Wednesday, September 14, 2022

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 30: “Calling” • by Pete Wood

In two days, Father Francis would leave Odin III for Earth, light years away. He hadn’t been there since his twenties. Everybody he knew had died thanks to the time dilation.

The Vatican had appreciated his years on Odin III and rewarded him with an academic assignment at Belmont Abbey College, his alma mater. He’d spend his days researching and teaching while squeezing in hiking and bluegrass and North Carolina pork barbecue.

But before he could leave, he had work to do.

Like his counseling sessions with Aisling. She’d come a long way since she arrived as a penniless refugee. The parish had given her a place to live and helped her set up her counseling practice and then she’d gotten hooked on those damned mushrooms.

“I still see the timelines, Father,” she said from the settee in Francis’s rectory study. “I know they’re not real.”

He poured her a cup of coffee and added honey and cream. The irony of pushing caffeine on addicts was not lost on him, but he’d never attended any recovery group where there wasn’t a massive urn of coffee. He handed her the mug.

“Remember the twelve steps, Aisling.” He gazed out the window at distant mountains that dwarfed the Himalayas. Still breathtaking after all these years.

She took a sip of coffee. “Yeah, I know. I can’t do this by myself. I need a higher power. I appreciate what the Church has done for me.”

“The Church isn’t the higher power.”

She nodded. “It’s God.”

“Not necessarily. How long have you been off the mushrooms, Aisling?” he asked

“Twelve months.”

“You know, one day at a time is an expression that probably predates Christ. I feel like a hack writer sometimes spitting out cliches, but there is some truth in every overused expression. Getting over addiction is always going to be a struggle and you might have to repeat some of the steps.”

“I know.”

“But what’s important is that you have the support of the Church and there are others recovering from the mushrooms. We know you didn’t really see the timelines. You just wanted to see the timelines. It’s wish fulfillment. The mushrooms are just a hallucinogenic drug. Remember that.”

She didn’t look convinced. “I’ll try. But you’re leaving.”

“Yes, I have to get some decent barbecue.”

She gave a polite laugh but didn’t smile.

“Father Luigi will be taking over. He’s an excellent listener with a deep faith.”

She shook her head. “He locked his keys in the church van again Tuesday. He came into my office and asked if I had a sonic screwdriver.”

“God doesn’t always pick Ivy league PhDs. Sometimes he picks fishermen or criminals or tax collectors or people who lock the keys in the church van.”

* * *

Beneath the “Bon Voyage, Father Francis” banner Father Francis and Father Luigi sat at the bar at Weber’s Place, the local watering hole in the tiny mining town. It had been a long, glorious night. The going away party had finally subsided past midnight leaving only the two priests.

Ingrid, the bartender, poured Francis another glass of chardonnay. “On the house, Father.”

Sheba, Ingrid’s cat, purred and rubbed against him. She’d stuck to him like glue all night when usually she wouldn’t give him the time of day.

Francis held back tears. “Thank you, Ingrid.” He wondered how many times he had sipped a glass of wine on this very stool. He cleared his throat and turned to Luigi. “So, you understand the scheduling of altar children?”

“We’ll be fine.”

“I know, but—”

Luigi held up his hand. “Maybe you need to trust a little bit in that higher power you keep preaching about. The Church on Odin III was here before you arrived and will be here after you leave. After I leave.”

Francis stared at Luigi. Could this really be the man who had screwed up so many times when he first arrived? The man who had traded away cases of Francis’s best wine from Earth for that mediocre beer they brewed in the monastery hundreds of miles away.

“I’m worried about Aisling,” Francis said. He took a sip of wine. North Carolina had excellent vineyards and soon he’d be stocking a cellar, but he wouldn’t be drinking here. “She believes she really sees the timelines. Do you think she sees something?”

“I don’t know,” Luigi said. “She’s off the mushrooms, but the way she talks, I don’t know.”

“They’re just drugs,” Francis said.

Luigi shrugged. “There’s some weird things going on around here, things I’ve never understood. When I was in the mines on that mission—”

Francis clapped him on the back. “God, I am so sorry. I pretty much banished you on a fool’s errand.”

