"You're probably wondering why I work for Earthforce."
"No-I didn't-well, how do you like it? What division is it you work for?"
"New Technologies, which as you know are sometimes very old technologies. We don't launch any major expeditions; we leave that to IPX. But we do come into possession of some fascinating artifacts, which I have the opportunity to study. Unfortunately, I can't talk about most of them. You know the government."
"My husband is a captain in Earthforce."
She was starting to wonder how long that smile could last. Surely his mouth had to get tired.
"Oh. Your husband."
His eyes drifted away again.
"Is that how you know Dr. Chang? Through your previous work with IPX?"
"We've never met actually. I'm looking forward to it."
"I was wondering how he picked you for the expedition."
"I'm afraid I don't know. I'm sort of out of the loop here. My superiors just called and asked if I'd be willing to go. Of course I said yes. It's a wonderful opportunity."
She wondered how she would ever find out his credentials, or ever break through that smile of his.
"You have some interesting artifacts here."
She stood and went over to the shelves.
"Oh, well, miscellaneous leftovers mainly, but they remind me where I've been."
He stood neatly as well, hands still clasped in front of him. She found a number of semicommon pieces, among them an Anfran love stone. The round black volcanic glass was smooth except for a tiny inscription on the back, the name of the Anfran star god, who regulated matters of love. The stone was meant to be worn as a necklace, with the name of the god worn against the chest, never showing. The stone was believed to carry the good wishes of loved ones.
"You've been to An-fras?