Issue XI -- Colonies

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Read about the contributors to our eleventh issue and see excerpts from each article or story.  

Issue XI Contents 

Star Garden -- Brenda Cooper

Spending all your time concentrating on making it safe can lead you to forget how to live, unless you're like Hunter -- and then you become marked as a dangerous person.

Pictures of Old Earth -- Cherith Baldry

In new places, we need the views of children to show us what is really there, rather than the images we try to take with us.

Ol' Gator -- Gregory Benford

We have finally enticed some fiction from Gregory Benford and although this excerpt may not seem like science fiction, you'll have to read to the end of the story in the full issue to get the full impact.

Scavenger Hunt -- Julia West

Not all colony life is easy and when equipment begins to fail, Mod has to work hard to support choices she doesn't agree with. 

Symphony -- Doug Smith

A new world, a borealis with painful effects and an unreachable son are just some of the challenges Gar has to face on the planet Aurora.

Sand Trap -- Jerry Goodz

Sometimes the struggle for territory goes on for so long, neither side can recall the original reasons for the conflict. 

Tracks of Shining White -- O'Neil de Noux

Not all colonies are free of danger from other life-forms, but then not all other life-forms are dangerous as Vincent and Dana discover.

We Defy Old Stars -- M. C. A. Hogarth

Maggie Hogarth reminds us that not all colonists need to be human, but their concerns and struggles are vary familiar to us.

Out There -- Jennifer Schwabach

When you're stuck on a colony, the life in the freedom and openness of space can seem like a paradise -- if you have the courage to try for it.

Paradigm -- Derek Paterson

The desire to refurbish and recycle old equipment can have unexpected results and Johnson and Larette discover.

Star Garden © 2004 Brenda Cooper

Hunter shifted uneasily, listening as wind rustled the soft plastic of Habitat’s edge.  Desert swept to the horizon in front of him, brown and gray and white lines dotted with dark rocks and shallow ridges.  Sand pillowed against rocks, rose on wind, blew away in clouds of dust, moving, always moving. Nothing lived out there but sand. Life was behind him, in StarGarden.  And today, there had been a death.  Images played over and over in his mind:  Johnny’s eyes as the pipe in his hand broke, the life punched from them as the hard stone wall of the well slapped the back of his head, the yards and yards of rope it took to pull Johnny’s body free of the well.  He remembered the soft tones Johnny used to talk about his red-haired wife Lisha, saw Johnny lifting his son Rob above his head until he squealed, the pride in his eyes as he watched his daughter Kari.

Finally, Hunter turned.  StarGarden was as full of life as the desert was empty.  Curling rows of yellow-green corn stalks marched from Habitat’s Edge towards the ships three levels of bridges. Goats milled about to his right, bleating in their pen.  

Hunter went to his room and looked up stories and poems about death.  He couldn’t remember another accidental death in recent history, just old Nancy dying slowly of old age, so irascible the colony felt relief when she finally died.  Two other old people before that.  He looked further back in the records.  Death was there, generations back. But no poem, no story, no factual account made him feel better.

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Pictures of Old Earth © 2004 Cherith Baldry

Cherith Baldry was born in Lancaster, England and studied at Manchester University and St. Anne’s College, Oxford. After a time teaching, including lecturing at the University of Sierras Leone, Cherith is now a full time writer. Her novel, The Reliquary Ring was published by MacMillan in 2003.

“He drew it, Doctor! Theo drew that!”

Mia Garland, Medical Director of the Ceran colony, studied the sheet of paper, still pinned to a drawing board, that her colleague was thrusting at her. The drawing was meticulous in its detail: the domes and pinnacles of the cathedral, the bronze horses, tiny but majestic. A sheet of water, ripples fluttering its surface, stretched in front of the building: St. Mark’s, Venice, the year before it sank.

“How did it happen?” she asked.

She spoke directly to Theo, but he remained silent. He was looking straight at her, his eyes dark and troubled. No one would guess that he had been born blind.

“We were having an art lesson.” Carla Orvieto answered the question. She ran the colony’s school, a thin, excitable, grey woman. “Theo was getting the boards ready. I wanted the children to draw what they imagined Earth was like.”

“And you described this to them?” Mia tapped the drawing.

“No, Doctor, that’s just what I didn’t do! I left it to their imaginations. But I was thinking about Venice - oh, I had some happy times there when I was a girl! - and then I realized that Theo was drawing.”

Mia turned to Theo again, willing some response out of him. He was always still, reserved. He was eighteen years old, one of the first children to be born in the young colony. His mother, who had three children already, had rejected him when she became aware of his handicap. He had been brought up in the Medical Wing, and what to do with him was Mia’s problem. The colony needed young people, but it needed them strong and healthy, to be field workers and mechanics and factory hands. Mia had sent Theo to the school, to help Carla Orvieto.

