The Missionary

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
He thought God had forgotten him, but maybe he just had to look in a different place.

Submitted: February 15, 2017

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Submitted: February 15, 2017

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The Missionary

By Dave Weaver

 

Crane re-set the automatic pilot for the reverse course he’d plotted previously, the one that would take him the twenty-four light years back to his own star system and Earth. It would be another six month haul spent in hyper-sleep, a sleep so deep his dreams would be forgotten on waking as the compact little ship hovered on the fringe of Terra Firma’s atmosphere. When the flight computer awoke him he would set the landing co-ordinates and end his failed five year mission to bring God to the Athalians of Trolsa.

That was the rather grandiose title given to the shabby disease-ridden natives of the planet still unfortunately lingering directly below his portside window. He’d spent fruitless years learning their language to bring the wonders of Christ’s message to these heathens.

At first they’d smiled politely at his evermore desperate attempts of persuading them to save their pathetic souls from damnation. After a while they’d started to ignore him. Towards the end a few had actually begun to hiss at him; it was time to leave.

‘To hell with them...!’ He told himself as he fired up the ship’s FTL drive into wormhole-drilling readiness. ‘Some people, or whatever those creatures are down there, are simply beyond redemption.’

Five wasted years… five years he’d watched Marnie grow ever more beautiful in her time-elapsed messages, patiently waiting for his return to start their long-put-off family. No more missions after this; he was finally ready to settle down. The church would have to find another space apostle to take his place.

Something wasn’t right though; there was an angrily blinking red light on the faster-than-light consul where there should have been a calm green one. Then an overheating warning lit up – smoke began leaking out of the consul causing the fire alarm to blast and the auto-dampers to shoot foam while seismic readings jiggered crazily across screens.

He hastily shutdown the drive knowing already that it was too late; the circuits had fused, mutated into fried junk somewhere beneath his trembling fingers as he tried to re-route and re-configure. The drive was gone, melted. Without the FTL his own world, his life, was thousands of years away.

As the ship slowly began to sink back through the thick atmosphere towards Trolsa’s swampy surface Crane realised he’d be marooned there until the next space-freighter came calling.

Whenever the hell that would be…

 

“Twelve years…! You’re kidding, right? Don’t mess around Control, tell me properly; when can you get me off this dump? Yes, I know that’s Earth years! Hello, Control...? Damn you...!”

They hadn’t been messing him around after all. It wasn’t economically viable to send a ship to the outer reaches of the galaxy just for him; one missionary amongst all the others fallen on bad luck or, in his case, faulty wiring. He’d just have to wait for the next space-freighter stopping at Trolsa and nobody bothered about that dump. Even mining ore from the Blue Mountains that towered over the swampland was prohibited since Earth declared it a preservation zone.

It really would be twelve (Earth) years, if he was lucky. They’d let him know nearer the time; probably...

That broken conversation with Control had taken place over three long months. A transmission of Marnie’s tearful face had been included with their last devastating reply. And things were about to get even worse.

“I don’t know how to say this Mike...” (‘Go on’, he thought, ‘you’re doing a pretty good job so far.’) “But it’s twelve years... I’m thirty-six; I want to have children... I can’t risk waiting so long. Roger thought it best, that is to say...”

Roger...? Roger Walker...? What the hell had he got to do with...? Oh yeah, right, of course... Crane painfully forced himself to understand exactly what his best buddy Roger Walker had got to do with it.

And why he’d never have kids with Marnie now.

 

The little Athalian boy was sure annoying him today. Crane was out cold in the hut on the edge of the village that had been his dwelling place (he couldn’t call it a home) since he’d crash landed back on Trolsa and made crestfallen contact with the Athalian’s again. For the last year and a half since the disaster with the FTL drive he’d been mostly insensible as he first demolished what was left of the ship’s booze ration then switched to the native version; a foul-smelling wine made of root-crops plus a mind-bending alcoholic spirit that came from God knows where. Although even He probably didn’t in this insect-infested hell-hole…

As Crane’s mood swung dangerously between hysteria and abject depression the villagers gave him a wide berth. He’d gone from respected (at least to his face) ambassador of his odd religion to town drunk in shorter time than seemed possible. Alien town drunk admittedly, but it had the same effect; he could sense them laughing at the ridiculous Earthman who came to preach but stayed to bitterly (and loudly) denounce the very God he once held so dear. The Almighty who’d apparently left his representative to rot without a single qualm.

In fact the only one he had any contact with these miserable days was the boy who was bouncing his wooden ball against the wall of the hut right now, making it impossible for Crane to re-submerge into blissful delirium. In his (relatively) sober moments he’d play with Ban-akk in the scrubland behind the hut; teaching the kid the rudiments of cricket and football, anything to get his mind off Marnie and her wonderful new child-enriched life with Roger.

He’d even constructed a croquet lawn of sorts and Ban-akk had actually begun to beat him, much to Crane’s amusement. He was a good lad; brought him food from the market, fresh fruit from the forest, even one of the small pig-like creatures the villagers ate as a delicacy. In the mercifully cooler evenings he told Ban-akk all about Earth and the stars beyond Trolsa’s twin moons as the kid listened intently and gazed up in wonder. But he could be a real pain too, like right now.

