New York Times bestselling author Kristine Kathryn Rusch writes in almost every genre. Generally, she uses her real name (Rusch) for most of her writing. Under that name, she publishes bestselling science fiction and fantasy, award-winning mysteries, acclaimed mainstream fiction, controversial nonfiction, and the occasional romance. Her novels have made bestseller lists around the world and her short fiction has appeared in eighteen best of the year collections. She has won more than twenty-five awards for her fiction, including the Hugo, Le Prix Imaginales, the Asimov's Readers Choice award, and the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Readers Choice Award.

Publications from The Chicago Tribune to Booklist have included her Kris Nelscott mystery novels in their top-ten-best mystery novels of the year. The Nelscott books have received nominations for almost every award in the mystery field, including the best novel Edgar Award, and the Shamus Award.

She also edits. Beginning with work at the innovative publishing company, Pulphouse, followed by her award-winning tenure at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, she took fifteen years off before returning to editing with the original anthology series Fiction River, published by WMG Publishing. She acts as series editor with her husband, writer Dean Wesley Smith, and edits at least two anthologies in the series per year on her own.

To keep up with everything she does, go to kriswrites.com and sign up for her newsletter. To track her many pen names and series, see their individual websites (krisnelscott.com, kristinegrayson.com, retrievalartist.com, divingintothewreck.com).

Searching for the Fleet by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

An epic search sparked by a dangerous hope.

Leaving Boss behind to continue diving the Boneyard, Ivoire Engineer Yash Zarlengo returns to the Lost Souls Corporation's headquarters to analyze the data from the runabout they discovered there.

Convinced that the experience in the Boneyard proves the Fleet still exists, Yash buries herself in her work, interested in little else.

Ivoire Captain Jonathan "Coop" Cooper notices Yash's growing obsession with finding the Fleet and joins her in her search.

For the first time in six years, the crew of the Ivoire feels real hope. Coop and Yash know all too well the dangers hope can pose. But this time their hope might just lead them somewhere no one expected.

A page-turning adventure, Searching for the Fleet expands Kristine Kathryn Rusch's award-winning Diving series into uncharted territory.

CURATOR'S NOTE

Next, I added New York Times bestselling writer Kristine Kathryn Rusch to this all-star bundle. She also has written hundreds of novels, comics, and short stories, but is best known for her award-winning science fiction and her award-winning mystery fiction under her Kris Nelscott name. I talked her into giving the bundle Searching for the Fleet, a stand alone novel smack in the middle of her bestselling Diving Series. I feel very lucky to have this fantastic sf novel in this bundle. – Dean Wesley Smith

 

REVIEWS

  • "By mixing cerebral and investigative elements, emotional character segments, and the adrenaline of action, Rusch tells a complete yet varied tale that will please science fiction readers looking for something different from the usual fare."

    – Publishers Weekly
  • "One of the most amazing science fiction series in recent years now has an exciting new installment."

    – Astroguyz
  • "Kristine Kathryn Rusch is best known for her Retrieval Artist series, so maybe you've missed her Diving Universe series. If so, it's high time to remedy that oversight."

    РDon Sakers, Analog 
 

BOOK PREVIEW

Excerpt

Chapter 1

For the rest of her life, Yash Zarlengo would replay that last night in her mind, going over each and every detail, looking for something different—a clue, perhaps, a missed signal.

She never found one that satisfied her.

Yash and Jonathan "Coop" Cooper had been sitting in their favorite bar in the Ivoire. The bar was really just an extension of the main commissary, but the ship's designers had gone all out. The bar had twenty-five tables organized in small groups, some with counter running behind them, and plants shielding the patrons. The tables were made of brass and some teak-colored wood. The chairs matched the tables, except for the comfortable brass-colored cushions.

Alcohol bottles lined the two interior walls. The wall that was easiest to reach had once held the alcohol which had been easiest to find in what had been the sector the Ivoire traveled through. The wall behind the recycler cleaning unit had upper cabinets filled with bottles that were mostly one-of-a-kind.

Technically, everything in this bar was now one-of-a-kind.

