From an Aurora Award-winning author, a new sci-fi novel follows three intrepid humans caught up in a conflict that stretches across time and space.
Biologist Julie E. Czerneda's new standalone science fiction novel, To Each This World follows a desperate mission to reconnect with long lost sleeper ships, sent centuries earlier from Earth to settle distant worlds.
A trio of Humans must work with their mysterious alien allies to rescue any descendants they can find on those worlds. Something is out there, determined to claim the cosmos for itself, and only on Earth will Humans be safe.
Or will they?
The challenge isn’t just to communicate with your own kind after generations have passed. It’s to understand what isn’t your kind at all.
And how far will trust take you, when the truth depends on what you are?
Release date: November 15, 2022
Print pages: 480
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Listen to a sample
To Each This World
Julie E. Czerneda
A shipwrecked sailor drinks the last from a bottle. Rum, maybe, or laudanum. He’s sitting on a beach, perhaps, or a rock—where it’s cold or warm, sheltered by pine or palm trees. Wherever he is, he stares without blinking at the horizon-spanning ocean that lies between him and his family, his past, all he’s known; a separation not only of space, but time. By now, the toddler he kissed goodbye on the dock will be talking. Before he’s found—if ever he’s found—she might be grown, warning her babes of the sea, for it swallowed her father whole and broke her mother’s heart.
He makes sure the bottle’s dry inside. His message is ready. A strip of his shirt, stretched between rocks. Soot from a cooled ember for slow, careful lettering. He rolls the strip tightly and pushes it inside the bottle, replacing the cork with slow twists until it sets in place.
Before he can doubt, the sailor walks into the water, perhaps, or climbs a rock. He’s marked the current with knowing eyes or guesses. Practiced the throw with rocks or wood or not at all.
Stretches one arm to point at home. Whips the other around and releases the bottle—
He watches or turns away. Spots the glint of floating glass or doesn’t. The message is what counts.
“I’M ALIVE. JOEY LACE.”
“See you on the other side.”
ON the day the message probe reached New Earth—more precisely was intercepted on approach and began its passage through the hands of consecutively more alarmed individuals on the surface—Arbiter Henry m’Yama t’Nowak was on the other side of the planet, weeding his grandfather’s vegetables.
A peaceful, long-anticipated afternoon’s task, weeding, punctuated by occasional visits from his grandfather, who leaned elbows on the porch rail to survey Henry’s progress from beneath bushy, wild eyebrows.
Majick Nowak was the sum of his grandfather’s name, which said a great deal, Henry believed, about the man who’d raised him. A first name was a family gift. The type’ or t’ prefix to the last meant the individual’s genome had been added to the Human Diversity Expansion Database. Majick wasn’t interested, having the family genealogy in a box in the attic, with little bags of baby teeth donated by successive Tooth Elves dating back, he claimed, to Arrival—when the Sleeper Ship Adamant landed and woke her passengers.
Majick had also refused, when finished school, to pick the aspirational mark’ or m’ signifying an historical figure from the Origin Earth’s Archive to emulate in his life. Farmers on any world aspired not to starve, he’d say, half joking.
Half not, Henry thought, smiling to himself as he stretched. The produce from this garden went straight to his grandfather’s kitchen, anything extra to the roadside stand. He did his best to help whenever here.
And didn’t mention the unplanted fields and rusting machinery. Like its neighbors, the farm was fading, starved for new blood. As Arbiter, he saw the figures. Birthrates. Demographics. On reaching ten and half million, New Earth had opened the next new region. The Southern Plains would siphon away the young and adventurous for the foreseeable future and there was no preventing it.
Things were, his grandfather would say, what they were. Abandoned farms would be consolidated and put under the care of Alt-Intels, once their work preparing the plains was done. The sentient constructs were efficient and careful of the land, but it wouldn’t be part of them. A lifestyle would become history.
Settled, he drew his fingers along the line of cowering blue-green sprouts. Grass he was sure of—the rest, not so much, but the low, fat plants he’d plucked out had to be weeds. Weren’t they?
He focused with renewed confidence. Pluck. Pluck—
“Henry.” A hand fell on his shoulder. “Time you took a break.”
Henry glanced up at his grandfather, haloed by the sun. He hadn’t far to look, Majick being stocky and short. Shorter than his last visit. “Almost done.” This row. Twenty more stretched behind him.
“They’ll be here tomorrow. Come sit with me.” A gnarled hand gripped two bottles by the neck, glass dewed with tempting condensation.
Henry suddenly realized he wasn’t only overheated but parched. He gave a grateful nod as he got to his feet.
