"Balkan Star," On Spec, vol. XII, no. 4, Winter, 2000 (February, 2001), pp. 70-82.

additional textBosnian astronomy
Royal Canadian Dragoonscopies

Additional Text

Two passages occurred to me after "Balkan Star" appeared inOn Spec.

In the first, Sergeant Mercer warns Fraser about mines and boobytraps, common hazards in Bosnia. Fraser shrugs off the warning, saying, in effect: "I'm safe. I'm Canadian. I'm a NASA astronaut. I'm here on a one-day visit. Problems in Bosnia have nothing to do with me."

(top of page 74)

We [Mercer and Fraser] shake through the window.

"Just be careful," he says. "Balkan Star's in a rough neighbourhood. Don't step off the paved road--mines. Don't pick anything up off the ground--boobytraps."

Mercer sounds very earnest and serious, but I'm not really listening. The landscape may be a bit grim, but its a sunny Tuesday morning and I'm glad to be back on Earth. Besides, I live in Houston and Los Angeles. I know all about gangers and carjacks and staying alert and never leaving home without a satphone.

"If," he continues, "someone pulls a gun and asks for a tax to Greater Serbia or Free Croatia, pay it. If they ask for your car--"

"--I'll give them the keys. Hey!" I shrug. "It's not my car."

Mercer laughs.

In the second addition, Fraser's awakening in the "feral field" becomes just a bit grimmer. And he explains why he speaks to the children in Russian.

(center of page 76)

Very slowly, very carefully, I sit up and raise my hands.

The children watch impassively.

Then there's a girl--twelve, maybe, or a little younger--pointing an old black revolver at my nose. A boy, who looks about eight, holds a bolt action rifle. Eyes vacant, terribly pale, barefoot, they wear ragged trousers and logo jackets, advertising running shoe and soft drink brands.

There's blood on my hands ... my shirt ... my face. Two corpses lie beside me. Two paramilitaries, with neat holes in their foreheads, right above the nose. My erstwhile executioners.

Who shot them? A girl and a little boy? I don't want to think so.

This is a bad place. Coming here was a mistake.

"Friend," I say, in Russian, the only Slavic language I know. "Balkan Star. Can you tell me the way to Balkan Star Observatory?"

Bosnian Astronomy

The purely fictional Balkan Star Observatory in this story belongs to the very real University of Sarajevo. For the actual state of astronomy in Bosnia, see George Musser, Make Science, Not War, in Scientific American(1999), Beth Thomas, Against the odds: Prof. organizes physics conference in Bosnia(1996), and Zdravko Stipcevic, The significance of the uninterrupted educational activity of the University of Sarajevo, Muhamed Muminovic, An open letter to the astronomical community, from the director of the Astronomical Observatory of Sarajevo, and George Musser, Astronomy in Bosnia, all published by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific(1995).

Royal Canadian Dragoons

When Adam Fraser gets into trouble, he's rescued by a detachment of peacekeepers from the Royal Canadian Dragoons. The real RCD, a veteran cavalry/armoured regiment, whose service overseas dates back to the South African War, served with distinction in Bosnia and Kosovo. For an authoritative history of the regiment, try Brereton Greenhous, Dragoon: The Centennial History of the Royal Canadian Dragoons, 1883-1983 (1983).


You can still (as of May, 2001) order copies of On Spec, Winter 2000, containing "Balkan Star."

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Copyright © 2001 D. Peter MacLeod

The top left and bottom right images are details from David Rickman, Eastern Woodland Indians, middle of the eighteenth century, Department of National Defence. The top right and bottom left images are NASA photos of M16-the Eagle Nebula, prepared by the Space Telescope Science Institute.