Aug 032013

Read Me the Story:
embroidery-cropped“Blessingmother… they have arrived.” Kadaret murmured, respectfully.

“Is it so?” the old woman rose from her knees, and with the certainty of long practice, took the three steps to the hard plastic chair, and sat.

“They can wait,” she said comfortably. “It is time for my pranska. Did you bring it?” The veil turned in Kadaret’s direction.

Kadaret felt her jaw drop. “N-no, Blessingmother… I thought…”

The old woman chuckled. “You bring it, daughter. I’ll need it.”

Kadaret made a respectful knee-bob. Blind as she was, the old woman had an uncanny sense for such things. “Yes, Blessingmother.”

It had never occurred to her that anyone—anyone—! –would make the Cardinal Prelate’s own maiter wait!

She sped down the narrow corridor, past rows of the tiny cubbies that each provided a Vowed Daughter of the Weeping Handmaiden with a narrow sleeping pallet, a kneeler, and a small chest to hold her worldly goods. At the end there was a much broader cross-corridor and the arched doorway that led to the Garden Cloister. Kadaret did not spare a glance for it; she turned for the kitchen, and in very little time was back with a small dish, a spoon, and a clean napkin. She tapped the door frame.

“That was quick, very good. Very good.”

The old woman folded back the lower half of her veil, and fumbled for the spoon, digging it in to scoop a small mound of moist golden fruit.

Blessingmother Nanamet lived the most austere of lives, except for this one indulgence—one pranska, each Holyday, in the place of midday pottage. Everything about life at the Divine Mercy Monastery had been an invariant routine, including that.

With the news of the Conflagration, changes had come. But Blessingmother Nanamet still had her fruit. “Ahhhh….” The old woman sighed a little, and lifted the napkin to dab at a trickle of juice on her chin. “So delicious. Like the flesh of a beloved.”

What a strange thing to say. What would old Nanamet know of that, Kadaret thought? Everyone knew the Blessingmother’s story. She had been here, at Divine Mercy, since her very birth, more than sixty years ago. Her mother had been a Relict, Vowed here on the occasion of her Renunciation by her Ecclesiast husband who had heard the miraculous Call to Celibacy before he knew he’d engendered a child. Such cases were difficult, of course, but the Church could not deny a true Renunciation.

Born here, raised here, probably she’d expected to die here, like all the Relicts and Renunciates Vowed to the service of the Weeping Handmaiden.

Kadaret knew better than to let the slightest hint of her feelings show on her face, in her breathing, in a small movement. She knew the flesh of a beloved. Had thought herself beloved. Had believed that the Creator laid her path in the most abundantly joyful of places. Had quickened with her husband’s child, even. The miscarriage… it hadn’t been her fault! She had done everything, everything the birthwife had said!

Then Lankar had decided that the miscarriage was a divine leading, and he would heed the Call, and renounce Kadaret, and enter the prelacy.

Nanamet had spooned up the last bit of the pranska, and wiped her mouth daintily. Her face, still half-veiled, was turned in Kadaret’s direction and tilted slightly. The corners of the soft old mouth were tucked in with something that might have been compassion… or amusement.

“And what do I know of a beloved’s flesh, is that it?”

Kadaret tried not to start, but did swallow. The old woman probably heard it, with that preternaturally acute hearing, but she only shook her head a little, and let down her veil. “You still have so much to learn, daughter. All right. I shall keep the Holiest One waiting no longer.”

She stood, and replaced the chair under the little table, and turned to make a knee-bob to the ikon of the Bride on the wall above her kneeler.

Kadaret stood aside from the door. She knew better than to offer the old woman any assistance. Nanamet knew every millimeter of the Divine Mercy, moved about her daily rounds as adeptly as though she’d never lost her sight from the infection that had been diagnosed too late, and treated here with only the minimal facilities of the monastery’s Infirmary.

