Gods of Sagittarius – Snippet 14
“Why didn’t you warn me?” Occo demanded.
Floating next to her so it could examine the spectacle on the main screen for itself, Bresk’s mantle swelled indignantly. “Warn you? Do you have any idea of the complexities involved in the Nedru Concord’s calculation of the right time — excuse me, I believe the term the maniacs prefer is ‘auspicious juncture’ — for holding an Imminence Stimulation?”
“No, of course not. That’s one of the reasons why I fashioned you in the first place. I’m a shaman. Doing that sort of math is your job.”
“Undoable job! Because you then have to add to that complexity — of which you have no concept whatsoever — the ingredient of random chance which the Nedru Contemplate insists is an essential feature of a successful Stimulation.”
“Yes — which just proves once again that the Nedru Concord Skein of Creeds is a horde of morons, seeing as how they’ve now held” — there was a minute pause while Bresk searched its memory records — “three hundred and twenty-nine Stimulations, counting this one, none of which have succeeded in reawakening an Old One. Or an Old One bacterium, for that matter.”
Occo glowered at the screen. The Nedru were indeed insane, even by the none-too-stable standards of the whole Subsumption Posturate. All adherents to the doctrine of Subsumption held that the Old Ones were deific, not demonic. They also believed that the holy Old Ones — a few of them, at least — had survived the war with the demons but only by corporeal disembodiment. Most Subsumers believed that the Old Ones were now beings of pure ethereal spirit, residing in the fluctuations of the brane fissures. One could certainly call upon their spirits for guidance, but there was no longer any prospect that the Old Ones would play a role in the working of the material universe; not, at least — according to some schools — until the prophesied Time of Annulment, when the spirits of the Old Ones would reverse the expansion of the universe and (very, very slowly) resume their corporeal existence as the universe began compressing and rushing toward the ultimate collapse and rebirth.
This doctrine was far too passive, though, for those who belonged to the Nedru Concord. Although they professed a vast multitude of particular tenets and dogmas — it was not called the Skein of Creeds for nothing — the Nedru were all united in their belief that Old One survivors still existed somewhere in this universe and could be stimulated to rise again with the proper rites and rituals.
Prominent among those rites and rituals was the Imminence Stimulation, wherein Nedru summoned from across the galaxy — to be more precise, from inhabited planets of the known portion of the Sagittarius arm thus far explored by Nac Zhe Anglan — brought their spacecraft into orbit around Vlax Broche.
Very close orbit, from which the most faithful dipped into the gas giant’s atmosphere in hopes of awakening the Old Ones thought to be sleeping somewhere in the interior. It was perhaps the most dangerous pilgrimage in the sprawling Nac Zhe Anglan galactic region. Every Stimulation resulted in hundreds of fatalities.
And even more in the way of casualties. The small shipyard on Zayth located right next to the Repository of the Old Ones was flooded with work during Stimulations, as was the nearby medical center. Occo suddenly saw a way she could turn a problem into an opportunity.
“We’ll have to actually damage the ship, though,” she mused, half-aloud. “No way around it. The Nedru are crazy but they aren’t stupid.”
Bresk swiveled to face her. Its compound eyes, always a very prominent feature of its not-exactly-a-face, were bigger than ever. “What are you talking about?”
Bresk farted. “Are you joking?”
“Of course not. Set a course to put us in orbit around Vlax Broche. A close orbit, you understand. There’ll be observers, some of them agents of the Repository. This has to look genuine.”
“How do you make a fake shipwreck look genuine?”
“By not faking it in the first place. All we have to do is survive. Once we steal the Warlock Variation Drive we won’t need a ship.”
“You don’t know that!”
Occo flexed her arms back and forth, indicating xaff, a sentiment best described as uncertainty-coupled-with-insouciance. “The records suggest as much.”
