PLEASE NOTE: This is the conclusion of a four-part story. Part 1 is online here: http://www.republibot.com/content/original-fiction-bob-and-monastery-blo...
Part 2 is online here: http://www.republibot.com/content/original-fiction-bob-and-monastery-blo...
Part 3 is online here:
And now the exciting conclusion. Actually, you know, I said that to be ironic, but actually it is pretty exciting now that I think about it...
“Ok, everyone, fall back to the balcony.” The engine noises grew louder. A surprisingly quiet smash was followed by a much louder one as a hover-vehicle slammed through the glass and banged into the interior wall of the greenhouse. I recognized it instantly as the documentarians!
Oh, thank God, there were still only four of them! Vince, Cravat, Eyepatch, and Van Shank.
The fillmakers poured out, screaming and picking up ants as they went. “Up here, up here!” we shouted, and they scrambled up the stairs. The Kirbys flooded in. The pretty woman tripped, and O’Neil ran down to rescue her, throwing her over his burly shoulder and sprinting back up. Ants surged up his legs, and when he couldn’t handle the pain anymore, he bodily chucked her halfway up the well, yelled “Grab her” and dove into the swarm. There were screams. She landed sprawled out and winded. I grabbed her by the arm and dragged her up.
Simultaneously with all this, a fat guy from the film crew had also fallen. Dan ran down and grabbed him by the sleeve, trying to pull him up, but the tide was too strong. Ants swarmed over his arm, and got on Dan. As the man got dragged under, Dan almost got pulled in, too. I dropped the woman rather ungallantly, jumped down three steps, and snatched up my whimpering dog.
We got everyone else in the hallway and slammed door just in time. Even so, the camera crew was covered in bugs, and rolled around panicking, while we swatted at them, and jumped up and down on the bug on the floor. This door was reasonably well, designed to keep humidity in the greenhouse. It would hold for a while.
The camera crew had wrapped themselves up as much as possible in wet towels before they made their mad dash to us. Clever.
“What the hell is going on here,” the pretty lady - Jerry - said. The garage dock was locked shut, no one answered when we banged on it, the phones aren’t working, we heard gunshots…” Meanwhile, my mind was spinning ahead, trying to use this to our advantage.
“Ask Brother Bob,” Zadok said, “He’s in charge.”
“Short version: I’m Bob Wilson from earth, and Les Wynans attempted to kill me the last time I was back there. He failed, and he sent a couple goons along as passengers on the Bahman, trying to finish the job.”
“Wait, the Bob Wilson? The Les Wynans? ‘Wynans the Traitor?’”
I winced, “Yeah, that’s me. Are you recording all this?”
“Of course we are! We started the moment the Kirbys came. Then our uplink failed, and we decided we needed to look for a safe port. This is the story of a lifetime!”
“Lifetimes are pretty short here lately,” Zadok said, “You should stick with him, and keep recording. Assuming anyone survives, people need to know what happened.”
“Ok, but we can’t transmit. The uplink is down.”
“Just hold on to it until this is all over, send it then. There’s something else going on here that I’m not quite getting. Les sent goons to kill me, but would he really have gone to that expense - sacrificing some of his agents for simple revenge - or were they already coming here for some other purpose?”
No one knew. One of the Essenes touched the door. “I can feel it vibrating from the bugs.” I winced.
“Let’s get out of here,” I said, “We’re perilously close to those things getting in at two or three points.”
“I’m going to hit the kitchen, and take food to the chapel,” Zadok said, “We probably need to lay in supplies if there’s a siege.”
“Good idea,” I said, “Get to it.” I ran off to the Zipline Room, Jerry following me. The rest of the crew went off with the others, excepting a skinny guy who got bit up by the bugs really bad. A Sadhu named “Hall” dragged him off to the infirmary.
