Gods of Sagittarius – Snippet 16
“What I feared,” the familiar complained. “I’ll need to reconfigure my catabolic settings to work from carbon dioxide instead of water vapor. In the meantime, you’ll have to carry me.”
Carefully, doing her best to avoid any contact with the hot edges of the hole, Occo came into the Repository.
She was sorely tempted to tell Bresk to use its own feet, but restrained the impulse. She needed to move quickly and her familiar’s waddle would simply be an impediment.
Besides, it didn’t really weigh very much. She picked Bresk up and settled it on the attachments provided for the purpose on the rear torso of her armor. Then, looked around.
Where was the Warlock Variation Drive? She’d seen enough of the Repository to know that the building was huge.
Glancing around, she saw no diagrams or maps on the walls — which were entirely bare. In fact, the Repository itself seemed entirely bare, from what she could see of it. The large room they were in held nothing at all. That portion of the adjoining room that was visible looked to be more of the same.
There being no other place to go, she passed through an archway into the next room.
Empty. But there were archways on all three walls, leading into further chambers.
Quick glances showed that two of those rooms were just as bare and seemed to have no further means of egress. The third room she examined was also bare, but there was an archway on the wall to the right. She headed that way.
Before she’d taken more than three steps into the room, however, a robot rolled into the chamber. The robot was half her height. Like her, it had four legs, but they ended in wheels instead of pads.
“Greetings!” it chirped. “Welcome to the Repository of the Old Ones! May I be of assistance to our distinguished guests?”
Not programmed by a security force, clearly.
“Yes. I’m looking for the Warlock Variation Drive.”
“One of our most treasured items! We have it on display in the Hall of Saints. Follow me, please.”
The robot spun around and headed off. Fortunately, unlike the Ebbo who’d been their guide in the revanship, the robot took its responsibilities quite seriously. It monitored Occo with its rear vision orbs and adjusted its speed to match her pace.
Which was swift. Not quite a canter, but close. There was no time to spare.
Even so, it took a fair amount of time to get where they were going. The Repository was labyrinthine as well as huge. It didn’t take Occo long to realize that all the things that had gone wrong really didn’t matter in the end. Even if every part of her plan had gone as she’d hoped, it would still have come to nothing if it weren’t for the sheer blind good fortune of having encountered the guide robot.
Bresk was quick to point that out. “Since Naccor Jute’s history anyway, you might as well adopt one of the Human creeds. They have a goddess of good luck called Las Vegas who has obviously cast her favor upon you. Be careful, though. By all accounts she’s fickle and can turn instantly into her wicked twin, Lost Wages.”
“Please be quiet,” said the robot. “Some of the artifacts in the Repository are sensitive to noise.”
Occo wondered if she could kidnap the guide robot. The thing was well-nigh invaluable.
As it turned out, the Hall of Saints was devoted to portraits of various Nac Zhe Anglan. Explorers, mostly, judging from their accouterments.
The robot confirmed her guess. As it rolled toward a peculiar-looking object mounted on a pedestal at the far end of the Hall, it began what was clearly a memorized lecture.
“On your left, you will see a portrait of Khet Charras Navo Leur Zaa Mayres. She achieved sainthood –”
Khet Charras Navo, Martyr by way of Disembowelment. Occo had never heard of her.
“– whereupon the evil and savage autochthones — ”
Occo wasn’t paying attention, anyway. Her attention was riveted on the object they were approaching. Was this the Warlock Variation Drive? It seemed . . .
“– bestial beyond measure. The saint’s intestines were mummified and thereafter used as decorations –”
Quite small. Could an interstellar drive really be no larger than Bresk?
“– please to report that the expedition which recovered the relics found by Khet Charras Navo also visited the most severe scourges and skelps upon — ”
They were almost there. The objects was not only small, it was . . .
Bizarre. Really, really bizarre. It looked like nothing so much as a vegetable grown on a planet in the Xeft system that Occo had once visited. The shape was vaguely cruciform, of an unpleasant mauve taupe coloration, mottled both in hue and apparent texture, and with no discernable controls anywhere on its surface.
“Good luck finding a user’s manual,” said Bresk. “I guess Las Vegas just turned into her wicked twin.”
“Please be quiet!” the robot repeated, more vigorously. “The hallowed memory of the Saints is not to be –”
The sound of an explosion rocketed into the Hall. The blast was presumably distant, but must have been very large. About the size one would expect an assault unit to use blasting its way into a building in search of arch-criminals.
The robot fell silent. It seemed to be musing on something. Then, suddenly, it rose to twice its former height — it turned out those legs were extensible — and devices began to unfold from somewhere in its body. Devices which looked remarkably like weapons.
“You must immediately cease all movement!” the robot declared. “On pain of –”
Occo didn’t wait for the rest. Trying to kidnap the robot was not worth the risk. She had her own gun already in hand and fired twice. Not at the torso, which might be armored, but at the complicated-looking extension joints on the two front legs.
The robot collapsed forward, forced to use its hands to break its fall instead of taking up its weapons. The motion also exposed the top of its head.
Which did not look to be armored. Occo fired twice. The robot froze. Then, a few moments later, toppled over.
“And that’s that,” said Occo. “Let’s see what we can make of this drive.”
“If that’s what it is at all,” said Bresk. Like all familiars, it was naturally inclined toward pessimism.
Occo could hear more noise coming from the corridors outside. She interpreted them as the sounds of heavy assault vehicles moving into position.
She didn’t know how much time she had, but in this instance was inclined toward pessimism herself. Whatever she was going to do with the Warlock Variation Drive, she’d have to do it quickly.
She reached the pedestal. Bracing herself, since she had no idea how much the object weighed, she lifted it up.
It was rather light, as it turned out. And, oddly enough, the object felt like a vegetable also.
And now what? she wondered.
Eyes suddenly opened, one each in two of the cruciform . . . bulbs, for lack of a better term.
What looked like a mouth — of sorts — opened on yet another bulb.
“Mama!” the Warlock Variation Drive chirped. “Where have you been?”
The Hall vanished. Occo found herself at sea, perched on a pair of surfboards. A hollow roaring sound caused her to swivel her head.
The largest wave she’d ever seen — ever imagined — ever had nightmares about — was rushing toward her.
“Oh, look, Mama!” chirped the Warlock Variation Drive. “Our impending doom! Don’t you just love danger sports?”