Subject: Hanson/Dahl interview
I wanted to thank you again for this opportunity. I've said it before, but, seriously, I’m thrilled to even have a chance to talk to Ensign Hanson. You mentioned you met him at that gala last year. Is he as adorable in person as he is in vids? Anyway. Not relevant! I know the entire family is notoriously press-shy, but I think this will be a good opportunity for Space Fleet AND Hanson Industries. Cooperation with the free press will look good for everyone involved, particularly with the media ban on the upcoming wedding.
As agreed, no questions about wedding specifics (I'm not the paparazzi, I have no intention of hiding in the bushes on their big day) and I’ll forward all my materials so you can check for anything classified, but you and I both know Hanson and Dahl are too smart (seriously, did you see those Academy test scores? I always thought people were joking when they said the Hansons are all geniuses) to let anything like that slip. I owe you, like, a million Lunar Sunrises from that great little bar down by Grassendi Ridge. You remember, the one we got thrown out of last time for asking the bartender--well. You remember. Anyway, look me up next time you’re in system, would you? You can regale me with tales of the glamorous life of a Dub U media liaison! Say hi to your mum, for me, I haven't seen her since you conned her into catering our last uni reunion.
It’s my first time boarding a Universal Union Capital spaceship. Even growing up a Fleet brat it’s a little difficult to comprehend the scale of the thing without seeing it firsthand. The shuttle approach from Earth Dock has me feeling as small as I did at age six, getting my first planetside view of the Pacific Ocean.
Impressed as I am by the Dub U’s flagship, which is staggering in size and impressively sleek in design, my current assignment has less to do with admiring the scenery and machinery and more to do with the crew members who keep everything running ship-shape. Most of our readership is already familiar with the exploits of the Intrepid crew's upper echelons--particular media attention has been paid to senior staffers like Captain Lucius Abernathy, Medical Chief Hartness, and Chief Science Officer Q’eeng. As the Universal Union’s flagship, the Intrepid gets first pick of the best and brightest from throughout the Fleet. That applies from senior crew members like their Chief Engineer, Paul West -- whose graduate work in the reparation of solar damage garnered him the University of California, Berkeley’s prestigious C.V. Ramamoorthy Distinguished Research Award at the tender age of 17 -- to the lowliest lab techs.
My subject is one such lab tech, recently-promoted Lieutenant Andrew -- “feel free to call me Andy” -- Dahl. Dahl is primarily assigned to the Xenobiology lab, with supernumerary duties in the Linguistics department. He also frequently serves as a science officer on the Intrepid’s bridge and as both interpreter and xenobiology consultant on away missions. Today, his duties involve guiding me on an abbreviated tour of the less glamorous portions of the ship.
“The Intrepid's a great ship, but there’s literally nothing glamorous about space travel,” Dahl says, after an hour shepherding me around the cramped corridors and awkwardly-shaped labs of the Intrepid. One corner of his mouth curls into what might be a smile on someone with a more expressive face. I'm unsure if he doesn't trust me, evil reporter that I am, or if he's always this stoic. Dahl waves me forward into what I’ll soon discover is the largest of the crew’s three mess halls. “From your accent I’m guessing you know a little about that.”
This observation, pointing out the Belter lilt I’ve spent nearly two decades trying to minimize, serves as further proof that Dahl is as exceptional in his fields as every other being onboard. He graduated number two in his class at Space Fleet Academy, widely acknowledged as one of the most rigorous scholarly institutions in the galaxy. That its graduates go on to earn a pittance as government employees rarely stops the Dub U's brightest minds from applying, enrolling, and eventually enlisting. “There’s never enough space, shit’s always breaking, someone or something’s always out to kill you, and the food’s terrible.” Dahl says all this with the equanimity of a man who isn’t bothered by much.
Dahl is uniquely qualified for spartan living, long-accustomed to cramped conditions before joining Space Fleet. The only human student -- classified on-planet as a ‘Foreign Penitent’ -- of the leftward schism of the Forshan religion, Dahl lived the ascetic existence of a seminary student for three years. When Dub U representatives came to Forshan to act as mediators in the fast-worsening religious conflict, Dahl -- who speaks twelve languages, including all four Forshan dialects -- served as their official interpreter. As our readers know, the negotiations failed. Spectacularly. War broke out, the seminary where Dahl studied was burnt to the ground, bloody conflict ravaged vast swathes of the system, and Space Fleet recommended all non-natives evac the planet.