“I think you would have had a coronary if I’d been in the parish instead of looking for aliens to save in the mines,” Luigi said.

Francis laughed. “Probably.”

“I never did find any Rock People.”

Faith was a funny thing. Francis believed in events and miracles and dogma that couldn’t possibly be confirmed, but his open-mindedness didn’t extend to rumors and legends of the Rock People, the supposed indigenous population of the planet. “Nobody’s seen them,” Francis said.

“Yeah.” Luigi drummed his fingers on the bar. “I saw stuff or thought I did. Glimpses of things. Weird sounds at night when I lay on the ground in my sleeping bag. Sometimes calling to me, but I never saw anything.”

“Were you scared?”

“Sometimes. But I learned a lot about myself.”

“Jesus spent forty days and nights in the desert,” Francis said.

“Yeah, but he had the devil for company. Say what you like about the devil, he’s got to be a good conversationalist.”

The door to the bar opened. Aisling, holding her coat tight against the autumn chill, stepped inside. She looked worried. She spotted Francis and Luigi and rushed over.

“What brings you back?” Francis asked.

“I was afraid I might not catch you before your flight.”

“Five hours and ticking,” Francis said.

She took a stool. “Father, I know you don’t believe in the timelines, but I have to tell you something.”

“What is it?”

“Going over timelines of some of my more challenging patients used to be part of my practice. You’d see wild swings from one possibility to the other. I’m a top executive in Galactic Mining in one timeline. My husband’s still alive in another one and we have kids. Everybody’s like that, Father.”

Francis sighed. “Aisling, please.”

“Except you.”

Despite his hatred of what the mushrooms did to people like Aisling, a therapist with keen insights and an addiction that just dragged her down, the priest’s curiosity had been piqued. Poor child. He hoped Father Luigi could help. Still, he didn’t want to feed her delusion.

“What do you mean, Aisling?” Father Luigi asked.

“I don’t see everybody’s timelines,” Aisling said. “Not since I stopped using. Just once in a while. It’s like they’re trying to get my attention. I can’t ignore them. They’re faint. But, Father Francis, in every single timeline you end up here as the priest of this parish. The route varies. In one universe you married and lost your wife. In another you found God after a cave-in in the mines. But you always end up here.”

“Destiny,” Luigi said.

* * *

Father Francis stared out the window of the interstellar ship and watched the landscape of Odin III grow smaller. He couldn’t make out the town any longer. Soon he just saw mountains and non-mountains. Then he couldn’t even distinguish between the two.

He’d be on the ore transport for four months before they reached Earth. Four months with one hundred passengers and crew. They’d grow to know each other quite well, but nothing like the relationships he had formed on Odin III.

He reflected on what Aisling had shared. What a gift she had given him. Even if she’d just had a drug-induced vision, she had faith in him. Odin III had been his destiny. He had made the right decisions.

And now it was time to go home.


Pete Wood
is an attorney from Raleigh, North Carolina, where he lives with his kind and very patient wife. His first appearance in our pages was “Mission Accomplished” in the now out-of-print August 2012 issue. After publishing a lot of stories with us he graduated to becoming a regular contributor to Asimov’s, but he’s still kind enough to send us things we can publish from time to time, and we’re always happy to get them.

For the past year or so Pete has been in the process of evolving into a fiction editor, God help him, first with The Pete Wood Challenge, then with Dawn of Time, and now with The Odin Chronicles, a 30-chapter shared world saga that has been running here every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the past ten weeks, and that features the creative work of Roxana Arama, Gustavo Bondoni, Travis Burnham, Paul Celmer, Jenna Hanchey, Carol Scheina, Jonathan Sherwood, and of course, Pete Wood. We suspect that Pete’s real love is theater, though, as with the print version of The Odin Chronicles now mostly finished he’s off working on the audio version, which looks to be an even bigger production that his short movie, Quantum Doughnut — which you can stream, if you follow the foregoing link.


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