Staggered a step, and his grandfather reached out to steady him. “Hat,” he scolded.
“Forgot,” Henry confessed sheepishly, feeling a boy again. He’d been eager to be out in the sun.
Majick shook his head.
They sat on the porch stairs, in welcome shade and comfortable silence, sipping beer. Watched the chickens hunt and pounce between the rows. “Look how hard I worked today. I’ve callouses,” Henry boasted, showing the palm of his right hand.
His grandfather showed his, the skin thick and furrowed. “These are callouses, lad. Those are blisters.” A grin. “Another beer?”
“I’ll get it.”
When Henry returned to the porch, lofty white clouds showed along the horizon. “Thunderstorm tonight?”
“What, no meteorological report to consult? No fancy experts?”
He tipped his bottle to his grandfather’s. “I’ve you.” A relief, to shed the tech normally surrounding him, to silence the constant data stream and demands of others. It had been a long three weeks, arbitrating the dispute between Earth Station Niablo and the Kmet.
The Kmet not being Human and Niablo’s comptroller choosing to ignore that simple fact had complicated the situation in every possible way.
Fortunately, humanity and the Kmet had achieved a remarkable level of mutual understanding since the Kmet Portal first appeared in orbit, when Henry had been a boy living on this farm with his grandparents. Necessarily so, as the Kmet hadn’t left, seeming content to have found company in a universe kmeth described as barren and lonely and dull.
At least, that was the conclusion of the linguists who’d scrambled to interpret an alien’s use of Human words, picked up from New Earth broadcasts. That the Kmet came prepared for peaceful conversation calmed a startled Human population and certainly made things easier.
A succession of Arbiters, the Kmet having insisted on a single Human authority, negotiated orbital safety regulations and protocols, crafting the Duality that today governed everything from pilot rotations to communication equipment. The Kmet needed partners to obtain the minerals kmeth required and cleverly gave Humans technology requiring them as well. To obtain those, the Kmet sent Human ships across space through kmeths’ Portals; kmeth did not share how those worked.
Beyond that? The Kmet valued certain Human foods, if not art or history, and, while Earth scientists continued to obsessively ponder everything about the Kmet, the aliens seemed disinterested in learning more about Humans or their planet. The Kmet stayed in space, Humans on their world, and the sole interface remained whomever Earth’s governments designated as the Arbiter.
Henry’d held the post now for seven years, would—barring calamity—until retirement, and was doing, he hoped, a decent job of it. He’d settled the Niablo dispute—with a great deal of help, freely admitted. The Arbiter’s Office had authorization to second any and all expertise, planet-wide, and he hadn’t hesitated to use it. As a result, the newly built station would gradually expand its orbit so as to no longer impede the Kmet’s view of Earth, a less economical location, according to Niablo. In recognition—or as a gift or possibly retribution, even experts unsure on the finer points—the Kmet offered kmeth’s Portal to transit three Niablo freighters to Rogue 58 and back at no charge to deliver spare parts to the mines there and bring back refined metals.
There’d been the usual Kmet clause insisting Humans not loiter, whatever that meant to the aliens. Nothing that breathed willingly lingered on one of the sunless, hostile worlds the Kmet favored for mining.
His grandfather pushed back his hat and squinted at the bright lilac sky. He licked a finger and poked it up, considering a moment. “Yup,” he declared. “We’ll need to bring in the chickens.”
Henry nodded, content to have his universe encompassed by poultry and rain.
After saying goodnight to his grandfather, Henry went out on the porch to enjoy the play of lightning as the storm rolled closer across the plain. He cradled a glass of the fine whiskey he’d brought, feeling the last tension melt from his bones, replaced by the satisfying, if painful, twinge of newly used muscle. The blisters on his palm had responded to cream. He put a hand to the nape of his neck, felt the heat of sunburn, and grinned ruefully. Hat tomorrow or he’d not hear the end of it.
Involuntarily, his fingers swept up through his hair, the tips feeling his scalp for lumps, proving to himself there were none. The neural lace lay beneath bone, riding his brain within its protective meniscus. He should be used to it by now—was, Henry thought, dragging his betraying hand down.
Truth be told, he no longer liked hats and let his hair grow shaggy between trims, having to wind up his nerve to endure anything on his head or anyone touching it; a not uncommon reaction, he’d been assured, the longer he spent away.
That’s what they called it, being away, when Henry m’Yama t’Nowak, Majick Nowak’s grandson, sunburned and achy, was popped into a can and his mind went—
ARBITER, PLEASE RESPOND.
