Lawrence sprinted through the crumbling settlement of pre-fabricated structures and makeshift buildings.
“They’re landing on the edge of town!” yelled Lawrence and ran past pale faced colonists who gawked timidly from their homes.
Lawrence watched the craft descend out of the sky to land several yards past the last buildings on the lifeless rust colored dust of the planet surface. He stopped and watched. Behind, looming in cyclopean grandeur, were the ruins.
The craft’s jets ceased their rumble and went quiet. A moment later the door opened and four men wearing the uniform of deep space surveyors walked forward. Lawrence looked back toward the colony and saw Yager marching to meet him and the four strangers from space.
Lawrence hesitated, halfway between the space surveyors and Yager’s semi-scowling face, and in the distance the towering ruins watched everything below.
“Lawrence! Come here, you fool! I’ll talk to them,” demanded Yager.
Lawrence became sullen at Yager’s rebuke and watched silently as the four men approached.
The settlement was quiet as the surveyors stood facing Yager and Lawrence. There had not been contact for more than one standard Earth year, and some in the colony wanted another year in solitude.
“I am colony director Yager. Why are you here? We haven’t sent a distress call,” said Yager.
“I’m Senior Surveyor Baker of Navigation and Surveying International, call sign DSS-117. These are my men. You say you haven’t sent a distress call, but you haven’t sent any communications back to Tau Ceti in months. We’ve been contracted by your sponsor, Star-Serv, to reestablish communications and render aid if need be,” said the leader of the group.
Yager’s face lost its scowl, but his words were sour and unfriendly. “Then you can get back on your ship and tell Star-Serv we are just fine. We don’t need any help from them or you.”
Baker looked up at the towering ruins beyond then said, “Well, we can’t just leave yet. I’m obligated to give Star-Serv a full report. Do you mind if we look around? I’d like to get a look at your transmitter and then those alien artifacts.”
Lawrence looked at Yager wondering if an angry tirade would issue forth from his bearded mouth. It did not. “That’s fine. But we ask that you do not stay any longer than you have to. Today is a special day and we’d rather not postpone the ritual any more than we have too,” said Yager then turned and walked away from the Baker and his men.
Baker followed, his crew close behind. The inhabitants of the colony trailed behind in small groups. Baker’s mind tried to make sense of Yager’s last statement.
“A ritual? What are you talking about, Yager?”
Yager did not turn. Instead he barked his answer over his shoulder. “This planet has two seasons. Wet and dry. Were about to start the wet season and so we honor the spirits of the place.”
“Jesus! Are you talking about the ruins? What kind of crazy stuff have you guys been up to?” asked Baker.
Yager stopped and fixed Baker with cold eyes. “Yes, the ruins. We’ve taken up the customs of the civilization that once lived here. We know the outside world wouldn’t understand and that’s why we shut down the transmitter.”
Baker, stunned by the revelation, stood mutely. Yager walked on and Baker jogged to catch up.
“I need to send men to make sure the communications array is functional even if you don’t plan on using it,” said Baker firmly.
“That’s fine,” said Yager then waved for one of the colonists. “This man will take you to the communications building.”
“Garcia, Horowitz. Check out their commo then let me know what’s up,” said Baker.
The colonist guided the two surveyors into the maze of ramshackle buildings. Yager continued in silence, above them the ruins grew larger.
They came to wide steps cut out of ancient stone. Yager led them upward and into the belly of a once proud temple built by alien hands. Baker studied the colonists. They seemed dazed, almost zombie like. With the exception of Yager and Lawrence no one had a will of their own.
“This was an archeological site, but what else do you do here?” asked Baker.
“We do some farming. The soil is not so bad that we cannot survive here,” said Yager.
They walked across a glossy stone floor punctuated by stone columns. A grotesque relief dominated the walls. Though worn and broken by age, Baker could appraise the carvings. The figures were completely inhuman and dedicated in their exaltation to a seven pointed star. Baker averted his gaze and whispered to his crewman. “Stay alert, Pierce. I don’t trust these people.”
Pierce nodded his assent.
Yager led them to more steps. These circled upward like a celestial helix imagined by star struck minds.
“I know what you’re thinking, Baker,” said Yager.
“There is no purpose for this place.”
“Well,” said Baker, “you have no manufacturing facilities, no planetary economy, not enough mineral deposits to warrant a mining complex. Why do you insist on staying? Star-Serv may be able to write this off because it’s considered an other-than-human archeological site but . . .”
“We have become passionate about our work. Mankind has yet to encounter an intelligent species other than through their relics. The company men from Star-Serv have made it clear that we are nothing more than a deduction on a tax form. We have our motivations and they don’t include money or material possessions,” said Yager.
The steps leveled out onto a wide open platform. Baker looked out over the colony below. It seemed insignificant compared to the mountainous temple. Baker felt a presence rush upon him and he stiffened before the edge.
“Quite a drop, huh?” said Lawrence. His features where twisted into an idiotic grin and Baker had the impression that the colonist was trying to befriend him.
“Yeah,” said Baker then put distance himself and the edge.
Carved out of the stone between the circular stairs and the open air of the drop off, was another inhuman figure. It stood at least thirty feet tall and was crowned with a seven pointed star. From its apex all the way to the floor were toothy mouths and insect-like arms.
“What the hell is that?” asked Baker.
“It has no name, but they worshiped it. The ones who lived hear thousands of years ago,” said Yager solemnly.
Colonists poured in around the nameless god-relic and in their hands were odd constructions like balls made from sticks. Each one was fixed with a thin white stone with a painted black dot.