Bresk’s fart, this time, indicated sarcasm rather than fear. “Just listen to yourself! First we destroy the ship — with us in it, mind you! — without quite destroying it utterly in order to gain access to the Repository, after which — by means yet unknown — we shall seize the Warlock Variation Drive, whereupon ‘the records suggest’ we might be able to use it without a ship. This s your idea of a plan?”
“It could work.”
“Yes, and if you devote yourself immediately to her worship — or maybe it’s a him, who knows with Humans? — the goddess Evel Knievel will see you through. But unlike you, I don’t have any bones to be broken and made whole again by an alien deity.”
“Just do it,” Occo commanded.
Within a short time, however, it became clear that Bresk’s skepticism was not entirely without merit. Being neither suicidal nor insane nor stupid, Occo had never before attempted to skim the outer atmosphere of a giant planet with a spacecraft not designed for that purpose. She soon discovered that the casualty rates reportedly suffered by Nedru stimulants were not apocryphal.
“There’s a reason they like to call themselves ‘martyrs,’ you know,” Bresk groused.
“Shut up. I’m thinking.”
“My terror swells. Where Occo Nasht Jopri Kruy Gadrax’s mind roams, fools and lunatic fear to tread.”
“There’s no help for it,” Occo finally concluded. “We’ll have to use precognition.”
“I’m using it right now. I foresee disaster.”
“Link,” she commanded, raising her earflaps to expose the surgically implanted neural sockets below.
Sarcastic and annoying as it might be, Bresk was never disobedient. Less than two minims later, its neural connectors were inserted into the sockets.
As always, there was a brief disorientation. Very soon, though, Occo felt her senses greatly enhanced and her mind working more quickly than ever.
Which was a good thing, since she discovered that during the brief period of disorientation she’d allowed the spacecraft to dip back into the atmosphere at a steeper angle than she’d intended. If she didn’t take immediate corrective action the ship would start breaking up — Bresk’s racing calculators provided the answer almost instantly — in fifteen and a half minims.
Somewhere in the recesses of her mind she sensed her familiar’s agitation but, as always during linkage, Bresk’s habitual sarcastic prattle was suppressed. It took her less than three minims to realize that she was too deep to simply lift back out of the atmosphere. Her only chance now —
Yes! There! Another ship was plunging from above just ahead of her. She increased her acceleration to bring her craft into the other ship’s wake.
The turbulence was severe. But within five minims the ship ahead of her began disintegrating in a spectacular fashion. A total of eleven minims had now elapsed of her allotted fifteen and a half.
She folded her mind — there was no other way to describe the process — into the precognitive state. Precognition was a peculiar skill. It was unpredictable, and more a matter of feel than logic; an art, as it were, not a science.
Which made perfect sense to Occo. All Nac Zhe Anglan creeds which included shamans in their canonate recognized the fact of precognition. But whereas most such creeds explained the skill as being a psychic byproduct of brane interpenetration, the Naccor Jute understood the truth — it was a function of the same forces of magic that had given the Old Ones and their adversaries their immense power.
Real magic, not complex scientific interactions misunderstood as such. Most Nac Zhe Anglan creeds — and all alien species, to the best of her knowledge — were blinded to the truth by their own history. Emerging as they had out of animal intellects, they first began to grapple with the great magic forces which underlay reality by superimposing upon them the crude logical tools which became known as “science.” As time passed, they reified the practical error and became convinced that magic did not exist.
The great founder of the Naccor Jute, the sage Hefra Ghia Diod, had put it thusly:
A sufficiently primitive magic is indistinguishable from technology.
That understanding made Naccor Jute shamans the best clairvoyants produced by any Nac Zhe Anglan creed. Their ability to sense the future was not clouded by scientific superstitions.
That said, the best was still not very good. No clairvoyant could ever see more than a few minims into the future, and their visions almost always came as a complex of variations, not a foreordained clarity. What they saw, in essence, was that in a very short time their fate would take one of two to four alternative paths. The choice was still theirs.
The moment came and she saw her three futures. Immediately she chose the most daring.
