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Expendableby James Alan Gardner
Synopses & Reviews
" My name is Festina Ramos, and I take great pride in my personal appearance."
My name is Festina Ramos and once upon a time, no one in the Technocracy took greater pride in her personal appearance.
Their very words: " Festina, that outfit suits you." They did not say, " Festina, you look good."
My name is Festina Ramos and even before I was given that name, I was given a lurid port-wine birthmark covering the right half of my face from cheekbone to chin. Years of operant conditioning gave me great pride in my disfigurement.
Each doctor began by saying my condition could be corrected. How would they cure me? Let me count the ways. They would cure me withelectrolysis, with lasers, with cryogenics, with plastic planing, with ''sophisticated bio active agents conscientiously applied in a program of restoration therapy." Some even set a date when I would be booked in for treatment.
Then the appointments were canceled. Sometimes the doctor apologized in person. Sometimes the doctor invented excuses. Sometimes it was just a note from a secretary. Here is the reason my birthmark endured with purple defiance in the face of twenty-fifth century medicine:
It had military value.
My Calling In Life
My calling in life was to land on hostile planets.
Officially, I belonged to the Explorer Corps. Unofficially, we Explorers called ourselves ECMs-short for Expendable Crew Members.
Listen. Here is what all ECMs knew.
Violent death is rare in the Technocracy. We have no wars. The crime level is low, and few incidents involve lethal weapons. When accidents happen, victims can almost always be saved by sophisticated local medical centers.
There are no medical centers on unexplored planets. Death may come with savage abruptness or the stealthy creep of alien disease. In a society where people expect to ease comfortably out of this world at a ripe old age, the thought of anyone being killed in the prime of life is deeply disturbing. If it happens to someone you know, the effect is devastating.
Unless . . . the person who dies is different. Not like everyone else.
Two centuries ago, the Admiralty High Council secretly acknowledged that some deaths hurt Fleet morale more than others. If the victim waspopular, well-liked, and above all, physically attractive, fellow crewmates took the death hard. Performance ratings dropped by as much as thirty percent. Friends of the deceased required lengthy psychological counseling. Those who had ordered the fatal mission some times felt a permanently impairing guilt.
But if the victim was not so popular, not so well-liked, and above all, ugly . . . well, bad things happen, but we all have to carry on.
No one knows exactly when the High Council solidified this fact of human behavior into definite policy. In time, however, the Explorer Corps evolved from a group of healthy, bright-eyed volunteers into . . . something less photogenic.
Potential recruits were flagged at birth. The flawed. The ugly. The strange. If a child's physical problems were truly disabling, or if the child didn't have the intelligence or strength of will to make a good Explorer, the full power of modern medicine would be unleashed to correct every impediment to normality. But if the child combined ability and expendability in a single package--if the child was smart and fit enough to handle the demands of Exploration, but different enough to be less real than a normal person . . .
. . . there was an Explorer's black uniform in that child's future.
Copyright ) 1997 by 1997 by James Alan Gardner
Under the benevolent leadership of the League of Peoples, there is no war, little crime, and life is sacred...unless you're an Explorer. The ugly, the flawed, the misfit, the deformed, they are the unwanted, flung to the farthest corners of the galaxy to investigate hostile planets and strange, vicious creatures. Out there, there are a thousand different — and terrible — ways to die.
Festina Ramos belongs to the well-trained, always-dwindling ranks of ECMs (Expendable Crew Members). Now she and her partner, Yarrun Derigha, have been ordered to escort the unstable Admiral Chee to Melaquin — the feared "Planet of No Return"-- which has swallowed up countless Explorers before them without a trace.
Obviously, this is meant to be the last mission for Ramos and Derigha. But it won't be, if Festina can help it.
Called "a brilliant debut" by David E. Feintuch, bestselling author of Voices of Hope, this thrilling novel heralds the launch of an exciting new voice in science fiction.
Festina Ramos is an officer of an elite military group whose vocation is to land on hostile planets and make contacts with alien cultures. With every mission a potential death sentence, Festina and her fellow corpsmembers are dubbed "the Expendables". When Festina and her partner are ordered to escort an aging admiral on an "exploratory mission" to the surface of a planet from which no one has ever returned, she realizes this is meant to be her last assignment — ever. But it won't be, if Festina can help it.
About the Author
James Alan Gardner is a graduate of the Clarion West Fiction Writers Workshop, and has published numerous works of short fiction in leading genre publications. He is the author of the novel Expendable. A Grand Prize winner of the Writers of the Future contest, he lives with his family in Canada.
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