Beside the doorframe hung the long staff of the Blessingmother’s office. She put her hand to it unerringly, and preceded Kadaret to the Cloister Gate, where the Cardinal Prelate’s own private bounce shuttle waited, to take her to Pykalt for an Ecclesiastical Convocation. It was an unprecedented thing, to invite the Blessingmother of a monastery to such a gathering, even though technically such a rank was equivalent to Archprelate, in the Church’s eyes.

But these were unprecedented times.

“Well, come along, daughter.” Nanamet paused, and gestured to Kadaret to accompany her. “You don’t think I’m going alone, do you?”

Sep 082012

Black and white tone drawing of figures carrying a bier through strangely curved structure.“For in the beginning, we were trapped in time.”

“And You opened for us Eternity.”

Father Rillem was performing the Funeral Service, to which he was now so accustomed that it required a stern effort not to allow the familiar words to blur his attention into a rote performance. The congregation needed and deserved better.

“And so we send forth our sons and daughters…” he paused, while the congregation murmured their litanies of names—so many names—and sank into silence again.

“…in the secure hope of being restored unto them in Your Presence.”

“Make it so, Creator, we beseech You.”

“Give us the fortitude to fight on, and let Your Avatars and Handmaidens uphold us, even as they enfold our sons and daughters into Your endless Justice and Mercy.”

“Make it so, Creator, we beseech You.”

Methodically, reverently, he finished the Service, and then, as the congregation sang the final hymn, he returned to the vesting-room and replaced the heavily-decorated robes back in the armoire. Resuming the white-piped dark green duster of a Congregational Pastor, he circled around through the back corridor to be at the sanctuary doors when the congregation left. It was the most exhausting part of the service, acknowledging, looking at, really seeing each person who stopped to greet or thank him, tear tracks on the women’s faces (and even a few of the men—it was no shame to shed a few tears at a Funeral Service, after all,) the still-choked voices, and worst of all, the eyes. Half-blind with grief, or worse, dead of all feeling, bewildered (especially the children, painful stabs of heartbreak each one,) angry, beseeching as though somehow time could be made to run backward…

He felt wrung out, sucked dry and then some, after these Funeral Services. It was what he’d committed himself to as a priest, all those years back, but no one could have seen, then, the magnitude of the demands that would be made on the Church and all of the Creator’s Servants.

Last out was his bride, who wordlessly took his arm as he nodded to Delart Morkam the verger. He put his hand over hers on his arm, patted it gently. Their children, and their two grandchildren, had all been back in West Avart Warren, a bare five hundred klicks from Rayki. He’d tried to comfort her, and himself, again and again, with the reflection that the Conflagration would have come upon them without warning, giving them no time for panic or agony, just a quick and merciful translation to Eternity. She’d pretended to be comforted, and he’d pretended he believed her comforted, and that was all they could do for each other.

“Can you make it back to the Pastorage, my dear? I’m called to a meeting at the Chancery in,” he glanced at his ringwatch, “a quarter hour.”

“Yes, of course, Rillem. I’ve a committee meeting, remember? It’s Daughters of Mercy afternoon,” her shoulders lifted a couple of millimeters. If pastoral work was often a burden for a priest’s bride, it had its mercies, too. Linvet had always been a capable organizer and never had the need for her talents been greater. One could, for a time, overlay grief with the focus on work.

“Yes, certainly. It slipped my mind. You’ll look after the emergency housing recommendations?”

She nodded. “We’ve more than three thousand cubages identified that can be converted. I’ll let you know for the Ecclesial Report.”

“Thank you.” They exchanged a squeeze of hands, and he turned to make his way to the Chancery. Linvet’s handclasp stayed with him, but the warmth it had momentarily evoked faded quickly as he took his comp from the pocket of his duster and called up the figures he had to present at the meeting. It was not good, not good at all. In so many ways. Creator grant them the resources of courage and imagination, not to mention power and cubage and everything else, to deal with the problems.


“I would bring your attention, Reverences,” he was saying, nearly half an hour later, “to the bottom line figures.”

“Of the total eight hundred forty-seven thousand survivors, three hundred and twenty-seven thousand are evacuees. The balance are the population of Moonstation, military and civil servants on outsystem or orbital deployment, and the various populations of colonists, researchers, transients and others who happened to be at extraplanetary facilities.”

