QSFer William C. Tracy has a new queer hard sci-fi book out: Of Mycelium and Men.
Lida was their last chance for an uncolonized planet. But a world-spanning fungus had colonized it first.
Agetha and her husband have spent their whole lives in the fleet’s zero-G. Now all is turmoil as the fleet lands, discovering they are surrounded by a single fungal biomass spanning the entire planet. To build a new home, the fleet must confront a dangerous organism, and Agetha must decide if she can raise a family in this inhospitable landscape.
Jane Brighton holds tenuous command over the colony and its administrators. She and the other gene-modded leaders emerged from their four-hundred-year suspended animation to find a crew much different from the one that departed Old Earth. Jane must direct the colony’s fragile growth and defend it against being overrun by the fast-growing biomass.
But there is something none of the colonists know. The massive organism that spans the planet is not simply a fungal mass, nor even a chimerical combination of species that once roamed the planet. The biomass has desires and goals, and one is to know these strange beings carving out a home in its midst.
Jane Brighton blinked, trying to get the mist out of her vision. Eyes didn’t do well coming out of suspended animation. She tried to bring the two images of her handler back into one. As her sight cleared, she saw a chestnut-skinned, middle-aged woman of a blend of Asian and African descent. There seemed to be some intermixing between the original ship’s fleets. This person looked familiar, though.
“Are you related to Xianming?”
The woman started, her eyes growing wide. “He was my tenth great-grandfather, Administrator.” She tapped something and Jane’s leg jumped. “Reflexes look good.”
Jane rubbed at her left eye. That one was still fuzzy. She tried to do calculations in her head. “That’s a lot of generations.” This wasn’t a good sign, unless the Generationals had been breeding like rabbits. Beta Target had only been twenty-five years travel time from Alpha Target, and Gamma Target was only another twelve years after that.
She looked around for Christiaan. Her secretary had been like a shadow at her side for years, and not having them around was immediately jarring. She supposed they were still in sus-ani.
“Yes, ma’am,” the woman said. “Watch Sergeant Noce requested you be revived.”
“Better not be another goddamned hole in this planet,” Jane grumbled.
A few hours later, she floated into the room where Noce was waiting. She hated floating. Zero-G made her sick. Give her ground beneath her feet. Hopefully that would be the case, soon.
Jane rebounded off the entry hatch, cursing, as she entered the room. Noce was upside-down, and Jane resisted twisting her head to bring them right-side up. The infuriating person was probably doing it on purpose. The supersoldier Vagals were uniformly annoying.
“Watch sergeant,” Jane greeted them. “How long have you been up this time?”
“A little over two weeks, Administrator,” Noce said. “I was awoken at the beginning of decel. We just got the latest batch of data back from the planet. Used high-quality recording drones this time for the best assessment of the planet’s atmosphere and biomass.”
“There are low-quality probes?” Jane asked, then waved a hand, setting her rotating through the air. “Never mind.” She flailed for a handhold of some sort, catching one near the entrance. “Why did you wake me?”
“Here’s the report, ma’am,” the watch sergeant said, gently tossing her a datapad. Jane caught it clumsily. “Atmosphere and surface look conducive to human life. No harmful trace elements. Radiation levels are higher than Earth, but acceptable. Very large native flora growths, and some decent-sized fauna-like things, though we didn’t get any good pictures of them. We assume carbon-based, from the available elements, so they might even be compatible with our biology. Nothing tagged as self-aware or sentient, at least from observed movement patterns and lack of artifacts.”
Jane tried to focus on the report, blinking eyes still adjusting to room temperature. “Good, good. Is it poisonous?”
“We don’t believe so, but it’s hard to tell for sure, ma’am.” Noce thankfully corrected their stance to be right way up. “We couldn’t take any samples, but from atmospheric readings, there’s a good chance there is something we can eat down there, even if it doesn’t taste very good. Should give us enough leeway to get our own crops started.”
“This isn’t Gamma target. What happened?”
Watch Sergeant Noce actually looked worried for a moment. That was bad. “You remember Beta target was also uninhabitable?”
“Like it was yesterday,” Jane said. It had been, for her. Alpha Target had been hit by a meteor approximately four years before they arrived, and Beta Target was a cold hunk of dust, bereft of even an atmosphere, much less any native life. She waited.
“Yes, likely an error in the original data,” Noce continued. “However, we found Gamma and Delta Targets were also not suitable, for a variety of reasons.”
Jane cocked her head. “Then which target is this?”
“None of them, ma’am. We, ah, ran out of targets. If you map Alpha to Target One, Beta to Two, and Gamma to—”
“I can count, Noce, what number are we on? Five? Six?”
Noce cleared their throat. “This is an unsurveyed planet the analysts have labeled as Target Eleven.”
“Ele—?” Jane felt a muscle jump in her jaw. She took in a deep breath. “We were supposed to reach Alpha in eighty-five years—three generations. Beta was another generation after that. How long has it been?”
“Over four hundred years, Admin. This is the first target to match our required parameters to within ninety-five percent.”
Four hundred years of living in zero-G? If she’d been standing rather than floating, she would have taken a seat. Jane recalled the face of the handler who had woken her. Similar in features to a person she remembered, but taller overall, like she’d been stretched, and her eyes had been surprisingly large.
“How are the stores?” she asked. “Could we keep going?”
The watch sergeant took in a deep breath. “The ships are generational, ma’am. They’re meant to be self-sufficient for an unlimited time. We could take a tour of the entire galaxy if we wanted, but we’re nearing the end of an arm and to travel to another will take most of a century. The people maintaining the ships would be far different than those we left on Earth.”
There had already been changes to the Generationals’ genetic stock, and the drift would only get more extreme. How long until they weren’t human? Could the Generationals survive on a planet’s surface even now?
Jane looked out the room’s window, evidently near the front of the ship. A vast starscape greeted her. It looked the same as the one from Earth’s solar system, not that she knew much about astronomy. She was here to make decisions. That was why they woke her up. And she really didn’t want to go into suspended animation again.
“We make landfall,” Administrator Brighton said.
“Very good ma’am. I’ll contact the other ships.”
William C. Tracy writes and publishes queer science fiction and fantasy through his indie press Space Wizard Science Fantasy, which is open to submissions (spacewizardsciencefantasy.com).
His largest work is the Dissolutionverse: a space opera with music-based magic, including ten books and an RPG. He also has a standalone epic fantasy with seasonal fruit-based magic through a LGBTQ+ small press. He is currently working on a hard sci-fi trilogy with a generational colony ship and a planet covered by a fungal entity.
William is an NC native and a lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy. He has a master’s in mechanical engineering, and has both designed and operated heavy construction machinery. He has also trained in Wado-Ryu karate since 2003 and runs his own dojo in Raleigh NC. He is an avid video and board gamer, a beekeeper, a reader, and of course, a writer.
You can get a free Dissolutionverse novelette by signing up for William’s mailing list at http://williamctracy.com
Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/wctracy for writing updates, cat and bee pictures, and thoughts on martial arts.