Welcome back to our weekly serial story posts. This week we share a classic science fiction short story, in the tradition of Bradbury, Silverberg and Heinlein. The author, Audine Grein, is 75 and has been spinning her tales for her family as long as they can remember. This story was originally published in Anthology Askew Volume 001, and is one of our favorites. We know you will enjoy the journey, and as always, please let us know what you think.
The Recall – Audine Grein
(Part 1 of 2)
“You don’t really think they’d abandon all this, do you?” Turner looked out of the ship at the rolling fields of corn, the children playing in the square, and in the background, the massive temple that was nearing completion. The strange color of the natives’ skin and hair no longer bothered him, and as much as he hated to admit it, he’d grown to love this strange planet.
Sims pushed away from the radio and sighed. “You know as well as I do, if this Sirius crisis develops into war, they’re going to recall every survey and development team on the frontier. Maybe we’ll get lucky and they’ll forget we’re here.” Sims too, had grown fond of the lovely planet they had discovered. The colors were all wrong — the oceans were too green, the skies too blue — yet it was similar enough to home to fight the loneliness and homesickness. “We can’t sit here and stew about it all day,” Sims said decisively. “There’s work to do.”
Turner picked up the log book and scowled. “Just as I thought,” he said, feigning anger. “I get to go act farmer and show the locals what to do with all that corn we taught them to plant, while you get to go palaver with the chief.”
Sims knew that Turner loved the feel of dirt between his fingers almost as much as he hated the conference table, but their day wouldn’t be complete without this ritual bantering. “That’s because someone with brains has to run this outfit; it’s why I’m the captain and you’re the crew. Now scram!”
Turner threw him a mock salute, went through the hatch and skimmed down the ladder. Sims followed, but descended the ladder more slowly. He was dreading the meeting today. Before crossing the fields to the tribal chief’s lodge, he turned his gaze to the large temple structure.
* * *
It looked like a giant child had stacked rectangular blocks one on top of another, getting slightly smaller as they went. The enormous pyramid-style ziggurat rose to a magnificent height. He and Turner could take a small amount of credit, but most had to go to the intelligence, diligence and hard work of the natives.
As Sims entered the village, he smiled again at the small children playing naked and carefree in the square. He felt a wave of determination; these people were so innocent, friendly and intelligent, that recall or not they would not be abandoned.
Entering the chief’s lodge, he realized it was going to be a rough meeting. Konotek, the chief’s high priest, witch doctor and adviser all rolled into one, was already there. Sims bowed respectfully, first to Chief Potanchat and then again to Konotek.
“Come in, Great God Seems!” Potanchat’s booming voice was accompanied by a toothy smile. “Sit down.”
A look of distrust was evident in Konotek’s eyes as he nodded almost imperceptibly. Sims sat in the offered chair. After nearly a year on the planet, Konotek still seemed to resent Turner and Sims. It was understandable, after all, the position of high priest is reduced in stature considerably by the arrival of two Gods.
Potanchat himself poured goblets of the strange dark brew that the natives drank. Handing Sims the first cup. It was similar to coffee, in the way that leather was similar to steak. “We meet today to seek your approval for the dedication of the new Great Temple. The ceremony is to take place when the moon changes to its next face.”
Sims was surprised. That was only about a week away. The chief was enthusiastic as he explained about the costumes, the procession, and the dedication of the fruit, grain and juices. It would be a celebration of the harvest, as well as the temple.
“Then, Great God Seems,” the chief said, “you and Great God Toornar will give the blessing.”
Konotek had been silent while Potanchat rambled on, but now, flushed with anger, he threw his goblet to the floor. “No!”
Sims jumped at the explosive outburst. Potanchat scowled. “Sit down, Konotek.”
“No! I have sat too long. You are a weak old woman, Potanchat! Foolishness with fruit and juice will surely bring destruction down on our tribe. Only the sacrifice of a temple maiden will bring bravery to our warriors and a blessing to our village. There must be a blood sacrifice!”
