hurt like heck. Dan jumped right before we hit, hit the vertical mat with all four legs, and rebounded on to the floor, all very graceful right up until the moment he took a step, and flopped over. He whimpered in a way I interpreted to mean “I’m dizzy.”
The monks released me, and I staggered around a bit. I plopped down on the floor, and wheezed. When I felt well enough to stand, one of the monks turned to Dan and said “Take him to Father.” The dog barked, headed to the door, and looked back at me. The monks stared at me expectantly, as well. Presently, one of them said, “Uhm…you’re supposed to follow the dog.”
“Oh,” I said.
The unmistakable timbre of a newscaster echoed down the hall: “…Governor of Yvgenistan has vowed that if Anthonia leaves Confederacy, his state will as well. As yet there has been no statement from Rychea, but Anthonians claim several navy submarines have taken strategic positions off their coast, and vow to fight to…”
Sure enough, a guy in orange off-the-shoulder pajamas was watching the news when I came in. He turned it off, and bounded over to me.
“Mister Wilson, this is a huge honor,” he said.
“Roberts,” I corrected.
“I’m not falling for that, I’m afraid,” he drawled, “You’re too famous. Please have a seat. Would you like some tea?” Dan settled in the corner, keeping his eyes on us.
I sighed heavily in frustration as I sat. “Yes, please,” I said. It’s true: I’m famous, or infamous, one. I was, technically, a hero a couple times over, but I didn’t feel very heroic. Villainous, actually. And sad.
He drained a drink from the samovar, and handed me a cup. It was good. Black China, made southern style with lots of sugar.
“I am Father Grigory Fredovich Mendayev.“ He regarded me, and I regarded him. Middle-aged, pushing fifty, probably born on Gagarin. Caucasian, skinny. He coughed, then sat.
“What brings you to us, Bob?”
“What brings anyone here?” I asked, then thought the better of it. “I’m sorry,” I said, “I don’t know why I’m being evasive. This is what I wanted, after all. Just…” I paused, thought. Really, why had I come here? I mean, I knew the calculus of events that brought me here, but not exactly why I reacted the way I had. I intended to say, ‘I don’t know,’ but the words “I’m ashamed” came unbidden out of my mouth.
“Ashamed of what?” he asked.
“You name it. I’ve got a lot of scars on my soul. I was in the war…”
“Ah. You killed people?”
“No, but I worked on Gene’s big super-weapon that scared everyone into ending the conflict. That’s bad enough. My fiancé dumped me for a much older guy. I slept with his daughter out of spite, then kinda’ started to feel for her, then she dumped me, too. I got betrayed by my best friend, who also slept with my fiance, but that’s kind of incidental to the betrayal. I got involved in a needlessly complex undercover operation that resulted in the deaths of ninety-seven people, including one I’d sworn to protect. The president of the United States tried to kill me.”
“That’s it?” he asked.
“Oh, and I got eaten by a Sea Monster.”
He laughed. “Some of those events overlap - I’ve read ’Home Again.’ Earl Douglas’ memoirs were required reading in high school.” I blanched at that. “I assume the ‘Best Friend’ was probably Lester Wynans? The memoirs mention both of you, him in quite some detail. They don’t say anything about you two being friends, but it’s an easy surmise.”
I nodded ‘yes,’ and said, “See, that’s why I lied. I don’t want to be famous, I don’t want anything, and I especially don’t want people treating me like I’m some stupid superman when in fact…when in fact, I’m just ashamed of everything I’ve done.” He was silent a while, letting that sink in. Eventually I realized he wasn’t going to speak, so I continued, “I had this friend in college. His name was Eric. He played drums. Great drummer. Lousy at life, though. He was a mess, drugs, girls, more drugs, more girls, and he had a messed up childhood. He was borderline-suicidal a lot of the time. One day he disappeared. We didn’t think too much of it because he always did that, but this time he didn’t come back. Eventually we got word that he’d joined a monastery in North Carolina.”
More awkward silence, during which he coughed a couple times. I continued:
“I visited him that summer, and he was a new man. He had a simple life, simple duties, the, the, the, uhm, the regimen of monastic life kept him focused. I have no doubts that if he’d stayed in school, he’d have ended up dead on a bathroom floor somewhere with a needle in his arm. Of course I made fun of him about it, teased him about the ‘no girls’ thing and the ‘gay priest’ thing, and the overwhelming boredom of it all. It certainly wasn’t for me. The monastery saved his life, though, I had to admit that. I’d hoped to look him up this last time on earth, he should have been about sixty seven or so. Then the…unpleasantness…happened and people died, and I didn’t get the chance. He’d be pushing eighty by now. He might be dead for all I know…” I drifted off, then re-focused.
I continued: “Jesus said something in Matthew about some people not being suited for marriage and families. Paul says something in First Corinthians about it, too. My love life convinced me I’m not cut out for love, and people died on my watch. I had my hated fame when I got back here. It dogged me even after I quit the service. The monastic life started to have some appeal, so, I looked around. Yours is the only monastery on Gagarin. I took a passenger sub to Ardan, hopped a monorail to Mount Saint Anthony, which is the closest town to here, bought a second-hand paraglider, crashed, and the rest you know.”
“How did you happen to crash?”
“To be honest, I don’t know. Everything was fine, then my engine exploded, that’s all I remember.”
Changing the subject, he said “What faith are you?”
“I was raised Baptist.”
“You appear to know the Bible fairly well. Do you believe it?” he asked.
“Sometimes, when I don’t look at it too closely,” I said, with more honesty than I’d intended, “’Lord help my unbelief,’ I guess.”
“That’s as good a place as any to start. This is a Retreationist Monastery. What do you know of our movement?” He asked me.
“Retreationism started out as a coalition of monasteries from religions all over earth,” he said, “An ecumenical thing. As earth became more and more irreligious, more crowed and more full of distractions, some of us decided to go into space and found this chapter. We hope to set up others on other worlds, but so far this is the only one. There are Christian, Zen, Jain, and Hindu monks here, as well as some Essene Revivalists. I myself am a Shaolin.”
“Okayyyy,” I sad, a bit confused, “So you guys are, what, like Unitarians or something?”
“Oh, heavens, no,” he said, “The different religions keep their identities, but all are welcome to share in classes and meditation and services and prayers of the other faiths. For instance, I’ve been teaching kung fu and wushu here for years, and most of the monks join in. We have a few Benedictines who keep their ‘Rule,’ and there’s generally a happy cross-cultural infusion with respect for origin.”
“I don’t get it.”
“The idea is that we have much to learn from and teach to each other, even without sharing the same faith. We’re attempting to build on our similarities, keep the difference to ourselves, and in the process learn more about or own faith, our own paths.”
“I see,” I lied.
“Does that sound like something you want to try?” he asked.
“What choice do I have,” I asked in return, “It’s either this or needles and bathroom floors, in one form or another.”
...TO BE CONTINUED
Copyright 2011, Paula Tabor, Republibot 2.0, and Republibot 3.0