J. Scott Coatsworth has a new diverse sci-fi book out in his Liminal Sky universe: Dropnauts. And there’s a giveaway!
Life after the Crash.
Over a century after the end of the Earth, life goes on in Redemption, the sole remaining Lunar colony, and possibly the last outpost of humankind in the Solar System. But with an existential threat burrowing its way into the Moon’s core, humanity must recolonize the homeworld.
Twenty brave dropnauts set off on a mission to explore the empty planet. Four of them—Rai, Hera, Ghost and Tien—have trained for two-and-a-half years for the Return. They’re bound for Martinez Base, just outside the Old Earth city of San Francisco.
But what awaits them there will turn their assumptions upside down—and in the process, either save or destroy what’s left of humanity.
Scott has a Rafflecopter giveaway with this tour:
Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go, yet turning stay.
—Goblin Market, The Prince’s Progress and Other Poems, by Christina Rosetti, from Poems From a Distant Earth, by Chen Tien [Public domain – https://www.write-out-loud.com/free-funeral-poems.html%5D
Hera Quinn stared at her friend Gordy, standing high above her on top of the pile of moon rocks like an eight-year-old superhero. He was staring out at the lunar city of Redemption, gumdust-covered hand on his forehead to shield his eyes from the bright blue junlei light above. “Come on up! The view is amazing!”
She glanced back toward the city lights under the vault of the great cavern. She’d been afraid to go into the Dark with him in the first place, but Gordy had insisted. Even at eight years old, she knew danger when she saw it. She shook her head. “I’m scared.”
Gordy laughed. “Nothing to be scared of. It’s stable. Come on!”
She stared at him a moment longer. “You sure?” Jolly had warned them to stay away from the Dark. Redemption itself was safe enough, but the cavern beyond the edge of the junlei glow…
“I made it. You can do it!” Gordy grinned, his teeth white in the darkness. “Be brave!”
They were like twins, the only two their age in the creche. She trusted him. “Okay.” She clambered up the pile, scampering from one boulder to another.
She grinned back. This was fun. Soon she’d be on top of the pile with him, and the scary bit would be over.
“Just a little farther.”
“You’re right! This is easy—”
The rock under her left foot shifted and then wasn’t there.
A grinding rumble filled the world. Hera started to fall, her stomach twisting inside her. “Gordy, help!” She reached for him, but dust swirled between them, cutting him off. Hera’s heart raced as she tried to grab something, anything to save herself as the world fell away underneath.
Hard things struck her as she tumbled down, and then it all went black.
“Hera, watch out!” Ghost’s voice brought her out of her reverie. She swerved her glider to the left just in time to avoid an onrushing sledge riding the cargo-rail along a ledge high above Redemption.
The mech driving the sledge glared at her as it passed, his blue eyes scanning and marking her features. Sam would give her a tongue-lashing when she got back to the base, no doubt. Not that he had a tongue, but the synthetic project lead could give you a dressing down with the best of them.
She shuddered, remembering that day with Ghost, sixteen years before, like it was yesterday. The dream had returned a few days earlier to plague her again.
Hera sighed. Soon she’d be leaving Tovey again—maybe that was what had stirred it up again. They made her feel safe and loved, and if they survived the drop, she would be away for a long, lonely time.
She shoved her dark mood aside. Today was a glorious day, and sadness had no place in it. Nothing would take away her happiness today. Tomorrow the Return begins.
Hera raced through the air with the others, peddling her glider on a course toward the dark end of Redemption. No wonder she’d been dreaming about her fall again.
She couldn’t feel them, but her thigh and calf muscles pumped with the speed and power of a mechanoid, driven by the biframe that fit her legs like a glove. “Last one to the Dark buys tonight’s round!” She lived to fly—she was free up here from all the restrictions down there.
Don’t talk too loudly. Watch your manners. Do your homework. Don’t punch a hole in the pressurization dome. Don’t spend your whole basic income in the first week. So many things to remember. She laughed, thrilled to be away from Sam and his rules.
The curved rock ceiling above was like one of those old Earth coral snakes, stretching out before and behind them, striped with darkness and light where the filters let in bands of glowing solar rays, storing the energy for the fourteen-day lunar night that would arrive soon as Luna turned away from the sun on her merry way around Old Earth.
She passed under a band of sunlight, warm across her back.
The heart of the city of Redemption spread out below them, lit by the glow, its gray towers soaking up the light. Behind them in the distance, the old Alpha Base loomed like an Aztec temple at the edge of the enormous lava tube.
Ghost laughed, his pale white face stretched into a challenging grin. “You have an unfair advantage!”
“What’s that? I’m smarter than you?”
That got a laugh out of Rai. Poor guy still had a thing for Ghost, even though they’d broken up six months before.
Ghost growled. “No, your bionic legs.”
Biframe, but yeah. Ghost was an engineer. He should know better. “Smart and strong, then.” Hera couldn’t resist needling him.
“Knock it off, guys.” Tien brought up the rear but was steadily closing the gap. “We’re lucky to have Hera on our team. She’s a fighter.”