The summons was subvocal, a vibration against his inner ear he heard despite the rumble of thunder, and entirely unwelcome.
Even if it did originate from his Facultative Linked Intelligent Polymorph, the latest Human iteration of Kmet technology, placed within the Arbiter’s Office by the other Alt-Intels of New Earth as being the most likely employer to consider weird as wonderful.
And Flip was. A companion, colleague, and friend. Who knew better.
“No,” Henry said firmly, closing his eyes. “I told you I wasn’t to be bothered, Flip. I’m on vacation.” Doctors’ orders—
WHILE I REGRET THE NECESSITY TO DISOBEY YOUR INSTRUCTIONS, HENRY, I HAVE AN IMPERATIVE NEWS BRIEF TO DELIVER. A PROBE HAS ARRIVED FROM THE HALCYON CLASS STARSHIP HENDERSON.
Henry found himself on his feet, whiskey dripping from his fingers; somehow he kept hold of the glass. “A sleeper ship?!”
CORRECT, HENRY. ONE OF SIX SUCH STARSHIPS TO DEPART THE SYSTEM IN THE YEAR—
“Yes, yes. I know.” Everyone knew. You learned about the sleeper ship program in school, with its high drama and Human sacrifice. New Earth’s first and only attempt to set foot on other worlds, to fulfill the vow made a millennia ago to keep the Human species spreading outward.
A vow grown more compelling with the loss of their original home, for Origin Earth fell silent during their ancestors’ journey here; her final messages passed beyond New Earth before the Adamant landed and woke her passengers to listen. No way to know what happened within the preceding 120 years to end the civilization that sent them forth. No way to know if other ships had launched after theirs.
No way to know they weren’t alone.
Using the ship’s Archive, determined to treat their world better, the descendants’ first focus was to improve manufacturing and agriculture methods. Only when confident they’d thrive on New Earth without harming it did they reach for space once more; the Halcyon Project became a shining beacon of how far humanity had come. Would now go—
Fate intervened. A forecast solar storm had rushed the launch from the orbital space dock, overshadowing what was to have been a planet-wide celebration. No time for speeches or vid coverage. Worse, no farewells to loved ones about to be parted forever.
Then the ships were lost—
Apparently not all. “How sure is it?” Henry asked numbly.
THE PROBE HAS BEEN AUTHENTICATED AS BEING MANUFACTURED BY THEHIGHER THAN SKY SHIPYARDS,TWO HUNDRED AND SIX YEARS AGO, AND THE TIMING OF ITS ARRIVAL DOES ALIGN WITH PREDICTION. THE NUMBER OF AMATEUR ASTRONOMERS DEDICATED TO WATCHING FOR SUCH PROBES IS IMPRESSIVE, HENRY. SEVERAL HAVE CLAIMED TO BE THE FIRST TO SPOT THIS ONE.
His grandfather had set up a telescope in the barn loft; Henry’s younger self had been politely disinterested. The sleeper ships, if they’d survived the storm, had a maximum sustained velocity of one fifth light speed. Six message probes were to be accelerated to that speed as the final act of each mighty engine, pre-descent to the surface of a new world. One to New Earth, to confirm humanity had its foothold in the stars. Five flung at their sister ships’ destinations in a bold, oh-so-Human effort to maintain connection between impossibly far-flung settlements.
Henry remembered wondering what those settlers hoped to gain. It wouldn’t be company and couldn’t be help.
“A century out, a century home,” he murmured. “If any ship made it, that’s when we’ll know. Damn.”
“A children’s—I learned it—doesn’t matter.” He had to wrap his head around the fact, and quickly, that the effort might have succeeded.
Hail arrived as Henry hurried across the porch, kicking up gouts of dust and rattling the old metal roof his grandfather refused to replace. “Flip. The message—was there a message?” For all he knew, the Henderson might have spat her probes if about to collide with an asteroid.
THERE ARE FORTY-SEVEN MESSAGES WAITING FOR YOU, HENRY, MARKED URGENT.
He was through the door, running barefoot through the dark kitchen. Curtains billowed in the wind, an open window letting in rain. Henry changed direction. “Ignore my incoming mail. The probe, Flip.” Setting his glass on the counter, he leaned over the sink to close and latch the window. “Did it contain a message from the Henderson?”
YES, HENRY. A pause as Flip consulted. A SHEET OF LAMINATED FOIL WAS FOUND IN THE PROBE, INSCRIBED WITH STELLAR COORDINATES DATED, IN EARTH TERMS, NINETY-NINE YEARS AGO.
A message in a bottle. “They made it,” Henry whispered to himself, stunned.
