Gods of Sagittarius – Snippet 20
“I would never have seen them,” said Basil. “How did you . . . ?”
“You’re a scientist,” answered Tabor. “I’m security. Spotting things like that is part of my job.”
They followed Shenoy through the passage into the jail, where a newer, less-rusted robot behind a desk told them to leave their weapons with it. Tabor turned his over, and then another robot, far smaller, without appendages but rather with half a dozen wheels pointing in all directions, approached them.
“Hello,” it said with an accent Tabor couldn’t quite identify. “I am your guide. Your request is to inspect both the prison cell in question and the security holograms. Is that correct?”
“Yes, it is,” said Shenoy.
“Then if you will follow me, I am at your service, and can answer any questions you may have.”
“That is quite satisfactory,” said Shenoy. “And what shall we call you?”
The robot was silent.
“Are you all right?” asked Shenoy.
“Yes, sir,” said the robot. “I am fully operative.”
“I was wondering, since you didn’t answer my question.”
“I don’t have a name.”
“How awkward,” said Shenoy. “Will it annoy you if I give you one?”
“Certainly not. That response has not been built into me.”
“Fine. Then I shall call you H. P., and you may call me Lord Shenoy.”
“H. P.,” said the robot, and then repeated it. “H. P., I like it, Lord Shenoy.”
“Then proceed, H. P., and we will follow you.”
“This way, gentlemen,” said the robot, wheeling off down a corridor.
Most of the cells were empty, and all of them were bleak and depressing. Finally the robot came to a stop.
“This one?” asked Shenoy.
“Yes, Lord Shenoy.”
Shenoy stared at the robot for a moment. “Lord Shenoy seems a tad formal, now that we’re friends.”
“We are?” said the robot.
Shenoy nodded. “Yes. You may call me Sir Rupert from now on.”
“Thank you, Sir Rupert From Now On,” replied the robot. “I have just unlocked the cell. You are free to inspect it.”
They entered the cell, which had three cots, a sink and toilet in one corner, and not much else.
“And all three were incarcerated in this cell?” asked Shenoy.
“Yes, Sir Rupert From Now On.”
“Just a simple Sir Rupert will do.” Shenoy looked around. “How many cells have you got in this place?”
“Two hundred and thirty-six, Sir Rupert.”
“And how many prisoners?”
“When the incident in this cell occurred?”
Shenoy frowned. “With all these empty cells, why lock all three in just this one?”
“I cannot answer, Sir Rupert.”
“Cannot or will not?”
Shenoy stood there with his hands on his hips, looking slowly around the cell.
“Hard to believe,” he muttered. “Very hard.” He turned to the robot again. “And the cell was never unlocked?”
“No, Sir Rupert.”
Shenoy looked around again, frowning. “Even if something like an alien snake got in, there’s no way it could get back out.”
“Forgive my ignorance,” Tabor said, “but why not?”
Shenoy blinked his eyes very rapidly for a moment, then sighed. “That’s right,” he said at last. “You don’t know what happened here, do you?”
“Well, it’s probably time we all took a look at it.” He turned back to the robot. “H. P., we’re ready to view the security holograms now.”
“I will take you to the conference room, which is set up to display them,” answered the robot, leaving the cell and heading off down another corridor.
They arrived at a room that was somewhat larger than the cell they had just left. The walls were plain and unadorned, there were half a dozen armless chairs made from some alien hardwood, and at one stood a projection unit.
“Please be seated,” said the robot.
“Thank you, H. P.,” said Shenoy, sitting down and trying to ignore the chair’s total lack of comfort. Tabor and Basil followed suit.
“Are you quite sure you want to see this?” asked the robot.
“It may have . . . unfortunate . . . side effects,” said the robot.
“I would expect nothing less,” replied Shenoy. He turned to Basil and Tabor. “You’ll be staying, of course,” he said to his assistant. “But there’s nothing vital for you to watch, Russell. You can wait outside this room if you prefer.”
“What do you think you’re going to see?” asked Tabor, unimpressed.
“Something that no technology known to humankind will explain,” answered Shenoy.
“You sound like you’re about to tell a story to frighten kids at bedtime,” said Tabor.
Shenoy shrugged. “Go. Stay. At least you were warned.” He turned to the robot. “I think we’re ready now, H.P.”
Tabor expected the room to darken, or music to start, something to make him feel like he was watching a holographic projection, but nothing happened. Then the cell door opened and three prisoners were ushered in by a pair of armed guards, who left without saying a word.
The three men began speaking to each other in low tones. The one of them jumped up and cursed.
“Goddammit!” he yelled.
“What is it?”
“Something bit me!”
“Must be a mighty hungry bug to make you yelp like that,” chuckled the third man — and suddenly he wasn’t chuckling any more, but was screaming.
“What’s happening?” whispered Tabor.
“Just watch,” said Shenoy.
Suddenly the first man’s body began jerking, not as if he was having a seizure, but as if some huge carnivore had grabbed him around the midsection and was shaking him vigorously. Blood started spurting our from half a dozen wounds that hadn’t existed seconds earlier, the man screamed just once, and suddenly he no longer had a face with which to scream.
The second prisoner raced to the door and began yelling for the guards, but was soon pulled away by some unseen thing or things, and was literally torn limb from limb, one leg flying against a wall, an arm rolling under a cot.
The third prisoner backed into a corner and crouched down, terrified. That lasted about ten seconds. Then he, too, was torn apart, his screams echoing down the corridor.
“What the hell happened?” whispered Tabor. “Some kind of force field?”
“You’ve never seen a force field do anything like that,” replied Basil.
“Then what was it?”
“Quiet!” said Shenoy sharply.
“Why?” demanded Tabor. “It’s all over.”
“Not yet,” answered Shenoy.
“But they’re all dead,” said Tabor — and even as the words left his mouth, he saw the first body vanishing a huge mouthful at a time, though there was nothing there, nothing he could see, devouring it.
Soon there were the sounds of inhuman growls, and the other two bodies began vanishing in the same way.
They watched the strange, sickening scene for another ten minutes, and then the robot shut down the projector.
“What the hell did we just see?” said Tabor, frowning.
“The deaths of three prisoners.”
“I know that,” replied Tabor irritably. “But what killed them, and what happened to them after they were killed?”
“Clearly they were eaten,” answered Shenoy. He turned to the robot. “May I have a glass of water please, H. P.?”
“You don’t seem surprised by any of this,” continued Tabor.
“Men died,” said Shenoy, accepting the water from the robot. “It happens all the time.”
“Not like this it doesn’t,” said Tabor. “And if it did, we wouldn’t have come all this way to watch what happened.”
“True,” agreed Shenoy. “But you’re missing the most important part, the reason I came all this way.”
“I’m all ears,” replied Tabor sardonically, “Some men were killed and then eaten by some kind of invisible beasts. What’s to miss?”
“Why does one creature eat another?” asked Shenoy.
“To sustain its own life force,” said Tabor. “It’s true everywhere in the galaxy.”
Shenoy smiled. “Is it?”
Tabor nodded his head. “Some die and become food so that others can live.”
“So much for universal truths,” said Shenoy.
“What are you getting at?”
“If I’m right, those men were killed and devoured by the Old Ones,” said Shenoy. A grim smile crossed his face. “And how do you sustain life when you yourself have none?”