“So it should not be surprising that the imbalance between men and women is so great, nor that the number of surviving children is so pitifully low. One hundred and sixty-six thousand women, one hundred twenty thousand or so of childbearing age. But of those, more than eighty-one thousand are married women with living spouses—colonial families, residents of Moonstation, women who joined their husbands on civil service deployments, and so on.”

“Which leaves,” Rillem looked around the table at the lengthening faces of the Ecclesial Council, “about thirty-eight thousand women of childbearing age, single or widowed. And of those,” he shook his head, “a substantial percentage represent women in military service, a good many of whom have experienced radiation exposures at levels placing their childbearing capacities at risk.”

He opened his mouth to continue, then shut it rather helplessly and shrugged. The facts were the facts, and all of the Council members had copies on their comps. He waited for the inevitable questions.

“Father Rillem, what is the margin of error on this census?” the Archprelate of Warrest spoke first, as the senior present.

He shook his head. “Naturally there is some considerable margin for error, Reverence. We have had excellent cooperation from the military authorities, and their data are probably the most reliable. The civs have been most cooperative but only the colonial data and the municipal census from Moonstation can really be considered accurate. Everything else is, well…” he shrugged apologetically, “iffy, at best. The evacuees were counted and re-counted in several locations at several times, consolidating that was a challenge. We tried to err on conservative side, but even if our margin is as high as ten or fifteen percent…” he trailed off. Heads nodded, and faces got gloomier, if possible.

“How recent is the colonial data?” Prelate Edrell of Avatar Kanstan’s asked, hopefully.

Rillem shook his head. “Colonial Affairs had just done their biennial census as part of the appropriations request. The figures are no more than a quarter to a half year out of date.” No hope, there.

There was a long silence. Prelate Viggen of All Martyrs murmured “And more than five hundred and twenty thousand men under sixty, single or widowed.”

Prelate Reervin shook his head, grimly. “It should not surprise us so much. Women do not work at orbital manufacturing facilities. Women are few and far between at the levels of senior researchers, scholars, and students at scientific facilities. We discourage military service for women, and thus less than, what, five percent? –of the surviving military are female. Even in the colonies, we hesitate to send women until the colonial security is assured, and then only as wives of qualified colonists.” He sighed. “A tragic irony, that our care to protect women has resulted in so few survivors.”

“Indeed,” the Archprelate of Stellan Down said dryly, “but it is the corresponding abundance of males that poses the greatest challenge. It’s taken more than a hundred years to transform dueling custom to nonfatal combat. Are we now to see a revival of men killing each other off for the chance at a bride?”

A cold chill seemed to settle in the room. The Archprelate of Warrest broke it, looking from the faces of the Council members, back to the podium, and nodding to Rillem. “Our thanks, Father, for your report, however upsetting the facts. If there are no further questions for Father Rillem?” He verified with a glance at his colleagues, and then nodded again. “Go with the Creator’s blessing, Father.”

Aug 292012

White priest's vestment, lined with faded red silk and heavily embroidered with scrolling figures in gold and multicolored thread.Father Rillem Oktap was holding Penitents’ Vigil in the Church of the Compassionate Sword, in the Pykalt district known as Six Under. He sat quietly in the little cubicle with its two chairs, small table holding a box of tissues, and etched-glass stele of the Warrior and His Bride, guarding the opened Gate to Eternity. He was just about to say a final prayer and darken the cubicle light when the chime sounded, and he composed his face to an expression of warm encouragement, mingled with interest.

It had been—what, nearly a year?—since he’d seen Torvin Angalt at a Penitents’ Vigil. She was a large, shapeless woman with a gap-toothed smile and straggling wisps of dull grayish-brown hair, married to the parish’s most notorious ne’er-do-well, Donkar Angalt, whose only discernable virtue was connubial fidelity. She was a devout churchwoman, though uneducated, and a conscientious mother to fourteen children.