“Do you know what you’ve done?” Mia asked him.

"I ... I'm not sure." The voice was husky and uncertain. "I was doing the boards and Ms Orvieto was standing beside me. And suddenly it was there, in my mind, and ..."

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Ol' Gator © 2004 Abbenford Associates

Gregory Benford is a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California at Irvine, and the author of Deep Time, and many novels.

Family:

One of the perks of being a Major in Special Ops is that when you haul in back at HQ there’s late nite email. Thought you’d all like to hear how it’s going here in the post-war war.

We’re up to our ass in alligators is how it is.

We were working the Sunni Triangle between Ramadi and Tikrit last week, looking for Ba’athist bastards. Hard not to shoot them in the back because running away is just about all they do.

We got some at Ansar al Islam, an Al Qaeda knockoff bunch following their latest hot tactic -- avoid us (don’t want to die, never mind all the seventy-two virgins deal) and instead hit the Iraqis who’re working with us. Police, utilities guys, engineers who actually know how to get things fixed. 

It’s been pretty hectic since the end of hostilities and the start of the real war. You know what they say about Iraq -- dirty, hot, nasty, ugly -- and that’s just the people. To answer Uncle Max’s question -- yep. We expected some armed resistance from the Ba'ath Party and Feydaheen. We tried to get all of them we could in the campaign itself. Only now are the CNN commentators catching on that the slowdown south of Baghdad was to draw as many of their tank units out where we could get them easy. Intel predicted we’d get Feydaheen in those white pickups with machine guns mounted on the deck, and sure enough, we did. Saved a lot of trouble in Baghdad.

So if you’re wondering, nope, the smalltime stuff isn't any worse than expected, and morale is A-1, except for the normal bitching and griping.

Gotta go. More maybe soon, when I get back to HQ. More fun in the field, believe me.

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Scavenger Hunt © 2004 Julia West

Shouts, and somebody rattling the privacy wall, woke Mod. She sat up in bed, stared around in the half-light, and listened to her sisters' frightened murmurs all around her. Should she take her air tanks out of the box by her bed? No, first find out what's going on. She lifted the wall, poked her head outside, and yelled, "What?"

It was one of the Leary kids from the farm next door. "The water purifier busted, and it's pumping salt water into the

paddies."

Mod scrabbled for her shorts and blouse. She slipped her sandals on and ran to her parents' area, yelling, "Mom, Dad, we've got a problem."

The family, from Dad to five-year-old Annet, assembled in minutes. "We'll check the main irrigation canal first," said Mom. "Hope we can close the inlet off before salt water gets to our fields."

"How'll we know?" asked Annet.

"Taste it, silly," Mod said.

Walking with care -- it was still dome night -- the family followed concrete paths through the paddies. Mod ran ahead to the main water inlet for their fields and scooped up a handful of water, sipping some from her palm. Brackish. 

"Too late!" she called back to the rest of the family. 

Dad told the family, "Okay, split up. Check each distribution channel until we find how far the salt water has traveled. If you find a channel that's sweet, block its input from the main channel, quick. I'll close the main channel."

Mod ran along the levees between the plots, stooping at every cross channel to test the water. "Here." No salt taste. She dropped the channel's gate and ran on.

When the family gathered again on the front porch, mud-splattered and tense, Mod asked, "So now what?"

Her oldest sister, slumped on the lowest step, said, "I say let's leave. This is the second crop we've lost."

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Symphony © 2000 Doug Smith

Doug Smith’s stories have appeared in over forty professional magazines and anthologies in thirteen countries and eleven languages. Doug was a finalist for the international John W. Campbell award for best new writer, and won an Aurora Award for best SF&F short fiction by a Canadian for his story, la Danse des Esprits.  He has been an Aurora finalist eight times and has twice been selected for honorable mention in The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror.

In real life, Doug is a technology executive for an international consulting firm. He lives just north of Toronto, Canada.

FAST FORWARD: Third Movement, Danse Macabre (Staccato)

They had named the planet Aurora, for the beauty that danced above them in its ever dark skies.  At least, it had seemed beautiful at the time.  Now Gar Franck wasn’t so sure.

Gar huddled on the floor, shielding his two-year-old son, Anton, from the panicked colonists stampeding past them in the newly-constructed pod link.

“Damn you, Franck!  When will you make it stop?” a man cried from across the corridor.  A woman lay in the man’s arms, convulsing as her seizure peaked.  She was dying, but to Gar’s numbed mind her moans harmonized with the screams of the mob into a musical score for his private nightmare.

