Gods of Sagittarius – Snippet 23
“So why are we here?” asked Bresk. The familiar’s compound eyes shifted about as it took in the dreary landscape of Cthulhu.
Occo was tempted to ignore the question, but she knew Bresk would just keep repeating it. Being fair to the little nuisance, Occo had programmed the familiar to press her for answers. The idea had seemed good at the time and she could still — abstractly — allow that it helped prevent her from slipping into unwarranted assumptions.
Yes, it was annoying. But shamans who designed familiars who weren’t pestiferous had lives which were either devoid of accomplishment or short, nasty and brutish.
“You heard the Warlock Variation Drive, didn’t you? Planet Catalog Number VF-6s-K55 — nicknamed ‘Cthulhu’ by Humans after some weird ancient god of theirs — is also — I quote the Drive directly: ‘The hell-planet of the Old Ones.'”
“I’m not deaf.” Bresk farted sarcastically. “Just deprived of necessary information. The fact that this” — the familiar’s big compound eyes got a little glassy for a moment, as it absorbed the surrounding sights on the planet — “judging from the evidence — let’s start with the smell — shitpot of a planet was once the favored crapper of the Old Ones in times so ancient the mind boggles to contemplate the eons which have passed does not explain why we are standing on said shitpot of a planet.”
“We’re looking for clues that will tell us who is responsible for the destruction of the home cloister.”
There was silence for a moment, followed by a very loud fart. “We’re looking for clues?” Another loud fart. “Let’s translate that statement from shaman-prattle to familiar-clarity. What you’re saying is that since you had no idea what to do from the very beginning, you seized on the one and only factoid in your possession — no, not even that! let us rather call it a nanofact — which was that there existed a planet that had once been inhabited by Old Ones — no, no, here I wander myself into the swamps and marshes of overstatement and over presumption! — let us rather say a planet that is thought to have once been inhabited by Old Ones. A thought, moreover, which is held in whatever passes for the mind of the most bizarre space drive in existence.”
Occo said nothing. She just continued her own examination of the area.
“Have I adequately summarized the situation?” demanded Bresk.
There was no point trying to ignore the pest. “Allowing for a great deal of unnecessary and unseemly sarcasm . . . Yes. I didn’t know where else to start.”
Bresk’s ensuing flatulence was a veritable symphony. After it was over, the familiar said: “Well, at least you can take care of one little vexation while we’re here. As it happens, the Envacht Lu maintains a small outpost on the planet.”
Occo was startled. “Here? Whatever for?”
“Who knows why the Envacht Lu does half the things they do? I’m just a hapless familiar, at the mercy of the whims of my mistress. All I know is that they have an outpost here. Well . . . Not here. It’s somewhere on the coast. Probably where that big river enters the ocean.”
They’d gotten only a glimpse of Cthulhu as they came in. The Warlock Variation Drive’s version of “planetfall” bore precious little resemblance to the sedate manner in which a spacecraft came down from orbit, with plenty of time — not to mention instruments — with which to study a world as one approached for a landing. Still, Occo had noticed the large river her familiar was referring to, and the ocean had been quite visible.
The problem remained . . . how to get there? It was much too far to travel on foot, and she had no means with which to purchase or rent transportation. The credit wafer embedded in her left forearm drew its funds from the Ghatta Vagary Exchequer, which would by now have learned of the Naccor Jute’s destruction. It would certainly no longer honor the account.
That left . . .
The first option was to obtain funds by working. But Occo was well-nigh certain that whatever employment was available on this wretched world would probably be scarce and would certainly not pay well.
The second option was one or another criminal method. Theft or robbery were the only viable alternatives. Embezzlement would take too long.
The third option was to use the Warlock Variation Drive.
Perhaps sensing the direction of her thoughts, Bresk spoke hurriedly. “With the Skerkud Teleplaser at your disposal, robbery is clearly the way to go. It’ll even dispose of the body for you afterward.”
But Occo had already tapped one of the Drive’s lobes before Bresk finished. “Wake up! I need you to take us to the coast.”
The Drive opened one of its eyes. “Quit joking, Mama. I don’t do menial labor.” The eye closed again. “Get Skerkie to do it. He’s dumber than a crate of rocks anyway.”