Eventually Crane had blotted out the noise enough to return to his preferred state of stupor. He awoke later in the afternoon to find the thump-thumping had thankfully stopped. He was hungry and thirsty but the boy appeared to have brought nothing for him this time. Crane got up and stumbled outside.

Ban-akk lay in a pathetically shaking heap, cold sweat on his face. He was obviously sick, maybe dying; Crane didn’t want the child to die, he didn’t want any child to die but especially this one. He scooped him into shaky arms and headed for the Chief’s hut.

The old man took one look. “Swamp fever...” He pulled a finger across his throat. “No more Ban-akk.”

Crane couldn’t believe the old fool would give up just like that. “There must be something, something you can give him, some treatment... what normally happens with this?”

“People die...normally.”

“Well that’s no good... what can we do to help him?”

The Chief smiled at Crane. “What do you suggest, Earthman?”

“Don’t you have some kind of... medicine for this…?”

“Medicine…?” He spat the word through his white beard as if it was a rotten piece of meat. “That’s an Earthman word. We don’t use it here; we have other ways. If you are serious about the child he needs to be taken to the Blue Mountains.” The Chief gestured towards the angular maroon shapes interrupting the hazy skyline as if Crane were unaware of their sentinel presence. “But it is a place of death as well.”

“Can’t someone take him then?” Crane asked, purposely ignoring the Chief’s warning coda.

“No-one has the time to give.”

“The time to give…? Jesus Christ (the first time he’d said that name since the crash) you people really are the end aren’t you! He’s one of your own!”

“You could take him…” He gave Crane a shrewd look. Crane found the rheumy unblinking eyes discomforting. “You apparently have much time to give.”

“I will damn well take him!” Crane replied before his drink-befuddled brain could catch up with his tongue. “Give me a decent map and I’ll go; show you Godless laggards the way we do things back on Earth!”

“Good luck Earthman.” The old man told his departing back. “And goodbye...”

 

They started out a few hours later, Crane carrying the boy on his back in a makeshift sling. It was awkward but the under-nourished body was light. He’d asked how far it was but failed to get a defining answer. It seemed no-one had actually been there for a very long time.

He made camp that first night starting a fire with some flints, and ate one of the tiny pig-creatures. Ban-akk couldn’t keep any food down and had begun to foam at the mouth. In the early morning mists Crane felt him begin to twitch uncontrollably as they ploughed on through the foothills then began to climb the gravelly lower slopes.

By mid-afternoon the thin mountain air had grown chilly. After consulting the map he found they’d progressed almost to the hidden valley he’d been told to find. Apparently inside that, some-where, was what the villagers had called the ‘Tree of Life and Death’. Crane thought it unlikely that any tree could grow at such altitudes. ‘What then?’ He’d asked. ‘Then you will be shown what is needed for the boy’. ‘Shown by whom?’ ‘God will show you, Earthman’. Their God..?

He’d decided to humour them; hopefully it would be some bush with medicinal properties he could distil.

But then Crane climbed over that last rise and saw the intricate circuitry of the tree’s silver branches spread out from the central stem like some vast neural network. He laid the boy on the ground then reached out a hand to touch the glistening fronds; felt the shock of instant connection inside his brain...

“What are you...?” he asked it without using words.

“What you have been seeking, Crane.”

“You know my name...?”

“I know all names.”

Ban-akk had been joined to the network now, the fronds from the slender silver branches cocooning his tiny body as they had Crane’s own. Again, the universal connection; he sensed the boy’s frightened mind overlaying his and told him ‘Don’t worry, it will be alright’. He felt something begin to drain away from within him then realised what it was. A last part of his mind went back to what the old Chief had told him; ‘No-one has the time to give’.

He’d said ‘time’ but he’d meant something else; call it life-force, call it ‘soul’. It didn’t matter; the boy would have it now, replacing the dried out husk of his own. He would live and Crane... But that was okay. Everything was okay now; he’d finally understood his mission.

“Thank-you, Blessed Lord.” Then “Will his life be long?” He asked, but never got an answer.

 

It was actually fifteen (Earth) years not twelve when the space-freighter finally arrived on Trolsa. On board, apart from the usual traders and hopeful developers, was a small party of Space Corps representatives on a recruitment drive to fill Earth’s off-world quota of Forces service staff.

It was mainly political of course; they didn’t really expect to find any worthwhile officer material in these far-flung underdeveloped places. But the young Athalian the villagers pointed out to them looked promising. He had a local reputation as an intelligent and resourceful young fellow; better still he seemed to know far more about the local star systems than anyone else they’d seen. He even knew about Earth.

They signed up a grateful Ban-akk on the spot. He was going to be a spaceman after all; the first ever of his race.

Staring out at Trolsa’s disc as it finally slipped beneath the space freighter’s window and the crew prepared the ship for FTL, Ban-akk tried once again to define the odd feeling that somehow a part of him was going home. He wondered if he’d dream over the next six months spent in the hyper-sleep capsule.

And which of the two planets those dreams would be about...


© Copyright 2017 Dave Weaver. All rights reserved.

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