The Human Division

Part One

I.

Ambassador Sara Bair knew that when the captain of the Polk had invited her to the bridge to view the skip to the Danavar system, protocol strongly suggested that she turn down the invitation. The captain would be busy, she would be in the way and in any event there was not that much to see. When the Polk skipped dozens of light-years across the local arm of the galaxy, the only way a human would register the fact would be that their view of the stars would change slightly. On the bridge, that view would be through display screens, not windows. Captain Basta had offered the invitation merely as a formality and was sure enough of its rejection that she had already made arrangements for the ambassador and her staff to have a small reception marking the skip in the Polk’s tiny and normally unused observation desk, wedged above the cargo hold.

Ambassador Bair knew protocol suggested she turn down the invitation, but she didn’t care. In her twenty-five years in the Colonial Union diplomatic corps she’d never once been on a starship bridge, didn’t know when she’d be invited to one again, and regardless of protocol, she was of the opinion that if one was going to issue an invitation, one should be prepared to have it accepted. If her negotiations with the Utche went well, and at this point in the game there was no reason to suspect they would not, no one anywhere would care about this single breach of convention.

So screw it, she was going to the bridge.

If Captain Basta was annoyed by Bair accepting her invitation, she didn’t show it. Lieutenant Evans produced the ambassador and her assistant Brad Roberts on the bridge, five minutes prior to skip; the captain disengaged from her duties and quickly but politely welcomed the pair to the bridge. Formalities fulfilled, she turned her attention back to her pre-skip duties. Lieutenant Evans, knowing his cue, nudged Bair and Roberts into a corner where they could observe without interfering.

“Do you know how a skip works, Ambassador?” Evans asked. For the duration of the mission, Lieutenant Evans was the Polk’s protocol officer, acting as a liaison between the diplomatic mission and the ship’s crew.

“My understanding of it is that we are in one place in space, and then the skip drive turns on, and we are magically someplace else,” Bair said.

Evans smiled. “It’s not magic, it’s physics, ma’am,” he said. “Although the high end sort of physics that looks like magic from the outside. It’s to relativistic physics what relativistic physics is to Newtonian physics. So that’s two steps beyond everyday human experience.”

“So we’re not really breaking the laws of physics here,” Roberts said. “Because every time I think of starships skipping across the galaxy, I imagine Albert Einstein in a policeman’s uniform, writing up a ticket.”

“We’re not breaking any laws. What we’re doing is literally exploiting a loophole,” Evans said, and then launched into a longer explanation of the physics behind skipping. Roberts nodded and never took his eyes off of Evans, but he had a small smile on his face that Bair knew was meant for her. It meant that Roberts was aware he was doing one of his primary tasks, which was to draw away from Bair people who wanted to make pointless small talk with her, so she could focus on what she was good at: paying attention to her surroundings.

Her surroundings were not in fact all that impressive. The Polk was a frigate—Bair was sure Evans would know what type specifically, but she didn’t want to train