Gods of Sagittarius – Snippet 29
“Now what?” asked Bresk. “As much as I hate to ask.”
Occo didn’t answer immediately. That was for the good and simple reason that she had no answer. The information she’d just uncovered at the Human prison strengthened her belief that the culprits she sought were supernatural, true enough. But she had no idea where to proceed from here.
Other than to retrieve Ju’ula and the Teleplaser, at any rate. That would give them something to do while she pondered her next course of action.
Bresk farted derisively. “Got no idea, do you?”
“Shut up. Find the way back to the Warlock Variation Drive.”
“Go forward to the end of this sorry excuse for a plaza, turn left at the sorry excuse for a street you’ll encounter, turn left at the third alley — I’d call it a ‘lane’ but that would be ridiculous — and then turn right at the next alley. After that –”
The familiar droned on but Occo didn’t bother to memorize his instructions. When she needed further guidance she’d order him to provide it.
In the event, it proved to be a moot point anyway. They’d gotten no farther than the second left turn when Occo heard a peculiar sort of hissing sound. Something like:
Looking to the side, she saw a narrow alley in which a small Human lurked. So small that it had to be either a youngling or a mutant. Not being very familiar with Humans, Occo couldn’t make an educated guess as to which it was.
“Hey, mister,” said the Human, still hissing for some reason. “Want to see some feelthy pictures?”
The statement made no sense. “Some . . . what?”
The small creature shook its head. “Never mind. The stupid bug insisted I had to start by saying that. Don’t ask me why, I got no idea.” It pointed down the alley behind it. “It wants to talk to you. It’s waiting in a little restaurant around the corner. Look for a sign that says: Rick’s CafÃ©.” The Human shook its head again. “It used to be called Mama Cheo’s, but the bug paid to have the new sign put up. Got no idea why it did that either.”
“Describe what you call ‘the bug’,” Occo commanded.
The Human’s description was clear enough. It had to be an Ebbo. Which meant, since no Ebbo who ever lived was given to the slightest whimsy . . .
Bresk put her thoughts into words. “It’s that weird Envacht Lu heterochthonatrix. Got to be.”
Occo decided there was probably no harm in following the instructions, and could conceivably be problems if she didn’t.
“Lead the way,” she said.
The little Human stuck out its hand. “The bug didn’t pay me to be your guide. The fee is — ” There followed a meaningless term, which Occo presumed was a reference to local currency.
“I don’t have any of that . . . whatever it is.”
Bresk spoke up. “But we’re quite sure the Ebbo — that’s ‘the bug’ you’re talking about — will be good for it.”
The Human’s face scrunched up in an expression which Occo interpreted as dubiousness.
“It’s an Ebbo,” Bresk said. “The wretched things — ‘bugs’ is it? I like that — can’t stand being around unpaid debts. It’ll pay you, be sure of it.”
After a moment’s hesitation, the Human turned away and started moving down the alley. “Okay. Follow me. You better be right or I’ll report you to the Kneebreaker.”
A local gangster, presumably. Occo wasn’t particularly concerned. Breaking the knees of a Nac Zhe Anglan, especially a female, was actually quite difficult.
When they reached their destination a short while later, Occo recognized the Ebbo waiting for them. It was Proceeds-With-Circumspection, the Envacht Lu Heterochthonatrix’s factotum.
Occo gestured toward the little Human. “Pay it, please. I am lacking in the local currency.”
The Ebbo rubbed its hind legs together in a mannerism which Occo suspected was an indication of annoyance, but made no verbal protest. He extended his stylus, the Human matched it with a scruffy looking electronic tablet, and the transaction was quickly done.
“So long, then,” said the Human. Adding, on the way out: “I’m a she, you Knack dipshit.”
Bresk farted with surprise. “Apparently the females don’t grow their breasts for a while. Who knew?”
“Who cared?” muttered Occo. She looked around the dingy little room they were in. Judging from the odors emanating from the kitchen, the restaurant catered to a clientele best described as uncritical.
“I don’t recommend eating here,” Bresk said. “I can send out the probes for a more precise analysis, if you like, but my own olfactory sensors have already detected several aldehydes and at least two industrial solvents. That’s in the food, you understand, not the cooking equipment.”
Since Occo had no intention of dining on the premises, the advice was unnecessary. But she paid the matter little attention, because she was primarily concerned with the Heterochthonatrix’s location — or lack of it, rather. Why had the Ebbo brought them here if not to meet Heurse Gotha Rammadrecula?
