Stephen L. Burns

Alexandrian Librarians

Few of my colleagues find headhunting all that appealing, but I rather enjoy sitting behind my lonesome table in Armstrong Hall once a year and watching the greenies go by.

Ivesta Outward Lines is set up next to me, and they always draw a good crowd. Some of the greenies getting pitched there glance my way, their gazes sliding disinterestedly away again when they see the ugly hand-drawn placard reading


Captain Tephillip Ornish.

Sometimes they hold their noses or mime yawning.

I don’t let their reaction bother me. Our reputation is something we all work very hard to maintain.

It isn’t always easy, but I do my damndest to be backSol for the Academy’s pre-graduation Recruitment Day. This time I cut it especially close, coming in from the big digs on Bloor mojke II late last night, just in time to kill a few post-midnight brandies with Serafina and let her know that her best eye for fresh meat was ready for the hunt.

The greenies filling Armstrong Hall all look so young—seemingly younger every year thanks to the Doppleresque effect of my own aging. I can see their dreams shining on their faces and gleaming in their eyes. Now and then one of them will have just enough of that certain something I’m looking for to make me access the AdMem socketed behind my ear, but so far none of them have made my pulse jump.

So I just drink my coffee and stroke my shaggy mustache and watch and wait. My modest hangover fades as time passes.

Then a new face emerges from the crowd’s youthful Brownian motion. One look and my heart begins to beat a little faster.

She is tall and black and broad-shouldered. Her head is shaved, and she has a stubborn chin. Judging from the sheaf of flimsies in her hand, I would guess that she’s hit every table here—every one but mine. Unlike most of her classmates, who have the faces of children set loose in a candy store, she wears the faintly displeased frown of someone looking for something she isn’t finding.

A directed thought starts my AdMem, and it begins telling me about her. Alessandra Desmond is her name; Cerean, age 25; top 15% of her class in terms of classwork, top 5% in simulation skills; her overall rating quite a bit below that because of a fairly hefty infractfile. The info spools on, but I’m not really paying it any mind. I know she is a perfect candidate for our motley, rustbucket Prezzie fleet.

She senses my attention and turns to stare at me.

I smile and beckon her over. Her frown deepens. She looks around to see if anyone is watching, gives a little shrug and approaches my table with an air of glum challenge.

“Good day to you,” I say, sitting up a little straighter so she will take my captain’s insignia a little more seriously—though probably not enough to cancel out my mud-brown, ineptly cut bad joke of a uniform.

“Captain,” she answers grudgingly. “Sir.” It worked.

“Tell me,” I say, offering a dog-eared, crudely produced flimsy, “Have you ever considered signing with Historical Preservation Operations?”

Her frown dissolves into a truly wonderful grin. “You must be joking,” she says with a laugh.

I laugh along with her, positive she’s just what I’m looking for. As I laugh I tag her dossier and register it with Placement. Historical Preservation Operations may not get much in the way of money or publicity, but one thing we do get is incontestable pick of three greenies each year. Some years we find them, some years we don’t.

I’ve just found this splendid creature, and even if I don’t find two more, my trip will have been a success.

Of course when she finds out that she’s been assigned to the Prezzie fleet she’s going to feel completely misplaced and screwed over. They all do.

I know I did.

Graduation was behind me. It was my very first cruise as an actual crewmember of a real starship.

I was off-duty and holed up in my quarters, adding a few more bitches to the long and bile-filled tacx I planned to send my friend, former classmate and occasional lover Ivania Bleinstein, when my horrible misbegotten sentence to the hellhull I was on ended and I finally got backSol. My grievances began with the majbitch which had made me subject to the mins; namely the rotten, royal and utterly unbelievable screwing over Placement had given me.

Every so often I would pause to take gloomy stock of what had become my lot in life; my lumpy, grav- controless bunk, obsolete percomp and antique vertainment console. A previous occupant with bizarre tastes and too much time on his hands had painted the scratched plazic cabin walls with some sort of hideous mural. The aliens in it always seemed to be laughing at me, which at least wasn’t as unnerving as what the ones in my hygiene cubicle were doing.

The rest of the ship was just as disheartening to behold. While the Gibbon was stardriver equipped, she was also a dumpy old rustbucket whose systems were decades out of date, and whose raddled, run-down condition marked her as at least ten years past the time when she should have been junked.

The manifest injustice of my assignment was so glaringly obvious that I still couldn’t believe that the one appeal I’d had time to register with Placement had been turned down. With my grades I should have been a junior officer on one of the big sleek interstellar liners, my crisp white uniform drawing the adoring eyes of rich and nubile fem passengers, and my destinations exotic ports of call like Neu Paris, Sunflash or Glimmermere. Or I should have been a JO on one of the huge colony ships, giving adventurous settler fems a chance to add to the genetic diversity of the worlds they were going to help populate. Or a JO on one of Contact Corp’s swift, subtly armed ships. Or—

In other words, I should have been anywhere other than stuck on a fugitive from the scrapyard geosynched over a dead world, waiting around while a bunch of uffy braincases got their rocks off pawing over a bunch of crap so old you couldn’t even tell what it was.

It was boring, unfair, unbearable, and if I couldn’t get Placement to give a serious hearing to my next appeal it was a guaranteed dead end, my career slagged before it even began.

I was not a happy crewper, and I was caught completely by surprise by the eardrum-rattling, blood-curdling whoop of the ship’s emergency siren.

My pad went flying off my lap as I leapt to my feet, and I nearly broke my nose when my compartment’s sluggish door opener didn’t get it out of my way quite fast enough. Seconds later I was running down the corridor toward Command, hand cupped around the pain in the middle of my face and cursing nasally around it.

The siren died just as I squeezed past that still-opening door. “Present, ma’am!” I puffed as I reached the command console, coming to attention and saluting the Gibbon’s captain.

Captain Serafina Chandaveda was a chunky, brown-skinned woman in her late thirties, whose concept of proper uniform leaned toward baggy shorts, garishly patterned shirts with the sleeves torn off, and no shoes. She looked up from her glum contemplation of her boards. “That’s good, Ornish,” she said mildly. “Very prompt response.”

“Thank you, ma’am—” I began, but she’d turned her attention back to her boards. So I waited at attention for my orders.

In the hundreds of emergency simulations I’d been through back at the Academy things had always happened very quickly, potential disaster averted by fast decisive action. But Captain Chandaveda just sat there, kinetic as a

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