Yash tried not to think about that. Instead, she stared out the floor-to-ceiling windows that revealed the vastness of space—or whatever planet the Ivoire orbited. The windows could be shuttered, then shielded, and often were when the ship was traveling from place to place.

But at that moment, the Ivoire was docked at the space station that housed the Lost Souls Corporation. A woman who called herself Boss in that bastardization of Standard everyone spoke in this time period had started the corporation to discover more about something she called "stealth tech," but which really had more to do with the Fleet's anacapa drives.

Boss had found the Ivoire. In fact, Boss had accidentally rescued the Ivoire. She and her people had inadvertently activated the equipment in a decaying sector base. That equipment had pulled the Ivoire out of a trap in foldspace, bringing the Ivoire and her crew five thousand years into their future.

As a cadet—hell, throughout her career—Yash thought she could deal with anything. But the loss of everything she knew—from the Fleet itself to the language her people spoke to the history that was just yesterday to her and so far in the past as to be unknown to these people—was overwhelming. Some days, she thought she wouldn't make it.

But going through this with the crew of the Ivoire, all five hundred of them, made it easier. She wasn't going through this alone.

She took comfort in that.

Hence the drinking sessions with Coop. They would meet in the bar not quite nightly, put their feet on the tables precisely because that wasn't regulation, and drink some of the old whiskey, the kind that they had brought from planets they would never see again, in a time period they couldn't return to.

After the first few sessions, Coop and Yash usually didn't get drunk. They sipped and stared at the edges of the space station and the edges of the sector beyond. Planets Yash still didn't recognize, nebulae that gleamed against the blackish-blueness, the red star so far in the distance that it looked like a pinprick of blood.

She wasn't coming to love those things, but they were becoming familiar. Anything could become familiar, given enough time.

That night, about a year after they had arrived in this strange future, Coop was staring at his whiskey, not drinking it at all. He was looking through the glass at the view, in an unusually contemplative mood.

He had been everyone's rock. A solid, broad-shouldered man who seemed even taller and more broad-shouldered since they had arrived, he now had a few more lines on his face, a hint of silver in his black hair. He had stopped wearing any kind of uniform a few months ago, and had said nothing about it.

He now dressed like Boss's people, wearing black pants and a black or gray T-shirt, quietly moving his association from a Fleet that probably no longer existed to Lost Souls Corporation and its vague connection to something called the Nine Planets Alliance.

He was shedding as much of the past as he could, and making it okay for the rest of the crew to do so. Some were already thinking of leaving the Ivoire permanently, taking jobs inside Lost Souls or becoming planet-bound somewhere in the Nine Planets.

Yash couldn't contemplate any of that. She still wore her Fleet clothes as well, although some of them were getting worn. She would have to replace her regulation boots soon, and she didn't want to. They were comfortable.

They were also coming apart.

"Hey, can anyone join this little party?" Dix Pompiono, the Ivoire's nominal first officer, spoke from behind them.

Yash tensed. Coop stopped swirling the liquid in his glass. His expression hadn't changed, a sign that Coop didn't want anyone to know what he was feeling.

But Yash knew exactly how Coop felt. Neither she nor Coop wanted to deal with Dix right now. This was their relaxation place, not a place for histrionics. And Dix had been all over the emotional map ever since the Ivoire arrived here.

Dix had actually suffered some kind of breakdown a few months ago after a mission Coop ran to Starbase Kappa to shut down a long-malfunctioning anacapa drive. The mission had nearly failed because of Dix. Coop resented that deeply.

Yash hadn't told Coop that she had found the mission joyous, in its own way. Yash had felt useful again, like she was back in the old Fleet, with a proper goal and a future.

Of course, after that mission, the Ivoire's crew had nothing to do. And, in some ways, that mission had been the Ivoire crew's last gasp. The mission had brought up too many conflicting feelings for everyone, not even counting what had happened with Dix.

"Gotta pour your own." Coop sounded welcoming, but the pause before he spoke probably told Dix more than enough.

Behind her, glasses clinked. Then she saw movement reflected in the windows before her. Dix had taken a tumbler out of the cabinet near the recycler. He had grabbed the whiskey bottle and was now pouring himself a drink.