Hera turned away. She didn’t like to be reminded of the day when everything had changed. She had come too far to let it hold her back.
Besides, there was so much to look forward to.
The Garden Quarter slipped by below, lit by specially engineered bioluminescent plants, biotech from one of the gen-ship files. The gen ships themselves were destroyed or long gone.
Pings sounded in her head like a percussion of attention-seeking missiles—her other friends, wanting to get in a last goodbye before the big day. She swiped her temple, clearing them away and giving herself some peace. She wanted to get away from everyone and everything for a bit, to set aside the crushing pressure of expectations.
The Chinese Quarter—Kaishi, or beginning in the old language—was below them now. Tien’s home. Over time, the two original colonies had become one, but the old district still retained its historic charm. Beautiful geometric streets and homes that hearkened back to the traditional structures that had once existed on Earth.
Earth. In just twenty-four hours, five teams of dropnauts would leave Redemption, bound for humankind’s birth home, and she would be part of one of them. She would fly for real then, soaring up toward the green, brown and blue ball she’d been dreaming about for years.
Sometimes on her old supply runs to the outposts, Hera would set her shuttle down in the middle of nowhere and go outside all suited up against the cold and solar radiation just for the chance to stare at the old home world hanging in the black velvet of the sky above.
A hundred and seventeen years since the Crash, and Earth was just now returning to some of her former glory. The clouds and dust that had filled the air had finally cleared up, bringing hope to the lunar colony. The dust and smoke that had turned her atmosphere into a roiling brown stew not unlike Jupiter’s bands of clouds had been washed out, down into the rivers and lakes and seas—a problem for a future generation.
And if Sam was right, their time was running out. The core from the Chinese base had been steadily working its way down to Luna’s frozen core for more than a hundred years, melting the rock as it went. The moon quakes had begun a couple years earlier, and they were getting worse.
Earth was still a tempestuous mother, but it seemed like the time had finally come for humankind to return home, before Luna destroyed them all.
Hera raced past the edge of Redemption into the Dark—the undeveloped part of the giant lava tube that housed the city. She spiraled down toward the ground, searching for a flat place to land her glider
The tube was twenty-six kilometers long and four wide, and the city so far only occupied about a third of it, but even the Dark had been scrubbed of dust by patient mechs over the years.
Down below, Hera found what she sought, a raised section of the tube floor that would give them a view of the city. As she descended, she lifted her feet off the pedals, letting the craft glide down onto the rock of the cavern floor.
Ghost came down hard next to her, bouncing halfway across the raised surface before he brought his glider to a halt.
“Looks like someone needs a little landing practice.” Hera shrugged her way out of the straps that connected her to the glider, moving out of the way as Rai and Tien came down for a landing.
Ghost stuck his tongue out at her. “Not all of us are ace pilots, you know.”
We’re going home.
Rai sweated inside his suit, white-knuckling the arms of the retrofitted launch chair under his suit gloves. He watched the Zhenyi’s launch countdown clock.Sixty, fifty-nine, fifty-eight…
Outside he was calm, but inside he vibrated like an erhu string, his stomach doing acrobatics in his chest. I’m not ready.
Five teams of dropnauts had strapped themselves into their jumper ships, prepared for the ascent from Redemption on the lunar surface to Launchpad station. Outside his porthole, the blue-green marble of Earth beckoned.
Rai cast a nervous glance at his three teammates. Hera was doing her preflight check, her back to him, sweat dripping down the umber skin of her neck from her short-cropped, curly black hair.
Behind him on his right, Tien’s eyes were closed, and she was still as a golden statue. Zen.
He turned to find Ghost looking at him from behind. His ex grinned, running his hand through his lanky, dirty blond hair, his green eyes twinkling. His skin was as white as Rai’s own, but with a dusting of freckles over the bridge of his nose.
Rai managed a pale imitation of a smile back. –It’s totally safe.- Ghost<’s voice pinged in his head, em to em.
–Sure. Easy for you to say.- Ghost had never feared a thing in his life.
Rai sighed. If he had to, he could take the small ship apart and put it back together with his bare hands, a skill learned under Sam’s supervision—the mech was as harsh a taskmaster as any human Rai had ever worked for. Still, he felt like puking. The speeches and adulation of the farewell celebration were over, and now his doubts circled like vultures. I’m not ready.
-You’ll be ok.- Hera<‘s determined voice this time. She turned to squeeze his knee, and then fired up the Zhenyi’shydro-fuel engine. He flashed her a sheepish grin.
A hundred meters away, the Bristol’s takeoff shook the landing pad. Rai watched it rise, carrying Dax, Jess, Ola, and Xiu Ying, the London team, toward the bright stars above. The jumper’s expelled water froze almost instantly, falling as snow over the snaking lava tube that held the city of Redemption. A lunar blizzard whipped by them and shimmered into nothing.
Rai closed his eyes, remembering the night before. Jess, laughing and dancing with him at Heaven, the clear dome of the lunar sky sparkling above them, the heavy beat of the thromb club pulsing through his chest. Dancing like no one was watching.
