On May 3, 2023, my latest short-story will be out as part of The Ross 248 Project, a hard-sf shared-world anthology edited by Les Johnson and Ken Roy.
I am thrilled to join Patrick Chiles, Stephanie Osborn, Brent Ziarnick, Laura Montgomery, Daniel M. Hoyt & E. Marshall Hoyt, Matthew Williams, D. J. Butler, Robert E. Hampson, J. L. Curtis, and K. S. Daniels on this roster of great hard-sf stories. Everyone one of these writers brings in their unique perspective, background, experience, and style to this anthology. I hope you check out their backlists.
You can pre-order or check out the early release version of The Ross 248 Project here.
HUMANITY’S HOPE FOR A BETTER FUTURE AT A NEW STAR
A bold journey into a future where humanity and its children travel to a new star where they must overcome the unexpected challenges on the exoplanets that await them—or die trying.
Traveling to the stars will be difficult, but not, perhaps, the most difficult part. What about when we get to another star? What then? Will the planets be immediately habitable? Not likely. Will those who undertook the journey be able to easily turn around and come home if they don’t find “Earth 2.0”? Almost certainly not. Therein lies the challenge: Finding worlds that are potentially habitable and then taking the time, perhaps centuries, to make them compatible with Earth life. They will encounter mysteries and unexpected challenges, but the human spirit will endure. Join this diverse group of science fiction writers and scientists as they take up the challenge of The Ross 248 Project.
Here is the opening scene from One-of-Antonia
The man in front of Suri was neither sick nor old. Despite the tubes and wires, the monitoring equipment around him, and the fact that they were in Pluto’s premiere clinic for the dying, he was very much a man in his prime. According to his file, Aidan Samuels was forty-two. It was an imprecise measurement—his real age was forty-two years, six months, three days, and sixteen-point-thirty-six hours—one that grated on Suri’s “nerves” such as they were. Tolerating such things without comment was one of the many adjustments that she had had to make.
She may not have liked it, but humans trusted those who looked and acted like them more than those who did not, especially when it came to their health. That’s why she was wearing a humanoid skin rather than an arachnid one, even though having extra arms would have come in handy for most situations.
“I don’t understand,” she said, glancing at the virtual-reality clinic supervisor.
Dr. Benedict Lammens was tall for a human, one-point-nine-eight meters. She knew that he had let his hair go gray because he believed it gave him credibility and she could tell that the glasses he wore were just for the smart-glass lenses. Appearances were important to humans. They went to great lengths to project, not just credibility, but trustworthiness, intelligence—an entire list of positive traits—and mitigate an even longer list of negative ones. Would a four- or eight-armed surgeon with telescoping eyes convey competence and skill? Probably not. More likely to give them nightmares.
She filed the idea away, a side project for later, and connected to the clinic’s network. Samuels’ file said that he had gone into a very private and highly customized virtual reality in order to be with his dying wife. When her human body had failed, her corpse had been preserved for a later time in the hope that a cure for her neurological disease would be found. Her corpse had been placed in the family’s vault. There were thousands of such family vaults here on Pluto. It was known for its cryo facilities.
While Samuels and his wife had been in the VR, thirty years had passed for them. They had essentially enjoyed their “golden years” while only a year had passed in the real world.
“Mr. Samuels here is refusing to come out of the VR,” Lammens said.
“As is his right,” Suri noted, scrolling through the agreements between the SAIN and Samuels. “According to this, the Host agreed to keep him in VR for as long as he wanted.”
“Unfortunately, the board of 3D-Printed-Homes wants him back in the boardroom,” Lammens said, shoving his hands deep into the pockets of his lab coat. “Some dispute or other. They need his vote to break a tie. Something about a takeover that might destroy the company he inherited from his father. Apparently the Martian cartels are involved and frankly it sounds rather messy.”
“And he knows this?” she asked as she looked Samuels over.
“The Host told him. He doesn’t care.”
“Thirty years have passed for him,” Suri said, scanning through the VR’s logs. It had been just him and his wife for most of that time. There had been other constructs in there, but only artificial ones. No other real person had plugged in and interacted with them except for the Host. “And he’s just lost his wife. Of course he doesn’t care.”
“We need some time to sort things out with his Board.” Lammens shrugged. “They’ve threatened to pull his credit, force our hand. Sue us. It could get ugly and undermine the trust in both SAIN and our facilities here.”
Suri had worked with terminal patients and their families before. She didn’t understand grief herself, but she did have to work with it and around it. It was as much a part of working with humans as fixing their bodies was.
She took hold on Samuels’ left hand. It was cool to the touch, with fading callouses and a simple gold band for a wedding ring. Tiny scars peppered three of his fingers and the backs of both hands. A man whose family had their own vault here, who could afford non-subjective years in VR, hadn’t had those tiny scars removed. Often such things were indicative of sentiment or a lack of vanity.
She reviewed his public appearances. Not a vain man, but one who definitely understood the importance of appearance enough to opt into standard enhancements—teeth, hair, eyes. A man who liked to work with his hands too by the look of it—there were lots of images of him doing physical labor, building things, making things.
Humans had such strange affectations. She ran her fingers along the pale scars. Nicks really, tiny little things. What had made them? She wanted to know. It would help her understand humans, which would help her help them, keep them alive, keep them healthy, give her purpose.
There was a hum in the back of her mind, like a warm caress. She smiled. Antonia, her AI-mother approved. A human would have said that she was giving her blessing.
A plan to help Samuels and the decision to proceed was processed at AI speeds. She let go of Samuels’ hand and sat down in the chair next to his bed.
“Wait, what are you doing?” Lammens asked.
In the time it took her to answer, she ported the specs for her VR avatar to the Host. Suri liked to keep things simple. She liked to manifest as the statistically likely progeny of the two humans who had raised her.
After all, she was Catrina and Ian Hinman’s daughter as much as she was Antonia’s. So she’d adopted her foster father’s dark hair and mismatched eyes (one blue, one brown) as well as her foster mother’s oval face and sun-kissed skin.
Last time she’d been in VR her avatar had worn an eclectic mix of calf-length skirt with a bustle, combat boots, corset-top, and short, bolero jacket with epaulets, all in blues and greens. She discarded the idea of aging her avatar, since most humans, especially older ones, presented as younger, healthier versions of themselves. VR was seductive because one could be anything, or anyone, and things weren’t what they seemed.
Lammens had stepped back, a skeptical look on his face. But he didn’t say anything. She took it as assent.
Suri closed her eyes. She and SAIN came to an agreement at AI-speeds: unless Samuels’ real-world body was in danger, no one was to intervene or interfere. Once inside, she’d be stuck in the VR with Samuels until he agreed to leave or they shut it down and forced him out. Suri would be cut off, her ties to SAIN and her AI-mother severed.
She felt herself move as if through a tunnel of light, riding effortlessly through corridors that didn’t exist in physical space.
The final bit of it, entering Aidan Samuels’ VR, was like fighting her way through a wall of fire. If she’d had any sense of self-preservation, she’d have turned back.
Samuels didn’t want her there. That much was clear. Painfully so.