Coop let out a sigh so small Yash wouldn't have heard it if she hadn't been sitting next to him. Yash patted his arm, not to comfort, but in agreement.

Coop glanced at her, blue eyes hooded. Then he shrugged ever so slightly with the shoulder closest to her, as if to say, What can you do?

She mimicked his shrug so that he understood that she identified with him. The nice quiet evening they'd been enjoying would be quiet no longer.

Dix rounded the table nearest them, carrying a tumbler of whiskey two fingers full. He stopped, looked at the view, then took a sip.

He was gaunt now. He had always been too thin, and abnormally tall for someone who ended up as bridge crew. His hair had gone completely white in the past year, and his cheeks were sunken inward.

The last time Yash had seen him, his hands shook as if he couldn't control them.

But they weren't shaking now.

"There's the future," he said, looking at the sector they still hadn't explored. "It's been there all along, hasn't it?"

He sounded like the old Dix, a little wry, intelligent, and maybe even a bit hopeful.

Yash couldn't believe that Dix was hopeful. He'd been the most distraught of all of the senior crew members, the one who had been least able to contain his heartbreak when he learned they could never, ever go back.

Indeed, his completely insane meltdown on Starbase Kappa had come from some cockamamie scheme he had developed to send the Ivoire back to its own time period—and Coop had thwarted him.

Dix had barely spoken to Coop since.

Dix sipped from his tumbler, tilted his head back—clearly savoring the whiskey—and then swallowed. He turned away from the windows, and set his glass on a nearby table. But he didn't sit.

Instead, he continued to stand, the light from the space station illuminating half his face, leaving the side closest to Yash in shadow.

"I owe you guys an apology," Dix said.

His voice had strength, which she hadn't expected. The last time he had used the word "apology" in her presence he had said, I suppose you expect an apology, and his tone had been as mean as the words.

Now, Yash didn't answer him, but she met his gaze. He still seemed sad, as if sadness had leached into his very soul. She wondered if someone who knew her well would think the same thing of her.

Coop didn't even move. It was as if Coop hadn't heard anything.

"I've been thinking about it," Dix said, glancing at Coop, then looking back at Yash. "I've been acting as if this happened just to me. It didn't. It happened to all of us."

Yash didn't wanted to react to anything Dix said, but she couldn't help herself. She nodded.

He gave her a faint smile, took that nod as an invitation, and sat down to the left of Coop. Coop rested his glass of whiskey on his flat stomach, and continued to stare at the universe beyond.

"I can make excuses," Dix said, "and I did. I know I did. The loss of Lenore made me crazy."

Everything made you crazy, Yash thought but didn't say. She didn't dare speak out at all, because everyone had lost family and loved ones, even her. She would never see her parents again, or her twin sisters. She hadn't had a lover at the time the Ivoire left on its last mission for the Fleet, but she had had an entire cadre of friends, all of whom had not served on the Ivoire.

She would never see them again. She would never see anyone she loved who hadn't been on the Ivoire again.

"Sometimes I think if we could access records of the Fleet, learn about what happened to everyone, I'd feel better," Dix said.

Yash stiffened. She'd had that thought. So had Coop. They'd actually looked through the information they'd pulled from Starbase Kappa, but it was minimal. Maintenance records mostly. No history of Fleet personnel, not even personnel who had come later.

As was proper. No information about the Fleet should have been available in any closed Fleet outpost. None.

"But I keep turning it over and over in my mind," Dix said, "and I realize that discovering that Lenore married someone else and had kids with him—or didn't marry anyone and died alone—that wouldn't help me. It's not just the loss of the people, selfish as that is to say. It's the loss of the future. The expected, imagined future."

Coop let out a small sigh. His fingers wrapped around the glass, but he didn't take another drink.

"How do you do it?" Dix asked. "How do you get through each day? How do you accept that you should put your uniform away and say goodbye to the Fleet, when the Fleet has been our entire life?"

Coop stiffened. Yash did too. Yash hadn't ever had that conversation with Coop, although she'd had others. About the Fleet. About where it might be now, five thousand years later. About whether or not it still existed.

