Jimmy Smith grew up on Earth, thirty years following what was still called the “E.T. Calamity,” when contact with the Danab first caused humanity to finally learn that it was not alone in the universe. So much had happened since then, yet in many ways, Jimmy could still pretend, when he was a boy, that he was just a boy.
In many ways, it’s because life continued on pretty much as normal. Humans were still humans, no matter how radical life changed, just as humans had always behaved in the aftermath of a drastic change in their lives. They simply adapted to the new circumstances, and reverted to their typical, human behavior. Jimmy’s parents didn’t much care for aliens, never actively encouraged him to pursue his secret dream of traveling through the stars, a dream that had died in a previous generation of humans, when it proved too difficult to fund without a driving vision behind it. Jimmy trained whenever he could, even when he had no idea what to train for, did whatever he thought was necessary, what could possibly help.
When he graduated high school, Jimmy said goodbye to home and hitchhiked with the first transport off the planet, a Bithian freighter, as it turned out. He was terrified, and tried not to show it. He was the only human, but in many ways, that made it easier. The more he was forced to adapt, the more he would develop. There were many other species who had bothered to learn English, and who had learned many other languages besides. Jimmy felt a little guilty because he’d never tried to learn any others, and he didn’t feel that he would ever motivate himself to change that. If there were those who were willing to accommodate him, that would be a welcome change, and that would be good enough.
His first friend in this new life was Stiegel Dex, who shared with him the hidden miseries and shared entertainments Jimmy had never anticipated. Dex disappeared before long, because he didn’t share Jimmy’s vision of the future, didn’t believe it was possible for a human to join the Space Corps. Even Dex wondered aloud why Jimmy hadn’t at least joined the NER first. Jimmy never had patience to explain. He didn’t have a lot of patience at all, in fact, and so was constantly frustrated. He didn’t understand why other people didn’t share his vision. He did recognize the irony of that. He had enough patience, though, kept fighting for what he wanted, no matter how many people made it difficult for him.
He finally broke down and signed up for the NER program, far away from Earth, saw his first humans in years, how many he could no longer calculate without using his hands. His body was numb, but his dream was alive. It was his best attribute and his worst failing that Jimmy so easily stood out from his classmates, could never fit in, not because he was a brilliant student, but because he was so unorthodox. And so someone finally had the bright idea to propose Jimmy as the first human candidate for admittance in the Space Corps.
And wouldn’t you know? He got in. It was the worst break of his life, because that was the last great adventure Jimmy Smith ever undertook.