The Year’s Best Military SF & Space Opera

The Year’s Best Military SF & Space Opera by David Afsharirad

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Authors: David Afsharirad
hangars for a while before I became a cop.” A business that stank even worse than silkworms, as I’d learned. “Then I joined the Marines.”
    “Is that where you got the broken nose?”
    I looked down in embarrassment. “That was in a bar fight, actually.”
    “It gives you character.” Her smile was heartbreaking. “You must have some fascinating stories. Would you care to join me for dinner?”
    If only I were twenty years younger , I thought. “Sorry, miss, I’ve had a long day. In fact, I think I’d better cut this tour short and find my hotel. Get a fresh start tomorrow.”
    “Some other time, perhaps?”
    I should have told her to back off but I didn’t want to bruise her little heart unnecessarily. She looked like such a sweet, innocent kid. “Perhaps,” I said.

    Leaving the plant, I found myself in the middle of the departing shift-change crowd, humans and froggies chatting amiably together as they made their way home by bus, boat, foot, or flipper. I listened in as I walked.
    Beneath the casual talk of weather, kids, and squabbleball there was an undercurrent of concern. Everyone knew that with the rise of airliners—metal-bodied internal-combustion contraptions using wings instead of balloons to reach the interplanetary atmosphere—the silk trade was changing. Fat military contracts were going the way of the sandsnake and fashion wasn’t picking up the slack. But Superior appeared to be doing better than its competitors, at least.
    Then, as I reached the street and raised a hand to hail a cab, I heard a voice that stopped me in my tracks.
    “Darling!” she called from the rear window of a black eight-cylinder Duesenberg that had just purred up to the curb. Importing it from Earth must have cost ten times my annual income for the shipping alone, but hearing that voice and seeing that face again were worth far more to me than the car.
    Maria Grossman, née Keene, still had the bluest eyes, the sweetest smile, and the silkiest honey-blonde hair of any girl on Venus. Maybe that’s just infatuation talking, but I don’t think so. The years might have made her a little plumper, a little paler, and a little sadder around the eyes, but from where I stood she still looked just as good as she had when I’d left Venus twenty years ago.
    But before I could return her endearment and run to her arms, I heard another voice, almost as familiar but not nearly so pleasant, from behind me.
    “Sweetie!” It was Grossman, of course, striding from Superior’s offices with the brisk, confident step of a rich man whose beautiful and much younger wife had just called him “darling.” She swung open the door as he reached the car, they kissed, and he climbed in.
    She hadn’t seen me at all.
    I stood at the curb like a statue of The Sucker while the car purred away to their luxurious home in Bentwood or Wunguunna or some other neighborhood with servants and swimming pools and real Earth trees.
    Right then I was wishing real hard I was still a drinking man.

    I spent most of the evening sitting in the hotel bar anyway, pounding down glass after glass of soda water as though I had something to prove. Which I did. If I could sit within arm’s reach of a whole bar full of alcohol and not touch a drop, I’d prove that I was still my own man, not a slave to the bottle.
    Of course, at the moment I was Grossman’s man. But the principle was still sound.
    “She was the one who left me,” I told the bartender, who listened as attentively as you might expect for a barman whose only customer was paying a dollar thirty-five a glass for soda water and tipping heavily. I’d say he was all ears, but froggies don’t have external ears. “I wish to hell I knew what I could have done to keep her.”
    “Kugna,” he gurgled.
    “What?”
    “Kugna. It’s a kind of fish. A courting gift. Dames love a guy who brings them lots of fish.”
    I sipped my soda and listened to the sweat trickling down my back. The barman had

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