DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Paula Smith and is copyright (c) 1976 by Paula Smith. This story is Rated PG. Originally published in Warped Space #15.



For Sale, Must Sacrifice

Paula Smith



The Unnameable god, called Jensh by the Norvadi, had not been pleased with His people for some time. Or so it seemed to the Norvadi, more particularly the two Norvadi priests, and most particularly the younger priest Hurda. He stood before the lower altar, presiding at the dawn's sacrifice of a large polyp the sea fishers had caught the previous day. Dry and vaguely sweet, the warm smoke flew around him, swirled over the silent kneeling congregation; it wreathed his sister, Lell, who was standing, not on the first step of the stone altar, because she was a woman, nor on the ground with the commoners, because she was an oracle and Hurda's wife as well, but on the second step, as befit her. He smiled across the waist-high fire pit at this woman who had shared both womb and bed with him. Equally tall, both fair, with hair equally black, they were special, important to their people, chosen by the nameless Jensh to serve Him.

Hurda smiled again, then frowned as Lell did not look up from the tiny red teeth devouring the fish. Instead, she shuddered; twitching out of control, her arms drew themselves up before her chest, and with a gagging moan, she fell to her knees on the first step of the altar. A shout went up from the people; a few impious souls started forward, but Hurda halted them with outraised hands.

"Would you disturb His communication?" he cried.

His chasuble, green as the sea, green as the sky, rippled in the dying breeze; the worshipping Norvadi returned their foreheads to the dirt; the smoke, suddenly white, rose straight up; and Lell came out of her meeting with the Jensh. Immediately, Hurda was at her side, helping the also green-robed woman stand.

"He -- the Unknown -- not pleased -- the star -- the insane people -- impossible ... " Lell's words tumbled out in a whisper. She straightened out of her brother's support, looked to the rising sun wonderingly. "The Jensh has a promise ... " Her voice became strong, vibrant as she lifted her arms out over the crowd, a crowd still swelling as more of the hamlet's people ran from their huts to hear her speak.

"The Jensh has seen our sorrow!" she cried. "He knows the fish swim away and the wild fruits hide from us. He sees the evil that touches us!"

Hurda felt an excitement rise in him. Somehow, he knew Lell's words even before she had spoken them. The Only Highest One was speaking through them both!

"But He has not forgotten us!" the brother called out, and the assemblage stirred. At the periphery of the crowd, Lorga, the older of the priests, began forcing a passage to the front.

"He will blot out the evil star that brought our misery with its rising four solstices ago," Lell shouted, and the people raised their eyes to the southern sky.

"He will drive away the insane people who watch us and run away, and He will make the herders bow down before us!" Hurda flung his arms back in the ecstasy of speaking for the Jensh.

"He will send back the fish and the fair winds, the men will be strong and the women fertile," said Lell.

"He-- "

"And how," demanded old Lorga, arriving at the altar's second step, "will we repay the Unknown and Unnamed for these impossible things?"

Hurda hesitated, then hung his head. But Lell, who had spoken with the Jensh, turned to old Loran to say, "He will ask of us an impossible sacrifice." A murmur arose in the crowd. "And He Himself will give us that sacrifice to offer back to Him!"

* * *

"Captain Bhargava."

"Captain Kirk. I am most pleased to meet you.'' Yira Bhargava released James Kirk's hand to reach for that of Kirk's Science Officer. "And you equally, Mr. Spock."

The two men of the Enterprise indicated that the appreciation was reciprocated, as the heavily tanned commander of Ashanti III's two-year-old Orbital Station seated herself. So did Captain Kirk, in a chair nearby, but his Vulcan subordinate remained standing. "Mr. Spock," murmured Bhargava in some surprise. "Will you not also sit with us? There is tea to drink."

"Yes, sit down, Mr. Spock," said Kirk, transferring a cup to his thigh. "You're not in that big a hurry. He came along to investigate that anomaly your Mr. Dickson reported," he explained to the slightly older human.

"The gravitational anomaly on the planet's surface, Captain Bhargava," Spock paused, then took a cup from the table and sat down. "When Mr. Dickson learned the Enterprise was to stop at Ashanti III, he invited me to join his expedition to study it. With Captain Kirk's permission, I accepted, and now await Mr. Dickson's arrival."

"Ah, yes, the anomaly and its famous expedition." Bhargava set her cup down, shaking her head. "In truth, I am not glad to let it occur. There are people on this planet Ashanti. I think these scientific expeditions make too great a risk of disturbing the indigenous population."

"Has any expedition ever made contact with the natives?" Kirk asked.

