Gods of Sagittarius – Snippet 05
Basil chuckled. “That’s him. You know, I think they were just on the verge of firing him before he won his first Prize. He’d been late four days in a row, and couldn’t even remember the number on his office door. The last day he drove there in his own vehicle instead of using the transport they’d supplied him and . . .” Basil paused and smiled. “He not only couldn’t remember the room number, but he forgot the combination to lock and unlock the vehicle!”
“That’s Rupert, all right,” said Tabor, returning his smile.
“So he’s ordered to report to the head office, which happens to be in the building,” continued Basil, “and as he does so, he walks past a trash atomizer — they must have one every forty feet — and sees something on the floor, something that someone tossed at the atomizer and missed. I don’t know what it was, a piece of fruit, something totally forgettable like that, and he stops, and he stares at it. The guy escorting him to the office pulls on his arm, and he refuses to go. He’s almost trancelike for a full minute. Then he grins ear to ear, goes into the office, and announces that he’s figured out a way to find and map wormholes that our ships’ sensors can’t find, and that this will open up maybe twenty million new worlds to us over the next century or two.” Basil snapped his fingers. “Just like that. Sees a half-eaten apple or some such, and sixty seconds later he’s come up with a Sagittarius Prize.”
“I’m impressed,” said Tabor.
“You want to hear the wild part?”
Basil leaned forward. “He managed to unlock his vehicle, and wound up spending the night — the whole night — at a restaurant.”
“He was celebrating?” asked Tabor.
Basil laughed. “He couldn’t remember where he lived!”
“You know,” said Tabor, “you read about geniuses like that when you’re a kid, or you watch funny holos about them, but even when you’re five years old you know no one like that really exists.” He smiled. “They’re going to have to move five thousand disks and e-books from the fiction to the non-fiction section of the library.”
“That’s why most of us would kill to work with him, even when he can’t put on matching socks or remember to comb his hair.”
“Yeah, I can see that,” said Tabor. “Now, about this world . . . ”
“I only know what I’ve heard and read,” answered Basil. “And what it’s named for.”
“That puts you ahead of me. What is it named for?”
Tabor frowned. “What’s Lovecraft? Some other world?”
“Howard Phillips,” answered Basil.
“I’m still in the dark.”
“He was a writer,” explained Basil.
“And he lived on Cthulhu?”
Basil chuckled. “He created it.”
“Let me get this straight,” said Tabor. “This Lovecraft is brilliant enough to build a goddamned world, and even so he needs Rupert’s help?”
Basil smiled and shook his head. “I’m not making myself clear. Howard Phillips Lovecraft — he called himself H. P., or at least he signed his name that way — was a fiction writer centuries, probably millennia, ago.” He paused. “Yeah, it has to be millennia, because we were still Earthbound.”
“And he wrote about this world, and it actually exists?”
Basil’s lips seemed to rattle as he exhaled deeply. “No, I’m still not explaining it. Cthulhu wasn’t a world at all.”
“Then what was it?” asked Tabor.
“I’m not even smiling. What was it?”
“So this was some kind of religion?” asked Tabor.
Basil shook his head. “No, the whole thing was fiction. Fantasy, actually. Cthulhu was a terrible entity, evil from head to toe. He was either a member of a race called the Old Ones, or he was worshipped by the Old Ones, all of whom vanished ages before Lovecraft wrote his stories.”
“And someone named this world after an evil demigod?” said Tabor, frowning.
“An evil demigod who never existed,” said Basil.
“Or so we hope,” said a familiar voice, and they turned to see Shenoy standing at the edge of the bridge, looking like he’d just awakened.
“Sit down, Rupert,” said Tabor, getting to his feet. “You look like you could use some coffee.”
“That would be nice,” said Shenoy, trudging over to the seat Tabor had vacated. “With some kind of sweetener.” A pause. “I think.”
Tabor prepared his coffee and brought it back to him. “So why do we hope that this god never existed?”
Shenoy stared at him as if he was crazy. “Do you want to live in a universe that has evil, malign gods? If so, you should join one of the Nac Zhe Anglan sects.”
Tabor chuckled awkwardly and shook his head. “I mean, why do we think there’s a chance in a billion that this god does exist?”
“We don’t know,” answered Shenoy. “That’s why we’re going there.”
“Just because it’s named for a creature that some writer made up thousands of years ago?”
Shenoy stared at him, and Tabor had a feeling that he stared at small insects exactly the same way. “Do you really think that’s the reason that my various employers equipped and paid for this expedition? I assume Mr. Lovecraft’s readers were impressionable, but I’d rather hoped we’ve outgrown that over the eons.”
“I don’t know why we’re going there,” replied Tabor, unable to keep the frustration out of his voice. “And I would like for someone to tell me what the hell this is all about.”
“Didn’t you ask when they assigned you to me?” said Shenoy curiously.
“If they knew why, they kept it to themselves.”
“Good!” said Shenoy decisively.
Tabor frowned. “Good?”
“Absolutely. I approve.”
“Might I ask why?”
“The fewer people who know about this, and about what seems to have happened there, the better.”
“Well, your bodyguard still doesn’t know,” said Tabor, “and has absolutely no idea what he’s supposed to protect you from.”
“If I knew what we will find there, I’d certainly tell you,” answered Shenoy. “In fact, if I knew what we’d find there, I’d have no reason to go.”
“Are you telling me that this is just a fishing expedition?” demanded Tabor irritably.
“Certainly not,” replied Shenoy. “Fish have nothing to do with it.”
Tabor exchanged looks with Basil, who seemed half-amused and half-weary by Shenoy’s answers.
“Let me rephrase that,” said Tabor.
“Yes, please do.”
“Is this just a fact-finding expedition?”
“Certainly,” answered Shenoy. “Aren’t all expeditions?”
“No, not all of them.”
“Really? How strange.”
“There’s a lot strange around here,” muttered Tabor.
Shenoy shook his head. “No, we’re still more than five hours away from Cthulhu. That’s where it’s strange.”
Tabor stared at him and decided to make one last attempt at getting a comprehensible answer. “Just what do you expect to find on Cthulhu?”
“Answers, dear boy,” said Shenoy. “Answers.”
“Call me Russ. I haven’t been a boy in thirty years — yours or anyone else’s.”
Tabor grimaced, pulled out his pocket computer, activated it, and stared at the screen.
“What are you doing?” inquired Shenoy curiously.
“Looking at a book that was written in High Antarean,” answered Tabor.
“You read High Antarean?” said Shenoy, obviously impressed.
“Not a word of it.”
“Then why . . . ?”
“Because it makes more sense than anything I’ve heard for the past ten minutes,” growled Tabor with an expression that convinced his two shipmates not to speak to him for the next five hours.