He rubbed his jaw. It still ached from the fist he’d taken to the face. Wild party. And a wilder night with Ayvin, the jack he’d picked up at the club.
“Zhenyi, ready for liftoff in T-Minus ten seconds.” Sam’s voice, coming from Team Five’s ship, the Liánhuā, was cool and collected. Did the mech feel emotion, like the nausea that was boiling in Rai’s guts? His teammates were strong, smart, and prepared for anything. I can do this. Besides, it was too late to back out now.
“Affirmative.” Hera shifted in her seat, her biframes stretching her paralyzed legs for her.
“You’ll do okay, tiger.” Ghost elbowed him in the ribs.
“Six, five, four…” Hera swiped the glossy white control deck, and the launch controls appeared, floating over the white surface.
“Leave him alone.” Rai could hear the icy frown in Tien’s voice.
He closed his eyes, willing his stomach to calm. Here we go. Nothing he could do about it now.
“Three, two, one… hang on.” Hera fired the engines, and the craft lifted on a cloud of steam into the star-filled skies of Luna.
Rai squeezed his armrests again as G-force pushed him hard back in his seat. He was committed now. Poppies, Chinese Houses, Fiddlenecks, Baby Blue Eyes, Yellow Pansies, Star Lilies… Reciting the flowers of the old San Francisco basin helped soothe his abraded nerves as the rumbling of the little craft rattled his bones.
He opened his eyes to see Redemption receding below them. The great lava tube was striped with sparkling bands of solar receptors that let sunlight into the city below. Rail lines snaked out from Redemption to the transit center like roping vines—to the seed launcher at Copernicus Crater, to Renewal colony, and beyond.
As the city shrank below them, his fear turned to sadness, a lump forming in his throat. He’d taken his home for granted, enthralled by the idea of joining humankind’s greatest adventure in a century. Now he might never see it again.
The hydro rocket thrust them up out of Luna’s gravity well into naked space, toward the bright blue skies of the empty Earth above. Rai stared at it, that enigmatic ball in space which no one had visited in over a century. What secrets are you hiding?
The roar cut off as quickly as it had begun, leaving the Zhenyi drifting upward in silence as they slipped out of Luna’s grasp.
Hera’s hands flew across the deck, swapping the launch controls for navigation, and nudged them onto a new course following the Bristol toward the Launchpad.
Rai let go, his breath coming out in a heavy sigh.
“See? That wasn’t so bad.” Ghost unbuckled his seatbelt and stretched, yawning as if he didn’t have a care in the world.
God, he’s beautiful. Pale as his namesake under his mop of dirty blond hair, the engineer’s thick arms were just a suggestion under the bulky suit, but Rai could still see them in his mind. Ghost’s well-toned muscles, the smell of his skin after—
“You okay, buddy?” Ghost was staring at him, one dark eyebrow raised in concern.
Rai bit his lip and looked away. “Just nervous. Wondering if we’ll ever make it back home”
“Hey, if things go well after the drop, maybe you and me could open the first Earthside bar since the Crash.” Ghost leaned over him from behind to stare at the Earth through the porthole, his cheek close to Rai’s.
“That’s crazy.” But his spirits lifted. It was idiotic. And just the distraction he needed.
Ghost sank back into his own seat. “Every outpost needs a good bar where the colonists can blow off a little steam, right?”
Rai laughed in spite of himself, warming to the idea. “We could call it ‘The Frontier’.”
“‘The Wild Hookup’.”
“Best beer this side of the planet.””
Rai snorted. Just like old times. He hadn’t forgiven Ghost, though. Not yet. He looked down at his gloved hands, emblazoned with the leaf-and-orb of Redemption’s space service.
Things had ended badly between them—crash and burn bad. Still, they’d be too busy the next few weeks to think about anything but the drop. The survival of Redemption and the remnants of humanity depended on them.
He could let it go. I have to. He’d managed the launch, after all. I can do this too.
Ghost squeezed his shoulder and closed his eyes, touching his temple and bobbing his head to a song only he could hear.
Rai turned away.
“You’re stronger than any of us. Hera had told him that the night before. Still, he didn’t feel strong.
He looked out of the porthole again at the Earth—the same view they’d had from Heaven. And yet somehow, it looked different. More real.
Poppies, Chinese Houses, Fiddlenecks, Baby Blue Eyes, Yellow Pansies, Star Lilies…
He touched his hand to the porthole. Even through the glove, it was cold. We’re going home.
Scott lives with his husband Mark in a yellow bungalow in Sacramento. He was indoctrinated into fantasy and sci fi by his mother at the tender age of nine. He devoured her library, but as he grew up, he wondered where all the people like him were.
He decided that if there weren’t queer characters in his favorite genres, he would remake them to his own ends.
A Rainbow Award winning author, he runs Queer Sci Fi, QueeRomance Ink, and Other Worlds Ink with Mark, sites that celebrate fiction reflecting queer reality, and is a full member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA).
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