About whether approaching it if it did exist was a good idea.

"You don't want to talk about it, do you?" Dix asked. "That's how you're coping. You're denying what's in front of you."

A surge of anger ran through Yash. Coop wasn't denying anything. Neither was she. They were moving forward each and every day, just like they'd been trained to do.

She swung her feet off the table, sitting up, about to speak, when Coop lifted one hand from his glass, forefinger out, stopping her.

"I'm using my training," he said to Dix. "You should too."

"Training?" Dix made a sound halfway between a laugh and a sob. "None of us were trained for this."

Coop's lips thinned. He sat up, then put his glass on the table in front of him.

Yash tensed. She would step between them if need be. The crew was still on edge; they didn't need to hear that their captain had physically fought with Dix.

Then she swallowed, thinking about her own reaction.

Coop wasn't a violent man. He had never hit anyone on his crew, rarely hit someone who had attacked him. He was the calmest person she knew.

That hint of violence in the air? Was she imagining it? Or had it come from her?

She shifted slightly, saw Coop's posture. No. She knew him well. He was furious. He was past furious. He was barely holding himself together.

"We are all trained for this, First Officer Pompiono," Coop said, enunciating each word precisely. He was using the captain speak he used only with the most recalcitrant crew members, the ones he would dump at the next port after dozens of write-ups. The hopeless ones.

Dix raised his eyebrows. "I never heard any of my instructors mention that foldspace could catapult us five thousand years in the future, making us lose everything, cheating us of our own march through time. Making us abandon our families—"

"Then you weren't paying attention." Coop handed his glass to Yash, as if she were his second in command, not Dix. And in truth, she had become Coop's second in command. She had been at his side for the entire year they'd been stuck here, working on the Ivoire, figuring out the way forward. Dix had been wallowing in his own losses and breakdown, and Yash had been working. Hard. Like most of the crew.

Yash set Coop's glass next to hers, out of the way.

Dix leaned back just a little, but there was something in his eyes. A kind of triumph, maybe? Relief that he had finally gotten an obvious emotional reaction out of Coop?

Coop laid his hands flat on the table's faux wood surface as if he were stretching them, as if he were pushing the table down so that he wouldn't do anything harmful to anyone.

"Our training," Coop said, "was about this, and only this."

Dix frowned, opening his mouth to speak, probably to disagree, when Coop continued.

"We were told that DV-Class ships ventured out alone. We could get lost. We might never come back. We often had no one to rely on but ourselves. I don't know about you, but my training included years of role-playing those very things, plus going over historical incidents of lost ships, coping with hundreds and hundreds of scenarios in which this very thing occurred."

"It's not the same," Dix said.

"It's exactly the same." Coop spoke softly, but used as much energy as if he had shouted them.

Yash was holding her breath. She made herself release it.

"It's not the same," Dix repeated. "In those scenarios, we would have had hope."

"Hope?" Coop spoke the word as if Dix had been using Boss's bastardized Standard. "What kind of hope are you talking about?"

"Hope that we could return." Dix was calm, like the Dix of old. The man that Coop had made First Officer.

Yash could remember when Dix inspired confidence in everyone, when he knew the exact right words to say. When he really was an extension of Coop, understanding exactly how Coop would approach something, and then anticipating it, so Coop never even had to give the order.

"You lack that hope now?" Yash asked. Because she didn't. She was still searching for a way back, even though she knew it was a long shot. They had gotten here, hadn't they? That meant returning was possible as well.

Coop turned his head slightly, as if he had just remembered that Yash was in the conversation.

Then he shifted his body, almost blocking her view of Dix.

"You think all of those scenarios," Coop said, "the hundreds and hundreds of them that we learned, would always have hope?"

"Yes," Dix said.

"Ship destroyed, crew scattered, the Fleet never notified before it happened, you think those kinds of scenarios had hope?"

"Steal a ship, buy one, get back to the Fleet," Dix said.

"Without an anacapa drive," Coop said. "Not possible."

"But the hope—"

"Is a myth, Dix. You were in the same classes I was. You had the same training, the same instructors. Did you miss the parts about ships getting lost forever in foldspace? Do you think those crews had hope?"