Occo stared down at the Skerkud Teleplaser. Once they’d landed on the planet’s surface she’d put it down immediately. The thing was heavy.
“It’s a ‘he’?” she wondered.
The Drive’s eye opened again — although not the same one. “What part of ‘dumber than a crate of rocks’ is unclear to you, Mama?”
“I’ve already got one sarcastic minion,” Occo grumbled. “I don’t need another one.”
The eye closed. “Wasn’t being sarcastic. Males are dumb, way it is. That’s why I’m female.”
Both eyes now popped open — very widely, too — as if an alarming thought had just occurred to the Drive. “It’s certainly not because of that . . . You know. Disgusting stuff you probably do like most of my Mamas did.”
The eyes closed. “At least, I presume they did. We never really talked about it. I don’t like disgusting stuff.”
An ancient, divinely-or-demonically-designed space drive who was a prude.
Could anyone ask for a better demonstration of the insanity of the Old Ones and the Other Old Ones?
Occo went back to studying the Teleplaser. She realized almost immediately that it would take only a bit of effort to imagine herself shrunk down to a size that would fit comfortably in the more-or-less tureen shape of the device. Or — better still — if the Teleplaser were expanded while she remained unchanged.
But would she then be dissolved in some unknown but hideously corrosive liquid like the Absolutist’s Toys had been?
Belatedly, it then occurred to her that the definition of a weapon was inherently viewpoint-based. One could easily argue that the difference between a weapon and a tool was simply a matter of epistemological reasoning.
She reasoned epistemologically. A moment later, she found herself perched inside the Teleplaser — and on the most comfortable and luxurious bench she’d ever experienced.
“A magic bowl, just like in the fairy tale!” exclaimed Bresk. “Mistress, you have your moments.”
The morphology of the Teleplaser had altered as well. It was now shaped more like a shallow bowl than a tureen — in fact, exactly like the magic bowl that Jeek Bedda Kresh had used to travel about in her various legendary adventures.
The whole situation seemed ridiculous, but . . .
Sternly, she reminded herself of the sage Hefra Ghia Diod’s dictum:
A sufficiently primitive magic is indistinguishable from technology.
“Up, Bowl!” she commanded. “Take us to the coast!”
As it turned out, the Skerkud Teleplaser really was dumber than a crate of rocks. There was no point giving it directions such as take us to the coast. The Teleplaser’s reaction to that command had been to accelerate briefly and then . . . coast to a stop. Left, right, forward, back, faster, slower — these were more-or-less the limits within which it operated. The Teleplaser also seemed able to manage up and down well enough, but Occo was unwilling to put its aptitude in that regard to a serious test. Surviving a misunderstanding when it came to left-right-forward-back was probably manageable. An error with regard to up and down . . .
Possibly not. Especially if the Teleplaser took it upon itself — himself, if the Warlock Variation Drive was to be believed — to interpret go down as a command to materialize them in the planet’s core.
So, Occo kept them just high enough above the planet’s surface to avoid obstacles — thankfully, the landscape was flat and mostly barren — and maintained a moderate speed. Bresk, unusually, made no sarcastic remark on the subject of their stately progression. That was presumably because the familiar had enough sense to realize that, riding in what amounted to an open-air conveyance, it would be the one to suffer the most if the wind of their passage got too severe.
By the time they neared the coast, night was falling and Occo decide to call a halt for the day. They still had no actual sight of the ocean. Its proximity was something Occo was deducing from the smell and Bresk’s analysis thereof.
“If you’re wondering, those oh-so-aromatic odors are a compound of various salts and what seems to be a truly massive quantity of decaying organic matter. Mostly plant matter, from what I can determine. Let us hope so.”
The weather on Cthulhu seemed to run toward torrential rainfall shortly after sundown. At this time of year, at least. Occo had no idea what if any seasons the planet might have.
Fortunately, the Skerkud Teleplaser adopted the shape of an inverted bowl as readily as it did an upright one. Not so fortunately, there turned out to be definite limits regarding the ancient device’s ability to expand itself. The shelter was barely large enough to hold Occo, Bresk and the Warlock Variation Drive, and was not in the least bit comfortable.
Occo, a stoic, passed the night in stolid silence.