Sims blanched and his stomach churned. He had thought Konotek had given up on that particularly gruesome ritual.
Potanchat stood, his girth and great height towering in the small room. “The Great Gods Seems and Toornar have brought us the True Word, Konotek. The Great Gods do not require a sacrifice of our maidens, so there will be none. That is the word of Potanchat!”
Konotek bowed stiffly, then turned and walked stoically out of the room, but Sims knew that there would still be trouble.
“Please forgive him, Great God Seems. The old ways die hard in his heart. Please sit, and let us finish our talk.”
* * *
Sims was staring at the log entries when Turner climbed into the ship.
“Good grief, Sims. I tell you, I am getting fed up with being a God. Every time I try to show them how to do something right, they think I am working too hard, and they stop me. They insist I tell them how to do it while I sit and they wait on me.” Turner paused in his rambling, and stared at Sims. “Uh oh, must have been trouble at the chief’s palaver. Okay, Captain, spill it. What’s the beef?”
Sims sighed. Maybe talking it out would help. “It’s Konotek. He’s all hopped up over the temple ceremony, insisting there must be a sacrifice.”
Turner whistled. “I thought that was hashed out months ago.”
“So did I.” Sims began pacing up and down the length of the small cabin. “Why is it, Turner? Why must it always be the same? We find a young civilization, give them a written language, a calendar for their planetary orbit cycles, agriculture and even sanitation, and we always run up against the same stumbling block! Religion! And it’s never benevolent Gods, either. No, they demand spilled blood and sacrificed lives in their worship.”
“Whoa, slow down a little.” Turner was looking at him strangely, and Sims sat down at the panel. Turner grinned. “I wonder how much of your agitation is because of the native sacrifice in general, and how much because of the fact that Lehaney is the number one temple maiden.”
Sims felt his pulse start racing. “Now just a minute, Turner.”
“Okay, okay, back off buddy — just kidding.” Turner’s grin was maddening. “Anyway, I’m going to let you stew on the problem alone for a bit longer. I’ve got paperwork to do, and seed supplies to check.” Turner went below to the storage area, leaving Sims to think about what he had said.
He knew that Turner had been joking, but maybe there was a small nugget of truth behind what he had said. It was crazy, and he knew it. There was absolutely no percentage in getting involved with the natives. Knowing that, however, did very little to stop how he felt when he thought of Lehaney. The strange color of her skin and hair were definitely an attraction, but her eyes and her gentle smile intrigued him even more.
A dull, persistent noise penetrated his reverie about the same time that Turner popped his head up into the cabin.
“What’s going on?” Turner beat him to the question.
“I don’t know, but I suggest we find out.”
* * *
As Turner and Sims climbed down the ladder from the cabin of the ship, they could hear the distinctive sound of drums and chanting. The throbbing rhythm seemed to penetrate to their very bones, drawing them forward across the fields, through the village and then into the jungle beyond the temple construction area.
“It must be coming from the original temple site,” Turner observed as the two men followed the path into the jungle toward the sound.
“I’m afraid so,” Sims growled. “Konotek is up to something.” He suddenly felt cold in the warm, humid air.
They stopped as they came to the edge of the ancient clearing, and watched the activity. About half of the tribe’s young men were in the clearing, dolefully chanting and dancing in slow solemn circles. The drums beat out a pulsating rhythm, while Potanchat stood off to one side. He saw the two men, and approached them.
“Please, do not be angry, Great Ones. As you can see,” he waved his arm at the dancers, “it is only the simple prayer for strength and courage, that they dance.” Potanchat took it for granted that the Gods would be aware of every one of their rituals, and was waiting eagerly for some sign of approval.
Sims tried to smile. “We are not angry. We just came to watch.”
The chief was still very eager to explain. “Konotek was very unhappy about my decision to not have the sacrifice. Even though I am Chief, Konotek, as the high priest, and even when he goes against the wishes of the Gods, he has many loyal followers. He asked for permission to conduct a few of the old rituals, since we weren’t going to have a sacrifice, and I consented. This should appease him and his followers.”
