This is a short story that I wrote for the Dozois/Strahan anthology The New Space Opera II (Eos 2009). I know for some people space opera means Star Trek-style adventures of Captain Lance Squarejaw staring down the tentacled menace with crouton torpedos, and for some other people space opera means the intrepid Agent Lance Squarejaw going to the planet Fargo to arrest the tentacled menace, and many other things.
But for me, space opera means the space opera I loved as a kid—and I think that's when you have to love space opera, if you're ever going to love it—the space opera of dark and dirty deeds in the seedy alleys of the spaceports, little treacheries on which the fate of vast empires turned, people with pasts living on miserable hellhole planets and nurturing their grudges or secret hopes, all of that played out with a blaster or a vibraknife behind a grubby little bar on some miserable rock orbiting in the middle of nowhere. The cantina scene in the first Star Wars movie, right up through where Han shot first (and he did, dammit!) was a scene straight out of my childhood dreams, kindled by works like Poul Anderson's Flandry and van Rijn stories, the Heinlein of Citizen of the Galaxy and The Star Beast, the Norton of The Zero Stone and Moon of Three Rings, and the Foundation Trilogy (back when Asimov had the sense to stop at a trilogy!) So if you have no idea what I'm talking about, read this and find out if you love it too (there's even some tentacles, if you look closely enough), and then go read all those others. And if you do know what I'm talking about, and have the good sense to love it, here's more of it, tentacles and all.