“I-ask-the-Holy-Warrior’s-blessing-and-His-Divine-Bride’s-merciful-intercession-to-petition-the-Creator-for-forgiveness-of-sins,” she said in a breathless, adenoidal monotone, her puffy, slightly reddened eyes fastening anxiously on Father Rillem’s face.

“Be comforted in the knowledge of the Creator’s infinite love and forgiveness. What brings you to penitence this night, my daughter?”

Having gotten this far, she seemed stumped. She sat, blinking, her slightly-open mouth twitching a little as though unable to form coherent words. Which might easily be the case. He smiled encouragingly at her. “What is it, Torvin?” He kept his tone light, in an effort to head off tears, but it didn’t work. She continued staring at him for a moment, then began to heave.

Eventually, his patient questions teased it all out. His face was grave, without being condemnatory. “It is indeed a serious sin, daughter. You know that the Creator’s Providence is the only arbiter of human life—the use of contraception thwarts that Divine Providence.” Dolefully, she nodded, all the while sniffing deeply and wetly. He handed her the tissue box.

Doctrine demanded he require her to turn herself in to the Proctors. If she did, and provided the name of the person who supplied the contraceptives—something Father Rillem had carefully not asked—she’d receive only a light, symbolic penance. The supplier, on the other hand, would be routed to “assisted repentance”—which could mean anything up to and inclusive of psychochemical intervention and brain restructuring, for such a serious crime. If she refused to turn her supplier in, Torvin, too, would be “assisted” to “repent.”

He’d dealt with this dilemma before, in different ways. He didn’t condone the dispensation of contraceptives, but his first mission was the care of souls. Sometimes that required him to exercise his own judgment in the interpretation of doctrine.

“Daughter, when the Creator sends us children, we are also given access to all the resources of strength and courage and love that we will need for those children. To impede Divine Providence from fear of our own weakness or inadequacy is a failing of faith, is it not?” Another doleful sniff.

“And you repent of this lack of faith?”

“Yes, Father,” Torvin dabbed her eyes and sniffed again.

“Very well. In penance, I want you to schedule yourself for four three-hour food-prep shifts at the Mercy Center.” And she’d get to take home leftovers, if any, for her huge brood, extras to supplement their just-adequate res-class rations.

Aug 232012

Illustration of half-dome warren transit area, with panels showing HVAC & technical access.The type-3 terraforming of the new Klaros—Klaros II—concentrated on the planet’s viable near-polar zones, establishing two loosely-organized rings of warren/dome habitats with spurs extending (in the northern zone) to the polar ice cap for water mining, and (in the southern zone) to the largest lode of transuranic ores easily accessible to extant mining technology.

The Oligarchs also contracted independently with Rilm Habitat Systems for an administrative cluster adjacent to the northern ring, and another cluster on the planet’s primary satellite.  Over some objections from influential elements in the colony’s economic sector, the government opted for the more expensive thousand-year terraforming, committing both present and future colony assets to a major long-term obligation.


Southring is the more populous of the planet’s two habitation axes. It included nine major complexes of the standard warren/dome type, linked by high-speed gravprop tubes.

The largest, Gattrek Major, formed the colony’s main industrial hub, focused around the polis of Kos Gattrek, a city of 15 million or so inhabitants. Kos Gattrek included the colony’s largest (although not the most important) STG port and shipyard, and was the major Southring station for the AB shuttle that linked the two rings. (There were also less important Southring stations at Doxan Pab, Jethrik, and Oquanax.)

Nearby Gattrek Minor formed a high-amenity, high-end residential and recreation area for the elite of Kos Gattrek, and included many cultural and artistic facilities. Gattrek Minor had its own exclusive small-traffic STG port, as well as a free-surface reservoir lake with extensive “natural” terraforming around it.

Proceeding westward around Southring from the Gattrek complexes, the next major habitat was Hirst Niepach, a large agronic production and processing center. The polis of Demira (about 2,000,000) was also a destination for religious tourism, based on the life of Warter Manjek, a Prelate at the time of the Transfer who was credited with saving an entire shipload of colonists and believed to be an “Avatar,” a saintlike figure in Duo-Latteran Hamartic theology. Although Manjek was not officially accorded Avatar status until nearly a century after the transfer, pilgrimages to the Holy Shield Monastery where he lived and died began almost immediately after his death.

