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“They’re all love stories, you know,” the young man said. “They’re all dead.”

His hand plays with a necklace circling his throat just above his collar. The golden stripes that officially proclaim him an artist gleam on either side of his Adam’s apple, like the fingers of a strangler. The necklace looks dull by comparison. Dark gems unevenly faceted, threaded on a thin metal wire. Each time his index finger brushes then, they light up briefly from within.

“It’s all the rage on Old Earth,” he continues, “wearing your former loves like a string of pearls – harvested from your mind once the pain is gone.”

“Hunting trophies,” murmurs Captain Bascombe.

The young man, Contrapunt, is a renowned choreographer of dances and zero-gravity ballets. He has tracked down Bascombe, the owner (so stories say) of a ship whose AI pilots have learned to dance as they fly through space. Contrapunt is insistent on seeing this, eventually persuading the captain to take him on as a passenger who doesn’t get cryogenically frozen for the journey, and will therefore see any dancing that takes place along the way.

I’m reluctant to spoil more than the first five pages because after this the story transforms from a good-but-not-brilliant hard SF into something tragic and beautiful. This tale is exquisitely balanced; the themes of loss and love and experience, established so casually by that necklace in the opening, are brought out and examined and exploited to perfection.

An incredibly moving piece, and one I admire the more I think about it.

Separations by Jean-Claude Dunyach (translated from the French by Sheryl Curtis)

Availability: print only

Word count: 5,500

First published in French: Galaxies, Sept 2005

First English translation published: The SFWA European Hall of Fame, edited by James Morrow & Kathryn Morrow, 2007, Tor

Where else to find it: The Thieves of Silence, collection, 2009, Hollywood Comics

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