Dahl more or less joined the Fleet because “it was either that or work odd jobs until I managed to get back to the Sol system. The Dub U’s negotiator promised he'd recommend me for entry into the Academy. I was broke and a hell of a lot of light-years from home. Studying things I’m moderately interested in for four years with a guaranteed job afterwards was a slightly more appealing prospect than hitchhiking my way across the known universe.”
“What Andy’s not telling you is that joining Space Fleet was the best damn thing that ever happened to him.”
"Because it's self-evident, Jimmy."
We’re joined in the mess line by Jimmy, a lanky ensign several years Dahl’s junior. Dahl and Jimmy, one of the Intrepid’s four A&A officers -- that’s archaeology and anthropology, for the uninitiated -- are identically dressed in the standard two-piece Fleet uniform: black pants and red, long-sleeved shirts. With his square jaw, sharp cheekbones, and wide, long-lashed eyes, Ensign James Albert Hanson the Fourth wouldn't look out of place on the cover of a high-class fashion magazine. Oddly, the twenty-something heir to the third-largest fortune in the history of the universe appears perfectly at home in the modest confines of the junior officers' mess.
“That’s because I am perfectly at home,” Ensign Hanson -- “just Jimmy--James is my father or his father” -- assures me, nudging Dahl with a sharp elbow to the ribs. Hanson passes us mess trays and points at one of the steaming dishes. “I suggest the tuna casserole. You can almost believe the chunks in there are fish-like. You know. If you close your eyes.”
“Sure, Jimmy.” Dahl snorts, but starts loading plates with mounds of the tuna casserole. The look that passes between them is fond and familiar. Its the kind of knowing glance between partners that conveys more than words ever manage.
When asked how they met, both men grin and talk over each other as they explain how they voluntarily partnered in a Biology course their first week at the Fleet Academy. Hanson, obviously the more boisterous of the two -- in all fairness, I'm not sure I've met anyone who's less likely to be labeled 'boisterous' than Lieutenant Dahl -- was the first to extend the hand of friendship.
“You grow up rich and you get pretty good at reading people,” Hanson explains, waving one of his long-fingered, elegant hands while seating himself at what appears to be their usual table. Dahl assures me they're normally joined by several of their friends at this table. My arrival has thrown off their usual schedule, so the room is largely empty. A handful of crew members are clustered around a table at the far end of the hall, playing a card game that seems to involve a lot of slapping and yelling. “I could tell that Andy didn’t want anything from me, which is usually a pretty good indicator that someone might not be a shitty friend.”
“It didn’t hurt that I was clearly getting an A in the course,” Dahl interjects, expression placid as he passes Hanson a napkin and snags a few slices of fruit from his partner’s tray.
“No.” Hanson chuckles, stealing several of Dahl's carrot sticks. “It didn’t.”
I ask if they’ve been involved since their Academy days and both men burst into laughter.
“That’s a no, if the laughter wasn’t clear enough,” Hanson says, wiping tears from his eyes before helping himself to a large bite of casserole. I take a bite while Hanson chews, and I have to agree with his earlier assertion. With my eyes closed I can almost pretend the chunks are real fish. Sort of. “I love Andy to pieces. He’s wonderful, and a very smart guy, but he’s really clueless about relationships.”
“I would try to defend myself,” Dahl shrugs, “but it’s true. I spent three years as the only human seminary student on a planet where nobody else even spoke my mother tongue. Then I spent four years around a bunch of people I couldn’t help seeing as kids after I'd lived through a war -- no offense, Jimmy -- ”
“-- and then I was assigned to the Intrepid. My dating experience is pretty limited. One of our good friends -- who shall remain nameless, don't even ask -- apparently spent the first month of our acquaintance hitting on me. I never had a clue. She's happily involved with somebody else, now, but it could've gotten awkward. I’m not great at picking up romantic cues.”