"No, no, we are much too careful for that. Still, there in always the chance. They are a simple people, human type; we have seen their herds and fishing villages. They are nothing out of standard. All the more reason to allow them to continue so." With a shrug, the grey-sprinkled woman drained her cup.

"Don't you worry, Ms. Bhar, we'll be sly as mice." In the office door stood a medium-height man, dark-skinned, with close-cropped hair. "You coming, Mr. Spock?"

"I am, Mr. Dickson." The Vulcan rose and followed the human out.

* * *

Tusa the hunter sat in his tree and pondered the ways of the Nameless. It had been three days since the holy Lell had spoken with the Jensh, and as yet, He hadn't come across with any of His promises. The fishing was lousy, the land hunting still worse. The evil star still burned in the twilight sky, and the insane people were back again, poking around the holy weird place. Tusa doubted that they were really people at all; most of them had black hides, and the few that didn't had yellow or orange hair. Just more proof of their insanity. Even the stupid herders had white skin and black hair, like all real people did.

Tusa idly glanced down from his perch at a noise below -- and almost slipped from his branch. Down on the grass was an insane person -- he could tell from the clothes -- but it looked almost like a real being. Except for some of the features. An impossibility, thought Tusa. Nobody could grow ears like that. Not even the insane people could.

The impossible thing came closer and closer to his tree; Tusa flattened himself against the bole, praying to the Unknowable that it would go away. It didn't. It stopped almost directly under him and made ominous little whirring sounds. It was going to attack him. It had found him and was going to gut him. With the desperate courage that comes to men in the time of their greatest need, Tusa steeled himself enough to drop from the branch right onto the impossible thing. It fought, but he held on. Two, five times he hit it with the rock in his hand, and at last it lay still on the ground.

Tusa stared at the thing he straddled, at his hands, at the rock. More impossibility. The blood was green.

* * *

"The gravimetric survey we took seems to show two discrete epicenters, which leads me to suspect the anomaly was caused by two very dense meteors that happened to crash very close to each other," Ms. Li said, tracing her argument on a tricorder for Mr. Dickson.

"It wouldn't seem likely two such big rocks'd come down at the same time."

Li flipped her hair out of her eyes with a toss of her head. "Doubtless they weren't simultaneous. Soil samples would prove this. It would be unusual that they hit the same place, but not impossible."

"Well, we don't have time for sampling today. The sun's going down." Dickson looked around. "Is everybody back yet?"

"All except that guy from the Enterprise," someone answered.

Dickson dropped his notepad to his side. "Didn't anybody call Mr. Spock?" he demanded.

"I called," spoke up Dr. Nkru. "I called to him just a moment ago with the communicator."

"When's he say he's getting here?"

"He didn't say," Nkru said, shaking his head. "I wasn't able to contact him. He didn't answer at all."

* * *

The limp body of the strange one was reclothed with material more suited to the honor the Norvadi would shortly be doing it in the name of the Unnamable. Aided by Tusa, Hurda had bound the stranger's wrists and ankles in the manner of the ungulates they sometimes stole from the herder people in the west to burn for the Jensh. As they finished, old Lorga stamped into the younger priest's hut. Lell, squatted on the floor, drew her knees up to her chin and regarded the stooped old man narrowly. Tusa hastily bowed out.

"I see that misthinking Tusa drag an insane person in from the forest, crying he has found the impossible sacrifice promised us, and I see now this thing wrapped in red for the high altar," Lorga said waspishly. "What are you thinking of, Hurda? What kind of a sacrifice is this? Is that even alive?"

"It is alive," Hurda answered, aloof. "It breathes." He continued to prepare the spiced oil he would need later.

"But this is no sacrifice!" Lorga beat his wrinkled fist on the preparation table. "It is no more a sacrifice than the beasts we take nor the fish we catch, nor any other misthinking modification you have made from the old ways. A sacrifice is a sacrifice of one of our own, one of the real people! We might as well burn rocks on the altar of Jensh!"

Hurda shrunk slightly before the fury of the ancient priest, but then he shrugged and returned to his mixing. Lorga grew livid. "Do you mock the power of the Only One?"

"Old man!" Lell's tone was nasal and unconnected. "Do you disbelieve the power of the Only One? If He grants us the thing He wishes us to immolate in His Name, how dare we -- how dare you -- refuse!"

"The strange thing will be killed at dawn, in the old manner, if that appeases you," Hurda said calmly, covering the little pot of sweet oil. "We shall burn its heart and corpse to the glory of Him Who gave it. Lell will help you sever the tendons, if you prefer it not be tied."

