Against an ever-present hum of the most enormous wind turbines McGee had ever seen, sat Valhalla. It gleamed.

At the floor of this valley stood a vast network of trenches wide enough for several to walk abreast — boulevards, they were apparently called — from which branched narrower avenues. Each of those led to clusters of domes, of what construction he couldn’t tell. Most of these domes were brightly colored, and all featured skylights.

“Are those housing?”, he asked his guide, having to shout above these winds.

Geoff nodded as the began to work their way down. “They’re mostly subsurface, so they’re bigger than they look. Two can live in each, maybe three if they like each other.”

“Good place to bring a kid, is it?”, McGee laughed.

“No kids in the colonies, ever. That’s one of very few laws we have. We can’t have dependents; kids and disabled just can’t come here. You need to be able to contribute from Day One. Everyone’s survival depends on it. That’s why our unit of currency is an hour of work.”

“But you said people were coming to live here permanently. What happens if someone gets hurt? Or pregnant? Or just gets old?”

“We’re still trying to work that out. People get sick or injured; can’t be helped. Apart from that for now, you don’t work; you don’t eat.”

McGee got a grim image of old people being set adrift on an ice floe, as he’d heard was done in some extreme northern cultures. The dangers of not thinking far enough ahead. But planning for every contingency is impossible under any circumstances, he knew. Never mind trying to do so in a period of rapid growth. These colonies — cities, he supposed — started out as nothing more than research stations. Then support personnel. And personnel to support those, and so on. McGee hoped to hell that at least the marketing majors stayed home.

A few more conventionally-shaped buildings, bathing and dining facilities, and a huge geodesic dome loomed at the far edge of the settlement. Nothing like dome construction for harsh conditions. This one was almost entirely glass-paneled; or something transparent anyway.

“You spotted the greenhouse,” Geoff grinned. “We’re trying to get it finished before winter sets in. We’ve got maybe two months. In time we hope to grow our own food. Meantime, we’re composting everything we can.”

McGee keyed on the word ‘winter’. That’s right, he remembered. No sunlight at all for months. Winter here is the ninth level of Dante’s hell.

“What do you do here during wintertime? Is it even safe to stay?”

By now they had reached nearly level ground, and Geoff no longer needed to shout. “We tarp over the avenues and hunker down. There’s still research and such to be done, maintenance, and so on. Once the greenhouse is online, we may be able to preserve food for winter. Otherwise, we’re eating out of cans for months. No one goes out if it can be helped.”

“You’ve already wintered over here? How cold does it get inside?”

“The boulevards never get below zero Celsius. The beauty of having ice for insulation. The domes are thick polystyrene under concrete; they can stay warm enough inside that the concrete keeps the surrounding ice from melting.”

At last they approached the stair down into the Promenade, the biggest of the boulevards. Waiting there was the first face McGee recognized.

“D.J. McGee, say hello to the chief administrator, Guillermo Ortiz,” smiled Geoff.

“‘Willie’, please,” smiled Ortiz as they shook hands. “Good to see you in the flesh. You must be tired after that trip.”

“Thanks. I am, but you look a lot more so.”

Ortiz laughed. “Oh, I’m a wreck; won’t lie. Just had a twelve-hour on watch duty.”

“That’s right,” McGee remembered. “You rotate through the menial tasks.”

“Yep. Doesn’t matter who you are; you’ll spend some time cleaning the shitters. Listen, let’s get you to your quarters. Get some rest; I’ll see you when you address the Assembly at zero-nine-hundred tomorrow. Everything’s on GMT here, so check your watch.”

McGee cut in before Ortiz could take his leave. “I had hoped you and I could talk on our own prior to the meeting.”

“I know. But there are rules about disclosure here. I know you have a lot of questions. We’re hoping you have some answers, too.”

The big man strolled off, and McGee noticed for the first time that he had a soft-sided shotgun case slung over his shoulder.


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