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There could be no true night with Sekahmant in the sky.

The sun had set, turning the Auriel Ocean molten in shades of red and orange and murn, leaving the giant star unchallenged. Of course, it was only a point source of actinic bluish-vrel light—no imaginable object could show a visible disk across even a minor interstellar distance—but that light was of an intensity to banish every other star and trigger the color sensitivity of one's central eye. So Harrok, standing on the terrace of his mountainside villa high above the west coast of Kormat, could clearly see the town below, the coast curving northward in a succession of coves separated by wave-lapped mountains, the mercury-like ocean to the west, and the peaks rising in range upon snowcapped range into the eastern distance.

He could also see this same coast from the tarry deck of a sailing vessel of the Asthians who would, in later centuries, build the town below his villa, for he was shaxzhu, and his memories of all his lives was good. But that was a different kind of seeing.

The view had never failed to move him. What a thought in the Mind of Illudor! So much beauty, to be obliterated by that which now only illuminated it! Harrok was no astrophysicist, but he never doubted the truth of the horror that they had revealed with their orbital instruments. After all, educated people had known for generations that the ethereal loveliness of Sekahmant must someday turn destroyer. But so soon?

A rustling sound distracted him as his daughter stepped from the doorway into the Sekahmant-light. Ankaht was the image of her now discarnate mother, tiny and dark, in contrast to Harrok, whose skin was translucent gold—though dulling with age, now—and whose long, thick neck lifted his head to an above-average height. But these were superficial differences. In what really mattered, they were alike, for she, too, was shaxzhu. For both parent and child to possess the gift was rare but not unheard of. It lent the father-daughter relationship a sometimes disturbing closeness.

"The decision has been made," she announced without preamble. She had been linked into the global datanet, which Harrok found himself less and less inclined to do these days, when almost all the news was bad. "The nations have granted the new government all the emergency powers it asked for—in effect, dissolved their own existence. (Excitement, tempered by mourning for the old ways.) And the proponents of extended research and development have been overruled. Construction of the first ships will begin with the technology we have now, although further discoveries will be incorporated into later ships if possible. (Deep reservations.)"

Harrok and Ankaht never misinterpreted one another's emotions. The empathetic sense of selnarm was extraordinarily strong among all shaxzhu, and especially so among those who were also close blood relations.

"Well," he said, "they had little choice. (Resignation.) The last I heard, estimates of the supernova's date had been moved up to two hundred years from now." No more than three or four incarnations for me, he thought bleakly, even assuming minimal time spent discarnate.

Not that any such assumption was likely to be justified, given the draconic population control measures that were being proposed. But, again, what choice was there? There was not enough metal in the crust of Ardu to build a fleet of ships that would carry a significant fraction of the present population, or even keep up with its increase. More time in the dreary less-than-existence of discarnate status for all of us, he thought.

But it never occurred to him to doubt that the project would succeed, at least in the sense of saving some of the Race, nor was his confidence based on the power-urge of politics or the proofs of science or economics. His certitude was a simple philosophical imperative. After all, supernovae also had their existence in the Mind of Illudor. Could Illudor will His own obliteration? It seemed unlikely. It was also too disturbing a thought to dwell upon—that a Deity might commit suicide—though far less disturbing than the heretical whisper heard more and more of late: that the universe was Illudor's dream . . . and that the dream had now turned to nightmare.

He shook off his philosophical musings to listen as Ankaht spoke again.

"I've been asked to join the group that will be planning for the social organization of the ships . . . especially the problem of maintaining cultural continuity for hundreds of years in an environment like that. (Disgust.) We shaxzhu will be specially important in maintaining a link with the world we've known. How else will the others even understand there is a universe outside those steel walls?" She shuddered. "They want your help, too Father. You probably won't be incarnate when the first ships depart, but your wisdom will be invaluable in the planning stages."

"Of course I'll help in any way I can," Harrok replied. Strong shaxzhutok carried obligations as well as privileges and, to be honest, the problems were not without interest. He turned to lead Ankaht inside, then suddenly stopped and loudly clicked the strong, curved claws that tipped his left hand's two primary tentacles. "Oh, yes! I forgot to mention when you arrived this morning; your sister was in a skimmer accident. She's all right, but her new son was killed."

"Oh. (Mild regret.) He was less than half a year old, wasn't he? You don't happen to know who . . .?"

"No. I wasn't there for the birth, and afterwards I couldn't get any sense of who'd picked him. Couldn't have been anyone close."

"I suppose not. Still, it's too bad for whoever he was. I can dimly remember going discarnate in infancy once. What an annoyance! Nothing more frustrating. Anyway, tell Kathmeer I'm glad she's all right. I haven't kept in touch as I should have, but I happen to know that disincarnation would be very inconvenient for her just now. (Grimness.) Inconvenient for everyone, with the birth restrictions we all know are coming."

The reminder of his own earlier thoughts saddened Harrok—sadness which, of course, communicated itself to Ankaht. Silently, father and daughter stepped inside and closed the sliding glass door behind them.

Outside, in an evening filled with wild flixit song and the buzz of second-light insects, Sekahmant continued to glow as if it were an enduring star.

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