Halfway to the Chapel we were intercepted by Eyepatch, who instantly started lobbing grenades the size of rolls of quarters, knocking huge chunks out of the walls. Jerry and I ran, while my ears rang so bad I could barely hear. “You idiot!” I screamed! “Keep doing that, and we’ll lose the whole building, and you die too. You want to get eaten by Kirbys?”
“Meh,” he said, and lobbed another grenade.
We ran away as he chased us down the hallway, an explosion at a time, until we blundered smack into Cravat. I skidded on my heels, and the reporter chick fell over trying to stop. Cravat had a machine gun in each hand, I moved to pull Van Shank’s gun - I’d kept it stuck barrel-down in the back of my jeans - but Dan hadn’t stopped when I did, and leapt before I could do anything. Dan’s jaws found the man’s neck as he slammed into him, and he literally ripped out his throat as they fell over. There was blood and gurgled screams, the man looking at me with pleading eyes, though I’m sure he wasn’t seeing me.
Dan immediately broke off, his muzzle covered in gore. Mendayev had once told me that several of the Smart Dog breeds had never showed any aggression, nor attacked a person: Golden Retrievers, Saint Bernards, Great Danes, and, of course, Labs. I looked at my poor dog, realizing I’d turned him into a killer just like me. Despite all the adrenaline and fear and bloodshed, there was still time for my heart to break for Dan.
Cravat was still alive, flailing around, panicked, blood everywhere, eyes narrowed to points, hands at his neck. Absently I wondered why it was so quiet except for the thumping and kicking, then I realized he had nothing left to scream with.
“Look away,” I said to the girl and the dog. Both did.
I’d never actually just shot a man like that before. My heart broke a little more. The analytical part of my brain coldly said - five bullets left, three people. “Shut up, shut up, shut up!” I screamed, and started slapping myself really painfully in the face.
Jerry grabbed Cravat’s machine guns, and handed me one, but then there was a boom behind us and dust fell from the ceiling. We tore down the hall with that maniac Eyepatch behind us lobbing grenades. I fumbled and dropped my newest weapon, but there was no time to go back. Jerry tossed me hers, “I have no idea how to use one of these,“ she said. I didn’t actually know how either. We turned a corner, and ran into - literally ran into - Van Shank, who would have shot us, had he not been as startled as we. Without even realizing what I was doing, I slammed him hard in the face with the butt of the rifle, smashing his nose, and he went down. The booms and rumbles were quickly getting closer. I tried to shoot Van Shank, but, dammit, I couldn’t figure out the safety on the thing. Another loud boom, maybe thirty feet away, the floor shook, dust fell, and the bloodied man at my feet hollered, “Thtop with the gwenades, you ibiot! You’ll bwing the woof down!”
“I’m hoping you’re getting all this on tape,” I said.
“What’s tape?” she asked. Grr. Stupid kids today not knowing about obsolete technology from three generations back.
“You’re recording all this, right?”
“Oh, yeah, right here,” and she pointed at a lipstick-sized cameras mounted on either side of a headband I honestly hadn’t noticed she was wearing up until that point.
I’d hoped the chapel would be fully empty by the time I got there, but it was still about two thirds full, call it sixty people or so. I ran up the stairs to find out what the problem was. Jerry and Dan followed.
“Where’s Brijesh,” I asked, looking around. Green pointed out the window. I looked and saw the monk hanging from the Swiss seat about two hundred feet out from the window. I handed him my machine gun.
“It’s jammed,” he shouted.
“Ok, hold on, I’m going to throw you a rope or something.”
“What good will that do?”
“So you can pull me out there to look at it.”
Eventually I found an unused spool of self-splicing wire, but how to get it to him?
“This weapon’s got some kind of isometric recognition system built into the trigger,” Green said, “I could reprogram it, but I’d have to crack it open, and I don’t have any tooo--”
I yanked the rifle away from him, tied it on the loose end of the wire, and tossed it to Brijesh. I strapped in to one of the non-motorized Swiss seats, hung it on the zipline, and had him reel me in. The entire canyon was pink, I couldn’t see a rock anywhere. Blue sky, pink world. Oddly, it didn’t terrify me.
