We were asked to write about a ceremony. I actually wrote two stories for this assignment. There was the drabble which is the previous entry in this list, and this story which is (slightly) more serious...
The Morris Dancers of Earth make sure that the sun rises every morning by dancing it to sleep every evening. There are a lot of Morris Dancers on Earth and so it isnt a very onerous task. My dad, for example, only had to be on duty every second Friday, so he had a lot of leisure time. But I am the only Morris Dancer on Mars, so I dont get any time off at all.
All the specialists in the small Martian colony are backed up by assistants who can take over in case of emergency. I am the chief systems engineer, but I have two colleagues who can step in at short notice if required. I am also a backup to the hydroponic engineer who grows the fresh fruit and vegetables that we depend on. But I am the only Morris dancer because the powers that be think that Morris dancing is silly. So I have to be out there all alone every evening, dancing on the red rocks in the shadow of Olympus Mons, making sure that the sun will come back when the night is over.
I had just put my pressure suit on and was fastening a band of bells to my thigh when Jennifer put her head around the door and said, "Theres a phone call for you. Its Martin. He says its urgent."
I sighed and went to see what Martin wanted. "Weve got a problem," he said grimly. "The computer system that controls the air circulation to the domes has died and we cant get it started again. Youre the chief systems engineer so you are going to have to come here and fix it."
"I cant," I protested. "I have to go out and dance the sun away."
"Superstitious nonsense," said Martin. "I dont mind you indulging in your little hobby when everything is running smoothly, but this is a real crisis. If the computer system isnt fixed there wont be anyone here to see the sun rise tomorrow morning. The air supply is vital. We cant survive without it. You designed the system. You know more about it than anyone else. Youve got to come at once. The sun can take care of itself this evening."
I felt torn. On the one hand I didnt want to be responsible for everyone in the Mars colony dying of suffocation, but on the other hand I really didnt want the sun to set without me there to encourage it to rise again tomorrow. My sense of duty was pulling me two ways. But deep down I knew that Martin was right. I unstrapped the bells from my thigh and headed off to the computer centre.
I spent the next few hours tearing my hair out as I examined computer log files in an attempt to track down the bug that had shut the air supply system down. Eventually I traced it to a function that went into an infinite loop when the switching circuits were triggered in a certain, rather unexpected, sequence. Until now, I hadnt been aware that the sequence was even possible. It wasnt in the specifications and it had never come up in the testing. Nevertheless it had happened, and Id just have to accept it. Reality overrules theory every time. I modified the function appropriately and listened happily as the air supply circulation system hummed back to life.
"OK," I said to Martin. "Its fixed. Im going home to bed."
By now, it was well past midnight. The sun had long since sunk below the horizon and there was nothing I could do about it now. I was exhausted. All I wanted to do was sleep.
The next thing I knew, Jennifer was shaking me awake. "Martins on the phone again," she said, "and I think I know why."
I was still half asleep. "What time is it?" I mumbled.
"Its just after nine-thirty in the morning," said Jennifer, "and its very dark outside. The sun should have been up ages ago, but it never appeared. I bet thats what Martin wants to talk to you about."
I went to the phone."Wheres the sun?" screamed Martin. "What have you done to it?"
"Nothing," I said. "Thats the problem. I wasnt there to dance it down last night."
"Well get out there and dance it up again," said Martin.
"Dancing the sun up and down?" I queried. "Isnt that superstitious nonsense?"
"Just do it," said Martin, and he closed the communication channel so that I couldnt argue with him.
"Well," I said to Jennifer, "Ive got my orders, but I really dont know what to do about it. I have no idea how to dance the sun up. Nobody has ever had to do that before."
"Why not just do your usual sunset dance," suggested Jennifer, "only do it in reverse. Surely that will have some sort of effect."
"Probably," I said. "But Im not very good at reverse choreography. How do you do a full double Arkwright backwards without breaking a leg? And a lunge is a lunge whichever direction you do it in."
"Im sure youll think of something," said Jennifer. She handed me a stick festooned with multi-coloured ribbons that were knotted in artful patterns up and down it. "Ive re-tied all the ribbons," she said, "and Ive polished the stick."
"Thank you," I said. "Thats a big help."
I struggled into my pressure suit and attached the bells then, grasping my stick firmly, I strode out through the airlock onto the dusty red Martian desert. Leaving the colonys domes behind me I trudged off in the general direction of Olympus Mons. The temperature was well below freezing and the scattered starlight did little or nothing to illuminate the scene. Rocks that were hiding in the darkness did their best to trip me up but Id travelled this path many times and I knew it well so it was easy to avoid them. It wasnt long before I arrived at my usual dancing spot. Jennifers tinny voice came through my helmet speakers. "Are you there yet?"
"Just got here," I said. I pressed a switch on my breastplate and the strains of a piano accordion playing a jaunty tune reverberated around my suit. I shuffled along in time to it, bouncing my stick off the ground and ringing my bells, trying desperately to do it all backwards, hoping I wouldnt trip myself up.
"Its working," said Jennifers voice in my helmet. She sounded excited. "Theres a faint glow on the horizon. Keep dancing. The sun is coming back. Its really coming back!"
I continued my shuffling, backwards dance trying to visualise just how each step needed to flow into the next. I could see the darkness fading away as the sun started to rise and I redoubled my efforts. Slowly, oh so painfully slowly the sun began to peek over the horizon.
"Its here," said Jennifer. "Its here. I think you can stop dancing now." There was a long pause then she said, "Oh dear. That doesnt look quite right."
I looked up at the sky where the long delayed dawn was chasing shadows over the Martian surface. The sun was well over the horizon now. It was a purple sun and it was covered in green and blue spots. Id never seen anything like it before.
"Oops," I said. "I must have made some false steps in my dance. I think Ive accidentally persuaded somebody elses sun to rise."