Anton sat on the floor, a broken comm-unit held before his blank face.  The child let it drop to strike the metal surface with a dissonant clang.  More people fled by.  The child ignored them.  With morbid fascination, Gar watched Anton repeat the scene.  Pick up the comm-unit, let it drop.  Pick it up, drop it.  Again.  Each clang as it struck the floor was more chilling to Gar than any cry from the dying.

This attack had blown the colony power grid.  The only light now came through the crysteel roof.  Gar looked up.  The aurora blazed and writhed in the night sky, a parody of the chaos below.  Greens, reds and purples shimmered strobe-like over the corridor, turning each person’s frenzied flight into a macabre dance.

"God no!" the man cried. The woman stiffened, then fell limp. "No!" The man pulled her to him sobbing.

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Sand Trap © 2004 Jerry Goodz

The onslaught was over. For the present. A stench of burnt flesh hung in the thick, still air. The last fallen enemy’s lifeless eyes were fixed on Kal’s old and hard-used boots.

“So damn young,” he muttered. “Too much killing going on for too long.”

Squad Leader Nita stretched, then slung her energy-rifle over her shoulder. ““We did our job, Captain, and watch your words. The Major has no patience with those who don’t share his sentiments about wiping out our southern brethren.”

Oh, yes, Kal thought, we did our job.

Two settlements of humanity live on Tylaria, a barren world of sand and rock with one ribbon of water flowing from its single mountain range. Two settlements, the Stygians and Kal’s own Hadesans, both inhabited by the descendants of twin Hells that were once penal colonies.

Nita looked up at the sky. “I’m hot and parched.”

He reached down and removed the canteen from the trooper’s body. Kal shook it and handed it to Nita. “Couple of drops. Should hold you till evening ration.”

She took a swig, then tossed it aside. “Age before beauty.”

“Who’s left in your squad?”

“Still standing?”

He eyed her balefully.

“The kid, Jo, Dippy and Tau.”

He breathed easier at the mention of Jo. They weren’t lovers anymore, but she was dear to him.

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Tracks of Shining White © 2004 O'Neil de Noux

Vincent and Dana lived with their father in a stone house on a dusty street at the edge of Bronze Town, next to the rocky, Terra Cotta Plateau on planet Octavion's northeastern hemisphere. Their house, like most of the town, was built of the bronze-colored stone gathered from the vast plateau. Their backyard fence was also made of bronze stone, lined with bushes of burnished-gold with small, teal leaves and two trees their father transplanted from the Indigo forest five years ago. The trees had dark blue bark and pale blue leaves.

After school, Dana could be found playing in their grassless backyard while Vincent took off for Russett Butte and the caverns. He'd discovered the caverns over a year ago, including the cavern with the rear opening that overlooked the Majestic Blue river and the dark green trees of the Spearmint Forest and the rolling grasslands of the vast, Sage Plain beyond.

On this bright, sunny afternoon, Vincent's two best friends were waiting a the cavern's entrance. Sitting on his bicycle, Bobby shot Vincent a long cold stare as he rode up and climbed off his bike.

"You're late," Bobby growled, pushing his longish blond hair away from his eyes.

Vincent ignored him, turning to his other friend, Chase, who leaned against the entrance of the cavern with an anxious look on his face, his bike at his feet. Chase was a year younger than the other two, still fourteen, with close-cropped sandy hair. Bobby was the oldest but rarely acted that way. Vincent was the tallest of the three, with his short dark brown hair and brown eyes so dark they looked black. All three boys had shed their school uniforms for tee-shirts, jeans and sneakers.

"We're going all the way in this time," Bobby announced as he climbed off his bike, kicking down the kick stand. Vincent parked his bike next to Chase's and playfully slugged chase on the shoulder as they both followed Bobby into the cavern.

The smell of dust was stronger inside. Taking a right down a narrower passage, they passed the wide opening that overlooked the Majestic Blue River and began a slight ascent through the cavern. It grew dimmer, but they could still see as they took a long turn to the right, still ascending until they came to the opening they had found yesterday. The one with the bad smell. 

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We Defy Old Stars © 2004 M.C.A. Hogarth

Sedikit was dying. I could smell the sharp tang of it on his breath, hear it in the strained hiss that passed between his parched and parted lips. I wrung the rag, letting the drip of the water displace for just a moment the sound of the male's distress. This sickness had already killed Marne's baby, the one that had stolen the last of her wit with its birth. In that, it claimed two victims, for I sorely missed Marne's humor.