“The wheel’s come off the track,” I said, fiddling with it. “If I get a torch, I can cut part of the linkage, and maybe get it to roll again…how long have you been out here?”
He lowered me back down the line to the window, I grabbed a hand-sized ox torch, and a spare, and had him pull me back out.
“Careful,” he said, “You could cut through the cable and kill us both.” Yeah, he was right: I adjusted the torch for its minimum setting and locked the emergency brake on my seat, so it was clamped hard to the cable. His wheel was jammed but good. It had some off the axle. The torch wasn’t going to do it.
“Ok, new plan: I’ll go back and get another seat, bring it out, we transfer you to it out here and…” I was interrupted by the unmistakable sound of a helicopter “….oh crap. One up.”
“What?” Brijesh said.
“I think there’s only six of them. I thought we’d killed three, turns out one didn’t die.”
The pilot opened the cockpit door, and leaned out to shoot at me with a pistol. So they don’t have weapons mounted on that thing, that’s a plus. They must have slapped this expedition together in a panic. He missed. He was in a moving vehicle, and we were dangling from a cable in a strong wind. It would actually be pretty surprising if he hit us. He didn’t seem to realize that. He was in bad shape, I could see: his hair was all ratty and burned on one side, what I could see of his face was red and blistered on that side as well, but he was pretty far off. I couldn’t be sure. One of the service hatches was off, though, so he definitely had been making repairs to the thing following our ill-thought-out attack.
“He must be pretty freaked out,” I said, trying out my recently-developed, but rather unreliable skills to understand other people, “Comes out here, probably in a rush, probably not expecting resistance, then someone hits him in the face with burning ethanol, then suddenly members of his team start dying, and he’s on the roof all alone, no radio, no phone, then the Kirbys come, and swarm over the roof of the building, he’s probably been hovering for hours, not knowing what else to do. Can’t have all that much fuel left…”
He switched into hover, above us, about two hundred feet up the line, leaned out again, and shot. Crap! I heard the bullet that time! I pulled out Van Shank’s gun, and fired at the cockpit, a much bigger and easier target than the pilot was shooting at. It hit. It didn’t break the flexiglass, but I didn’t expect it to. Must’ve made a hell of a noise, though, because he ducked back in, and backed off. four bullets left.
“Ok, no time to get another seat, Brijesh, just unbuckle and hug me tight, I’ll release the brake on mine, and we’ll slide into the window, easy.”
“Ok,” he said nervously, and started to fiddle with the straps. The chopper pulled up again, almost directly beneath the cable, and held rock steady.
“Crap” I said again, “He’s put it in autopilot. It’ll be much easier to for him to hit us now.”
“He can’t be a very good pilot if she’s below the cable like that,” Brijesh said, “Nobody who knew what they were doing would put themselves in that dangerous a position.”
Below? “Ok, new plan: we go back in, I cut the cable, it falls on the chopper, tangles the blades, and he dies.” He leaned out and shot at us again. I fired back, missing by a mile, but the sound scared him. Three bullets left.
“There’s no time, and you can’t be sure the cable would hit himr. It’s under tension, and there’s a strong wind. You need a weight at the end of it to make sure it falls reasonably true. Shiva, destroyer of worlds.”
“No!” I said, “Brijesh, no! I’m not going to do that!” The pilot started to open the door again. I put another shot into his windshield. He ducked back inside. Two bullets left.
“Cut the cable!” he insisted. He reached up to make sure my brake was pulled tight. I swatted his hand away, “You’re my friend,” I said too earnestly, “I can’t.”
