Storytime with Rhetaskew (9)

The Recall

Welcome back to our weekly serial story posts. This week we present the conclusion of Audine Grein’s classic science fiction story.  As always, please let us know what you think.

The Recall – Audine Grein
(Part 2 of 2)

Knowing that their recall was inevitable did very little to prepare Turner for the alarm when the transmission came, and it startled him awake. He and Sims collided as they both tried to enter the control room at the same time.

Later, as they sat in the galley having coffee and nursing matching bumps on their foreheads, Turner was the first to speak.

“I don’t get it. It’s like the year we’ve spent here has been wasted, or is totally unimportant. They expect us to just drop everything and return, without tying up loose ends or anything.” The recall order hadn’t offered any explanations or time-frames. Just that they were to return immediately. Turner’s shoulders slumped and he stared into the bottom of his cup.

Sims knew what he was thinking. They would leave before the ceremony, and Konotek would take over again. Soon the natives would be reduced to their previous level of savagery.

Turner downed his last swallow of coffee and stood up. “I suppose I’d better start getting things battened down for take off.” As he approached the door, Sims seemed to come out of his trance.

“No.”

Turner stopped, and turned to face his commanding officer. “Come again?”

“I said no. We’re not leaving yet. One more day can’t hurt, and we have a temple to dedicate and a high priest to deal with.”

Turner grinned. “I was hoping you’d say that! So, do you have any brilliant ideas up your sleeve?”

I actually might. If Konotek plans on attempting a sacrifice, he will have to do it during the dedication ceremony, so the whole village can see. That will mean he will have to do it at or near the top of the temple steps.”

“Okay, so what do we do?”

“We still have a couple hours before dawn, so there should just be enough time. We will prepare a little Godly surprise of our own for him. Gather a couple fire extinguishers, a couple handfuls of that pelletized tear gas, and a few nose filters. We have work to do!”

* * *

The sun was sending long pink fingers over the horizon as Sims and Turner climbed back aboard their ship, flopping down on couches in the galley.

“Do you think we have enough stuff up there if Konotek decides to get cute?” Turner was fidgeting, despite being tired.

“Sure,” said Sims, trying to sound confident. “They’ll be so surprised and awe-stricken they’ll be crawling on their bellies, begging the Gods for forgiveness. He clenched his fists.Konotek wasn’t stupid, nor was he foolish. Sims refused to let himself think of the consequences if his plan failed. “Okay, Turner. Let’s get ready. You know that they will be here soon. The Gods will be the guests of honor at the ceremony.”

By the time the two men had cleaned up and changed into their dress uniforms, they could hear the chanting as the village procession made its way across the fields. They were coming to carry the Gods to the ceremony at the new temple site.

Chief Potanchat himself led the way; he was a magnificent sight, dressed in his formal ceremonial robe. The robe was made of the feathers of the Moabba, a large bird indigenous to the planet. Sims, however, only had eyes for Potanchat’s companion. As the number one temple maiden, Lehaney walked alongside the chief, ready to serve the needs of the Gods. Dressed only in a simple white garment that stopped well above her knees, Sims thought she was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen.

Konotek was directly behind Potanchat and Lehaney, and Sims was more certain than ever that trouble was brewing. The high priest carried himself with the arrogant self-confidence that seemed to Sims to prove just what he thought of his position in the village order. Hopefully they would be ready when he made his move.

Turner and Sims climbed down from their ship and met the procession. A platform was brought forward with a pair of cushions for the Gods to ride on. They were to be carried all the way to the top of the temple.

As they sat, Turner turned, and switching to intergalactic speech, said “I don’t like this, Captain. These men carrying the platform are some of the missing members of the harvest crew.” He nodded to the temple ziggurat. “One simple trip, and it would be a long tumble down those stairs.”

Sims grimaced. “I know what you mean,” he answered in the same sing-song language. “I’m counting on Konotek’s desire to make a much more spectacular come-back than that.”

They arrived at the base of the temple, and Lehaney proceeded up the stairs, scattering flower petals before the platform bearers as they began the climb to the top. Despite Turner’s foreboding, the procession was smooth, and sooner than either of them would have thought possible, they arrived at the large platform atop the temple structure. There, two beautifully ornate thrones had been built, and the Gods were escorted to these seats of honor. The platform bearers took up positions behind each of the thrones, one to each side, and Lehaney knelt between the two Gods and bowed her head. Potanchaqt and Konotek stepped up to the small altar dais and faced the cheering villagers who covered the steep steps, and massed at the bottom of the temple. Potanchat raised his arms, and the crowd immediately went quiet, as he began the ritual dedication.

The ceremony was long, as Potanchat presented the offerings of fruit, grain and juice. These were blessed by Konotek, then placed around the altar, accompanied by the chanting pleas of respect for the Gods who looked on. As the ritual neared completion, Sims thought maybe he had been wrong about Konotek and his plans.

That was the moment that he felt a sharp stinging sensation in his right arm. He turned to look at the native guard on that side of his seat, but the man gave no indication that he had moved or seen anything.