"Until they died, yes, I do," Dix said.

"Did you have this kind of hope when we were stranded in foldspace?" Coop asked.

"Yes," Dix said calmly. "I was convinced we'd get home."

Coop harrumphed. Yash thought back to those horrid weeks just over a year ago. She hadn't allowed herself to think about getting back to the Fleet. Nor had she let herself think about foldspace as much more than a theoretical problem. The Fleet used foldspace as a tool to travel long distances. The Fleet believed that the anacapa drive created a fold in space, so that ships could cross it quickly.

But Yash hadn't been sure that they entered a fold in space. She thought maybe they had traveled somewhere else, a different sector of the universe, somewhere far away. Or maybe they had entered some kind of interdimensional portal. She had kept those thoughts to herself when the Ivoire was trapped in foldspace, because she needed to fix the ship, figure out what had gone wrong, to create some kind of chance—

"I wasn't convinced we'd get back to the Fleet," Coop said.

"But you said you were." Dix sounded surprised. Apparently, he had trusted in Coop's words.

Yash had too. She had thought Coop amazingly calm throughout that entire ordeal—as much as she had paid attention to him. She had spent so much time in engineering that most nights she had even slept there.

"I said I believed we could escape foldspace," Coop said. "One problem at a time. Remember, Dix? It's part of the training."

Dix flinched.

Yash nodded. She was rather astounded that Dix had to be reminded. One problem at a time was a core principle of the Fleet. She had been operating on that very principle when the Ivoire had been trapped in foldspace.

"And I was right," Coop said. "We escaped foldspace."

"We didn't do anything to escape," Dix said. "These people we're stuck with, this Lost Souls thing, they got us out."

Yash clenched a fist. How dare he? He knew how hard everyone worked to get out of foldspace.

She finally spoke up. "You're mistaken, Dix."

His head swiveled toward her as if he had forgotten she was there. Coop, too. He frowned at her in surprise.

"We fixed the anacapa drive just enough," she said, "so that when a signal came from another anacapa drive, we had the energy to assist in the pull from foldspace. If that signal had come one week earlier, we would still be stranded there."

Dix's eyes narrowed. "You believe that."

"I know that," she said.

Coop nodded. "One problem at a time," he said. "That's what we did in foldspace. We worked the problem."

Dix's lower lip trembled, making him look like a little boy who got caught in a lie.

He squared his shoulders, then said, "So what's the current problem? Getting back to our time period? Getting back to the Fleet?"

If he had actually been doing his job the last year, he would know what everyone was working on and how they were coping.

Although not everyone was coping. And Coop was managing those people as well.

To his credit, he didn't say that. He leaned forward, putting more of his weight on his flattened hands, then peered at Dix as if unable to believe that Dix had no idea what was going on.

"We're five thousand years in the future," Coop said. "Five thousand years of technological advances. Five thousand years of changes. Five thousand years of Fleet history."

"Technology is backwards here," Dix said, interrupting Coop's flow.

"Here at Lost Souls, yes," Coop said. "It is. But we haven't found the Fleet yet. And once we find them, if we find them, we have no idea if they'll believe us, help us, or work with us. But I don't care. One problem at a time, Dix."

"We're searching for the Fleet?" Dix asked.

"We never stopped searching for the Fleet," Yash said.

Dix shifted slightly on his chair. "And you think that when we find them—"

"If we find them," Coop corrected.

"You think they'll help us get back." For the first time in a year, Dix sounded almost joyful.

"No," Coop said. "I make no such assumption. One problem at a time."

"But the new technology, as you said." Dix was smiling, but his smile was that intense weird smile he had had on Starbase Kappa. "Their technology will be better than Boss's. They'll know how to get us back."

"A lot of assumptions in that," Yash said. "We don't know if the Fleet still exists. We don't know if the Fleet of the present—if there is one—has better tech than Lost Souls. We don't know if they're going to want to send us back, because it might cause all kinds of problems. There are time lines—"

"And alternate realities, and yeah, yeah." Dix waved a hand. "I believe in that less than I believe in foldspace."

