Read Paw-Prints Of The Gods Online

Authors: Steph Bennion

Tags: #young adult, #space opera, #science fiction, #sci fi, #sci fi adventure, #science fantasy, #humour and adventure, #science fantasy adventure, #science and technology, #sci fi action adventure, #humorous science fiction, #humour adventure, #sci fi action adventure mystery, #female antagonist, #young adult fantasy and science fiction, #sci fi action adventure thrillers, #humor scifi, #female action adventure, #young adult adventure fiction, #hollow moon, #young girl adventure

Paw-Prints Of The Gods (8 page)

BOOK: Paw-Prints Of The Gods
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Endymion laughed.
Ostara’s face fell, reflecting that Verdandi herself had hinted
there was no demand for a detective agency in Newbrum. Endymion’s
casual remark about Taranis also unsettled her, for she effectively
had been an accomplice to the priest’s murder, though it now
crossed her mind that they had never made sure of Taranis’ fate
after blasting him and his creations into space. She felt
Endymion’s eyes upon her as she glumly contemplated the contents of
her mug and wondered what he was thinking.

“Maybe that church
does need looking into,” Endymion said. “I’d do a bit of snooping
myself but Bellona would only accuse me of being sneaky.”

“You want me to spy on
her instead?”

“Maybe. I can’t afford
to pay you,” he said hurriedly. “I could pick up some bits of
furniture for your office, if that helps.”

“I’ve got nothing else
doing,” Ostara admitted. “Perhaps it is best that I practice my
detecting before I start charging for my services.”

“Then you’ll make a
few enquiries?”

Ostara smiled. “Let’s
see what the Dhusarians are up to, shall we?”

 

* * *

 

Zotz gazed out the
window at the slowly-rotating wheel that was
CSS
Stellarbridge
, the two-hundred-metres-wide orbital station that
served as a passenger terminal and trading post for ships unable or
unwilling to drop through Ascension’s atmosphere. He sat strapped
into the navigator’s seat on the flight deck of the
Indra
,
watching as Momus slowly backed the huge tanker away from the
static docking pontoon that emerged axle-like from the centre of
the wheel. Quirinus was in the co-pilot’s seat, holding Ravana’s
electric pet to his lap and clearly uncomfortable at not being at
the helm. The
Indra
was far bigger than anything Momus had
piloted before and in the wrong hands could easily knock
Stellarbridge
out of orbit. It was only when the end of the
pontoon finally slipped past and began to recede into the distance
that Quirinus visibly relaxed.

“We’ve got about
twenty minutes before we break orbit,” he said, squinting at the
console before him. The
Indra
was designed for pilot-less
operation, but the flight deck had basic controls and life support
so maintenance crews could fly the ship manually if needed. “Once
the main engine has fired it’ll take about seven hours to reach the
Dandridge Cole
.”

“Aye aye, captain,”
said Momus. “Or in your case, is that just one aye?”

“Very funny,” muttered
Quirinus. He self-consciously touched his eye patch.

The ship began a
lateral rotation and the brown planet below filled the view as they
turned away from the space station. The
Indra
was shaped
like a squashed airship, right down to the fabric skin that
cocooned the spherical holding tanks clustered either side of the
ship’s cylindrical spine. The control cabin was at the front of the
spacecraft, with a cramped engine room that served the single
plasma drive unit at the rear. The hollow central spine was
currently stripped of its inflatable gas tanks, a hurried
modification made before the tanker gallantly carried the people of
the hollow moon to safety. This narrow corridor, three metres in
diameter and a hundred and fifty metres long, had seen four hundred
people and their valuables, noisy air-processing units, temporary
toilets and assorted livestock all jostling for space. It had been
a trip few could forget, despite all attempts to try.

Momus leaned back in
his seat and idly flicked a switch on the console. The flight
computer responded with a sarcastic beep and then a click as
automatic systems moved the switch back to its original position.
Quirinus gave the pilot a scornful look.

“Crappy autopilots,”
muttered Momus. “It’s frigging boring flying one of these heaps.
What happened to proper ships that relied on real people to fly
them?”

“They all fell apart
due to lack of maintenance,” Quirinus retorted.

“What about the
shuttle?” asked Zotz. “Is that a proper spaceship?”

“Just going up into
frigging orbit and back down again? Give me a break.”

“Momus used to fly
shuttles,” Quirinus told Zotz. “Then one day he thought it would be
clever to attempt a docking with
Stellarbridge
without using
the automatic pilot. He was showing off to some girlfriend riding
in the cabin with him. You can still see the dents today.”

