Gods of Sagittarius – Snippet 09
“Just ‘magic’, please. The phrase ‘actual magic’ is tautological.”
“Only if magic exists.”
The search program finally reached the desired section of the Gray Archives. Occo began studying the records of ancient voyages, concentrating on those in this spiral arm.
“And the proposition that magic exists,” Bresk continued, “is not accepted by any of the creeds except your own — excuse me, that should be ‘except the creed you used to belong to but do no longer because it’s deader than last eon’s fossils’ — and the two schismatic branches of the Meije Salmagundi, about which nothing further needs to be said because –”
Occo decided that Bresk didn’t need to witness the rest of the search process. And — again — congratulated herself for having included a lockdown procedure when she fashioned the familiar.
“Up you must shut.”
Bresk fell instantly silent. Its mantle sagged and the faceted eyes turned dull. Peace and tranquility returned to the meadow as Occo continued her search of the records.
Eventually, Occo determined the route she’d need to take. It would be circuitous but she’d expected that. Even as arrogant as they were, the Nedru Concord Skein of Creeds had been prudent enough to situate the treasury of their most precious relics on a planet that could not be reached easily from anywhere in the Nac Zhe Anglan commonwealth.
Darkness enfolded her as soon as she shut down the Gray Archives and the computer’s virtual screen vanished. Startled, she looked up. She hadn’t realized how much time had gone by.
The night sky on Flaak was drab, even when it wasn’t overcast. Neither of the small moons cast much light, and only one of them was visible now anyway. Flaak was one of those rare planets on which multicellular life had evolved despite the absence of a large moon. Fairly primitive multicellular life, admittedly. No flowering plants had ever evolved. Even the gymnosperm analogs were very simple, and the only animal life on land was small and exoskeletal.
There was almost no starlight, at least in this southern hemisphere. Flaak’s stellar neighborhood was dominated by a nebula that obscured most of the galaxy. That was one of the reasons it had been chosen as the site for the Naccor Jute’s home cloister. Given modern astrography, trying to hide within or near a nebula was of minimal concealment value. But the Naccor Jute had been a weak creed in military and political terms and had taken advantage of every safeguard it could.
Which had still not been enough, as it turned out. Someone had found them. Occo still didn’t know that someone’s identity. All she knew so far was that it had been someone in possession of usable Old One weaponry — or perhaps derivative of such weaponry — and someone who possessed an unusual degree of animosity toward the Naccor Jute. Even by the standards of the ancient and never-ending struggle among the many creeds of the Nac Zhe Anglan, completely obliterating a creed’s home cloister was unusual. Not exactly unheard of, but certainly not standard or normal behavior.
Unless the devastation had not been carried out by a rival Nac Zhe Anglan creed at all, but by something else, in which case all assessments were haphazard. The exotic method of destruction at least raised the possibility that despite all their precautions the Naccor Jute had drawn the attention of supernatural entities. Those could be remnants or descendants of the Old Ones, or the demons who were theorized to have destroyed their rule of the universe.
(Or their rule of the galaxy, which had been the Naccor Jute’s own tentative hypothesis. Was it plausible that a divine race which could rule an entire spacetime continuum could be overthrown by any other power? It did not seem likely.)
It was also possible that whoever destroyed her home cloister could be supernatural powers altogether unknown or even speculated about. No creed of the Nac Zhe Anglan, not even the most dogmatic, believed that it understood everything about the Age of the Old Ones.
Occo began clambering back aboard the flyer. As always, the process of entering the small craft was arduous. The flyer was of Chlarrac manufacture. The Naccor Jute had been forced to economize wherever possible, and Chlarracan products were usually cheaper than those produced by any Nac Zhe Anglan creed. But their atmospheric flyers — the inexpensive ones, at any rate — were not well-designed for the Nac Zhe Anglan species.
The bauplan of the Chlarrac, like that of Humans, was centered on the spinal structural mechanism known as vertebra. Such a peculiar structure inevitably resulted in a rather delicate physique, but it had the undeniable advantage of imparting flexibility as well. Presumably — she’d never seen one actually engaged in the activity — a Chlarrac could easily wriggle itself through the small aperture leading into the flyer’s interior. But for Occo, with her sturdy Nac Zhe Anglan quadripedal and blocky-torsoed body, the task was a nuisance at best.
Once she was finally aboard, she extended her auxiliary speaking tube out of the aperture and called down to Bresk. “Revive you must.”
Immediately, the familiar’s immobility ended. Bresk’s eyes began to glitter again and it scanned the skies.
“That long!” it complained bitterly. “You had me out that long?”
“We’re leaving in ten minims. With or without you.”
Bresk farted anxiously and hurried into the flyer. With its ability to glide through the air and its small and semi-globular body, the familiar had none of Occo’s difficulty doing so. It was aboard in less than seven minims.
It took Occo less than fifteen medims to reach orbit and not more than another twenty to dock with their spacecraft.
Getting aboard the spacecraft was not difficult, leaving aside the task of squeezing out of the flyer itself. The spacecraft was also of Chlarrac design and manufacture, but the Naccor Jute had been willing to expend more credit to have it configured for Nac Zhe Anglan occupants. Senior castigants like Occo were hardly showered with luxuries, but they weren’t subject to the worst frugalities, either.
They received a few perquisites, too. One of them was the privilege of naming their spacecraft. When Occo was given this one after her ordination, she had named it Kurryoccoc: Shadow Wife.
It now needed to be renamed also. As she began the launch sequence, she pondered the possibilities.
Battan Kruy: Widow of Slaughter. That had a nice reek to it, like the stench of butchery.
Or possibly she should stray farther afield, sever all ties to her personal history . . .
Perhaps . . . Hrikk u Cha? Trader in Death?
Then a whimsical thought came to her. She swiveled her head to face Bresk. “What did you say that Human monster was named?”
“Grendel it is, then.” She brought her head back to face the computer. “Record name change of spacecraft. Eradicate Kurryoccoc. Replace with –”
Her familiar farted derision. “If you insist on pursuing this madness, at least name the ship after the greater monster in the legend.”
She paused. “There’s a greater one?”
“Sure. Grendel’s Mother.”
A new question occurred to her. “That’s right, I forgot. Humans have two genders also. Which was Grendel?”
That wouldn’t do at all.
“Ship,” she commanded, “rename yourself Grendel’s Mother. And set course for the wormhole terminus.” She didn’t need to specify which terminus since Flaak’s system had only one. Which, of course, was another reason it had been chosen as the location for the home cloister.
Again, in vain. Now that she was finally leaving, having settled on her course of action, she allowed herself to be flooded with sorrow.
To sorrow, alas, was added vexation.
“Oh, yes, Grendel’s Mother was by far the nastier monster!” Bresk enthused. “Just listen to this:
ides, āglæc-wifyrmþe gemunde
sē þe wæter-egesanwumian scolde . . . “