The Warlock Variation Drive did the same, for whatever philosophical rationale motivated the ancient device. If any.
Bresk, stoicism’s antithesis, did not. Fortunately, its farts were odorless. Mostly.
At dawn, Occo commanded the Teleplaser to resume its upright-bowl shape and they set out again for the coast.
The weather on Cthulhu, as it turned out, seemed to run toward torrential rainfall shortly after sunrise as well.
There being no way to invert the Teleplaser and continue their forward progress, Occo ordered Bresk to suspend itself above her, assume as flattened a shape as possible, and provide as much shelter from the downpour as these contortions permitted while not letting itself be torn loose from the attachments due to the wind produced by their not-really-so-great-speed. Fortunately, there was no significant breeze associated with the rain itself.
To say the familiar complained would be an injustice to the verb. Bresk moaned, groaned, wailed, deplored, grieved, carped, denounced, griped, grumbled, lamented, caviled, protested, whined, remonstrated, reproached, whimpered, accused its mistress of bad faith and expostulated at length on the subjects of tyranny, injustice and oppression.
Eventually, the Warlock Variation Drive was prodded out of its torpor.
“Does he always yammer like this?” The Drive had both eyes open and fixed upon the familiar stretched above them.
“It’s an ‘it,’ not a ‘he.'”
“No, you’re wrong, Mama. Only males are this irritating.”
Occo considered the matter. The Drive’s argument had . . .
Still . . . “My familiar has no sex organs of any kind.”
“Neither do I,” came the Drive’s response. “But, properly speaking, gender is a state of mind, not of body. I should maybe mention that the consequences of even suggesting that I am not female are gruesome. Not to go all formal on you, Mama, but you are hereby officially warned.”
Occo considered the matter. The Drive’s caution had . . .
“Bresk,” she announced. “You are henceforth a ‘he.'”
Immediately, the familiar’s litany of grievances shifted onto a new course. For the rest of their journey to the coast, Bresk waxed eloquently on the subjects of gender malfeasance, sexual disorientation, and the generally moronic nature of sentient creatures both of modern times and antiquity.
The Warlock Variation Drive made no further comment. But its eyes remained open. Sometimes very wide, sometimes very narrow.
The rainfall ended abruptly. Once the air cleared, Occo could see that they had finally reached the coast. The vista that greeted them was bleak. In both directions stretched a seashore that had only a few low dunes and occasional patches of grass to break the monotony. The sand was a dull gray-brown color. The color of the ocean was no different except that it was slightly shifted in the direction of gray and was not quite as monochromatic.
“Which way now, I wonder?” mused Occo. “Bresk?”
“How should I know?” came the sullen response. “All my records indicate is that there is an Envacht Lu outpost somewhere on this coast. Which, by the way, my records say measures seventeen thousand, four hundred and sixty-three standard leagues. At the rate we’ve been travelling it will take us more than four years to circumnavigate assuming we never stop to eat or rest or excrete noxious bodily substances.”
Its — no, his — eyes swiveled down to gaze upon the Warlock Variation Drive. “Or whatever she does instead.”
“I’ve decided I like you, Mama,” the Drive announced. “So you can call me Ju’ula.”
Her gaze moved on to Bresk. “On the other hand, you’re a pest so you have to call me ‘Ju’ulkrexopopgrebfiltra.’ No affectionate diminutives for you, fartboy.”
Bresk’s mantle swelled indignantly. “And what if I don’t, you fatbrained — What are you doing? Stop that!”
Bresk’s protest was called forth by its — no, his — rapid expansion. He was already twice his normal size. He looked like one of the sea creatures that inhabited the shallow seas of Beffel. Puffers, they were called.
“How do you like that, fartboy? Your sac is now filled with disemboguelled hydrogen from Hell World Number 883-Affa-Affa-Kawl.” The Warlock Variation Drive — no, Ju’ula — gave Occo a glance that seemed a little apologetic. “That’s by Fiend reckoning, of course. The Old Ones just figured every planet was a hell world so they didn’t bother to sort them out.”
Occo stared at her. “Do you mean to say . . . You know all the Old One planets? And what do you mean by ‘Fiend’?”
Ju’ula’s eyes closed. “Oh, Mama. Now you’ve done it.”