“Momus dented the
space station?” exclaimed Zotz, his eyes wide.

“I was talking about
the dents in his head. His girlfriend was a kick-boxer.”

“Crappy shuttles,”
muttered Momus. “It’s no life for an adventurer. I should be out
there in the black; finding new stars, new systems, new worlds! Not
plodding towards a bloody asteroid in a frigging gas bag like
this.”

“Beggars can’t be
choosers,” mused Quirinus. Zotz caught his wink and reflected it
was this philosophy that had saddled them with Momus in the first
place. “The
Indra
is all we’ve got until the
Platypus
or your own ship is fixed.”

Momus snorted in
derision, then froze as he caught Quirinus’ stern glare.

“Remind me,” Quirinus
murmured coolly. “Who’s paying you to be here?”

“You are,” Momus
replied meekly. “Though I’ve yet to see any actual credits.”

“I miss my
Platypus
.” Quirinus sighed. “I wonder how Wak is getting
on?”

“Shall I give dad a
call?” asked Zotz. He reached for the bag wedged beneath his seat
and pulled out his touch-screen slate, causing some of his spare
underwear to float free in the process. “We’re close enough to the
servermoon for a holovid link.”

Quirinus shrugged
assent. Ascension’s servermoon, a kilometre-wide satellite relay
crammed with data banks and an extra-dimensional transmitter, was
one of many that enabled near-instantaneous communication across
the five systems. Interstellar spacecraft could use their ED drives
to send packets of data to the nearest servermoon. The
Indra
had only a standard transceiver, but Zotz quickly confirmed they
were close enough to the Ascension relay to avoid irritating signal
delays. The
Dandridge Cole
had its own ED transmitter.

“Just calling him
now,” Zotz remarked. He clipped the slate into a slot on the
console.

He stared startled as
the screen lit up in a flurry of movement. Grunts of exasperation
wafted from the slate’s speaker, then came a glimpse of
panic-stricken ashen features beneath an unruly mop of ginger hair.
Green tendrils swept across the screen, writhing angrily against
the arm attached to the transmitting wristpad. As the watchers on
the
Indra
stared in disbelief, the owner of the arm wrestled
free from his attacker and staggered back to safety. The face of
Professor Wak, the Canadian chief engineer aboard the
Dandridge
Cole
, appeared before his wristpad lens. He gave a weary wave
with his other hand.

“Quirinus! Zotz!” he
called, sounding as tired as he looked. “Good to see you!”

“What the hell is
happening there?” exclaimed Quirinus. On the screen behind Wak,
something long and green hung from the ceiling in great loops like
a basking snake, visibly twitching. “It looked like you were being
attacked!”

“I was!” Wak retorted
irritably. “By your damn ship! These weird growths are all over the
blasted place, lashing out every time I try to remove them!”

“Weird growths?” asked
Momus, perturbed.

“Woomerberg Syndrome,”
Quirinus told him, not bothering to explain.

“Wow,” murmured Zotz.
Taranis’ secret experiments released growth hormones into the
hollow moon’s life-support systems, causing strange tendrils to
erupt from the
Platypus
’ organic AI unit. Judging by the
image on the screen, they had grown considerably since he last saw
Quirinus’ ship. “That’s amazing!”

“I told you not to
touch them,” Quirinus told Wak. “Ravana was convinced they saved
the ship. It was Fenris’ bomb that caused the crash, not those
things.”

“I don’t like them,”
Wak said sulkily, scratching his head in exasperation. “It’s not
natural, having stuff growing through the ship like that.
Especially when hell-bent on strangling me every time I reach for
the wire cutters. Even touching them with my false hand is enough
to set them off.”

“It’s only the AI,”
Quirinus pointed out. Wak still lacked a proper replacement for his
damaged artificial left hand and the temporary repairs did look a
little scary. “How would you react if someone tried to cut bits off
you? Talk to it. Reason with it!”

“Reason with a
machine?” scoffed Wak.

“Isn’t your repair
crew all robots anyway?”

“And mostly
unreasonable. Are you on your way?”

“We’ve just left
Stellarbridge
,” Zotz told him. “Captain Momus has broken his
spaceship so we’re coming in the
Indra
.”

Wak smiled. “I hope
you’ve been behaving yourself with Quirinus!”

“As good as gold,”
Quirinus told him. A pair of pants floated past his face and he
frowned. Zotz blushed and quickly snatched his underwear away.
“How’s my ship?”

