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Authors: Allen Steele

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BOOK: Galaxy Blues
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“Mr. Ash is working for us now.” Jas's voice purred from the grille of hisher suit. “The High Council has reached its decision, so we will need someone to act as an intermediary. I have offered him that position, on the stipulation that he discontinue his alcohol abuse.”


Sa'Tong
is an interesting religion…well, it's not really a religion, or at least not as we know it. However you want to call it, though, it has some neat tricks for learning mental discipline.” He paused. “I'm not over it yet, but I'm getting there.”

“Well, that's…” I suddenly realized what Jas had just said. “Whoa, wait a second…what's that about the Talus?”

Jas moved a little closer, until I could see my reflection in the faceplate of hisher helmet. “Upon the recommendation of the
chaaz'braan
, the High Council has decided to invite humankind to join the Talus, provided that your race accepts and agrees to abide by its rules. Even as we speak, the
hjadd
embassy is sending a formal communiqué to the Coyote Federation, requesting a meeting in which we may negotiate trade and cultural exchanges.”

For a moment, I was unable to speak. Feeling my knees giving way beneath me, I hobbled over to the bench. “Easy, now,” Rain murmured, reaching up to help me find a seat. “Deep breaths…thataboy…”

“I thought…I thought…” For the second time in the last hour, I didn't know quite what to say. I took Rain's advice, and once my head stopped spinning, I tried again. “I thought the
chaaz'braan
…well, that I'd blown it.”

“Blown it?” Jas's helmet cocked to one side. “I fail to understand.”

“That I'd said too much. Or said the wrong thing.”

“No. What you said to the
chaaz'braan
and the High Council was correct. Humankind has the right to exist on its own terms, without being subservient to others. Your race has met its obligations. There will be no others.”

“In other words, they've decided to trust us.” Rain smiled at me.

“She's right.” Ash nodded. “I've heard about what you said to them. They didn't like hearing it, but it went a long way toward redeeming us.” Another pause. “That took a lot of guts, man…but it paid off.”

Now that was a lot to absorb. At the very least, it wasn't what I'd expected to hear. Another deep breath, then I sat up a little straighter. “So…well, that's great. Glad to hear that everything's going to work out for the…”

“I have not yet finished.” Jas held up a hand. “Once the Talus has completed negotiations with your race, the
hjadd
will be able to resume trade with Coyote. Morgan Goldstein has already expressed his desire to continue transporting consumer goods to
Talus qua'spah
, although I understand that he wants a more equitable arrangement.”

I couldn't help but grin. Couldn't blame Morgan for wanting something more useful than two thousand paperweights. And if I never saw another
gnosh
again, it would be too soon. “Sounds reasonable. Of course, he's going to have to get another ship.”

Rain nodded. “Another ship, yeah…the
Pride
is pretty much shot. Doc's gone back up there to see what can be salvaged before she's scuttled.”

I grimaced. That wouldn't be a pleasant task; the
Pride
was Doc's ship, and she'd brought us home alive. Maybe Morgan didn't consider it cost-effective to have her refitted again, but nonetheless it would be painful for Doc to let her go. “I hope he doesn't plan to retire after this,” I said. “He's a good man.”

“I hope not either. I'd like to work with him again.” Rain hesitated. “I hope you will, too…once we get a new ship.”

“Huh?” I gave her a sharp look. “But Morgan…”

“Morgan fired you, yes…and now he wants to rehire you.” She shrugged. “Or maybe he just decided not to fire you in the first place. At any rate, I've been told to tell you that he'd like to offer you a permanent contract, once a new ship is delivered.”

“Same job?”

“No.” She smiled at me again. “This time, you've got the helm…unless, of course, you'd really rather be a shuttle jockey.” She paused, then quietly added, “Don't say no. Please.”

I wasn't about to refuse, even if it meant having Morgan as my boss again. “I take it that Ted and Emily still have their jobs, too,” I asked, and she nodded. “And you?”

“The only person who isn't being offered a contract renewal is Ali,” Ash said. “Or at least not until he learns to manage his temper a little better.”

“Do I assume correctly that you are willing to accept this position?” Jas stepped toward me. “Or should I wait until you've made a final decision?”

I didn't reply at once. Instead, I looked at Rain. She said nothing, but something in her eyes told me that she'd make it worthwhile. And I still had a room at the inn…

“Sure. I'm in.” I grinned. “Why not?”

She moved closer to me. Before I knew what was happening, she gave me a kiss. For someone whom I'd once considered to be a prude, she knew how to do that pretty damn well. I was about to put my arms around her when Ash cleared his throat. Damn telepath. I was about to tell him to get out of my head and go take a cold shower when I felt something prod my shoulder. Looking around, I saw what it was.

A
hjadd
navigation key. Jas held out hisher hand and offered it to me.

“You will need this,” heshe said.

XVII

All this happened many years ago. I was a younger man then, immature and a little too full of myself. Looking back at it now, I realize that perhaps there were things that I should have done in a different way. On the other hand, if I hadn't been so young and stupid, would I have been so fortunate to be where I am now?