Sims felt a strange foreboding, but he nodded his approval as Turner began swaying back and forth.
“Yeah, why not.” Turner’s voice was almost monotonous. “It seems like a good evening’s entertainment. The music could be a little livelier, though.”
“Sure.” Sims nodded again. “Why not.” He couldn’t shake the feeling of uneasiness that sank into him, as deeply as the throbbing of the drums.
* * *
The next couple of days were uneventful except for the drums that throbbed each night, but the nagging voice that warned of a storm brewing would not be stilled. There was nothing specific however until two nights before the temple dedication ceremony was scheduled, when Turner climbed wearily into the cabin as the drums began their nightly serenade. He plopped into a chair looking exhausted, while Sims was busy filling out yet another of the tedious daily reports.
“I think we goofed, Sims.”
“We never should have let Konotek start holding his little jam sessions again.”
“Well, you were the one said that we needed a little entertainment.”
“I think I was wrong. What about you? Don’t you feel a change in the air?”
“Yeah. I felt something wrong about it from the beginning, but I hoped it was just my imagination. Anyway, nothing has happened.”
“Maybe it has.”
Sims stiffened. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s nothing, and I’m just borrowing trouble.”
“Well don’t just sit there. Tell me!” Exasperation at Turner’s vagueness was obvious in his voice, as Sims stared at the other man.
“Well, it’s just that yesterday, a few of the boys on the harvesting crew didn’t show up. I didn’t think too much about it then, but today fewer than half of them showed.I wonder if maybe Konotek has gotten to them.”
Sims slouched back in his chair, running his hands through his hair and suddenly feeling very old. “I think you’re right, Turner. We goofed.” He pounded the arm of the chair. “How could we have been so stupid? We should have sat in at those little jam sessions. We not only gave Konotek a bandstand and an audience, we gave him a free hand to spread his propaganda.” As the pieces fell into place in his mind, Sims began pacing in the cabin.
“I’m not sure I understand what you mean.” Turner looked puzzled.
“Don’t you see?” Sims was berating himself mentally for being such a fool. “You’ve been busy every day, seeing to the harvest. The chief and I have been busy working out all the details for the completion of the temple and the dedication ceremony. Meanwhile, Konotek had half the village all to himself with the old ceremonies bringing back all the old memories. He’s used every trick in the book to convince them to join him, you can count on that. We were complete idiots to think that Konotek would be satisfied with just these small ceremonies.”
“You really think it’s that bad?”
“Of course it’s that bad. Konotek won’t be happy until he’s got the whole ball of wax right back under his thumb.”
Turner considered what Sims had said. “So, now that you’ve got this figured out, what are you going to do about it? Even more to the point, what do you think Konotek is going to do about it?”
“That’s the biggest problem. The dedication ceremony is tomorrow and you can bet that Konotek will try something. I’m pretty sure he means to have a sacrifice, even if he has to do it without the chief’s approval. If he fails, it will mean the end of his popularity, so we need to see to it that he fails.”
Turner glanced at his watch and sat down at the radio. He and Sims had agreed that there was nothing they could do about Konotek and his possible plans tonight, so he decided to see if he could find any news from the peace conference. “You think things are going well in the great outside?”
Sims seemed very preoccupied. “You know these things can be touch and go.”
Reception was spotty as usual, and the news they did pick up wasn’t good. Negotiations for a peaceful settlement of differences had broken down again, and the Sirius delegate to the peace conference had walked out of the last session.
Sims snapped off the radio with a sigh. Things were piling up way too fast. “I’ve had enough Turner. Maybe we should just disconnect the radio. That way, we won’t hear the recall order when it comes.”
“Don’t you mean if it comes?”
“No, I mean when.” Sims sighed. “I can feel it; it’s only a matter of time. I’m bushed, and tomorrow will be a busy day. Let’s hit the rack.”
… more next week
[ Part 2 here ]