Vocation

By Ishmael Soledad

sfgenreAbbot Johannes gazed at the twenty-four professed gathered before him, the bitter chill of early February penetrating the bare stone chapel. The taking of vows, the final irrevocable admission of a brother to the community was solemn, a time of thanks. This one was unique, a loss-tinged joy.

Having remained prostrate and naked in penitential reverence these past two days, the supplicant at his feet lifted himself onto one knee, hands clasped in prayer, eyes locked on the Abbot’s sandals.

Arms wide, head lifted to heaven, Abbot Johannes recited the ancient call to obedience and denial passed from Saint Benedict down the centuries, barely changed by the passage of time.

The supplicant stood, raised his voice in reply. “Iesus autem fidelis ad mortem, sicut et ego promitto stabilitatem meam, et oboedientiam usque ad mortem conversionem vitae.” One by one in absolute silence the professed greeted him with a brotherly kiss on the right cheek, then bade him farewell with a kiss on the left.

Once by themselves Abbot Johannes helped him onto the stretcher. He drank from a vial, lay flat — and with eyes shut and breath shallow — his body started to pale. Abbot Johannes hurriedly opened the chapel doors to four waiting, shivering figures. They ushered the stretcher to an ambulance, disappearing into the morning mist.

“God be with you, Brother Angelo.” Abbot Johannes whispered, closing the doors, shutting out the world.

***

Abbot Johannes regarded the Abbott General on his tablet. It was an unusual request, unprecedented for the Ordo Cisterciensus Strictoris Observantiae. A decision to be made, perhaps a life dedicated. Adjusting his glasses he referred to the sheaf of paper in his hands.

“It remains two hundred and fifty years?”

“At a minimum. Beyond that there are too many unknowns.”

“They have no-one else?”

“Correct. If it were only a question of willingness there is no shortage. It is one of stability, obedience and reliability.”

Abbot Johannes laid the papers carefully on his desk. “Were their requirements a little broader, I myself would consider it. The time is sufficient.”

The Abbott General inclined his head. “Am I to understand the Abbey of Cuiaba has decided?”

“Yes, we accept with thanks.”

“You have someone in mind, one who may be called?”

“One, a novice. This may be the hand of the divine.”

“A novice? You are certain?”

“Yes. In three years he will be ready.”

***

Monks’ cells are by intent small, austere. Abbot Johannes sat on the plastic chair in one corner, knees touching the end of the bed. Novice Angelo sat at the head of the bed in the other corner.

“Brother Abbot, I am willing.”

“You realise the uniqueness of the vocation? Your inclusion in and separation from the Order?”

“Yes.”

“And the consequences?”

“That it is without repentance doubtless, yet so too my final vows.” He shifted slightly, long, slender fingers placing the papers back into their plastic folder.

“Did not our Lord challenge us to cut off the limb that causes us to sin? It is a blessing, a humbling gift. Prayer and contemplation, my work to support the Order, what more could there be to my life?”

“Your noviciate will be like no other. There are preparations to be made, designs to be finished.” Abbot Johannes stood. “Apart from the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments you will live as a hermit, see only those who must see you, speak only with me. A test of your vocation, trial before commitment.”

***

They knew him as no other man had been known. When they bid him come he bore the probing and sampling and scanning silently, obediently, gracefully. When the men and women with pocket protectors and iPads and security passes left, he thanked God for the sweats, chills, the burning daggers and aches in his body; the chance to turn it to dust. Repeated through the days and weeks to months and years in his cell that was his world, vigils through compline sung by one to the Almighty, the Almighty to one, his vocation strengthened, so too the faith of Abbot Johannes in him.

They bought it to him the week before his vows. It was not as he had imagined, rather a vessel of simple beauty in keeping with the Order. No signs of science or technology but a pewter grey unadorned chalice. They alone would bear him away, move him forward and care until it was no longer possible they said; for they had grown to love and cherish him. He allowed himself the luxury of words, his first to them, thanking God for the work of their hands. With the ancient rites he blessed them, their children, families, health and lives until in tears and peace they left him alone to prepare.

***

Brother Angelo returned one week later to be interred. They lowered him into the earth, not with traditional words and incantations but with ones written by the Abbot, ones befitting the commitment of a temple lacking the holy of holies.

Abbot Johannes imagined Brother Angelo rising from the earth on a tail of fire. They could not sustain the body for that time and distance, but the mind was another thing. He smiled. A Trappist monk sent to Eris was poetic, fitting. Named after the Greek goddess of discord and strife, Eris would receive an envoy of the Prince of Peace.

What would he find beyond Pluto, the feeble Sun’s rays six hours away, a year stretched five hundred and fifty fold? Brother Angelo’s thirty-year journey will see me in my grave yet they say he will have five hundred years now, perhaps a thousand. While unseen and unheard his subconscious automatically controls the systems, feeds and telemetry to and from the radio telescope, his conscious mind will be unburdened, free to the discipline of meditation, quietude and receptivity.

Absolute solitude.

Unassailed silence.

Total separation from the world.

Abbot Johannes felt the first pangs of envy. He turned from the graveside.

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About The Author

Ishmael A Soledad

Ishmael A Soledad has read and watched science fiction since before he went to school and thought it was time to give back instead of just taking. In between writing, working and reading he likes to daydream he's a rock star and annoy the neighbours with his guitar collection. He lives in Brisbane, Australia ('cause that's where the money and packed sandwiches ran out) with his long-suffering wife and psychotic cat.

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Crash Dummy
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Invisible Giants And Little Types
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Infinite Monkeys
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Kitting Up
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She's Dead
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Surfing On Neptune
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The Forgetful Visitor
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mark english 100Mark is an astrophysicist and space scientist who worked on the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn. Following this he worked in computer consultancy, engineering, and high energy research (with a stint at the JET Fusion Torus).

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timonthy gwyn 100Timothy Gwyn is a professional pilot in Canada, where he flies to remote communities. During a lull in his flying career, he was a radio announcer for three years, and he is also an author.

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garry dean narratorGarry Dean lives on the Mid Coast of New South Wales Australia, and has been a fan of SF for most of his natural life. Being vision impaired, he makes good use of voice recognition and text to speech in order to write. Many of his stories have appeared in AntipodeanSF over the years, and his love of all things audio led him to join the narration team in 2017.

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david whitaker 200David Whitaker is originally from the UK though has travelled around a bit and now resides in India. He has a degree in Journalism, however decided that as he’s always preferred making things up it should ultimately become a resource rather than a profession.

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lauriebell 2 200Laurie Bell lives in Melbourne, Australia. She was that girl you found with her nose always buried in a book. She has been writing ever since she was a little girl and first picked up a pen. From books to short stories, radio plays to snippets of ideas and reading them aloud to anyone who will listen.

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