Klamath, Splinter Three

” PIaying Scout, Brunner?”

The voice startled Geophysicist Class One Ichliad Brunner; in that second of astonishment several of the fragile spikes of mineral in his hand crumbled and the specimen slipped from his hand.

Brunner caught it without thinking, grimaced at the sudden pain. There was blood in his hand now, blood and several and odd looking pebbles mixed with foamy sand.

” Yes, in fact, Manager I am. Or was. I’ve cut myself on the sample and don’ have time to speak with you now.”

That quickly the manager was left behind. Despite the pain and anger Brunner moved gracefullydown the hall way and into the small medcenter.

” Got a cut or two,” he told the lounging medtech, from a sample I picked up yesterday.”

“Dirtside sample?” the Terran asked lazily from his seat.

” Yes. Mineral sample “with inclusions.”

” I guess we ought to take a look , eh?”

Brunner looked down at his hand again, realizing that he still clutched the blue-qray remains in his hand.

It was an odd sight to him: his blood mixed with powdered rock from the strange planet below. Powdered rock and pebbles that had taken thousands of years to grow into a fragile crystal and a half-second of clumsiness to crush.

He dropped the sample onto the table top and washed his hand in the sink indicated by the tech. In a moment the hand was immobilized inside an autodoc sleeve, in a moment more the tech’s screen lit up with a mix of trade and Terran symbols.

“Mostly aluminum and related compounds, nothing overtoxic in the current ratios. Wouldn’t want to eat the stuff, though. Hold still a second.”

The “second” was a little longer than that and Brunner felt the tension rising in him.

“Hey – I told you there isn’t anything to worry about didn’t I?”

“Yes.” Brunner looked at the screen, embarrassed momentarily as he watched several indicators rise: pulse and blood pressure.

He gasped at the sight, the tension rising in him, took a deep breath. A friend had taught him to realx, long ago, and he tried to recall the method…

He concentrated on the placement of his his feet, on paradoxically relaxing his shoulders so he could stand straighter. The tnesion dropped out of him and the telltale lines fell on the screen.

The autodoc hummed burped pleasantly, and sprayed his hand with a light bandage.

“That’ll come off in about twelve hours or so. You’ll have some new pink skin. That’ll look normal in about two days.

“What is this stuff?”

Brunner shrugged, a habit he deplored in himself.

” A crystal growth of sorts. A rock. A work of art, it was … Sharp, also. Fragile. I called it Sapphire Lace.”

“Pretty. Sounds odd to me. But that’s not your specialty is it? Rocks, I mean?

“No, it is my interest, my … hobby, you would have it. I work here on weather patterns.”

The man nodded, turned his back to Brunner, closed drawers.

” Weather. This is a great place to watch … I’ve never seen a place where you can see storms move so quick from this far away. Pretty, too, if you like staring at something for awhile and just watch colors change. I saw that red storm down south yesterday, made the place look like it was glowing. Went real good with my meal and a good strong drink.”

Brunner smiled briefly, a social smile unseen by the medtech. It didn’t matter. It didn’t really matter.

* * *

Brunner slid his door closed behind, glad to hear the slight change in the air system as he did so. His small world was adjusting to his presence.

He liked the full four percent decrease he could achieve without special dispensation. The Manager complained that it made his job harder: that was hardly Brunner’s concern.

The Manager. Damn the Manager! And what concern was it of the Manager what Brunner did? Brunner belonged to the Geophysical Task Force. His duty was to the collecting and interpreting of information on the strange planet below. The Manager managed only the station itself: the physical structure and it’s workings were his concern. Grenda yosDala was Brunner’s true superior, as was the quietly mad Jocon ter Minthen. The Manager? A fool, dumb to the universe, reading the all of existence as a matter of some savant’s declaration of an ideal and perfect air pressure.

He shook his hand, caught himself before he banged it into the bed. Still with the sudden rage on him he picked up his flat pillow and threw it to the floor, kicked it, cursed briefly in a language he hardly knew. The Manager should be dismissed. For that matter ter Menthen herself should be dismissed. Perhaps he, Brunner, should be dismissed. The world they were studying could hardly care about them. Why should they care about it?

Even as he thought that Brunner caught his rage and wrapped it around a rumor. The rumor was a Scout would be coming ahead of schedule. If that was so, perhaps the Manager could be removed.

Maybe some good changes could occur.

Brunner’s eyes focused on the chart he’d clamped to his wall the first day he’d arrived on Klamath Station S. Two standards and most of another had gone by since then; and except for the occasional jab of the Manager or some other petty politician they had been a good, nearly a happy time for Brunner.

The chart a standard planetary flow chart for a planet the size of Klamath, at the distance Klamath was from it’s primary,and with the density and mass distribution originally

charted for Klamath.

Below it was a single hand-sketched view of the planet. Klamath couldn’t exist as it did, said the chart. The sketch was Brunner’s own, his very first effort at understanding the planet he orbited now. He was glad it did exist: he needed something to understand. He needed it very much.

Sharon Lee & Steve Miller present rare genre moments for readers looking for a fiction fix