A long way further west (the Southy gravprop, or GP tube, had to be blasted through a major geological formation,) the habitation ring resumed with the Zenlis Complex, including the small but influential polis of Oquanax. The Zenlis Complex, though not heavily populated in itself, linked several offshoot complexes including the Ampart Maxicells processing facilities (Ampart Central,) the Pon-Trevis Research Complex, Wendlach Mining, and a small military base, South Gamma.

Fard Karachik, the next Complex in the Southring, had no major polis but several smaller ones, including Limnak, Purvap, Doxan Pab, and Reschek. The Fard Karachik domes and warrens were widely dispersed to take advantage of a cluster of rare ore nodes and most of the communities are mining-oriented. Many were nearly wholly-owned subsidiaries of the half-dozen Democratic Companies dominating Klaros’ extractive sector.

The large Home Legion training base was the center of Morj Alpha Complex, which also included extensive residential complexes and some high-end domes and warrens outlying the smaller of the Complex’s two polises, Alpha Nex. The larger, Mag Alpha, was a city of about three million that is oriented around military and military contractors’ activities. A substantial military STG field/base was the northernmost node of the Complex. The Home Legion military academy, Kortallis Dome, was the southernmost.

The next Complex, Martabal Bwes, was loosely-dispersed among one of the more salubrious areas of the planet’s surface, a valley among long-dead volcanic ranges that has the planet’s last remaining free surface watercourse. Vestiges of the native xenons could be found among the sparse stands of vegetation, and several “exotic tour” vacation resorts and tourist facilities made the major polis, Jethrik (pop. about a million), a popular destination. There was also a scattering of industrial complexes and the Karvich University’s research complex.

Tikparran Complex was home to several facilities developing and producing communications equipment, components, and consumer goods, as well as some major military contractors. It was the home of Keval Ust University and the Corporate Headquarters of Chagarth Fabrik, the colony’s second most influential Democratic Company. The only sizable polis, Metarad, was a modernistic city of half a million or so high-status emp-class, exec-class, and owner-class enclaves, surrounded by suburban domes housing the smaller communities of emp-class and cit-class workers who fulfilled the menial functions of Metarad.

South Ust Complex was the eastern neighbor of Gattrek Major, a sprawling network of cheaper habitats housing light manufacturing and low-status housing. The largest polis, Ardill, was home to about three million Klarosians but noted for being very high in violent crime and possibly under the control of criminal elements. A valiant civic leadership was constantly working to overcome this perception and vitalize the polis (and the Complex) with new development, but the outcome of the struggle was always in doubt.



Less populous, but more influential, the ten habitat complexes of Northring were home to many of administrative headquarters of the colony’s governing institutions.

Northring was dominated by Center, the largest habitat complex on the planet and home to the colonial capital, Kos Centrum. A polis of nearly thirty million, Kos Centrum also formed the nexus for Klaros’ financial industries and services. Adjacent to Center, the Admin Central complex formed the civadmin’s major facilities. Center was home to the planet’s most important STG port, Centrum Bek, and had been extended several times to incorporate smaller polis and industrial domes and warrens.

West of Center, the complex of Jait Hurst was the largest concentration of military facilities on the planet, including the Shirch Prime military academy, Legion Hospital, the heavily-fortified Supreme Command Center, Tarvich Fleet Base, and the Miranat Testing Complex adjacent to the south. The major polis, Port Andall, was a nexus for military families and retirees, and several smaller communities included extensive recreational facilities.

Devlit Complex to the west of Jait Hurst was a small cluster of prestigious residential and very high-tech research and development facilities, many exclusive enclaves of military contractors among the Democratic Companies. Three communities, Pentrad, Xellek, and Chart Deb, formed the main central nexus of warrens, clustered around a small patch of xenic biome sustained by underground watercourses from the northern polar cap. Several Boardsman families had domes in the biome.