“Then I shall let this cup of suffering pass from you,” he said, and snatched the torch from my hand. In one fluid motion, he cranked it up to full power, and sliced the cable between us. We fell apart. He swung down in an arc towards the far side of the canyon, I swung down in an arc towards my side. We were much closer to the Monastery than to Saint Salome’s; only a few hundred feet from our home, nearly a mile from the far end. The last thing I saw was the pilot leaning out of the cockpit to take aim when the cable hit his rotors, tangled, and shattered, and then the whole assembly ripped free of the body of the chopper. The man was thrown clear, but wasn’t wearing a ‘chute. Both fell into the hungry pink valley. Though I didn’t notice it at the time, the zipline window at the nunnery was ripped completely out of the wall.
For my part, I fell in a not-at-all graceful arc to the hither wall of the canyon, where I knocked the wind out of me. I flashed back to eyeatch jumping on the wreck in the desert, then came gasping back to my senses. No ants on me yet. I’d evidently hit with enough force to know the rock clear of them for a few feet in every direction. They were already moving back in, though. I scrambled around so my feet were against the cliff, and hopped out, rappelling style. I cranked the torch up to high, and kept it pointed at the rocks as I fell back towards the Cliffside. I fried an area a few feet square, swang into it, and kicked off again before they could come back in. I did this a few times. The fuel in the torch wouldn’t last long.
“That was awesome!” Jerry yelled as she stuck her head out the window and looked down, “Oh, hey, he’s still alive!” Green stuck his head out the window. “What do you want us to do know, sir?” he asked.
“PULL ME THE HELL UP, DAMMIT!”
They did, and Dan jumped all over me, licking my face and yapping in doggy glee. I had no time for it.
“No point in staying here,” I said, “Greene, get the ranchers out of here. The whole entrance side of the building is probably full of ants by now. Can you find a safe route to the garage?”
“I don’t even know where the garage is.”
“I sighed, “Dan, lead the people to the garage. No ants.” He yapped and tore down the stairs. Greene just stared at me, doing nothing.
“You’re supposed to follow the dog,” I said. “Duh,” he said, smacking himself in the head with his palm, and went down the steps. I just stood there for a while, unable to move.
Besides the stairwell, there were two doors into the zipline room. Both opened simultaneously, Van Shank at one, Vince at the other. Both had guns trained on us. I had mine trained on him.
“Bowing tew sthooot me with my own gun?” He said. He was a mess. His nose was broken, his teeth really were shattered, clearly in a lot of pain, but still trying to look imperious and in control. I couldn’t help myself: I laughed without even realizing I was doing it. This angered him, “I down’t think thow.” He stepped to the side, and Eyepatch came forward with Zadok and Maynard, tied together back to back, and pushed them in front of him, like a living shield.
“Puwt the gun down, owe they die in fwont of you wight hewre.”
“Don’t do it, boy,” Maynard said, “We’re terminal anyway, there’s no life left to save.” Van Shank shot him.
“TAKE THE SHOT, BOY!” Zadok yelled. I fired, but Van Shank had already fallen back, and I missed. Vince shot Zadok from behind me, and Eyepatch and threw another grenade as he, too, fell back through the door. In a flash, Dan flew up the stairs, snatched the grenade out of the air, and tackled Vince. The concussion knocked both Jerry and myself down the stairs as the entire zipline room collapsed in on itself. Ants were now swarming into the upper floors.
No. Please, no.
I fell cross-legged on the floor, my head in my hands, and great wracking sobs came over me. I clawed at the floor until my fingers were raw and bleeding. I shouted, I raged, I profaned, my world became a tiny little ball of black hatred and pain, and I couldn’t understand anything. I didn’t even know where I was. I don’t know how long I stayed like that.
Eventually, Jerry touched me gently on the arm. “Bob, we’ve got to go,” she said softly. I wiped my face with my hands, my grimy bloody hands, and staggered to my feet. The stairwell had completely collapsed in on itself, and some of the Kirbys were getting through. I took Jerry by the hand, and headed towards the garage. I had one bullet left.
