Dating : Iron Core Monks

h2>Dating : Iron Core Monks

An extensive valley stretched out into the distance. At the far end, I could make out a mountain range in the mist. There was blue-ish sky above, but the color was off and its artificiality somewhat killed the fantasy. Soft clouds hung over a large lake. The structure was big enough to produce gentle weather conditions.

On the banks of the lake surrounded by rice paddies was a whitewashed fortress-monastery. The simply constructed multi-floor dwelling had a single entrance at the top of a large flight of stairs. I set off down the path.

I’d never been in a synthetic structure that tried so hard to be planetary. As I walked the scent of fresh grass and cherry blossoms filled the air. A row of pink trees was planted along one side of the route. I filled my lungs with clean and abundant oxygen.

With a wide-awake spring in my step, I made the 10K walk in good time. When I reached the lake I saw the first life forms. Swarms of green and purple dragonflies hummed across the shoreline. Sitting atop one of two chairs on high stilts out in the water was a fisherman.

He wore an indigo robe and a broad conical hat. His line tugged and he pulled in a decent size fish. He hoisted a net out of the water, tossed his catch in with the rest, and dropped them back into the lake.

“A well-stocked pond is an enjoyable thing,” I suggested.

“Care to join me?” He gestured to the empty chair.

I dropped my pack in the sand and waded out. My short legs got me far enough to grab hold and swing myself up into the chair. I looked across the pristine water at the castle and its lush mountain backdrop. Someone had a vision of a sublime isolationist paradise when they made this place.

The man looked over at me. Metallic white skin, black eyes, middle-aged, humanoid, he was a #71EEB8 clone for sure. He tossed me an extra rod and a second cone hat he had attached to a satchel on the back of his chair. He reached back in the bag and set a small stun gun in his lap.

It would hurt like hell to get shot with that thing. I put the wide-brimmed hat on, tilted it up, and looked at the shiny lure on the end of my line.

“A Palavonte Gorilla, the sentry didn’t tell me you were a Silverback. Possibly the perfect fishing partner. Will the wonders of the universe never cease?” smiled the clone.

“Were you expecting me?” I asked.

“We tracked your approach if you’re asking about our technological abilities.”

“I assume you’re beyond anyone around these parts. I didn’t know the Monks were part of the #71s.”

“They aren’t. I left the collective. I have trouble adapting to an individual’s name, but you may call me Seventy-one if that helps.”

I cast out my line, then glided the synthetic minnow through the water. He did the same. We sat slowly reeling in silence. Then both sent out long casts in unison.

“See what I mean; the perfect fishing partner. What are you running from, Mr. Diamond?”

I had to raise an eyebrow at that. This whole place was a technological marvel, even if it looked like some ancient monastery set in a medieval painting. Maintaining this Shangri-la hidden in the iron core asteroid fields was no small task. And certainly beyond someone fishing with a bamboo pole.

“Is this my asylum interview?”

“Would you like for us to arrange for you to return to Grandor? Or the Palavonte moons?” His offer seemed sincere.

“I can’t go back.”

“Are you a Cartel soldier or a mercenary?”

“They took me when I was a kid. I didn’t have any choice.” I got a tug on my line but then it let go.

“You have no DNA record, no direct genetic relative on file. Your whole population must have been taken. Do you remember any of it?”

We both finished a run and cast our lines out across the water. Time passed in silence, it was almost thunderous. Then it started to rain. A gentle mist came down and I did my best to hide under my hat.

He finally broke my silence. “The Abbot will decide your fate. Consider this a pre-screening. The fish really start biting when it rains.”

We both reeled in and cast out again, then I answered him.

“I was 5 when they came. They burned my village to the ground, murdered my family, and took the children. My brother protected me until I was a teenager. We were trained to be soldiers. They think I’m dead with everyone else. They won’t be coming after me.”

“What about the local garrison? They know you were in the outer belt.”

“I ditched my ship outside the sector, they’ll think I grabbed a transport. They won’t suspect I went into the fields.”

He considered that.

“In your estimation, how bad did the conditioning affect you?” He pulled up his line and waited for me to answer.

Random spirals spread over the water’s surface as the rain slowed to a halt.

I shook the water off my shoulders and arms. “I’ve seen my share of fighting. I was lost for a while there but after my brother died I started looking for a way out. I got a chance in a burning delegate cruiser in the Zorr badlands and I took it.”

“Did you kill the man that brought you here?”


“Will he have any reason to talk about you?”

“Nah, he’s satisfied.”

Seventy-one waited for me and we both cast our lines out again. I finally snagged one, pulled it off the lure, bit its head off, and split it open for sushi. It was some kind of bluefin. Even a vegetarian like myself couldn’t pass up its delicacy. I hadn’t eaten in two days.

We fished without talking for another hour, combined our catches, and headed to the monastery. About halfway around the lake, he broke the silence again.

“How did you hear about this place?”

“This may sound odd, but from a tree frog on her deathbed.”

“Oh?” He smiled to himself.

“The first ship that would take me out of the war zone was a Jakz long-haul freighter. Nobody likes to travel with those crazy little fuckers. Smuggling being their side business, they liked the challenge of getting a 400 lbs gorilla past checkpoints. Obviously, they’re good at what they do.

“They found me particularly amusing and constantly antagonized me. They all wanted to dance and have sex. I had to avoid getting roofied, having my hair braided, died, or shaved. The Jakz would stay awake for days on end having one continuous party. The only safe place to sleep was with the older ones who were about to kick the bucket. Being a generational ship, they had a place in the lower decks for those inclined to a calm death.

“Anyway, this old gal of a frog had laid all her eggs and none of them made it to maturity. She went on and on about this mystical place her parents warned her about. It sounded like the last place anyone would look for me and after a month with the Jakz, all I wanted was peace and quiet.”

“Would it surprise you that the Jakz commissioned and paid for this installation?”

“This isn’t the kind of place they would like at all.”

When we got to the monastery entrance I was proven wrong. At the base of the grand staircase were two stone sculptures of bug-eyed tree frogs sitting with their legs crossed.

“I’ll be damned.”

We started up the long stairs. Since I tended to knuckle walk, I was a bit slow going but Seventy-one was patient and walked at my pace. We passed through an ornate wooden door and entered an open space on the top floor.

Windows wrapped the hall letting in soft natural feeling light. At the far end sat a giant golden figure. The statue was simplistic in design with narrow eyes and a pointed head. It rested one hand in its lap and the other reached forward and touched the ground. The walls were covered in paintings depicting this same being traveling, performing various activities, and talking to crowds. I assumed the idealized androgynous idol was a teacher of some sort.

At the base of the great statue sat three monks. One was a Jakz, the other a kind of blue and white striped Zorr halfbreed, and in the center was an extremely old and wrinkled woman. Her white hair was tied up in a very messy bun and her soft eyes projected kindness and understanding. I liked her even before she spoke.

Seventy-one introduced us.

“This is Mr. Diamond, he is a Palavonte Silverback, and he comes here seeking our protection.” He looked to me and added, “this is Tara Bodhisattva our Abbot.”

The old woman smiled and bowed her head to me. “We had gorillas on my world. I myself am a great ape. We have similar DNA. I honor the part of you that is the same in me.”

I stood on my back legs, mimicked her palms pressed together motion, and gave her a bow back. “I’ve seen your human species before. Though maybe not your age.”

The Abbot laughed, welcomed me, and encouraged me to explore the Iron Core.

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