Daridil stepped into the room, his passage ruffling the woven grass curtain hung in the door and allowing in the mingled scents of sun-baked clay and rikka sweat. I did not look at him, knowing what he would say.

"Deciding to stay was a mistake."

I sighed. The sun had seen this argument before, and no doubt would rise and fall many more times over it yet. "We have passed over this place dozens of times in our travels, Daridil. You know as well as I do that this is an unusually dry summer. It will go, as seasons do, and the rains will come."

"The rains were one thing. But this... don't you think it's a sign, Serel? How many more will we lose for breaking our customs?"

I did look at him then, for his voice had a breathy flutter better suited to fear than his usual belligerence. Daridil was atypical for our kind: he'd remained male through both puberties, and it showed in the adult. Tall and limber, he had the emodo's long fingers and flexible toes, perfect for complex and delicate work. His wedge-shaped head had a handsomely blunt end that complemented the triangular ears with their dark tufts. He was in some ways too perfect to look on, for the family tended to overlook his mind while praising his body.

"I don't think the sickness is related to our decision to stay here, truly," I said to him. "It is coincidence."

His narrowed eyes told me he didn't believe. He glanced at Sedikit and tossed his braided mane over his shoulder. "Well, I shall go burn incense for him. The Trifold is displeased with us."

"Gods are not cruel," I said.

"No. But errant children may mistake a cuffing for cruelty if they don't know better."

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Out There © 2004 Jennifer Schwabach

Grubber huddled deeper into the corner by the bar.  They’d let her, if she didn’t make any trouble, and even let her run messages for the shuttle pilots.  She liked to hang around the shuttle pilots.  Sometimes, she would wonder if one of them was her father, but she could never figure out how to ask.  Mostly, she listened.  Usually they weren’t talking to her, but to a spaceport whore or one of the various other hangers-on who populated New Shreveport.

New Shreveport existed for one reason and one reason only.  It was a supply depot for the Ships.  The Ships never landed.  The crews never came down to New Shreveport.  Why should they?  It was the only habitation on an otherwise inhospitable planet.  New Shreveport was essentially a stark, dirty collection of warehouses, habitats and a few businesses that supported the people who had to live there.  The Ships were paradise.

Grubber’s stomach growled, and she swallowed, hoping to fool it into thinking it was getting food.  She missed Dam.   When Man and Dam were around, she’d been hungry and dirty, too, but at least when there was food, she had gotten a share.  But they were dead, Dam of a fever and Man beaten to death in the maze of warehouses.  Grubber had never figured out why, what he had done to deserve it.  Neither of them could help her now.   It had briefly occurred to Grubber to seek out the whore who had sold her to Man and Dam five years ago, but she’d dismissed it just as quickly.  Anyone who would sell a three year old child would be unlikely to want an eight year old.  Besides, she’d never known the woman’s name.  In any case, that woman hadn’t been her mother, any more than Dam had.

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Paradigm © 2004 Derek Paterson

Derek Paterson tells us he lives in Scotland, overlooking some of the loveliest island and mountain scenery you're likely to find anywhere. His short fiction has appeared in Jackhammer E-zine, Strange Horizons, This Way Up, is currently available at Eggplant Literary Productions's Jintsu e-book project.

Johnson looked up in surprise as O'Hara entered the Admin Center and collapsed into a chair, his p-suit joints hissing as they took on the new configuration. "Coffee," the engineer croaked, like a man crawling out of the Sahara after a week without water. He banged his fist on the table. "Somebody bring me a bloody coffee, will you?"

Larette, sitting at her big desk on the other side of the compartment, turned to regard O'Hara with interest. The former surfboard champ had the kind of sculpted body and permanent suntan that most women drooled over. Larette appeared to be no exception, though Johnson noticed she made no attempt to satisfy O'Hara's request.

Johnson went to the machine just to shut O'Hara up. He pressed the button and waited while the unit went through its usual spluttering and wheezing routine. As Chief Maintenance Tech it was Johnson's responsibility to overhaul the damned thing, but he had a dozen other systems to take care of, important systems like Life Support. Which, in an Offworld Scientific Research Station with a population of over fifty people and animals, took priority. He banged the side of the machine and muttered obscenities under his breath until the hatch finally slid open to reveal the steaming cup.

O'Hara snatched it out of his hand and gulped the contents -- then screwed up his face. "Bloody hell, what is this stuff? I asked for coffee, not battery acid."

Johnson shrugged. "I usually ignore the toxic warning lights. To what do we owe the pleasure of your company?"  What he really wanted to ask was, "Couldn't you take your perfect profile somewhere else?"

"I just lost a construction drone.  Thought I better report it."

"That's not an easy thing to do," Larette said.

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