Tof Oqualat, the next westernmost Complex, was the location of the colony’s major watermining collection and processing facility, the North Oasham Plant. A string of adjacent dome and habitat clusters extended to the north, to house pipelines operated by the Segeth Vanus Company, the prime contractor to the colonial government for water production and distribution. Several free-surface reservoir lakes centered prime high-end residential real estate especially for retired exec-class and wealthy emp-class individuals, and a large hospital and medical services complex served their needs as well as being home to the Bride’s Mercy Medical Academy, the Church’s most prestigious medical education facility.

Kos Parkel, the next Complex, was an almost wholly-owned enclave of the colony’s most powerful Boardsman family, who controlled Parkel Multigen, the prime contractor to the colonial government for power production and distribution. In addition to the massive industrial domes and the planet’s deepest-delved warren spaces housing the largest power generators on the planet, adjacent to the north a smaller cluster known as Parkel Quast housed the Quast Vallek campus of Center University, the colony’s most advanced engineering school. Stenzak, the planet’s largest single-dome polis (sited between the two complexes,) was home to nearly six million Klarosians.

Veztarran Major, almost directly opposite Center on the Northring axis, was a sprawling mixed habitat of light industrial, manufacturing, and financial interests, including the Ulgarast Port facility, the colony’s third-largest but highest-volume STG Port. Most of the colony’s major merchant shipping interests had headquarters and shipyard facilities there. It was regarded as a center of immorality and possibly even heresy by the Church, which tried in vain to control the various “sin industries” common in the res-class and cit-class habitats clustered around the port areas.

Veztarran Minor, very close (almost adjacent) to Major in the Northring, was a considerable contrast to its larger neighbor, being the home of the famous Sword of Eternity Monastery and the Warrior’s Rest Basilica, as well as numerous small colleges training teachers, medical workers, and proctors. It included a number of retirement facilities for the Church’s lower-echelons, pensies, stipies, and eesies, as well as some very luxurious and exclusive facilities for administrators. A large tourist industry and some “family recreational” complexes were clustered around Palatis (population about 3 million,) the major polis.

Tang Matris, a mixed complex of industrial, military, and financial sectors, was almost adjacent to Vezterran Minor, and included the Legion’s Quental Academy and a good many Second Legion bases and facilities, as well as the Hellgate Training Base, at the far western end of the Complex, whose facilities extended into the large area of usable but harsh planetary surface environment that formed a high, extensive plateau between Tang Matris and Storrest Bek. The major polis in Tang Matris was Garravet, population about half a million. A loose cluster of residential habitats extended south of the Complex, housing a number of smaller communities and military families.

Fendal Points was a long way west of Tang Matris, with the GP tube snaking across Hell’s Plateau to reach the cluster of educational, research, engineering, and light manufacturing facilities dominated by Kervik Dome, the tallest dome on the planet and the headquarters of Kerant Cryston. Regarded as an exclusive, Boardsman’s recreational area, the adjacent Vardry Cluster provided high-end recreational and entertainment facilities. Fendal Points was also home to the Klarosian entertainment industry and its main polis, Istarak, boasted many celebrity homes and a flourishing arts community.

Piskal Haret, Center’s eastern neighbor, was a smallish cluster of habitats holding a mix of commercial and communications interests, as well as the Church’s Extant Stand cluster of warrens housing the bulk of the Church bureaucracy and the Bride’s Gift theological seminary. Although the spiritual “center” of the colony was at the Glorious Revelations Basilica in Center, where the Supreme Prelacy was headquartered, Extant Stand was the real “guts” of the Church. The rest of Piskal Haret’s habitats were heavily influenced by Church-related activities, but it was also the center for distribution of entertainment media (being conveniently close to the Shining Truth Proctory so that media could be reviewed for “appropriateness to the public good”) and the headquarters of some large entertainment industry companies. Adjacent to Piskal Haret and extending far to the South was the colony’s largest Reformatory, the Compassionate Bride, which held nearly a million and a half penitents along with proctors and stipies, and a small Home Legion unit, who provided security.


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.’ Continue reading »


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