Gods of Sagittarius – Snippet 01
THE GODS OF SAGITTARIUS
ERIC FLINT, MIKE RESNICK
Russ Tabor pulled a thin smokeless cigar out of his pocket, lit it, took a puff, stalked around the outer office, tossed it in a trash atomizer, kept walking, pulled another cigar out, looked at it, and threw it out without even lighting it.
He stared at the lens above the door, growled at it, and finally sat down.
A female’s voice spoke up. “Please rise and approach me, Mr. Tabor.”
He looked around, couldn’t see any women or indeed any living beings. Then he saw that the lens was glowing, and he walked over and stood before it.
“Identifying retina,” said the emotionless voice. “Check. Identifying bone structure. Check.” There was a brief pause. “You have two cavities in your lower right back molar.”
“Do I complain about the scratch you have across the top of whatever the hell you are?” he shot back.
“I was informing, not complaining.”
“I’ll live,” he muttered.
“I notice a bead of sweat on your forehead,” continued the voice. “Please touch your forefinger to it, and then touch the glowing panel in front of you.”
“With which hand?” he asked sardonically.
“You’re quite sure? I’ve been told on excellent authority that my right hand is much lovelier.”
“Please, Mr. Tabor, just do as I ask.”
He run a finger across his forehead and brought it to the panel.
“Your DNA checks,” announced the voice.
“What a surprise,” said Tabor.
“Had you some reason to think it would not match?” asked the voice.
“Shut up and let me through.”
There was silence for perhaps ten seconds. Then the door slid into the wall. “You may enter, Mr. Tabor.”
Tabor stormed into the large, elegant, expensively-furnished office, where a middle-aged man with thinning red hair sat at a desk, staring at him.
“What the hell is this about, as if I didn’t know?” demanded Tabor.
“Well, as long as you know, we have nothing to discuss,” said Philip Montrose with an amused smile.
“Fuck you!” snapped Tabor. “You pulled me off an important assignment to guard a pompous ass who’s crazy as a loon!”
“Whatever that may be,” responded Montrose.
“Why me, damn it?” continued Tabor. “I spent months making connections, finding out how to unearth information from that whole goddamned planetary conglomerate, and now you pull me off before we can bring the whole house of cards down.”
“Our lawyers say you’ve supplied them with enough information to put the cartel away for decades.”
“I know! But I want to be there! I want to testify in court, and watch their faces when I do.”
“It’s all pro forma,” answered Montrose. “They’re as good as convicted. Why dance on their graves?”
“I put up with their shit for almost a year while I was working my way up through their organization,” said Tabor. “I want to dance on those bastards’ graves.”
Montrose shook his head. “That job’s done. Besides, it was just a sideshow. We’re in the protection business, and you just happened to stumble across the biggest fraud of the year. Congratulations, but it’s history. I’ve got a new one for you.”
“Give it to the goddamned military,” snarled Tabor. “He’s working for the government, isn’t he?”
“They realized they were wasting their time and money.”
“Actually,” said Montrose, “he quit them.” Tabor arched an eyebrow. “Evidently he made some demands they wouldn’t accept, to he decided to go private.”
Tabor shrugged. “Who cares why he did it? Let’s get back to my pending resignation.”
“Oh, shut up, Russ,” said Montrose irritably. “Do you have to be like this every single time I give you a new assignment?”
“Do you have to give me one shit job after another?” Tabor shot back.
“Look,” said Montrose, trying to sound more reasonable than he felt whenever he argued with Tabor, “we’re not government, we’re not police, we’re not military. We’re mostly security, whatever that entails, and we do what we’re paid for. And it’s the nature of the beast that if no overpaid and overstaffed and under skilled official organization wants a job, it’ll be just the kind that you bitch like hell about.” He exhaled deeply. “But it’s also the kind you happen to be good at.”
“Each one is worse than the last.”
“You think you can make more money working for the planetary government or the police, go ahead,” said Montrose. “I’m through arguing.”
Tabor scowled. “You know I’ll take it if I can’t talk you out of it.”
“Then it’s settled.”
“I still want to know why,” continued Tabor. “He’s a total flake. Half his theories have gotten him laughed out of every position he’s ever held.”
“Yeah, and two of his theories have won him the Sagittarius Prize.” Montrose grimaced. “For what it’s worth, I think he’s a flake, at least on odd-numbered days . . . but no one else has ever won two Prizes.”
“I did a little research when I saw that he quit the government and was going private, because somehow I knew you’d be coming to me,” said Tabor. “Along with winning two Prizes, he’s been fired by three universities, one branch of the government, and one top-level research firm.”
“All the more reason why he might need some protection,” replied Montrose with a smile.
“I can’t protect him from being fired or making a fool of himself,” said Tabor. “And as far as I know, no one’s ever tried to kill or harm him.”
“A flake like that,” said Montrose. “Give ’em time. They will.”
“What’s he working on now?”
Montrose shrugged. “Beats the hell out of me. You’ll be meeting him for dinner. You can ask him then.”
“I don’t think I’m going to be hungry.”
“Good! You’ll be a cheap date.”
“So why did he quit — or did he?” asked Tabor.
“Ask him at dinner.”
