Aug 222012
 

Purple sky with an orange satellite floating in it, above a horizon of skeletal structures lit in red and blueThe Creator blesses procreation, and His Plan for humanity involves lots of breeding. That’s how a comparatively small human colony like Klaros, originally a very minor offshoot of the vast Procyon colonial axis, ended up with nearly half a billion people, shortly before it was destroyed. You’d think a benevolent Creator would give His Devout People more credit for their hard work fulfilling His Plan, and do a little better by them than allowing a weapons experiment to get out of control and hork up the entire surface of Reveille C, killing damn’ near all of the Divine Warrior’s Chosen.

Such cynicism is fairly easy to understand after the fact. Having everything that matters to you—your work, your family, your ambitions, your home—blown to hell and gone might make anyone a little cynical. But Kelm Poquard was cynical long before the Rayki Weapons Lab carelessly lost control of its matter-to-energy induction projector. He didn’t think of it as ‘cynical,’ of course. He considered himself ‘objective.’ And ‘scientific.’

But even he kept a low profile about his lack of faith. A heresy trial would have put paid to his ambitions, and Kelm Poquard was a very ambitious man. They weren’t bad ambitions—not particularly harmful—innocent, even. Kelm simply wanted to become an Authority in his field. To have his name spoken with awe by other aspiring materials manipulation researchers. To be invited to give advanced seminars at famous colleges in the Hub’s University League, and have his papers published in the most prestigious scientific journals.

But about that, too, he kept a low profile. The Church took a dim view of Klarosians having too much interaction with the “infidels” in the Hub. Remaining single and obviously cherishing such aspirations would put him over the risk threshold. So Kelm Poquard observed the forms of his Church, and kept his cynicism, and his ambitions, to himself.

The apparent validation of his skepticism, in the wake of the conflagration that engulfed the surface of Reveille C, effectively wiping out 99.92% of the Divine Warrior’s Chosen, gave Kelm no feelings of satisfaction whatsoever.

Six days before the Conflagration, he arrived home from delivering a lecture on ““High Density Multi-particle Sandwich Bonding in Nanowafer Extrusion” at the University’s main campus in Kos Centrum. A shuttle returned him to Pykalt Shuttleport, adjacent to Pykalt Interstellar and the main transfer point for Klarosians going to or from any of the colony’s many off-planet habitats and facilities. He did not take the slideway from the Shuttleport to the larger complex serving freight and passengers at the Interstellar port. Instead, he strolled over to the view lounge in the central dome that linked the two facilities, and stood at one of the large lenticular windows. This one gave onto the huge, sprawling array of Moonstation itself, the colony’s largest off-planet concentration of settlements. It stretched to the horizon and, he knew, beyond.

Immediately in front of him was the network of habitats and facilities that made up Pykalt, the administrative capital of Moonstation and the regional center for the Insystem District. It looked deceptively compact, since its soaring domes represented only about fifteen percent of the city’s actual occupied cubage. The rest of it was warrenspace, underground habitats carved from the solid rock of Reveille C’s larger satellite.

Habitat engineering was only peripheral to Poquard’s field, but he could fully appreciate the magnificence of an achievement that enabled humanity to live in comfort even on an airless moon. Gravity manipulation, ion-processing for air production, fossil water extraction from the very rock itself—all of it ranked among Mankind’s proudest technical advances.

Behind him, a deferential voice murmured, “Doctor Poquard?”

He turned. A College staffer, by the uniform. “Yes?”

“Sir, the skimmer from Center is here for you, and your luggage has been loaded. Transfer gate 4C, if you’ll follow me?”

“Anywhere, my dear. Anywhere.” Flirting gently with the attractive young woman, he climbed into the skimmer for the trip across the lunar surface to Center University Lunar College’s dedicated complex of domes. He considered inviting her for a little dinner at the Senior Faculty Club before heading back to his cubage, but decided that discretion might be the better part of valor. An attractive young woman—single, since she wore no marriage bracelet—was a rarity among the bureaucrats and academics of the Engineering School. Odds were that she was the daughter of some senior College Administrator, and who needed that kind of entanglement?

Not Kelm. His interest in women was purely recreational. The College Chaplain had urged him to attend the various social events both at the Senior Faculty Club and among the higher-level employee-class warrens in Pykalt, for the better selection of a bride. Remaining single, the Chaplain hinted delicately, might hinder his advancement up the ladder of academia. Kelm wasn’t worried. Although a recent addition to the Lunar College faculty, he was already a rising star whose practical experience in industrial work combined with a flair for research and invention. Top Engineering College students, most of them on scholarships from various corporations, fought for the limited number of slots in his laboratory seminars.

He’d slip away to Pykalt and deal with biological imperatives later, in an uncomplicated commercial transaction.

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