Why? She would never be able to explain in terms that corresponded to logic. That choice simply seemed truest to her own nature.
As the craft ahead of her came apart, Occo brought her own craft into a glancing collision with a large section of the disintegrating ship. She’d interpreted that future to be one in which the collision would allow her to carom out of the atmosphere, but within three minims she realized that she’d misread her vision. Her ship effectively fused with the section of the doomed ship and used that section as both a buffer and what amounted to a huge (and grossly misshapen) surfboard.
Occo was a superb surfer. She’d never before surfed an atmosphere instead of an ocean, nor used a single board instead of two — much less such a grotesque one! — nor, for that matter, surfed using a ship’s controls instead of her own four legs and feet. But the overall process was still recognizably surfing and she responded with confidence.
Some traces of her precognitive state must have remained, too. Even with her skill and experience, she could find no other way to explain the ease with which she brought her craft safely out of Vlax Broche’s violent atmosphere. Many would have called it a miracle, but she knew it was magic.
And, as it turned out, her choice had given them an additional boon. By whatever means her ship had come to be fused with the section of the other ship — it was probably not a true fusion but simply that their external parts had gotten jammed together — they were still connected after they left the atmosphere. Occo had no way of knowing exactly what her ship now looked like, but of one thing she was certain. It would look damaged.
Badly damaged, most likely. Certainly damaged enough to warrant landing at the shipyard on Zayth. In fact . . .
She’d have to go outside the ship to see for herself, but if the ship’s appearance was as lopsided as she suspected it was, then it would be perfectly plausible that entering Zayth’s atmosphere would cause it to veer off course. The moon’s atmosphere was much thinner than that of the gas giant it orbited, but it was a real atmosphere. Not dense enough to breathe, even if it had contained more than trace amounts of oxygen. But more than dense enough to explain a crash landing.
A crash landing that . . . ended up right next to the Repository. Might even breach one of the walls.
A pity precognition wouldn’t let her see that far ahead. But magic always had its practical limits.
“Unlink,” she commanded.
As soon as Bresk did so, it began complaining.
“You almost killed us! And now what silly notion do you have in mind?”
After she explained, her familiar farted a veritable tune. A discordant one, to be sure.
It didn’t take Occo more than four medims outside the ship to realize two things. First, the ship’s appearance was certainly grotesque enough to make her desire to land at the shipyard plausible to whoever was in charge of the facility. And secondly, her ship and the torn-off section of the doomed ship were effectively fused. As she’d suspected, the two craft had locked together because various external parts had interpenetrated. But the impact had been severe enough that at least in a few places the parts had melted and fused together.
It wasn’t much of a fusion, granted. But since there was no way to predict whether and for how long the broken section would remain attached to her ship once they entered the moon’s atmosphere — nor how it would affect her ship’s aerodynamics while it did remained attached — she would have to jury-rig some sort of explosive device to detach it at the proper time.
Whatever that time might be. There was no way to predict that, either.
Fortunately, her spacecraft was an armed survey ship. She didn’t have any industrial explosives, but she had several different kinds of grenades as well as quite a few personal weapons aboard.
A concussion grenade should do the trick nice nicely.
That left the problem of breaching the wall of the Repository. She decided she could manage that — well, probably — by using the ship’s directional jets. If she brought the ship to a semi-controlled crash-landing against the side of the Repository . . .
With at least two of the forward directional jets positioned to strike the walls with their hot exhausts . . .
And assuming she dug the ship in solidly enough when she crashed it — in a controlled crash, of course — that the reaction from the directional jets wouldn’t cause the ship to just spin on its side . . .
That was a lot of “ifs.” Too many to be comfortable with. But she didn’t see any good alternatives.
“We’re set to go,” she pronounced, after reentering the ship and resuming her place on the command bench.
“We most certainly are not,” Bresk countered. “I have done a careful mathematical analysis and I estimate our chances of success are about one in three.”
“That good? Splendid.”