Looking for the name of a short story published in the 90s, I think, about a man who goes to this legendary high priced courtesan with a famous dress. The wording was extremely vivid, things like

“black dress that poured over her body like oil”

and talks about the price to undo the 50-some buttons.

The end has something about him crying while he undoes the buttons while she asks him

“how many buttons on an officer’s uniform?”.

  • Are you able to remember any more details? If anything at all comes to mind, please add it to the question. For example, what kind of officer was he? (besides being in space) Do you remember why he'd be crying at the end? What makes you think this is categorized as hard sci-fi? Mar 4, 2018 at 13:47
  • 1
    I recall this story also.... She may have been a spy also, or knew of, or had something, the Galactic Navy wanted or needed. (Pretty sure it was info) The Number of buttons on her dress IS the same number of buttons on an Officers uniform... I THINK she was had been a Navy Officer before but was kicked out in disgrace many years before. (which was Why she had that many buttons on her dress.
    – NJohnny
    Mar 6, 2018 at 14:47
  • I am getting a strong vibe that this is from the 80s? 6 book anthology series (10-12 short stories by different Sci-Fi authors in each book) about the Human Galactic Navy fighting a war with an Alien race. It might have been followed by a second 6 book followup series. (follow up series might have been the the former enemies allied to fight a second alien race)
    – NJohnny
    Mar 6, 2018 at 15:09
  • The Anthology series I am thinking of is called "The Fleet" edited by David Drake and Bill Fawcett. Many of the stories had a tongue in cheek humor slant to them (just look at these silly humans) and I am pretty sure the OP story is in one of them. Cant access my books right now so cant check. The story may have a title like "54 buttons" or something like that.
    – NJohnny
    Mar 6, 2018 at 15:29

1 Answer 1


Thanks to an Amazon book review which listed the stories, but no descriptions

The short story is called:

"The Thirty-Nine Buttons" by Margeret Weis.

From the First book in the The Fleet Anthology series:

"The Fleet" edited by David Drake and Bill Fawcett.


Found and e-book version.

He saw a dress made of some silky black material, poured like shining oil over a body of surpassing beauty. And down the front of that dress, beginning just where a man—any normal, healthy, human male—might like to begin, was a row of buttons—shining, glittering diamond buttons. Roberts didn’t count them; at that moment he couldn’t have counted his fingers. But he knew that there were thirty-nine.


“How many buttons are there on the full dress uniform of a naval officer, cadet?” Jeremy snapped, her voice the voice of Roberts’ instructor, way back in the days of basic training.

He does not end up crying, but he is certainly not happy at the end.

  • Yes! Thank you! This has been hanging in my brain for years. Mar 19, 2018 at 13:44

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