those who might want them.”
This is clearly going to be an exercise in futility, thought Tabor. All the ship’s systems are dead, so how the hell can the galley make coffee? Can’t any of these geniuses figure that out?
“Well, goddamn!” cried Basil. “It’s working! How did you know?”
Shenoy allowed himself the luxury of a satisfied smile. “Just a hunch.”
“Uh-uh,” said Tabor. “You’re a scientist, not a psychic. How did you know?”
“Knowing that it would happen was the easy part,” answered Shenoy. “Knowing why it would happen is the tricky part. I’m still mulling on that.”
“Explain the easy part to us,” insisted Tabor.
“I had to convince, well, not the ship, but whatever was influencing the ship, that we would not use that word again, and that we had no intention of leaving just because the ship had gone dormant. So by brewing up some coffee, someone or something realized that we weren’t abandoning the ship.”
“Then why didn’t the ship just stay dormant?” asked Tabor.
“It’s a ship. Its function is to transport us. Eventually it had to do that or die.”
“A ship has no sense of self-preservation.”
“Nonsense,” scoffed Shenoy. “Do you know how many safety systems are built into every ship these days?”
“So if you’re right . . .” began Tabor.
“He often is,” said Andrea as Basil began approaching them carrying the coffee, cream and cups on a very plane metal tray.
“If the ship is incapable of independent action, something controlled, or at least influenced, it,” said Tabor.
“Most likely,” agreed Shenoy pleasantly as he poured himself a cup of coffee.
“Who or what would or could do that?” asked Tabor. “And more importantly, why?”
“Ah!” said Shenoy. “That’s what makes this business so much fun.”
“Fun?” repeated Tabor. “Whatever put the ship to sleep could have done it while we were in space, or traversing a wormhole.”
“But it didn’t,” replied Shenoy. “That makes us one step smarter than it is.”
“You really believe that?” asked Tabor dubiously.
“Not really,” answered Shenoy. Suddenly a smile crossed his face. “But it does make one feel better, at least for a moment, doesn’t it?”
Tabor stared at him silently for a long moment.
Great. Just great. I’m working for a genius who can solve the mysteries of the universe, but probably can’t dress himself or figure out how the lock on the bathroom door works.