The mystery resolved itself. A haze in an alcove to the side that Occo hadn’t spotted — neither the haze nor the alcove — faded away. Sitting at a table was the Heterochthonatrix. Looking at the wall behind Rammadrecula, Occo could now see the small chamber holding the Gawad murkster. She hadn’t realized the device was portable.
“Of all the djinn joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine,” said Rammadrecula, looking immensely pleased with herself.
“I have no idea what that means.”
“Of course not! Unlike me, you’re not a Humanologist. Truth is, even scholars aren’t sure what it means. The most likely theory is that it’s a Human reference to supernatural entities. ‘Djinns’ were a sort of demon.
“But enough of that!” she continued. “Welcome, far travelers! Now that you’ve seen the evidence for yourself at the prison, I’m sure your next course of action is self-evident.”
Occo was taken aback. “Self-evident? I’m afraid it’s anything but. Yes, I agree that the killings were the work of a supernatural force or power of some sort, which confirms my suspicions. But I have no idea where to go from here.”
Rammadrecula slapped the table top several times. Occo couldn’t tell if the action resulted from irritation or enthusiasm or some other emotion entirely. The Heterochthonatrix was truly abnormal.
“Come! Come!” exclaimed Rammadrecula. “You’re overlooking the critical clue!”
“The Human! The Human!” Seeing the uncomprehending stare on Occo’s face, the heterochthonatrix slapped the table again. “The one you passed by on your way out. That was none other than the illuminatus Rupert Shenoy!”
The name meant absolutely nothing to Occo. But Bresk issued an exclamatory fart.
“No kidding?” said the familiar. “Shenoy — here?” Sensing her mistress’ confusion, Bresk added: “He’s famous in Human academic circles. Half-crazy, they say, but still really famous. If he’s here . . .”
Occo finished the thought. “Presumably he knows something.”
“I don’t think any ‘presumption’ is necessary,” said Rammadrecula. “But we’ll know soon enough. I will have him followed.”
Occo looked down at the Ebbo. “Not by Proceeds-With-Circumspection, I hope.”
Rammadrecula waved the notion aside. “Ebbos are no good for that sort of thing. No, for following someone in a Human environment you need to employ street urchins.”
“That term is unfamiliar to me.”
“As well it should be! Nac Zhe Anglan are a civilized people. ‘Street urchins’ are a caste Humans use for menial chores and spying. They orphan them at a very young age for the purpose. Yes, yes, it’s quite barbaric. Apparently the practice goes back to Human ancient history. Some savage named Sherlock Holmes who ruled over a land called Baker Street.”
She turned toward Proceeds-With-Circumspection. “Summon a street urchin.”
By the nature of their physiognomy, Ebbo lacked facial features mobile enough to indicate sentiments. Instead, they used wing-snaps and hindleg-rubbing. Judging from the complete immobility of the wings and hindlegs of Proceeds-With-Circumspection as it left the restaurant, the factotum disapproved of the Heterochthonatrix’s behavior but was being circumspect about it.
Shortly thereafter, the Ebbo reappeared with a little Human in tow. Occo thought it was the same one who had guided them here.
“What’s up, boss?” she asked.
Occo looked at the ceiling. Seeing the direction of her gaze, Rammadrecula shook her head.
“It’s just a Human expression,” she said, sounding amused. “It means ‘what do you want from me?’ Well, as a rule. Humans produce colloquialisms with profligacy and the things mutate like viruses.”
“Time’s a-wasting,” said the Human. “You got a job or not?”
Another colloquialism, presumably. Occo had an image of the fourth dimension, gaunt from starvation or some sort of consumptive disease. Bizarre. But what else would you expect from a species that thought deities were beneficent, in defiance of all empirical evidence?
“Show it the image,” said Rammadrecula.
“I’m a her, not an it. What is it with you people?”
Proceeds-With-Circumspection held up its tablet. The image on the screen was that of a Human — probably male, judging from the lack of thoracic extensions — whose principal characteristics seem to be a large proboscis, a great shock of white skin extrusions on top of its head, and a figure that was unusually slender even by Human standards.
“We need you to find this Human,” said Rammadrecula. “As soon as possible. His name is Rupert Shenoy.”
“ASAP jobs require a surcharge. That’ll be” — here the little female used a term that meant nothing to Occo but presumably referred to a sum in the local currency. “Half upfront, half on delivery.”