An SF novella set in the Diving universe. It’s set before the second book in th series, City of Ruins, and you don’t have to read the books to enjoy this story.

Publication year: 2011
Format: ebook, pdf
Page count: 52
Publisher: WMG Publishing, Smashwords edition

The novella is written in first person and mostly in the present tense. The POV character is the starship Ivoire’s main linguist, and the ship’s captain’s ex-wife. Her name isn’t mentioned in this novella but it’s Mae.

Mae is one of three people who are still alive from her group of twenty seven linguists. They went down to a planet to meet with and learn from people who are reputed to be extremely violent. Mae returned caked in blood and no memory of what happened to her and the rest of her team. She isn’t told what the other survivors say. Mae has kept herself confined to her quarters and she refuses all contact from her family and friends. She doesn’t want to remember and thinks that she should have been left behind on the planet where the team died rather than being brought back to the Ivoire. Then the medical evaluation unit sends a team to her and Mae wants a legal representative.

We get to know a lot about the Fifth Fleet from the POV of the people who live there. They live on the ships which roam around the space helping people who need it. I found the fleet fascinating; some ships specialize on things, like training or medicine, and some are the work horses, so to speak, which do the main work of contacting other cultures. However, it seems that each ship has to be mostly self sufficient because they may go a while without contact with the other ships. The fleet has very advanced technology.

This universe doesn’t have aliens but it has a lot of planets colonized by humans, but such a long time ago that they have developed their own languages, technologies, and cultures. And not just on different planets but several different cultures on the same planet! The Ivoire was attacked and used its anacapa drive to jump into the foldspace but the drive has been damaged and the ship can’t return. The tensions on the ship are high.

Since she was a child, Mae has been curious. She wants to know about new cultures and she especially loves learning new languages. However, in this story, she has been severely traumatized which has made her curl inward. She’s still a fighter, though.

This is another excellent tale from Rusch; it’s about culture clash and it’s also a psychological story where Mae struggles with the past she doesn’t want to know.