Gods of Sagittarius – Snippet 17


Seeing nothing else to do, Occo squatted and began frantically paddling with all four hands, trying to position herself to catch the wave. But within minims she knew it was hopeless. The wave was about to crest, at which point they would be hammered under by a mass of water whose weight was almost incomprehensible.

“What fun!” chirped the Warlock Variation Drive. “There’s no thrill like bodily destruction! We’re done for!”

“It’s not real!” Bresk shrilled. “Well, it is, but it’s a virtual reality produced by your own mind!”

“So it won’t kill us?”

“Of course it will! We now exist in your mind. In your pitiful, pathetic –”

The wave began curling over. It looked more than a planet approaching than anything else.

Planet. Occo wondered —

The wave vanished. No — the whole sea vanished. They were now apparently floating in some sort of mist.

Well, no. They were now apparently plunging down into some sort of mist.

Hurriedly, Occo looked around. They seemed to be in some of valley or dell, although she could detect no landscape. The mist covered everything. Up above, she could see what looked like two moons and some sort of enormous bridge.

Well, no. That was actually part of a ring system, she realized.

The surroundings suddenly came into focus. They weren’t in a valley of any sort. They were in the atmosphere of a giant gas planet. About to enter a storm cell, in fact.

“Oh, this is even better!” chirped the Warlock Variation Drive. “Being crushed to death by ever-mounting atmospheric pressure is so much more invigorating than being drowned!”

That assumed that they survived the violence of the storm cell, regarding which Occo was doubtful. At a rough estimate, the storm cell was three or four times wider than the diameter of most rocky planets. Her armored suit could withstand a lot in the way of simple pressure, and it might even survive the turbulence of the storm. But she’d be so battered about that by the time they fell out of the storm she’d be nothing but meat paste.

“Pure hydrogen!” squealed Bresk. “Lots of it! I got this!”

Within minims, the familiar’s mantle began to swell as its flotation sac exchanged its contents for hydrogen.

And swelled. And swelled. And swelled. It has now reached a size that was simply impossible. The mantle spread out as it expanded, too. It now looked like a huge, bloated wing.

The attachments thickened at the same time. Bresk began lifting them out of the storm and into the upper atmosphere.

This was not possible. Granted, Bresk’s mantle and flotation sac were somewhat flexible. But an expansion this great was simply not —

The mantle began to sag, shrink.

“Stop it!” shrilled Bresk. “It’s your mind, you dimwit!”

The mantle stabilized. A gust of wind seized them and flung them out of the storm altogether.

“This is so exciting!” chirped the Warlock Variation Drive. “What will Mama think of next? How about a volcano?”

The image of a volcano came to Occo. Hurriedly, she tried to force it aside but the effort simply brought the image into sharper focus.

Sure enough. They were now plunging into the crater of a volcano.

“Oh, look, it’s erupting!” chirped the Warlock Variation Drive. “You are such a good Mama — and I’ve had lots and lots and lots and lots of them! Most of them don’t last this long!”

Occo didn’t doubt it at all.

Bresk’s mantle collapsed back to its normal size. That was enough to keep the familiar itself afloat in most atmospheres but not enough to support Occo, even if she hadn’t been in an armored suit.

“Doomed! Doomed!” chirped the Warlock Variation Drive. “But what will kill us first? The searing heat? The flaming bolides? The pyroclastic cloud? Oh, the tension! The uncertainty!”

“‘We won’t need a ship with the variation drive,’ you said,” Bresk groused. “You didn’t mention that we’d need a bedlam pit for the blasted thing!”

Bedlam pit. Down the hole . . .

No modern creed subscribed to the belief that lunatics were demonic except four sects of the Vaest Cult. All of them had modified the ancient practice of tossing lunatics into volcanoes in hopes of propitiating the angry gods to suit the conditions of post-interstellar conditions. The Red, Velvet and Nacre sects sent lunatics into black holes. Occo blocked that image instantly in favor of the practice of the divergent Xylemites, who chose to cast their lunatics into the maelstrom in Berth’s Bay on the planet Chtazz.

It was the largest maelstrom in the explored galaxy. Hardly an ideal environment! But it couldn’t be worse that an erupting volcano or a black hole.

They were now plunging into the maelstrom. To be precise, they were now riding a crest, being swirled down into a watery chaos so vast it looked as if they were descending into the heart of a galaxy.

Except galaxies weren’t wet. Very salty water, at that.

At least, she hoped it was salty. She didn’t know much about the Berth’s Bay Maelstrom.

“Toxins!” chirped the Warlock Variation Drive. “Mama’s just full of surprises!”

“I’m melting!” shrilled Bresk. Occo extended an eyestalk and swiveled it around. Sure enough. Her familiar’s normally-durable mantle was showing discolored spots, which looked to be rapidly expanding.

She had to get out of here. This was — marginally — better than a giant wave, an erupting volcano or a black hole, but not good enough. Not anywhere near good enough.

She was beginning to get a sense for how the Warlock Variation Drive worked, though. She tried to picture herself perched on a comfortable bench in a park somewhere.

Instantly, she was perched on a bench. And in a park, to boot!

Unfortunately, she’d been a little unclear on the “somewhere.” This somewhere turned out to be a bench in a park located on what, judging from what she could see and — mostly — the data reeling across her instrument screen, was . . .

Probably the floor of Gnu Gorge on the third moon of Klaxk.

The most famous big game hunting park in the Nac Zhe Anglan portion of the galaxy.

A herd of enormous creatures was stampeding toward them. Being driven in their headlong frenzy by some sort of carnivore looming behind them.

She presumed it was a carnivore, anyway. The fangs protruding from its upper jaw — lip? mandible? whatever-it-was — were longer than any of her own legs.

“We’re lost!” chirped the Warlock Variation Drive. “If only you had a weapon! Oh, wait, you do have a weapon!”

More out of reflex than because she really thought it would be of any use, Occo drew out her sidearm.

“But it’s much too puny! You need a cannon! Or maybe –”

Occo pictured the Hall of Saints in the Repository.

Instantly, they were there.

Unfortunately, so were two Nedru guards. Staring at the now-empty pedestal upon which the Warlock Variation Drive once rested.

Happily, their weapons were still holstered — or perhaps had been put back in the holsters once the guards concluded that the culprits were gone. Occo shot them both in the back.

That stirred a ruckus coming from beyond the Hall. She had to assume that other guards would soon be arriving.

“Take me to the Skerkud Teleplaser!” she commanded.

“What a silly Mama!” chirped the Warlock Variation Drive. Then, in a singsongy sort of chirp: “What’s it look like? What’s it look like? What’s it look like?

Occo had no idea what the Skerkud Teleplaser looked like.

“Link!” shrilled Bresk.

Occo raised her earflaps. A moment later, Bresk’s neural connectors were in place.

She could now sense her familiar’s thoughts, though only in a blurred manner, as if they were next to a waterfall.

< — either this — something — or, no, let’s try — >

An image came to her a mind of something that looked like a cross between a derrick and one of the elaborate-shelled snails she’d once seen on Yaaqua.

Instantly, they were in another chamber in the Repository. On a dais in front of them was the object Occo has imagined.

Except —

It was the size of a small spacecraft.