Old Lorga frowned, his head cocked to one side, then he shrugged. "Such graciousness on your part is so rare I suppose I must accept. But your ways will lead us to trouble, Hurda Young-Priest, mark what I say," he grumbled, taking the stone knife and blessing it with a few drops of the new oil.

The odd thing bound in its red robes stirred and awoke. It seemed surprised, and struggled at first as Loras and holy Lell cut away at its various joints. But it didn't cry out, soon letting the pair finish their work while it looked on without resistance. Green flowed onto red and it was very unusual.

* * *

"Where is he? We've looked everywhere!" Kirk cried distractedly, as still another search party reported in empty-handed.

"Not yet everywhere," Bhargava, seated in a corner, pointed out mildly. "There is still one place, one sort of place, that is, though I had been grateful you had not disturbed them up to now."

Kirk looked confused for a half-second, then said, "The natives. Yes, you're right. They might have captured him."

"Or simply found him if he were hurt. I do not think they will harm Mr. Spock, but we must in any case find him soon. I do not wish to shock their culture more than we must."

"Where do you think he might be?"

Bhargava blinked, replied, "There are two main cultures, and many little villages in the area where Mr. Spock disappeared. The fishers stay close to their nets, but the herdsmen roam a great deal. I would say," she pointed to the map spread on the desk, "he is more probably with the herding people, but we must in any case investigate all the possibilities."

"All right." Kirk gathered his communicator and phaser. "I don't want to upset your natives any more than I have to, but I will find my First Officer."

"I quite understand," Bhargava said as the man charged out of the office.

* * *

The pre-dawn birds chattered and warbled as a queue made of the entire hamlet wended itself from the priests' house to the settlement's edge, out to the high altar built on the highest cliff overlooking the sea. The people chanted the ancient songs, some of them thinking back to other sacrifices when a relative had been returned to the Jensh. Tusa, one of the sacrificendum's bearers, sang with special cheer that it had been given to him to find the impossible sacrifice. Hurda led the procession, Lorga followed, glancing about misgivingly for stray lightning bolts, and holy Lell walked as near her husband as was proper.

The congregation gathered at last before the twelve high steps of the great altar. Fitted stone it was, of boulders toiled up the slope long years ago. Out over the sea the first of the sun was glinting.

The four bearers, careful not to set foot onto the highest step, laid the slashed victim on the cold altar stone. Mounting the top step, Hurda turned to face the people. He uncorked the vial of oil, sprinkling a few drops out to the crowd, returned to face their offering. Continuing the rite in silence, though the people below and Lell beside him still chanted their prayers, Hurda smeared oil on the back of his hands, the knife's blade, and the exposed chest of the flare-eared one. He raised the knife.

Arms outstretched, Hurda intoned, "Oh, great Jensh, in Your wisdom and unending love You give us this thing with which to do honor to Your Unnamed Name." In front of him the thing turned its face to the just risen sunlight -- almost regretfully, Hurda thought. "We beg with this sacrifice Your presence with us, and pray that You will receive our hearts along with its."

He brought the stone blade to the thing's clavicle, and with one sure stroke slit apart the sternum. The thing jerked its head up -- all it could move with its limbs having been decommissioned the night before -- to stare at the green blood that welled and spread across its breast. Hurda smiled at it reassuringly as he widened the thing's chest cavity. He reached into the hot verdant gore, probing for the heart -- which wasn't there. Startled, Hurda jerked his fingers out; in consternation he muttered to his wife and his elder, "There is no heart!"

"Impossible," Lorga snorted, elbowing Hurda aside. He reached out to try his luck with the yet living victim, but at that moment a pillar of fire flecks, sparks without heat, formed on the opposite side of the altar, forming the shape of a man. In green. The being unfroze, snapped his head down to see the sacrifice, and gave a sharp cry. The three mortals cowered back as the being gathered the offering up in his arms, spoke again, then once more disappeared in a pillar of light.

"A miracle!" screamed old Lorga.

"A miracle!" the people answered back.

Over the tumult both high and low about the altar, holy Lell stretched her arms, her sky-green robes fluttering in the early morning wind. "The old ways do not hold for the Mighty One! The sacrifice was given, the sacrifice was taken, heart or not. The Jensh will provide! Blessed be His Most Holy Name!"

"Blessed be His Name," whispered old Lorga, falling to his knees and tipping his forehead into dirt. "Blessed be His holy sign."

Hurda caught Lell's eye above the weeping old priest. "Wondrous are the ways of our Jensh," he said smiling.

THE END