QSFer Sydney Blackburn has a new gay/non binary sci fi book out: Diplomacy Squared.
When Fold pilot Diego is assigned to space station Mikesi, he expects his biggest problem will be boredom, even if it is circling a recent First Contact alien home world. Much of the Human speculation aboard the place revolves around the mystery of Antho females, as all those encountered so far seem to be male. Being gay, it’s not a question Diego gives a lot of consideration.
All his attention is soon taken, anyway, by station admin Portya. Though they have many physical differences, they also have enough in common that Diego is confident they’ll get along just fine—and they do. The sex isn’t just amazing, it’s addicting.
Until Portya winds up pregnant, a surprise for which Diego was not remotely prepared.
Diego Bahaghari eased his ship out of Folded space and exhaled a sigh to dispel the slight disorientation. “Didn’t go through a sun,” he announced to his navigator and second-in-command. They’d flown together on Caravan for four years and Wilma Riordan spared him only a half-hearted eye roll as she double-checked the instrumentation.
“Navigational ping sent. Course corrected by point-zero-zero-nine degrees. We are within parameters. Nice work, Captain.” She gave him a sidelong glance, warm brown eyes that sparkling with barely banked excitement for their destination.
She was from northern North American Cultural State, a place of short summers and long winters and about as foreign to Diego—from the tropical city of Manila in the western Pacific Islands Cultural State—as could be.
With the formation of the United Earth Government almost two hundred years ago, former nations had resolved into Cultural States were more about geographical and economical areas than the names implied. That hadn’t stopped “culture wars” when an area like PICS, for example, contained cultures from the diversity of southeast Asia to those of Polynesia under one label.
Neither Diego nor Wilma worried much about politics, though. They valued their individual cultural upbringings but embraced the “citizen of the world” sentiment that UEG had been working to inculcate since its inception.
Which undoubtedly had much to do with how easy they found each other’s company.
“Thank you.” Diego bowed as best he could, seated at Caravan‘s navigational console. He didn’t particular like the title of Captain—he considered himself a Fold pilot first and foremost, but it came with the job.
Civilian passenger and cargo ships had never been able to decide if they wanted to use airflight or naval designations for ships’ officers, but Diego had grown accustomed to the bizarre mix of terms. He was Captain, but ships that traversed Folded space also had a Fold pilot. Folding space allowed ships to cross light years of distance, and it took more than just a talent for math.
“We’ll reach the space station orbiting Beresh in forty minutes, ship time,” Wilma said. “And we got a message coming through on a Fold-packet.”
“For us? Or one of the passengers?” They normally plied routes to the relatively new Human colonies made possible by the discovery of the space folding equations. Communications across light years became nearly simultaneous with the subsequent discovery that data packets could be sent in micro Folds.
Beresh was not a Human colony. Nineteen months ago, explorers had made first contact with an alien species that defied all scientific expectation—humanoid, with similar cultural and scientific developments. Far more similar than all projections would have believed possible, though not quite as similar as popular media would have preferred. Diplomats and scientists of different disciplines had been invited to live and work on the Antho space station Mikesi, in orbit around their home world.
This trip was Caravan‘s first to the alien system, bringing new personnel to the station, and likely taking some back on their return trip. The voyage was good currency, in more ways than one.
“Us,” Wilma replied, and she engaged the packet receiver without waiting for instruction.
“Greetings, Captain Bahaghari! I am Vivian McDonald, chief executive officer of Starways Transport. I’m afraid I have what might be bad news for you and your crew. The United Earth Government has made it worthwhile for us to leave Caravan at the disposal of the Human staff on the alien space station. If you or any of your crew don’t wish to be stationed so far from home, we’ll have replacement crew standing by upon your return with station personnel rotating out. Just have our Ambassador on the space station advise us in advance which personnel we’ll need to transfer.”
If that hadn’t meant taking an inferior position on another ship, he might have said, “Home, please,” but instead he reminded the CEO, “I don’t have any diplomatic training.”
“None of our crews do, but for what it’s worth, I hope you stay. The behaviour of the crew will reflect on the entire company, and you are at least a level-headed person, and your crew respects you.” The head on his tiny screen looked down at something, and then raised her eyes again. “Check in with Commander Zaya when you arrive. Let her know your decision, and those of your crew.” The screen blanked in a double jagged line of green.
Commander Zaya? That sounded military. He took commercial space flight for a reason—it was the best way to get into space without joining the military. It wasn’t the military per se he had a problem with, it was the rigours of training. He could take orders to a degree, but that level head his employer had just praised tended to vanish under unreasonable or unexplained demands.
After Caravan had docked and all the passengers were off-loaded, Diego and his crew oversaw the unloading of the cargo by Antho dock workers. It was his first alien encounter, and surprisingly anti-climactic. The Antho were humanoid with blunt faces, flat noses, and thin lips. Their legs were jointed backwards, which didn’t seem to affect their balance or grace. Their hair was most often tri-colour, black, red, and white. Everyone knew that from the flood of video all over the news on Earth and in the colonies. Seeing them in person was both more and less than what Diego expected.
They had a much greater variety of skin tone, from a pale white-orange to the darkest black he’d ever seen. Which wasn’t so odd except that sometimes a person’s skin tone faded into a different one in their faces and hands. They were shorter overall than he expected, with barrel chests under loose tunics. They wore equally loose trousers that on a Human might get in the way of the machines and cargo they handled with efficiency. The cargo manifest was handed to him for his signature, every item accounted for and ticked off. The hand holding it had only three fingers, but two thumbs; all digits had one more joint than the Human equivalent. Instead of flat fingernails, the dark reddish fingers were tipped with small claws, blunted but still very pointy.
Sydney Blackburn has travelled coast to coast in Canada, but hasn’t yet seen it all. Having worked a variety of interesting occupations from cab driver to blackjack dealer, combined with a voracious appetite for research (writing all the while!); Syd delivers light, escapist fiction with fascinating characters in a variety of settings, perfect for the bus, train, plane–or a sick day at home with a cup of hot tea!