I don't know. Perhaps it's human nature to second-guess ourselves. What I do know is that I've got a woman who loves me, a ship to fly, and the key to the galaxy. We've been out here for quite a while, and there are still plenty of stars left for us to see.

And I also know Ash was right. If all you want is a normal life, then it takes nothing to stay home. But once you've been to the Great Beyond, nothing is ever the same again.

Trust me.

Trust yourself.

(TIMELINE: COYOTE HISTORY)

EARTH EVENTS:

July 5, 2070
– URSS
Alabama
departs from Earth for 47 Ursae Majoris and Coyote.

April–December 2096
– United Republic of America falls. Treaty of Havana cedes control of North America to the Western Hemisphere Union.

June 16, 2256
– WHSS
Seeking Glorious Destiny Among the Stars for Greater Good of Social Collectivism
leaves Earth for Coyote.
January 4, 2258
– WHSS
Traveling Forth to Spread Social Collectivism to New Frontiers
leaves Earth for Coyote.

December 10, 2258
– WHSS
Long Journey to the Galaxy in the Spirit of Social Collectivism
leaves Earth for Coyote.

August 23, 2259
– WHSS
Magnificent Voyage to the Stars in Search of Social Collectivism
leaves Earth for Coyote.

March 4, 2260
– WHSS
Spirit of Social Collectivism Carried to the Stars
leaves Earth for Coyote.

August 2270 –July 2279
– The Savant Genocide; 30,000 on Earth killed; mass extermination of savants, with the survivors fleeing the inner solar system.

April 2288
– First sighting of Spindrift by telescope array on the lunar farside.

June 1, 2288
– EASS
Galileo
leaves Earth for rendezvous with Spindrift; contact lost with Earth soon thereafter.

January 2291
– EASS
Galileo
reaches Spindrift. First contact.

September 18, 2291
– EASS
Columbus
leaves for Coyote.

February 1, 2344
– CFSS
Robert E. Lee
returns to Earth, transporting survivors of the
Galileo
expedition.

COYOTE EVENTS:

August 5, 2300
– URSS
Alabama
arrives at 47 Ursae Majoris system.

September 7, 2300 / Uriel 47, C.Y. 01
– Colonists arrive on Coyote; later known as “First Landing Day.”

Uriel 52, C.Y. 02
– First child born on Coyote: Susan Gunther Montero.

Gabriel 18, C.Y. 03
– WHSS
Glorious Destiny
arrives. Original colonists flee Liberty; Western Hemisphere Union occupation of Coyote begins.

Ambriel 32, C.Y. 03
– WHSS
New Frontiers
arrives.

Hamaliel 2, C.Y. 04
– WHSS
Long Journey
arrives.

Barachiel 6, C.Y. 05
– WHSS
Magnificent Voyage
arrives.

Barbiel 30, C.Y. 05
– Thompson's Ferry Massacre; beginning of the Revolution.

Gabriel 75, C.Y. 06
– WHSS
Spirit
arrives.

Asmodel 5, C.Y. 06
– Liberty retaken by colonial rebels, Union forces evicted from Coyote; later known as “Liberation Day.”

Hamaliel C.Y. 13
– EASS
Columbus
arrives; construction of starbridge begins.

November 2340 / Hanael C.Y. 13
–
Columbus
shuttle EAS
Isabella
returns to Earth via Starbridge Coyote; United Nations recognition of Coyote Federation.

Muriel 45, C.Y. 15
–
Galileo
shuttle EAS
Maria Celeste
returns to Coyote via alien starbridge.

Hamaliel 25, C.Y. 16
– CFS
Pride of Cucamonga
departs for Rho Coronae Borealis via
hjadd
starbridge.

(ACKNOWLEDGMENTS)

The author wishes to express his gratitude to his editor, Ginjer Buchanan, and his agent, Martha Millard, for their tireless support; to Sheila Williams and Brian Bieniowski, for serializing the novel in
Asimov's Science Fiction
; to Dr. Horace “Ace” Marchant and Bob and Sara Schwager, for reviewing the manuscript and offering suggestions; to Terry Kepner, for astronomical advice; to Patrick O'Connor, for the baseball team (“Beak 'Em, Boids!”); to Chris Offutt, for a phone call when it was needed the most; and to Rob Caswell, for acting as a sounding board during the genesis of this novel.

In addition to the books and articles cited in previous volumes of the Coyote series, works consulted for this novel include:
Infinite Worlds: An Illustrated Guide to Planets Beyond Our Sun
, by Ray Villard and Lynette R. Cook (University of California Press, 2005);
Extrasolar Planets
, by Terry L. Kepner (McFarland & Company, 2005);
Black Holes: A Traveler's Guide
, by Clifford Pickover (Wiley & Sons, 1996);
Black Holes, Quasars, and the Universe
, by Harry L. Shipman (Houghton Mifflin, 1976); and
Black Holes, Wormholes, and Time Machines
, by Jim Al-Khalili (Institute of Physics Publishing, 1999).

—Whately, Massachusetts
August 2006–March 2007

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