“Understatement of the century. I had to be really blunt,” Hanson says, threading his fingers through Dahl’s. “When we were first posted here there was a lot of craziness going on. Both of us almost died a few times. After one particularly insane mission--”
“Highly classified, sorry,” Dahl tells me with another shrug.
“Right, very hush hush.” They exchange a look that I can’t parse. For a relatively young, non-telepathic couple, they’ve certainly got the whole ‘meaningful glance’ thing down pat. I'm sure the longstanding friendship and trust born of their intense, classified missions doesn’t hurt. “Andy spent four days in a stasis medical chair. He had a few broken ribs, plus he was regrowing a liver and seventy percent of his skin.”
At my shocked look, Dahl releases Hanson's hand and pulls back one of his sleeves to display the faint, silvery scar at the edges of the skin regenerative patch. I can't help but notice Hanson's solemn expression as we examine the evidence of Dahl's near-brush with death.
Hanson clears his throat, eyes suspiciously bright, before retaking Dahl's hand in his. He resumes his story with a watery smile. “So anyway, Andy almost dies and I’m standing there trying to spill my guts when he decides it’s a good time to have an existential crisis.”
“To be fair, after a near-death experience is when most people experience existential crises.”
“Sure,” Hanson allows, squeezing Dahl’s hand. “But it’s hard when you’re trying to tell someone you’ve been stupidly in love with them for years and they just want to talk about existentialism and whether either of us is even real. Oh, there was a nice bit about grand design, if I'm remembering correctly.”
I start to laugh, but stop at the serious looks on their faces. I, rather hesitantly, ask if Hanson’s joking. He shakes his head.
“Andy always needs to know.” Hanson's expression is contemplative as he turns to study Dahl’s face. The rest of the conversation passes without either of them seeming to realize I’m still sitting across the table, raptly observing. “Everything. Andy wants to know everything. To be the man with all the answers. He’s a spiritual guy. A seeker of truth, you might say.”
“You might.” Dahl's mouth quirks into a half smile, and I get the impression this is a discussion they've had a time or twelve.
“The thing about Andy," Hanson says, mouth quirking into the cinema star smile that's graced a thousand tabloids, but which looks sweet and genuine off the screen, "is that he’s not a, well, a heathen like the rest of us. He fully and earnestly believes in some sort of master plan. I like to tell him that if his creator’s out there somewhere, they probably just want him to have a happily ever after. That’s what all the great writers want for their heroes, right?”
This statement brings the first open expression I’ve seen to Dahl’s handsome face. His warm, bright smile makes me feel a bit breathless, the way you do when the sun finally breaks through the clouds after a storm. “I’m okay with happily ever after,” he says, hand still clasped in Hanson’s.
“Yeah. I know. That’s why I said yes when you asked me to marry you.”
“Good to know.”
Our interview comes to an abrupt end when a ship-wide klaxon goes off. Both men apologize, but leave me in the care of one of the off-duty card players so they can report for duty. At the hall doors they share a chaste, familiar kiss and a quick squeeze of their joined hands before departing in opposite directions. I'll later learn that there was a small fault in Deck 6's wiring that led to a false alarm, but by then I was already on a shuttle back to Earth Dock.
When my editor first told me to find out the story behind ‘the nobody who snagged one of the richest men in the known universe’ -- sorry, Andy, I know now that you’re not a fortune-chaser and you’re certainly not a nobody -- I thought I'd be stuck with the unenviable slog of digging up dirt. Despite my chosen field, I'm not all that fond of revealing unpleasant truths if they're not vital public knowledge. As it happened, I lucked out on this assignment. I'm genuinely grateful for the opportunity to spend just a few hours with Andy and Jimmy. They're stunning examples of what happens when the Union's best and brightest make the selfless choice to abandon the quiet life and join Space Fleet. These men are the sort of kind, intelligent beings I want representing me, and all of the Universal Union, in the wider world. One of them may be rich and the other of modest means, but, in the end, Andy Dahl and Jimmy Hanson are just like millions of us.
They're two friends who were lucky enough to fall in love.