* * *

The cold numbing sensation of whatever drug he had been injected with traveled slowly down his arm, and Sims finally understood the depth of Konotek’s plan. Not only would there be a sacrifice of a temple maiden, but the Gods would approve, for they would sit and watch without lifting a finger to stop it. The natives would have no idea that they had been paralyzed, and once the sacrifice had been made, the Gods wouldn’t be able to admit it, for it would reveal them as mere mortals. Either way, Konotek would win.

Quickly, as the cold made it’s way into his system, Sims turned his ring and used its built-in injector to neutralize the toxin. He glanced over at Turner and winked, as he saw his junior officer follow suit. It was a good thing Turner was on the ball as well. Sims casually felt around with his foot for the small button that they had placed on the inside of the chair leg. He could feel warmth returning to his arm, and knew that Turner would be following his lead. They both sat as still as possible to watch the conclusion of the ceremony. The next move was Konotek’s.

At the conclusion of the rituals, Sims and Turner were to give a speech and grant their blessings on the new temple. Potanchat started to call them forward, but Konotek stepped close to the chief and grabbed his arm. Sims felt sure that the chief had just been given his own dose of the paralyzing toxin.

The high priest calmly led Potanchat to a smaller seat off to one side, where he was joined by two attendants. It appeared that the chief had been given a seat of honor, but Sims knew the two attendants were actually Konotek’s guards and he could see the paralysis taking effect as Potanchat tried to object. The stuff was quick, and he felt fortunate that he and Turner had both reacted quickly with their anti-toxin. Technological advances were the one thing that Konotek wasn’t able to foresee or counter.

Konotek approached Sims and lowered his head, whispering “Watch.” He then stepped over and did the same thing to Turner, before returning to the front of the platform. The murmuring of the crowd had been slowly growing louder, but when Konotek raised his arms wide, silence followed.

“The Great Gods, Toornar and Seems have spoken to me.” He turned to look at the two men, and his benevolent smile turned to gloating grin of victory. “They are well pleased with the sacrifices we have made of grain and fruit, but more is needed. Even a grand and glorious temple in their honor is not enough, unless we are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, and supreme offering.”

He swept the fruit and grain from the altar, and pointed at Lehaney.

The two guards near Sims grabbed Lehaney and started dragging her toward the altar. She screamed in terror and turned back to look at Sims, her eyes both disbelieving and accusing. Sims could stand it no more. He gritted his teeth. This had to look good. He made eye contact with Turner and gave an almost imperceptible nod. As billows of foam began pouring out from beneath their thrones, both he and Turner stood.

“NO!” His bellow resounded through the still air and the entire area around the thrones was boiling in fire-suppressant foam. Then the tear gas pellets exploded by the feet of the guards. Sims saw Konotek’s face become a grimace of fear, and pressed his advantage.

“You, Konotek, have lied and brought upon yourself the wrath of the Gods!” The guards had by this time fled, coughing and stumbling, down the steps away from the angry Gods. Lehaney had retreated to seek safety with Potanchat, fear of these mighty Gods written on her face.

Konotek tried to regain his composure, but now he stood alone at the altar facing an angry God. Turner was administering a dose of the anti-toxin to the chief, as Sims crossed his fingers and continued.

“Konotek. Because of your disbelief in our words, and your dishonesty, you will be branded.” Sims waved his hand in Konotek’s face, and the now timid man, fell coughing and crying to his face on the platform at Sims’ feet, thoroughly defeated. The natives were almost all prostrate on their faces along the steps and at the bottom of the temple.

Turner brought Potanchat and Lehaney forward, and they stood behind Sims as he addressed the villagers. “Many of you have listened to Konotek’s lies and helped him. For this reason, the Great God Turner and I must leave this world. The temple maiden Lehaney will go with us, not to be slaughtered like an animal on the altar, but to live among the Gods.” Sims now turned his attention to Konotek.

“High Priest, the sign of our displeasure will appear on your face before the sun again rises on this land. If you work hard and keep the new faith in us, the mark will fade.” Sims turned to Turner and raised his arms. Turner followed suit and together they turned and faced the people. “Rise, our people, and we shall bestow our blessings upon the new temple!” He turned and smiled at Lehaney, and the warmth and desire he saw reflected in her eyes, let him know he had made the right decision.

After a lengthy blessing and reminder that Potanchat and his line were in charge, Turner and Sims, with Lehaney in tow, made their way down the temple steps. Amid the roar of approval from the crowd, they marched calmly and proudly back to the ship.

* * *

On the viewscreen, the planet began growing smaller as the ship raced away. Turner, Sims and Lehaney sat and watched it recede. Turner looked at Sims with a puzzled expression. “Captain, I meant to ask you before. What was all that hocus-pocus with Konotek and a brand all about?”

Sims chuckled. “I sprayed him with a little dye. It won’t show up for hours and then will wear off in about a week or so. Until then he is going to have the prettiest purple face you ever saw.”

Lehany had been silent until now, her eyes riveted to the image of space and her planet on the screen. She turned to Sims, her large brown eyes brimming. “Oh Great God Sims,” she said. “Will I never see my home again?”

Sims draped his bare arm over her shoulder, the contrast between his green skin and her bronze tan was marked. “Don’t worry, my beautiful Lehaney. Your planet Earth is a lovely world, and we will return one day. I know that your Inca people will be a great nation.”

Coming next week
Blue Streamers, a dramatic fantastic tale
from Anthology Askew Volume 004

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