About the Author:
John Scalzi is the author of several SF novels including the bestselling Old Man’s War sequence, comprising Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, and the New York Times-bestselling The Last Colony. He is a winner of science fiction’s John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and he won the Hugo Award for Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded, a collection of essays from his popular blog Whatever. His latest novel, Fuzzy Nation, hit the New York Times bestseller list in its first week on sale. He lives in Ohio with his wife and daughter.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Ensign Andrew Dahl looked out the window of Earth Dock, the Universal Union’s space station above the planet Earth, and gazed at his next ship.
He gazed at the Intrepid.
“Beautiful, isn’t she?” said a voice.
Dahl turned to see a young woman, dressed in a starship ensign’s uniform, also looking out toward the ship.
“She is,” Dahl agreed.
“The Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid,” the young woman said. “Built in 2453 at the Mars Dock. Flagship of the Universal Union since 2456. First captain, Genevieve Shan. Lucius Abernathy, captain since 2462.”
“Are you the Intrepid’s tour guide?” Dahl asked, smiling.
“Are you a tourist?” the young woman asked, smiling back.
“No,” Dahl said, and held out his hand. “Andrew Dahl. I’ve been assigned to the Intrepid. I’m just waiting on the 1500 shuttle.”
The young woman took his hand. “Maia Duvall,” she said. “Also assigned to the Intrepid. Also waiting on the 1500 shuttle.”
“What a coincidence,” Dahl said.
“If you want to call two Dub U Space Fleet members waiting in a Dub U space station for a shuttle to the Dub U spaceship parked right outside the shuttle berth window a coincidence, sure,” Duvall said.
“Well, when you put it that way,” Dahl said.
“Why are you here so early?” Duvall asked. “It’s only now noon. I thought I would be the first one waiting for the shuttle.”
“I’m excited,” Dahl said. “This will be my first posting.” Duvall looked him over, a question in her eyes. “I went to the Academy a few years late,” he said.
“Why was that?” Duvall asked.
“It’s a long story,” Dahl said.
“We have time,” Duvall said. “How about we get some lunch and you tell me.”
“Uh,” Dahl said. “I’m kind of waiting for someone. A friend of mine. Who’s also been assigned to the Intrepid.”
“The food court is right over there,” Duvall said, motioning to the bank of stalls across the walkway. “Just send him or her a text. And if he misses it, we can see him from there. Come on. I’ll spring for the drinks.”
“Oh, well, in that case,” Dahl said. “If I turned down a free drink, they’d kick me out of Space Fleet.”
* * *
“I was promised a long story,” Duvall said, after they had gotten their food and drinks.
“I made no such promise,” Dahl said.
“The promise was implied,” Duvall protested. “And besides, I bought you a drink. I own you. Entertain me, Ensign Dahl.”
“All right, fine,” Dahl said. “I entered the Academy late because for three years I was a seminary student.”
“Okay, that’s moderately interesting,” Duvall said.
“On Forshan,” Dahl said
“Okay, that’s intensely interesting,” Duvall said. “So you’re a priest of the Forshan religion? Which schism?”
“The leftward schism, and no, not a priest.”
“Couldn’t handle the celibacy?”
“Leftward priests aren’t required to be celibate,” Dahl said, “but considering I was the only human at the seminary, I had celibacy thrust upon me, if you will.”
“Some people wouldn’t have let that stop them,” Duvall said.
“You haven’t seen a Forshan seminary student up close,” Dahl said. “Also, I don’t swing xeno.”
“Maybe you just haven’t found the right xeno,” Duvall said.
“I prefer humans,” Dahl said. “Call me boring.”
“Boring,” Duvall said, teasingly.
“And you’ve just pried into my personal preferences in land speed record time,” Dahl said. “If you’re this forward with someone you just met, I can only imagine what you’re like with people you’ve known for a long time.”
“Oh, I’m not like this with everyone,” Duvall said. “But I can tell I like you already. Anyway. Not a priest.”
“No. My technical status is ‘Foreign Penitent,’” Dahl said. “I was allowed to do the full course of study and perform some rites, but there were some physical requirements I would not have been able to perform for full ordination.”
“Like what?” Duvall asked.
“Self-impregnation, for one,” Dahl said.