That night was basically a stalemate. They controlled the north side of the building, we controlled the south. In between was nothing but ants. We kept them out by shoving wet towels all around the doorjambs. I hoped against hope that they hadn’t thought up the same thing, but I knew I wouldn’t get off that easy. I didn’t care. I’d already lost everyone I cared about, here, and in my previous life in the service. I was weary. I cued the intercom.
“You there, Van Shank?”
“I heaw you, Bob.”
“Why are you even doing this? What could be worth all these deaths?”
“It’s a bwasphemy fowr dese peowple to ewen be hewer. Hwumanity should newer habe weft earf. It distwacth fwom ow duty to sacwed mowther earf. We nweed to pwotekt hewr fwom peopol wike you. You will pway for whad you did to Antawcticaw.”
“And foiling Les’s plans.”
“So, what, he sent you all the way out here just to kill me?”
“Of cowrs nawt. Wes has awgents aww owwer Gagawin. Thewee’s one owre two on ebery ship. We’re gwaduawwly taking ober, and we’ll ebentuawwy fowce eberyone hewe to go hobe, or we’ll destwoy dem by hook owe by crook.”
“Tough talk,” I said, “you’re at least as screwed as we are. Probably more so.”
“Pweople wike you fink they can und…” he railed on zealous ecologically fanatical drivel for a while. I broke the connection. We’re going to lose the whole building, I thought, How the hell was I going to get these people out of here?
The next morning, I rigged a zap plate around the side door of the garage. Ants would get in and die. I threw the thing open, and could see the ruined ranch half a mile south. It, too, was completely pink with Kirbys, but the house was probably fine, and definitely a more defensible position.
“Ok, here’s my plan,” I said, “I’m going to rig up the high-pressure pumps to be flamethrowers. We rig a zap frame around the main door, and then I send the motorcycle over, with a sprayer dripping ethanol. It gets to the ranch, and I light it. Everything in its path dies, and then I fire the flame throwers, which will burn a path on either side of that. We all run down the already-burned part in the middle, and get into the house.”
We tried. The motorcycle fell over fifteen feet through the door. The flamethrowers worked, but only for a thousand feet.
“Ok, here’s my new plan: We fill those big spray bottles they use to spray pesticides and fertilizer and stuff with ethanol. We use the flame throwers to clear a path halfway to the ruins, then we run as far as we can, and spray our way the rest of the way using the bottles as portable flame throwers.”
There were twenty-five monks left. One Benedictine, the rest Orthodox. There were sixty men and children. While I was giving instructions - each adult had to carry one small child, and stay close together, and don’t turn back for anything - the monks were conferring among themselves. Praying, I assumed.
I fired both the big flame throwers, clearing a path a thousand feet long, and as wide as we can make it, and had everyone line up just inside the zap frame. I hit the “Off” button, and yelled “Charge!”
Out we all lept, and sprinted. The Kirbys were quickly closing in behind us, and quickly cut us off from the monastery. There was no going back, but of course I knew that anyway. The monks had all refused to carry children for some reason, and they fanned out on the sides of our rabble as we ran. Those in point torched up their portable pressure sprayers, and cut a tenuous path through the sea of insects. They move forward in waves, cutting the path deeper, but the edges were pretty vague, the line kept breaking, the monks fell back, reorganized, moved forward again. We couldn’t keep this up for long. Five minutes would be a miracle.
We fought our way forward, with one of the orthodox monks falling, then the Benedictine. Their screams were horrible. The monks chanted last rites while we moved forward slowly, way, way too slowly. We weren’t going to make it. Not all of us. Simply no way, no time.
We reached the rope ladder, and formed a circle around it. I started shooing the ranchers up, but the perimeter was falling fast. Another monk was lost. The circle tightened. The ranchers were terrified, I was terrified. The ants got an adult. I grabbed the small boy off his back - the same one I’d rescued earlier - and threw him on my shoulders. In the distance, I saw a huge cloud of pink erupt. It was the TV crew’s hover mobile home. Damn, I’d forgotten about that!