Tabor scowled. “So you set up a dinner in advance. And I assume he knows where we’re meeting.”
Montrose nodded. “No sense having him starve to death looking into the window of every restaurant in town — especially since he doesn’t know what you look like.”
“Earth-type food, or is he as looney about his meals as he is with his theories?”
“I know your tastes,” said Montrose. “You’ll be dining at the Fatted Calf, about a kilometer from here. It was the least I could do for you.”
“One of these days why not consider doing the most you can for me?”
“Of course,” agreed Montrose, looking down at his computer to determine his next order of business.
“When hell freezes over,” muttered Tabor, getting up and walking to the door. He half hoped it wouldn’t open so he could pull one of his weapons and turn it to rubble, but it almost seemed to sense that and opened before he’d gone two steps.
The Fatted Calf had never served a calf (or a cow) in its three-decade existence. The fees for importing such animals, plus the import duties, would have made a typical meal the equivalent of a week’s pay for the upscale diners who frequented the place. But the locally-grown mutated beef was prepared much as meat was prepared in Earth’s better restaurants. And if the spices weren’t quite what was used on Earth, they were close enough so that no one complained (and the fact that most of the diners had never set foot on Earth didn’t hurt either).
Tabor entered the restaurant, waved the android headwaiter off, surveyed the tables and recognized his dinner partner from the holos he had seen. He walked over and sat down opposite him at the table.
“Do I know you?” asked the older man mildly.
“You will,” replied Tabor. “I’m going to be your second skin for . . .” He shrugged. “For however long it takes.”
“Ah!” said the man, his face lighting up. “You are my new servant.”
Tabor shook his head. “No, sir, I am not your servant.”
The man frowned in confusion. “Then why are you sitting here?”
“I am your protector,” he said. “I am no one’s servant.”
“Semantics,” said the man with a shrug.
“Facts,” replied Tabor. “I am Russell Tabor, and you are Rupert Medawar Narayan Shenoy. You can call me Russ. What do I call you?”
“Lord Shenoy,” was the answer.
“Right,” said Tabor. “Rupert it is.”
Shenoy stared at Tabor for a long minute. “I don’t think I like you very much.”
Tabor shrugged. “Okay,” he replied. “Fire me.”
Shenoy shook his head. “No,” he said at last. “You’re the best in the business.”
“Did Montrose tell you that?”
“No,” answered Shenoy, “but it stands to reason. If you weren’t the best, you wouldn’t have been assigned to me.”
“I’m sure glad to see you don’t have an ego problem, Rupert,” said Tabor with a smile.
“Couldn’t you make it Sir Rupert?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“Just when colleagues or the press are around?” persisted Shenoy. “I am descended from Sir Peter Medawar and R.K. Narayan.”
“We’ll see,” said Tabor.
“I’m exceptionally proud of my heritage,” continued Shenoy. He stared at Tabor. “Do you even know yours?”
“Beyond my parents, who didn’t accomplish much of anything, no,” was the answer. “But I don’t really care who did what way the hell back in my pedigree. I’d rather be judged on what I do.”
“So would I,” agreed Shenoy. “But I am proud of what came before me.”
“I’m more concerned with what comes next.”
“Ah!” said Shenoy, smiling. “You’re married?”
Tabor shook his head. “Not even close.”
“But you just said . . .”
“That I’m concerned with what comes next,” said Tabor. “What, not who. For example, what are you working on that someone with a lot of money thinks you may need protection? Will you be working here, or on some other planet?”
“Oh, we’ll be going afield,” answered Shenoy. “Not much to be discovered here.”
Shenoy shook his head. “There are no sentient life forms native to Boriga IV,” he said. “That puts it pretty much beyond my field of interest or expertise.” He paused. “Well, my current field, anyway,” he amended.
“Yet here you are,” said Tabor.
“I was working for one of the governmental departments, which happens to be located here,” answered Shenoy. “I came here not to work, but to terminate my employment.”
“That’s kind of curious, Rupert,” said Tabor, as Shenoy tried not to wince at the use of his first name. “Usually it’s the employer who terminates a relationship.”
Shenoy grimaced. “It’s rather complicated. Officially I was working for a university here, but then the government decided I could accomplish more with a staff, a larger staff than the university could afford, so they became my co-employers.” A sudden smile. “And now they’re both my co-ex-employers.”
Tabor returned his smile. “You must have offended a lot of professors and bureaucrats if they both decided to fire you.”
“I just told you: I fired them.”
“I know, I know,” agreed Tabor. “But you can only fire a government if it’s willing to be fired. Otherwise, you could well wind up a permanent resident of one of their free facilities where you will never have to worry about security.”
“They would never incarcerate me,” answered Shenoy. “Nobody benefited from my two Prizes more than the government, and if I can unlock the current problem they stand to profit again. Of course, I’ll profit too,” he added, “but I already have more than enough money to last my lifetime. What I’m after is knowledge.”
“Knowledge can be a profitable commodity,” said Tabor. “What are you after, Rupert?”
Shenoy stared at him, as if deciding whether or not to confide in him. Finally he realized that of course Tabor would have to know, since he couldn’t provide protection from some other planet. He lowered his voice and leaned forward across the table.
“Have you ever heard of a world named Cthulhu?”