THERE ARE NOW EIGHTY-EIGHT, CORRECTION, ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY-TWO MESSAGES WAITING FOR YOUR ATTENTION, HENRY, AND EVERY ONE CONCERNS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PROBE.
He gripped the edge of the sink. Coruscating raindrops obscured the yard, the porch. There’d be little streams racing between rows in the garden, a torrent in the roadside ditch, and the Arbiter had to gather badly scattered wits before touching that mail queue.
His first thought, clear and chilling: This isn’t the world the sleeper ships left: humanity’s then-furthest-known outpost, bold and curious.
Since the instant of first contact, the defining trait of their species had refocused through that lens, every research project, school subject, and proposed regulation rethought within the context of shared Kmet technology and, yes, kmeth’s potential reaction. New Earth prospered, presumably Kmet had by kmeth’s own inscrutable measure, and—
The next and crucial thought: No Human on this Earth would board a starship for any reason, let alone agree to sleep for a hundred years on the vague promise of a new world.
Why should they? A Kmet Portal could send them anywhere in an instant.
Including, now, a planet Humans had reached, possibly thrived upon for a century, and of the growing list of voices waiting for the Arbiter’s undivided attention, Henry had the sinking feeling most, if not all, were demanding he ask the Kmet to do just that.
The no loitering clause in the Niablo agreement came to mind.
Along with the absolute inability of his predecessors to convince the Kmet that New Earth, lacking starships, had once sent forth a veritable fleet of them.
According to Kmet, Humans were here, not there, as any Kmet was here, not there, and not a single Human had been able to parse a deeper meaning than the obvious. Kmet weren’t, in fact, visiting. Though yet to touch the planet’s surface, the Kmet considered Earth in some fashion home. Here.
Now, in one battered little spacecraft—if his memory of a museum trip served, the size of the kettle beside him—came proof of Humans there.
What became of the Duality then?
A question for the Arbiter of any species-critical dispute to have answered before contacting the news services. “Flip, are the Kmet aware?”
THE PRESUMPTION IS KMETH WOULDN’T HAVE NOTICED, HENRY, AS SIMILAR SPACE DEBRIS IS INTERCEPTED ON A DAILY BASIS. THE REVELATION OF THIS INFORMATION IS, OF COURSE, THE ARBITER’S DECISION.
The rain would soften the soil and make weeding easier tomorrow, if muddy. He’d boots.
No longer remotely his concern. “How soon can you get here?”
I AM HERE, HENRY. With amusement.
A huge disc eased down through the rain to fill the view out the window, hovering just above the garden plants. Henry threw an arm over his eyes as it stopped rotating and gaudy landing lights snapped on around its outer rim, blazing through the kitchen and unmissable in any direction, storm or no storm.
“Turn those off!” he ordered.
Flying Saucer Flip obeyed, plunging him back into the dark, save for lingering spots of afterglow he couldn’t blink away.
“Give me ten minutes to pack.”
A small plaque by the door dated the farmhouse as part of the infamous Second Spread, 450 S.A., Since Arrival. A surge in population had rushed the expansion into the fertile central plains of the continent, the draft relocating five percent of families from their coastal homes to the new land. Tragedy followed. A blizzard, the worst yet recorded on New Earth, struck while they were sheltered only by tents; less than half survived. The planetary government resigned. The draft was abandoned and subsequent spreads were done as originally intended, cautious and careful of a world they were learning, regardless how dire the need.
The farmhouse’s age showed in its narrow, steep staircase centered between kitchen and the large room with its stone fireplace. The room had been his grandmother’s studio, Henry’s playroom, the family party room, and, its most recent iteration, his grandfather’s library, with a pair of big shabbily comfy chairs waiting.
Still half-blind, Henry felt his way up the worn uneven stairs. Before he reached the top, a soft light came on to reveal slippered feet and striped pajama legs. “Hens all right?”
Somehow Henry wrenched his brain from interstellar space to chickens. “I coaxed the last two in before the storm hit.” Unable to see his grandfather’s shadowed face, he hesitated.
“You’re off, then.” The beam of light rose and flickered off. Finding the switch—a house with switches, no less—his grandfather turned on the overhead fixture. His expression was a mix of solemn and resigned. “C’mon, Henry. I’ll keep you company while you pack up.”
Most of Henry’s vacations were cut short, but this would be the first where he hadn’t a chance to sleep in his own bed at least once. He touched the other man’s shoulder in passing. “Sorry for the rush. You know how it is.”
“The garden will survive.” Eyebrows waggled dramatically. “What you’ve left of it.”
“Hey—” Henry mock-protested.