“Go,” one of the monks said.
“I’ll stay with you and hold ‘em off,” I said.
“We can’t fight, but we can defend, and we know something about sacrifice,” he said. The line was collapsing, the monks were running out of eth for our makeshift flamethrowers. The rooster tail of the bugs thrown by the hovercraft moved closer.
“You have a kid. Climb the ladder.”
“You climb the ladder,” I said, “You take the kid, I don’t want to live anymore,” I said.
“Not your choice,” he said, “You’re job is to save all these people, and my job is to save you.” Suddenly, as one, the monks all stepped forward, out of the circle, and started blasting like crazy at the ground. The ants retreated a tiny bit, the circle swelled. In unison, they all started singing “Have thine own way, Lord.” One fell, then another. None of them screamed, not one, they just kept singing until the Kirbys pulled them down. It was the most magnificently brave, selfless thing I have ever seen, I pray I never see anything like it again. I could not bear it.
They sang, and they stayed, and they saved every one of us, until they died horribly, one by one. They stayed and they sang. They sang in English, not Russian. And I knew deep in my soul, that they did it for my benefit.
There ladder was a traffic jam with the last dozen people scrambling around, trying to make their way up, but it held us.
I made it into the ranch just as the hovercraft pulled in directly below. Van Shank came out on the deck with a megaphone.
“Stawlemawte, Bob,” he said.
I’d had completely enough of this. There was a lot of furniture and medical crap laying around. I grabbed an office chair, and hurled it at the exposed housing for the big stern propeller that moved the hovercraft around. They were five hundred feet down, so it had a hell of a clip by the time it got there, and it smashed the housing and damaged the engine enough that the thing exploded. The hovercraft still hovered, of course, but it could no longer move.
“Not stalemate,” I shouted, “You lose.” I closed the emergency hatch, and let them stew over exactly how screwed they were. The next morning the swarm was still going strong. I opened the door and yelled down at them.
“So what’s it going to be, dumbasses? Do you just float there until you run out of fuel, and sink into the ants? Or maybe a strong wind hits and blows you into the canyon? Or maybe we just drop crap on you from up here for a day or two? Or maybe you could surrender.”
“We wiwl newah suwwendah” Van Shank yelled.
“Suit yourself, Mister Fudd,” I said, and closed the door.
When I opened it up the next morning, the swarm was of course still going strong, but Eyepatch had bound and gagged Van Shank. “We surrender,” He yelled. We hoisted them up, and tied them to the wall in the surgical theater. Again, I let them stew overnight.
I didn’t sleep. In fact, I hadn’t slept at all in four days. I couldn’t. I’m not, by nature, and angry man, but I was completely suffused with rage. The next morning, the swarm was still going strong, and the outside window of the operating theater was opaque with pink ants.
“We can do this the hard way, or we can do this the easy way,” I said. Van Shank was a mess. Besides the nose and the teeth, he was badly burned on one side of his body. I‘m not sure how that happened, but evidently it had something to do with the collapse of the roof, or a grenade or something. “I want to know who Les’s people are on Gagarin, and I want to know what his plans are, or else you are going to die.” I put his own gun in his face. One bullet left. Fitting. Too fitting. Too easy.
“Whud, yew tink dad’s gowing tew skawe me? I’be sworn to bie a hundwed timeb obah to befend my hobeworld.”
“Ok, we’ll do it the easy way, then.” Some ranchers pulled him out, and pressed him against the glass, making sure to hold his eyes open so he couldn’t blink or look away. I stood in the doorway, looking at eye patch. “You. Killed. My. Dog.” I said, and shot.
I didn’t shoot him, though, I shout the outside window. It shattered and Kirbys swarmed in. I ducked back through the inner door, and it slid shut. Van Shank had to watch it all, pressed up against the glass, while Eyepatch screamed and was eaten alive. It took a long time.
