Monday, January 7, 2013

George Jackman and the Monastery of Burnside

When Ami Tautou met George Jackman, he was by his own admission fleeing from the tyranny of the Space Corps.  He was extremely reluctant to talk about his past otherwise, and hinted that "George Jackman" was in fact not his real name, but it was the one she would always use for him.

Ami's best friend Askre Casper was not as pleased to meet Jackman, but there was nothing much he could do about it, because Ami was strong-willed and didn't often take Casper's opinion on new acquaintances.  They lived on Burnside, a world that never rotated, and consequently as it name implied it was either a desert planet or a barren rock, depending where you lived.  Ami and Casper lived on the desert side.  They received few enough visitors, and the only noteworthy attraction anyway was the monastery, and monasteries receive few visitors, usually the religious, and they're easy enough to handle.

Ami herself had grown up on Burnside.  Her family made an honest living harvesting moisture from the atmosphere.  Casper had come to stay with relatives who did much the same, after his parents were lost in the ongoing turmoil with the Danab Empire.  Casper tended to dominate Ami's attention only because he was the only tolerable company on this wretched world, besides the monk who had been a family friend for several generations at least.  He was a Tikanni, but even for Tikanni seemed incredibly reluctant to age.  She knew him as Uncle Phan, but there was always the persistent rumor that he had once been important, not only among his own people, but in the Galactic Empire.  In fact, there was speculation that he was Lord Phan, one of the Alliance of Five, the founders who had been led by Trey the Conqueror, many centuries ago.

When Jackman arrived, dropped off unceremoniously by a Space Corps shuttle, Ami was busy doing the same thing she did every day, which is to say very little, because moisture farming pretty much handles itself, unless the condensers malfunction (which in truth happens all the time).  She and Casper watched as the shuttle descended the bleak skies and touched down like one of Burnside's many birds, which are more like the dinosaurs of Earth's past than the birds of its present.  Burnside saw Space Corps activity even more rarely than tourists, so it was certainly remarkable that the shuttle appeared at all.  Casper was always talking about his family's history in the Space Corps, and how one day he would continue that noble tradition, or perhaps someone else in his family.  He didn't suppose it mattered.  Ami said she'd believe it when she saw it, because the Caspers were pretty notorious for talking more than doing, especially Askre.

She convinced Casper to investigate the new arrival, which wasn't too difficult, because of course Casper was already chattering about how this unfortunate soul had probably been booted from the Corps, no better than Jimmy Smith, just another human in a long line of humans who had not gotten their fair shake of the experience, even though so much of recent Space Corps activity was dominated by them.  Old prejudices die hard.

Jackman was in a foul mood, and Casper said it was probably typical, but Ami wasn't sure.  She preferred to give new people the benefit of the doubt, which was easy for her because she rarely met new people, and so was inclined to this behavior on account of optimism not yet encountering harsh reality.

"Please tell me that this is not going to be a completely miserable world," Jackman said.

"This is not going to be a completely miserable world," Ami said.  She believed it, too.

"It doesn't matter.  I won't be staying long."

"I figured," Casper said.

"You should be quiet," Ami said.

She decided to take Jackman to the monastery.  With any luck Uncle Phan would be receiving visitors today.  He was always good for a story.  They made the journey, which took half the day because they had to walk, Ami's transport being busted once again.  By the time they reached it, the monastery was closed, but Uncle Phan was sitting outside under a banyan tree, clothed in his traditional robes, a hood pulled over his head.  He eyed Jackman and said, "Hello, Lance Nolan."

Jackman was surprised, but Uncle Phan simply said that he was not surprised to see him.  Ami sat for a few hours and listened to them talk, and had no idea what any of it meant.  Uncle Phan mentioned the Danab Empire a few times, and each time Jackman seemed to develop a glazed look, and then shared a few stories, most of them featuring humans, which was not so unusual.  Even though Lord Phan was definitely not human, he seemed to have a great affection for them, which Ami had always appreciated.  He was a monk, but he was personable.  Still, he had always been considerably more aloof than this.

She saw Jackman depart soon after, a gift of Uncle Phan's personal shuttle taking him off Burnside again.  The day drew on.  She never saw or heard from Jackman again.

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