The Tomacka observatory was probably the loneliest place in the quadrant. It sat just above a glacier, halfway up an extinct volcano, just a few kilometers from the southern pole of a sparsely inhabited world well off a major trading route. The nearest settlement was over two full days away by landspeeder.
Centron Bessix occupied the office of Base Commanding Officer.
The title was far more impressive than it need be.
Although the post was a joint operation by the Science Bureau, Navigational Services, and the military, it was sparsely populated and incredibly dull.
Centron Bessix was the senior officer and overseer of the entire base. Which constituted no more than thirty people at any one time. Those being everybody from scientists running one study or another, civilian maintenance personnel keeping the transponders and other equipment running, a skeleton crew of military types, and a few housekeepers who kept the whole place in line.
Bessix didn't mind not being in charge of several score of troops, as his rank suggested. For the first few months he found the scientific information his base produced interesting, he had never worked closely with civilian researchers before, and this was a new experience for him. But as time wore on, ream after ream of stellar dynamics became tiresome. Glacial activity was, well, glacial in its progress. And the churnings of magma deep within the bowels of the dead volcano was unimpressive to say the least. He monitored the navigational systems from time to time, but unless something was broken, nothing needed done that way. There were very few jobs to assign to the military staff he had, local patrols were done twice a day, and usually they had nothing to report except the depth of the snow on the trails.
His daily reports soon turned into nearly identical copies of each other.
He began his own research into his site by tracking local wildlife and its patterns of avoiding the outpost and its forest of antennas nearby. It was a fascinating bit of work, and managed to occupy some of his day.
The rest of his day was spent listening to his housekeeper.
Matron Bousch was a stoutly built widow woman whose life was consumed with displaying her faith in God. Sometimes to the point of obsession. But as the senior member of the housekeeping staff, she kept a tight ship and those assigned to the outpost seldom had reason to complain.
"It's bad enough they are assigned way out here, to have to live in untidy quarters or have bad food would be too much." She explained to Centron Bessix when he took over last year.
Her four member staff maintained the military and civilian quarters, the labs and offices, and the other facilities of the post. They rotated the cooking duties with assistance from those that enjoyed cooking, or got so bored anything was a welcome diversion. The personnel sheet stated that for a full compliment of fifty to sixty, the post should have twelve from the Services Division. But the post hadn't been fully staffed since it was built, and Matron Bousch never pushed the point that she was the Services Administrator and was not supposed to be cooking and cleaning.
Centron Bessix listened to her as she told him about Jesus day after day. Week after week. She went on with delight about certain preachers that traveled from colony to colony when one was coming their way. When she could arrange it, she would travel by any way she could to Mesticaw several days away, or even to Wangson City, the colony's capitol, over a week away by speeder, if she couldn't buy passage on the monthly supply ship.
He never begrudged her the time off, and would occasionally even pull a string or two to get her a ride there and back. Or failing that, to have somebody send her a disc of the service.
But as for converting him to her religion. That was a lost cause.
"I've been all over everywhere. I've seen a lot of people practice a lot of religions. I've never been convinced any of them are better than any other." He said several times.
Undaunted Matron Bousch would smile and continue her work. She dusted his small rack of military honors and sang about her Lord.
Centron Bessix marveled at her and generated yet another report of current solar wind velocity, navigational beam signal loss, and the waste of a canister of laundry processing fluid that had frozen on the loading dock.
"Oh, Centron. Minister Adler is the best speaker since St. Peter on Pentecost. The Spirit of God is truly on him." Matron Bousch started up one day.
The Minister was coming to the colony in a week. She had it in her mind she was going to see him no matter what.
"He sings and preaches and, oh sir, he just GLOWS when he talks about the Lord."
"I suppose he spits on people and cures them of Thereon Fever." One of the scientists said who happened to overhear the conversation.
"Oh, No, Doctor Marnn. He doesn't heal anybody. It's the LORD that heals you if it's His will. Minister Adler is just a vehicle for the Gospel of Christ."
Centron Bessix had heard enough. "The courier is coming the day after tomorrow. I'll see if he has room. Do you have someplace to stay until the minister comes?"
Matron Bousch nodded happily and went into discussing her cousin in the city.
"Can you get them to bring you back?"
"Oh Yes Centron. I can give his oldest some credits and he'll bring back again."
"Excellent." Centron Bessix replied.
The scientist huffed and braced himself for the walk in the cold to check his experiment on the edge of the glacier.
Matron Bousch continued with her cooking.
A Firstman was sent to the workers quarters early that morning. The courier had arrived and was waiting to leave, Matron Bousch wasn't ready, which was unheard of with her.
"Devon to control." The Firstman called. "Send medical to the Matron's quarters."
In a few minutes the old woman's quarters was thick with people. The Centron stood by and watched as the medic did her medical things. Finally she stood and gave them the verdict.
"She's having a relapse of Moore's Disease. It's pretty common in some of the first settlers of this planet."