Whatever that meant. He had gone off the deep end after all. After the apology, Yash had hoped the old Dix had come back. She missed him. Before the Ivoire got lost in foldspace, he used to sit in this bar with the two of them, and work shipboard problems as if they were nothing.

The man in front of her only resembled that man. The man in front of her had Dix's shell, but not his courage. And she was beginning to think he didn't have Dix's brain either.

"Are we going to even try to get back?" Dix asked Coop.

"When?" Coop asked.

"What do you mean, when? If we get a chance. Are we going to try?"

Coop looked away, focusing on the windows. Yash looked too, saw the lights of a small ship as it left the space station on a mission she probably would never know about.

Coop took a deep breath. "One problem at a time, Dix."

Dix slammed his hand on his table, making his glass jump and spilling just a bit of the whiskey. "I need to know, Coop. I need to know we're trying."

"Getting back to the Fleet and to our time period is an extreme long shot, Dix." Coop spoke softly. "And I'm not sure it's worth attempting. Because—the training, Dix. We're trained to make the most of the situation we're in, not to wish we were somewhere else."

The color fled Dix's face, leaving only two red spots on his cheeks, almost as if Coop had physically slapped him.

"I lost the love of my life," Dix said.

"Most likely," Coop said, and Yash tensed at the bluntness. Although she knew that was part of the training too. No use sugarcoating anything, because that didn't help anyone deal with change.

Better to face it straight on.

"But you would have lost her if her ship got damaged in some battle," Coop said. "You would have lost her if we remained stranded in foldspace. Hell, Dix, you would have lost her—or she would have lost you—at the end of your lives. One of you would have had to die first."

Dix pressed his lips together. His eyes had filled with tears. "You're a mean son of a bitch, you know that, Coop?"

Coop gave him a languid, sideways look. "I never pretended otherwise. You don't get to be the captain of a DV-Class vessel by being kind, Dix. I thought you knew that."

Dix ran a shaking hand over his face. "I didn't know anything."

Yash frowned at Dix in surprise. Of course he had known what it took to be captain. He had been on the captain track. There were personality tests, and stress tests, and a willingness to do exactly what Coop had done: disregard someone's feelings to get that someone back in line.

Had Dix forgotten that? All of it? Or had he tested well, only to perform poorly in the field?

Coop folded his hands together as if he had to hold them in place to prevent them from—what? Grabbing Dix and shaking him?

Because Yash wanted to do that.

"Remember who you are, Dix," Coop said. "Use your training. You're second in command on this ship."

"Not any more," Dix said bitterly. "You sidelined me."

"You need to face forward, Dix," Coop said, ignoring Dix's accusation. His accurate accusation. "We need you to work the problem."

"The problem, the problem," Dix snapped. "As if it's something minor."

Yash glanced at Coop. His expression was calm, but he was gripping his hands together so tightly that his knuckles had turned white.

"DV-Class ships never deal with something minor, Dix," Coop said. "You know that too."

"They don't deal with something like this, either," Dix said.

"How do you know?" Yash asked.

Both men looked at her with surprise. She shrugged. She had been thinking about this a lot.

"Dozens, maybe hundreds, of ships have disappeared forever, lost to foldspace. Those are the ones we know about, the ones that were actually observed entering foldspace. But we lose a lot of ships because they never return from some mission, and we can't track them down. We don't know how many other ships, how many other crews, how many other captains have dealt with this very thing."

Dix stared at her, his eyes tear-filled, his nose red. "And that's supposed to make me feel better?"

"We're not here to make you feel better," Coop said.

Dix turned that hideous gaze on Coop.

"None of us feel better," Coop said. "But most of us are working."

"Yeah," Dix said. "Working every angle. Sleeping with that woman who found us. Must be nice to have her to warm your bed."

Coop's impassive expression vanished. In its stead, he gazed at Dix with compassion.

"I know you lost Lenore," Coop said, clearly trying a different tack. "And I know you loved her more than anything."

"I won't replace her," Dix said. "I won't try."

"I'm not suggesting you do," Coop said.

"You have no idea how this feels," Dix said.

Coop nodded. "You're right," he said. "I don't."