“Your turn,” I said, and hauled him towards the emergency hatch in the floor of the living room.
“I’we tawk I’wll tawk, oh gawde, I’we tawk!”
The swarm lasted for another week, during which time we had plenty of water, but no food. On the second day, one of the kids found a couple crates of instiburgers, including one that had been opened. I don’t know how he did it, but somehow Dan had been getting up here to get snacks for me. That shouldn’t have been possible, but, well…anyway, none of us starved, but we were all pretty thin by the time the Kirbys disappeared. Where did they go? Nobody really knew, though there were a lot of theories. In fact, nobody was entirely sure where they came from. People had only been living on this planet a half century. There was a lot we still didn‘t know.
We never did find the jammer, so we couldn’t call for help. Presumably it’ll run out of juice someday, but it was still going strong when I left. After the swarm ended, the nunnery sent a hovercar to us, and another one due east to call for help. Air Ambulances and police Ospreys showed up a few hours after that, running around, taking statements, and so on. Greene ran up to me, babbling about how I’d saved him again.
“So stop getting in trouble,” I said. Seriously, what are you supposed to say to something like that?
Jerry had the whole thing on tape, of course, including Van Shank’s confession. We had everything, most of which I couldn’t bear to watch, though I’m told the bit with the helicopter was ratings gold. As it turned out, Wynans had been sending agents to Gagarin on every starship, with instructions to infiltrate the local government and bring about chaos and genocide. We had a complete list, including McNevis, who was - up ‘til that point - a shoe-in to be the next Kaskey. The governor of Caskia, that firebrand who’d been moving for secession, was on Les’s pay, too. Eyepatch, Cravat, and the rest were simply local thugs Van Shank had hired. The police took him away in an Osprey. After a media circus show trial, he’ll get the death penalty. I doubt they’ll fix his teeth first.
Since the jammer was still up, we loaded the recordings into a news copter, and they transmitted once they flew far enough to be able to get a signal out again. Jerry got the exclusive, of course.
McNevis and the Caskian Governor both denied the allegations, but neither of them survived the day. Les was already much known and much hated here. The Caskian independence movement evaporated overnight. The Yvgenistani one didn’t - their grievances were a bit more legitimate - but they did back off quite a bit, and announced they were open to a new round of negotiations. The incumbent Kaskey was suddenly a shoe-in for re-election, and McNevis’ Federalist party isn’t expected to survive being exposed as a tool of Satan.
So I’d stopped a civil war. I didn’t know how to think about that, but I did know that I couldn’t stay here. Fame follows me, or I flee fame. It works out the same either way.
“I assume you’re no longer staying with us?” Guo asked.
“I don’t think I can,” I said.
“There’s no censure,” he said, “If you leave, we simply consider this to have been another part of the Path.”
I nodded, “And you?”
“Well, there’s nothing left here, is there? We’d been talking about setting up Retreationist Monasteries on other worlds. Seems like this would be a good time to do that. There’s a ship bound for Saint White next year. I think I’ll probably be on it.”
“White?” I asked.
“No, not White,” he said, “Saint White. That‘s much nicer.” We hugged goodbye. I never saw him again.
I hitched a ride in an air ambulance.
“Where to?” the paramedic asked.
“Ardan,” I said, “There’s a Space Force recruiting office in Ardan, right?”
“I dunno. Probably,” he said. We rode in silence for a while. As much silence as you can ever have in a helicopter, anyway, which isn’t much. He kept stealing glances at me out of the corner of his eye. I couldn’t blame him. I’d gotten pretty cut up.
“You know, we can fix those scars for you,” he said.
“No, you really can’t,” I said, “But they’re not all that bad. I think I can live with them now.”
Copyright 2011, Paula Tabor, Republibot 2.0 and Republibot 3.0