“It needs a lot more
work but the hull repairs are complete,” Wak told him. “I know
you’ve come to lend a hand, but as you have the
Indra
I need
you to go to Thunor. We leaked a lot of fuel when we lost Reactor A
and the main tanks are running low.”

“The
Indra
doesn’t need a pilot for that,” Quirinus protested.

“I contacted
Sky
Cleaver
a while back and they insisted on a personal visit,”
replied Wak, sounding apologetic. “I’ve tried to find out why but
there’s been no reply.”

“Newbrum Police have
sent a ship to investigate,” said Quirinus. They had all heard the
spaceport rumours. “They think there’s been trouble out there.”

“They were very
annoyed at having their planet-leave allowance reduced, I know that
much,” Wak told them. “Have you heard from Ravana?”

“She’s due to call
tomorrow. The dig is in the middle of nowhere so she only gets the
chance when the University’s ship visits to deliver supplies.”

“It doesn’t seem
right, everyone scattered across the five systems like this,” Wak
said sadly. He brushed away the tendril slowly descending to his
shoulder. “The hollow moon is such a cold, dark place at the
moment. I wonder if it will ever be the same again.”

“Ostara says hello, if
it counts. And you’ll soon have me and Zotz for company.”

“And me,” added Momus,
sounding indignant at being left out.

“Oh yes,” Wak
muttered. “And Captain Momus. Beggars can’t be choosers.”

 

* * *

 

Bellona crept
nervously into the darkened hall and found a seat near the back.
The Dhusarian Church of Ascension met in the basement of a
residential block near the western edge of Newbrum’s dome, in a
hall that once hosted bingo and karaoke nights. Even now the
remains of faded posters advertising talent competitions and super
prize days could be seen, peeking from beneath the
brightly-coloured banners that church members had strung across the
walls in an attempt to make the hall their own. The latter left a
reader in no doubt it was a place of worship, declaring such things
as: ‘IN THE BLACK SEEK ONLY THE GREY’, ‘TRUE WISDOM SHINES FROM
ABOVE’ and the more confusing, ‘ALL THAT IS PART DOES BELONG’. The
low stage was backed by a large black curtain, upon which was a
silver six-pointed star with a swirl at the centre, the symbol of
the Dhusarian Church.

Rows of chairs filled
the floor. Bellona was surprised to see that nearly every one of
the sixty or so seats was taken. The dim orange glow from the
telepathy transmitters above the pews did little to dispel the
dark, but it was clear that amongst the congregation the old were
outnumbered by the young; most of whom, like Bellona, new converts
to the faith.

A latecomer took the
seat next to her. Selene, the girl at school who had first invited
Bellona to the church, looked darkly mysterious with her clingy
long black dress, ghostly pale skin and garland of artificial grey
flowers adorning her long purple hair. As usual, Bellona felt fat
and frumpy in her faded school flight suit, sitting alongside her
slim and effortlessly-cool classmate, but the smile she gave Selene
was that of a grateful friend.

At the top of the
hall, a tall and muscular young man walked onto the stage. An old
bingo machine had been draped with yet another banner to become a
makeshift lectern. Bellona had yet to be formally introduced to
Captain Nyx, who by day was a police officer in Newbrum and the
youngest ever assigned his own ship. Nyx habitually wore a long
black cape in a style popular amongst Dhusarians, along with
neo-Victorian garb inspired by the vampire romances currently
enjoying yet another revival on holovid. He had the same pallid
complexion as Selene, with slicked jet-black hair and eyes
concealed by the dark lenses of the latest enhanced-reality shades.
The custom amongst star-faring settlers of naming children after
figures from mythology was well-established, yet the rumour was Nyx
had made the decision himself to adopt the name of the Greek
personification of the night.

The man took hold of
the lectern and savoured the hush of anticipation.

“There are no gods but
the greys!” he proclaimed, in a voice surprisingly rich for one so
young. “Praise be the ancient guardians of the stars! They are the
noble teachers who have given us a glimpse of their wisdom through
the writings of the
Isa-Sastra
!”

Bellona leant forward,
eager to catch every syllable. In her hand was her own copy of the
fabled Book of the Greys; unlike the holographic versions most had
on their slates, hers was an old-fashioned tome of bound paper
pages with a worn grey cover. It had belonged to Fenris, a man who
once worked for the priest Taranis himself. Bellona had come across
the text after Fenris’ death and kept it secret, for somehow it
made her feel special, as if the book’s unique providence had the
power to elevate her above others.

BOOK: Paw-Prints Of The Gods
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