"I thought they had cured that." The Firstman said.
"They did. But once you've got it, it comes back on you. Sometimes it can be fatal." She looked over at the Matron who was sleeping uneasily.
"You mean?" The Centron whispered.
"It's possible." The medic ushered them out into the hall. "Given her age, and the fact this is her third bout of it." She shook her head slowly. "There's nothing else anybody can do for her. Just wait and see."
"We could take her to Wangson City." The Firstman offered.
"They'd tell you the same thing. Wait. It has to run its course."
The Centron nodded. "I'll call for an emergency transport anyway."
But the Matron had other ideas. "This is my home." She told him when he went in to see her again. "If He is going to take me to Him. This is where I want to be."
There was no arguing with the woman. Reluctantly the Centron canceled the emergency transport.
The only thing that upset the Matron as she faded in and out of consciousness in the throes of the disease was that she was going to miss the Minister's service. She mourned over that. She also blamed herself for getting sick and apologized to the other staff who were carrying her extra duties. Then the illness would overwhelm her and she would drift off into unreality. The medic monitoring her condition closely.
"She's not going to last much longer." She told the Centron. "You should contact her cousin in the city."
"I will." He said, the medic left. He frowned. "She loves that minister. I wonder..." He went to the communications station.
It took a long time but finally he made the connection to the minister's ship en route to their colony.
"My service Matron is very ill, she is a great fan of the minister, if he could just send a message to her. I know it would mean so much to her, it might even save her life." The Centron told the minister's secretary.
"I'll see if he has the time." The secretary replied.
The connection went dead.
Centron Bessix sat and stared at the screen for a few minutes, wondering what to do next. He began to punch in the numbers for the Matron's cousin to tell them the old lady was dying.
The console beeped with an incoming deep space message.
"Tomacka Station. Centron Bessix speaking."
"Bless you sir. I'm Minister Adler. I'm coming to see the Matron in the Name of the Lord."
Centron Bessix couldn't believe it. "Sir. Our landing pad isn't large enough to..."
"Nonsense. My pilot flies with the Lord."
"Sir. All I wished for you to do was to send a message. If you told her it was the Lord's will that she recovered, I believe she would. She loves you and your God. I'm a military man and I understand how powerful a message from a higher authority can be. If she knew you were interceding on her behalf..."
The minister cut him off again, "Sir. Do you love God?"
The Centron did not answer.
"You exhibit the faith of one that walks with the Lord. Whether you know it or not. You believe in the All Mighty."
He was speechless.
"Nevertheless. I will come and see her and conduct a service for any at your outpost that wish to attend."
"Minister. I appreciate this, but you are used to having audiences of thousands. My entire base is scarily two dozen..."
"Even one lost soul is priceless to Him that sent me. Where two or more are gathered in His name, He will be among them." The minister had a way of finishing your thoughts for you even though he interrupted you.
"What can I say?"
"You can say 'Welcome in the Name of the Lord' when I arrive."
Centron Bessix ran to the Matron's quarters, she was barely lucid.
"Minister Adler is coming to see you."
Her eyes conveyed her disbelief even though she could not speak.
"He said something like where two or more are gathered in His name." He fished for the words.
"There He shall be also." Matron Bousch finished weakly. She took the Centron's hand and wept silently.
The ship carrying the Minister and his entourage landed on the tiny platform with mere centimeters to spare. Even though he was a firm believer, the pilot had to admit his palms were sweating as he guided it in.
Minister Adler didn't have a commanding presence. Centron Bessix had to look from face to face before he was sure which of the people was the Minister.
"Welcome to he who comes in the Name of the Lord." Centron Bessix announced in a loud clear voice.
He had managed to turn out the majority of the people of the outpost to greet them, many just attending to see something different. But even so, there were more people from the ship than those even assigned to the station.
The Minister turned to the Centron. "Where is she?"
"This way sir."
They walked to the building housing the staff quarters, Matron Bousch had managed to clean up and dress. But she still looked very ill.
She cried the whole time the Minister was speaking with her. But in the end, she was calm and nodded as he blessed her and asked God to heal her.
When the Minister left the room the Centron looked back at her. The lady was radiant as she slept.
At the service later, Centron Bessix listened intently to the service. He didn't know if Matron Bousch would live or die. And it didn't matter. She was at peace with it whatever the outcome. He wanted to hear what this faith was that gave such comfort to somebody on the edge of eternity.
Later while he dried his hair Centron Bessix felt on the edge of a greater world.
"Your journey is just beginning. Your life is just beginning." Minister Adler told him.
He nodded. "I believe you."
"Centron. Minister." The medic wiped a tear from her face as she walked into the room. "Matron Bousch just died. There was nothing else I could do."
The Minister nodded. "Ma'am, Matron Bousch is alive in the Lord Jesus now."
Centron Bessix looked at him and nodded, believing.
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