QSFer Margaret A. Babcock has a new gay sci-fi book out: Eden.2.
On a planet far from dying Earth, Jerry Nichols, an Episcopal priest, and his exobiologist husband, Rob, lead the efforts of a small band of religiously diverse settlers and scientists to create a new community where people can survive. They receive help from a mysterious entity, changing them and opening unforeseen possibilities. Then their sister ship arrives and upsets the delicate balance they’ve achieved. Will humanity once again become its own worst enemy or will a new way of Being emerge?
ORBITING PLANET KOI-3284
DATE: 2073 CE/1
The recording of jungle birds quarreling high and bright amongst the rustle of leaves brought Jerry out of sleep. He lay for a few moments, cocooned in a warm nest of soft sheets and dispersing unconsciousness, thinking how strange it was to wake to the sound of creatures millions of miles away. The sterile atmosphere of the spaceship could adapt to anything humans inserted into it, but now it orbited their destination planet. Soon, other sounds would take precedence over the imports of Earth.
Beside him his husband stirred, twisting around to bat at the alarm. The birds ceased their debate, the constant hum of the ship filling the void. Jerry settled his back into the curve of Rob’s body as they began their waking up routine.
“You had the dream?” Rob breathed in his ear.
This had become their morning litany. A communal dream, one that haunted most everyone on the Glenn—what did it mean? Did other human communities share a chimera night after night? Jerry had scoured the data banks trying to discover a precedent. Some groups experienced re-occurring images, but the whole sequence which first troubled Jerry’s sleep months before their voyage now visited the entire ship: The sleeper enclosed in fog. A wind without effect. A child’s plaintive singing. Desire to find the source. The dreamer rooted in place.
This small mystery, minor compared to other conundrums of space life, felt personal, almost intimate. Jerry treasured the visitation.
Rob sighed. “I thought I could move this time, but then those damn birds started chirping.”
“Hmmm. It’s always something. Coffee?”
“God, yes. Isn’t it my turn to get it, though?”
“I have to go, anyway. Back’s killing me. You snuggle in for a while.”
Jerry shifted his legs over the hard edge of the bed’s side and leveraged his six foot three frame vertical, stretching until his fingertips brushed the ceiling. The cool air of the cabin chased the last of his sleep fog away as he pulled on his coveralls and a took the two steps needed to exit the bedroom door. He accessed the tiny bathroom niche off the common area, mindful of the woman and child sleeping in the next room.
The entrance panel swooshed open as he approached and Jerry ventured out into a hallway usually deserted and silent at this hour. Today, though, a mom holding a sleepy toddler in her arms stood at the elevator and his neighbors, the Andersons, waved as they entered their quarters. The lift signaled its arrival with a mellow chime, and he stepped in.
“Hey, Jerry,” the mother greeted him, tightening her grip on the little girl she carried as she got into the silver booth. “Are Lily and Xander up yet? Alice can’t sleep. This new schedule is killing us.”
“They’re still tucked in, Shelly. I think we’re getting used to it.” He smiled at the child and gave her a wink.
Twenty days ago, when the ship dropped into orbit, they had given up Earth’s circadian rhythm to practice the longer thirty-two hour rotation of this larger planet. In theory, a month of simulating new sleep cycles—one “normal” eight hour period and another nap of two to three hours—would get them ready for the reality they were entering. They should have adjusted when they still orbited Earth, but in the frantic first days after their premature departure, nobody had the energy to enforce the unfamiliar discipline. Now, eight years later, the crew struggled to adapt. In fact, the only ones taking to the foreign routine were the seven children born in space.
As if on cue, the tousled head lifted from her mother’s shoulders and the little girl piped up. “Mommy won’t stay asleep. She keeps talking to Daddy.”
Shelly sighed, pushing fingers through her blond hair which matched the disarray of her daughter’s. “She’s right. Maybe I’m too excited about the possibility of the shuttles landing. I’ll be working the weather data after breakfast this morning. We’re hoping to find a window in the storm pattern today.”
“I hope you succeed. It will still be awhile before most of us crunch dirt beneath our feet though. It’s not like the movies. Checking details three times over kills the thrill. In fact, I’ve got a meeting in an hour to sort out a landing schedule for the plants and fish. We’ve only been over these issues every day since we arrived.”
As the elevator settled and the door opened, little Alice squirmed. Her mom set her down to run across the hall into the dining room, then turned to Jerry, her eyes dark with worry. “Do you think we can really live on this planet, Jer? What will we do if we can’t survive here? People are talking about trying to find somewhere else.”
“I don’t think there’s anywhere else to go, Shelly.” Jerry spoke the words as gently as possible. We’re all scared, he thought. This is such a huge change. The odds of finding another world capable of sustaining human life though were slim. “We’ll adapt. If people could live in Siberia and Alaska on Earth, we should be able to figure out how to exist here.”
Shelly gave him a shaky smile as they entered the cafeteria, joining several other bleary eyed early risers. “Well, coffee should boost my courage.”
Jerry poured her a cup and helped her get Alice settled with a breakfast tray before he filled two sturdy white mugs and headed back to help his own little family start the day.
An hour later, Jerry sat with the xeno-agriculture crew going through construction plans for a smaller bio-dome on the planet surface to house half the contents of the ship’s aquaponics garden. Details awaited decisions: What species had the best chance to thrive? How many fish should they risk? What about containment? Until they understood the ecosystem on this new world, they didn’t dare introduce any Earth plants outside. A mild-mannered pea plant might, in the alien environment, take over, killing extensive native vegetation. Important stuff, Jerry thought, stifling a yawn. Important and deadly boring. He wished he was with Rob at the briefing on the landing sites being considered. Now that would be interesting.
Margaret Babcock is a retired Episcopal priest and the published author of Rooted in God (2005) and New Growth in God’s Garden (2012). She also won first place in fiction from the Wyoming Writers Conference (2015) for her short story “Bridge to Before.” She spends her time writing, supporting the Table (an emerging spiritual community) and caring for two young grandsons. She lives with her husband, assorted and variable family members, and an elderly cat in Casper, Wyoming.