Yash frowned. She hadn't expected him to say that. Was this another attempt at calming Dix? Or was this just Coop, tossing away any attempt at caution?

"I don't know if I ever will know what you felt for Lenore," Coop said. "They tested me. They test all candidates for captaincy. We're less likely than other members of the Fleet to have long-term romantic relationships. When have you ever heard a captain use the phrase, 'The love of my life'?"

"Are you saying I'm not captain material?" Dix asked.

Good God. Everything was about him. That wasn't the point, and if he had been listening—

"It would have depended on how you tested out on other things," Coop said. "But a willingness to sacrifice deep human connection in favor of the right decision for the ship, a certain bloodlessness, if you will, or, as you said, a willingness to be a mean son of a bitch, that's damn near the number one requirement."

"So you'd leave Boss for the Fleet?" Dix said.

"You're under a misapprehension," Coop said. "We're close, but we're not in a relationship."

Yet, Yash thought. But they would be.

"If you were." Dix's tone implied that he didn't believe Coop's denial. "Would you leave her to go home?"

Home was an interesting word choice. Although Yash empathized with it. That was the thing: the Ivoire felt like home, but this time period did not.

"Yes," Coop said. He relaxed his hands. They were still clasped together, but loosely. "Here's what you miss, Dix. I would leave a loved one for any mission, if ordered to do so by the Fleet. I would, and I have."

"Even someone you thought you could spend the rest of your life with?" Dix asked.

"Yes," Coop said.

"And never see them again?" Dix asked, voice trembling.

"That's the risk," Coop said. "That's what we all agreed to when we joined the crew of this vessel. I thought you understood that."

Dix blinked and looked away. A single tear hung on the lashes of his left eye. Yash stared at it, wondering if he knew it was there. Wondering if he cared.

"We lost everything," he whispered.

"Face forward," Coop said. The words were brutal. His tone was brutal. "That's what the Fleet does, Dix. Forever forward. You know that."

Dix nodded. The tear fell, landing on the edge of the table and falling out of Yash's line of sight.

"I forgot," he said, his voice thick with tears.

"I know," Coop said gently. He put a hand on Dix's shoulder. Dix jumped. "Drink with us. Yash and I have been talking about all of this since we got here. We'll catch you up on our plans."

Dix's Adam's apple bobbed—a nervous swallow.

For a moment, Yash thought he was going to stay. For a moment, she thought they would be able to reclaim the team that they had been just over a year ago.

Then Dix shook his head. "I have enough to think about for one night."

He stood, reached out one hand toward Coop.

Coop took it.

Dix shook.

"Thank you," Dix said. "You clarified things."

"Good," Coop said. But he didn't add, as Yash might have, Glad I could help. It was almost as if he didn't believe the conversation made any difference at all.

"Join us tomorrow?" Yash asked, partly because Coop didn't. Partly because it seemed like Dix expected it.

He smiled at her, and the smile was warm. "I've missed these moments," he said.

"Me, too," she said.

He picked up his whiskey, knocked it back, then carried the tumbler to the cleaner/recycler.

"I am sorry," Dix said.

She nodded. "We know."

Then he waved his fingers, a small goodbye. He left the bar.

Coop picked up his own drink, put his feet back on the table, and leaned back in the chair. He still didn't take a sip.

Yash watched until she was certain Dix was gone. Then she settled back into her spot although she didn't feel as relaxed.

"He did apologize," she said.

"He did," Coop said, as if it didn't matter.

They sat in silence for a long time. Then Yash said, "He's not the man you thought he was, is he?"

Coop finally picked up his glass. He peered into it, then—finally—took a sip.

"He's the man I feared he was," Coop said. It was, in its own way, the closest Coop had ever come to saying he had picked the wrong first officer.

Yash finished her drink, and thought about getting another. This night, it felt wrong to get drunk. Maybe she was past anesthetizing herself. Maybe she had moved to another stage.

"He's right, though," Coop said.

"About what?" Yash asked. She braced herself. She hadn't ever expected Jonathon "Coop" Cooper to talk about loss.

"I'll never know how he feels," Coop said, and finished his drink.