get back to their places, check out the damage, contact their insurance companies, stuff like that,” Brother Maynard informed me. He was one of the few Catholics here. He coughed a lot, and looked way too thin. The general lack of Papists wasn’t surprising: When I’d helped bring in the initial wave of colonists fifty years ago, they’d been overwhelmingly Southerners, the remainder split between Russians and Chinese. None of those were cultures where Catholicism had made much of an impact, though there were a few members of the Patriotic Chinese Catholic Organization, which was an offshoot that didn’t recognize the authority of the Pope. Mother/Father Guo had been one of those.
There was a man I couldn’t quite remember. What was his name? Van Skaik? Van Shank? Something like that. “It’s better,” he said.
There is a prolonged period of novitiate in Retreationism. There wasn’t a hard-and-fast duration for it, but assuming I was still here three years from now, they’d actually consider making me a member. That‘s three earth years, of course. In local Gagarin time, that comes out to about four years and nine or ten months. Tau Ceti is quite a bit cooler than the earth‘s sun, so the planet has to be quite a bit closer in order to be warm enough to support life. Hence the local year is quite a bit shorter than I was used to. For official purposes, people tended to use standard earth years , and local years for things like farming and birthdays and whatnot.
Anyway: The whole idea for the lengthy indoctrination was to make sure that one really wants this life, and isn’t just running away from pain. Since I actually was just running away from pain, this caused me some consternation, but brother Brijesh told me not to worry about it at this time. Another reason for the long introduction period was that members are celibate and the sexes are segregated. The Monastery and St. Salome’s Nunnery were separate structures with occasional interaction, usually during festivals. This part suited me fine, given my lingering memories of my exes. No more trips down that road, thank you very much.
“But wait,” I asked, “Why is Guo allowed over there, if he’s a guy?”
“He’s gay, obviously,” Brijesh told me, “We don’t house monks or nuns with the gender they’re attracted to. Do you have any idea how many problems that would cause?”
Brijesh was Hindu, by the way. He always went to morning prayers with us Christians, and when I asked him why, he said he was ‘auditing the class.’ “So what‘s your story?” I asked one day during free time.
“Oh, I was born here, but my family emigrated from earth a good twenty years after the first wave.”
So much stuff happens while I’m away! I’d traveled so often that I hadn’t seen this place develop, I’d just gotten little snapshots of the world, a quarter century apart, almost like a strobe light on an…
My para corkscrewed wildly as I fell, and I saw something in strobe-like flashes as they entered and left my field of vision a dozen times a second. Every time I closed and opened my eyes, the clouds and sun were in a different position. I must have been blacking out constantly. “Nah, it’s better this way,” said another voice that I almost recognized.
What the heck had that been about? Evidently I’d staggered or zoned off or something, and Brijesh noticed. “Are you OK?” he asked. I didn’t know, so I changed the subject:
“So what’s up with him?” I said, motioning vaguely in the direction of the naked guy, but not really wanting to look at him to be sure I was really pointing accurately.
“Oh, that’s Rudy,” Brijesh said, “Theoretically he’s a Digambara monk, from the Jain religion. They don’t wear clothes as a symbol of refusing to give in to the body’s needs, and their only possessions are those two things there.”
“Well, between you and me, I think he’s probably just some random crazy guy. He was already here and already naked when we bought this place twenty years ago. Never says a word, just stays to himself, or dances, or giggles. Actually, he didn’t even have the feather or the gourd until Brother Maynard hit the idea of giving them to him. If he carries them, we let him in and feed him. If he doesn’t, we won’t.”
“It lets us preserve the fiction that he’s a monk, and