Lawrence went before the group and said, “It’s the eye of the nameless one.”
“What?” said Baker.
“We don’t know everything about them, but we’ve learned about their rituals. These hand crafted fetishes are nothing but trinkets to appease his ego,” said Yager.
From the growing crowd of colonists a girl no older than 17 was brought forward. Her head lolled listlessly and her were eyes vacant. The colonists sat her on a chair below the monstrous carving of the timeless star crowned god.
“What’s wrong with her, Yager?” asked Baker as his face distorted into something approaching both disgust and panic.
“She will be fine. It is part of the ritual to appease the nameless one,” said Yager, explaining the ritual like one would explain something to a child.
“What are you going to do to her?” asked Baker.
“Her performance is ceremonial. It is a position of honor. Don’t make us out to be savages. Do you really think we’d harm her? Is that what they think goes own in these little colonies light years from Earth or Tau Ceti?” asked Yager.
“Is she drugged?” asked Baker.
“Yes. It’s a mild hallucinogenic from a plant native to this world. We’ve recreated their customs completely. We’ve had too,” said Yager.
Baker nodded. “Sure. Whatever.”
Lawrence approached Baker and the other crewman with one of the eyes constructed from sticks. “See. It’s woven in the same way a basket is woven. The eye is bleached sandstone. This one is for you.”
Baker waved off Lawrence contemptuously. Lawrence frowned then approached the other surveyor.
“Horowitz, Garcia. How’s their transmitter?” asked Baker into his miniaturized headset.
His radio squelched for a split second before he heard his crewman’s voice. “Almost done with the diagnostic. Everything looks fine though. I’m about to bounce a transmission off the ship’s communications array then we’ll know for sure. Five minutes and we’ll be done,” said Garcia.
“I’m wrapping up here. Meet us back at the ship when you’re done,” said Baker.
“Leaving so soon? Aren’t you concerned what goes on out here?” asked Yager.
“Like I said before. We don’t actually work for Star-Serv, we’re sub-contractors. We’ve established contact and your communications equipment is functional. What you colonists do out here is none of my business,” said Baker.
Lawrence held out the faux eye to the other crewman.
“Ah. Thanks, but I’m good man,” sputtered Pierce.
“Please,” said Lawrence in a soft and pathetic voice.
“Uh. OK I guess,” said Pierce and took the thing. An awkward smile formed on his lips as he nodded at the odd colonist.
“Do you need anything before we leave, Yager? I’m obligated to ask according our contract with your sponsor,” said Baker.
“We appreciate your concern, but we were fine before you came and we’ll be fine after you leave,” said Yager.
“Alright. Have fun with your pagan rituals,” said Baker then moved through the crowd to the stairs.
As the two crewman descended Lawrence began to follow but was paralyzed by Yager’s stern command. “Don’t go anywhere Lawrence. They don’t need an escort.”
The deep space surveyors met at the ship and made haste to leave behind the unpleasant colony. The trip to this backwater settlement was a mandatory nuisance that distracted from their primary mission. The ship streaked across the sky then shot through the star system toward their next job.
“I’m glad we’re done with that nonsense. We should be able to pick up a healthy cash bonus on our next job. Surveying for heavy minerals is where all the money is anyway. I don’t understand why the company bothers with babysitting jobs like that,” said Baker from his command seat.
Pierce studied the gift from the near crazed colonist Lawrence.
“How do you like your Christmas present?” asked Baker.
Pierce squinted then shoved his fingers through the delicate weave of the handcrafted object. “Hey, there’s a piece of paper in here.”
Pierce pulled out the paper and the other crewmen crowded in to inspect it.
It’s alive! Help us!
“What the hell? I tell ya, living isolated like that makes people go weird,” said Baker.
Pierce crumpled the paper then stuck it back in the eye. He tossed the basketlike construction to the rear of the ship and said, “Forget that.”
The ship raced on to their next job light years away, the memory of the odd colony fading quickly.
Lawrence stood on the platform watching the sky. The deep space surveyor’s ship had been gone for several minutes. Behind him he could hear the ritual begin.
“We give this sacrifice to appease your hunger. We are humbled by your might and awed by your eternal reign. Take this girl as an offering so that you may be satisfied. May the growing season be bountiful if you are pleased,” said Yager to the alien idol.
Lawrence turned to watch. He had seen it before, but still a part of his mind refused to believe. The seven pointed star above the carving began to glow and the stone below it transformed into a fleshy undulating surface. The other colonists turned their heads or wept knowing the eventual outcome.
The stone carving came to life. Its horrific features became animated and the sound of chattering teeth filled the temple. Lawrence wanted to look away. Maybe the space surveyors would come back, guns blazing to rescue the girl. He forced himself to watch glad he hadn’t been picked for this honor.
The unsuspecting girl sat slumped. Her eyes drooped and her arms hung beside her. At least she wouldn’t feel it with all the drugs they put in her, thought Lawrence. The now living mouths came up behind her as insect arms grabbed her and raised her off the seat. It went quick. There wasn’t as much blood as last time, but the sickening snap of her bones would haunt Lawrence for days.
The nameless one had feed, but did not yet recede into its stone alter ego. Yager swallowed. Having regained a modicum of his confidence he addressed it.
“We said nothing to the outsiders. The transmitter will be shut down. We obey your will.”
Lawrence thought about home and his life before he had come to the colony. He thought about what he’d do if ever escaped. Become a cook, taxi-driver, maybe get a job at a factory. Anything but Xenoarchaeology.