“A small but highly relevant detail,” Duvall said.
“And here you were all concerned about celibacy,” Dahl said, and swigged from his drink.
“If you were never going to become a priest, why did you go to the seminary?” Duvall asked.
“I found the Forshan religion very restful,” Dahl said. “When I was younger that appealed to me. My parents died when I was young and I had a small inheritance, so I took it, paid tutors to learn the language and then traveled to Forshan and found a seminary that would take me. I planned to stay forever.”
“But you didn’t,” Duvall said. “I mean, obviously.”
Dahl smiled. “Well. I found the Forshan religion restful. I found the Forshan religious war less so.”
“Ah,” Duvall said. “But how does one get from Forshan seminary student to Academy graduate?”
“When the Dub U came to mediate between the religious factions on Forshan, they needed an interpreter, and I was on planet,” Dahl said. “There aren’t a lot of humans who speak more than one dialect of Forshan. I know all four of the major ones.”
“Impressive,” Duvall said.
“I’m good with my tongue,” Dahl said.
“Now who’s being forward?” Duvall asked.
“After the Dub U mission failed, it advised that all non-natives leave the planet,” Dahl said. “The head Dub U negotiator said that the Space Fleet had need of linguists and scientists and recommended me for a slot at the Academy. By that time my seminary had been burned to the ground and I had nowhere to go, or any money to get there even if I had. The Academy seemed like the best exit strategy. Spent four years there studying xenobiology and linguistics. And here I am.”
“That’s a good story,” Duvall said, and tipped her bottle toward Dahl.
He clinked it with his own. “Thanks,” he said. “What about yours?”
“Far less interesting,” Duvall said.
“I doubt that,” Dahl said.
“No Academy for me,” Duvall said. “I enlisted as a grunt for the Dub U peacekeepers. Did that for a couple of years and then transferred over to Space Fleet three years ago. Was on the Nantes up until this transfer.”
“Promotion?” Dahl said.
Duvall smirked. “Not exactly,” she said. “It’s best to call it a transfer due to personnel conflicts.”
Before Dahl could dig further his phone buzzed. He took it out and read the text on it. “Goof,” he said, smiling.
“What is it?” Duvall asked.
“Hold on a second,” Dahl said, and turned in his seat to wave at a young man standing in the middle of the station walkway. “We’re over here, Jimmy,” Dahl said. The young man grinned, waved back and headed over.
“The friend you’re waiting on, I presume,” Duvall said.
“That would be him,” Dahl said. “Jimmy Hanson.”
“Jimmy Hanson?” Duvall said. “Not related to James Hanson, CEO and chairman of Hanson Industries, surely.”
“James Albert Hanson the Fourth,” Dahl said. “His son.”
“Must be nice,” Duvall said.
“He could buy this space station with his allowance,” Dahl said. “But he’s not like that.”
“What do you mean?” Duvall said.
“Hey, guys,” Hanson said, finally making his way to the table. He looked at Duvall, and held out his hand. “Hi, I’m Jimmy.”
“Maia,” Duvall said, extending her hand. They shook.
“So, you’re a friend of Andy’s, right?” Hanson said.
“I am,” Duvall said. “He and I go way back. All of a half hour.”
“Great,” Hanson said, and smiled. “He and I go back slightly farther.”
“I would hope so,” Duvall said.
“I’m going to get myself something to drink,” Hanson said. “You guys want anything? Want me to get you another round?”
“I’m fine,” Dahl said.
“I could go for another,” Duvall said, waggling her nearly empty bottle.
“One of the same?” Hanson asked.
“Sure,” Duvall said.
“Great,” Hanson said, and clapped his hands together. “So, I’ll be right back. Keep this chair for me?”
“You got it,” Dahl said. Hanson wandered off in search of food and drink.
“He seems nice,” Duvall said.
“He is,” Dahl said.
“Not hugely full of personality,” Duvall said.
“He has other qualities,” Dahl said.
“Like paying for drinks,” Duvall said.
“Well, yes, but that’s not what I was thinking of,” Dahl said.
“You mind if I ask you a personal question?” Duvall said.
“Seeing as we’ve already covered my sexual preferences in this conversation, no,” Dahl said.
“Were you friends with Jimmy before you knew his dad could buy an entire planet or two?...
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