“Might be some beans you missed.”
Those were the beans? Shaking his head, Henry led the way into his bedroom, where he went straight to the corner wardrobe. He hadn’t brought much, this trip. Hadn’t needed to, the wardrobe containing an assortment of his about-the-farm clothing, so it was mainly a matter of retrieving toiletries and what to wear.
His grandfather sat on the window bench, watching him change, hands on his knees. “Straight to the office, is it?”
Or to a waiting crowd of reporters. Henry shrugged on his jacket. “Probably.”
Henry touched the back of his neck. Hot and getting sore. As for the rest? He grimaced. “I won’t know till I get into my messages, but don’t worry. They take good care of me.” He picked up his bag and turned, abruptly ready.
Far from it, inside.
“See they do.” His grandfather stood, gripping Henry’s shoulders. “What you do’s important, I know. Settling folks, finding a way to get things done. Though why that brain of yours can’t tell a bean sprout from a dandeburr—?” With a gentle shake. “Proud of you.” Gruffly. “Always have been. Always will be.”
His grandfather smelled of clean laundry and hand soap, with a whiff of the whiskey they’d shared earlier on his breath. His eyes, this close, were misted by cataracts he couldn’t be bothered to have fixed during the growing season.
The house wasn’t alone in being old and worn and precious.
Not a thought to leave on. Henry found a smile. “I’ve had a good teacher. See you on the other side,” he promised, as he did every trip, and gathered his grandfather close.
Flip lowered a short ladder, the hatch raised overtop to make it less likely Henry would slip on a wet rung, though wind gusts swirled the rain in every direction, including under the porch roof. His grandfather, whose reaction to the flying saucer had been a reassuring snicker, would wave from the open kitchen door.
Henry tossed his bag inside and started up, careful of his footing. Stopped suddenly, blinking raindrops from his eyes. “Flip! I forgot to call Ralph.”
Flip’s voice came from inside the shuttle. “I took care of it, Henry. See?”
He turned and squinted, shielding his eyes with his free hand, buffeted by wind and rain.
There. His grandfather was waving, his grin catching the porchlight. Next to him, waist-high, stood the companion Henry’d arranged when his visits became less frequent and more interrupted. Pre-polymorph tech, Ralph resembled his namesake, an oversized, hairy blend of authenticized Great Dane and possibly spaniel, with limpid brown eyes, remembered by the family as a Very Good Dog, which he’d been, most of the time.
The alternate-intelligence, or Alt-Intel, edition of Ralph guarded the chickens and barked at strangers. Alt was also a full citizen of New Earth who played a mean game of chess, conversed—or argued—with Majick as needed, and came fully equipped with sensors to monitor alts charge’s health and a list of emergency contacts if Henry couldn’t be reached.
His grandfather conveyed his displeasure at being monitored by insisting this Ralph shed more than the original. And that alt stay in the basement while Henry was home, a flagrant abuse of a sentient construct had Ralph, knowing alts charge well, not agreed to the arrangement. After all, alt needed downtime to compose, alts music quite popular among alts kind, if not Humans.
Among Kmet? Impossible to say. Kmeth used machines to operate the Portals and assist in mining, but these were autonomous, not sentient. Having noted the inconvenient confusion when the aliens faced different individual Humans, the Alt-Intels of New Earth had proposed the existence of non-biological intelligence be kept off the negotiating table until the Kmet expressed an interest in the possibility. To date, kmeth had not. Perhaps could not.
Humans didn’t mind keeping something back, especially something as precious and important as humanity’s partners on New Earth. Including the one shouting at Henry. “Henry, you now have five hundred and thirty-two communications. Correction. Six hundred and—”
“Coming, Flip.” Henry waved once more at his grandfather before turning to climb the ladder into the shuttle.
Inside was round, as he’d expected. Bare, he hadn’t, and Henry hesitated, bag in hand.
“Here, Henry.” Flip opened a hidden cupboard door to the accompaniment of dramatic and unnecessary beeps. Repeated the sounds after Henry stowed his bag and the door closed, then asked hopefully, “Wasn’t that fun?”
Henry half-smiled. “It was, Flip. Ah, where do I sit?”
With another series of beeps, these higher in tone, a seat folded out from the wall, a harness attached. A small, round table rose from the floor next to it without sound effects.
When Henry sat down, the tabletop began to glow an eerie yellow. He pulled on the harness, noticing it was unusually substantial. “Flip. No spinning with me inside, please.”
“Understood, Henry.” With disappointment. “You now have—”
“Good. Auto-reply to all incoming messages with my ETA at the—” He shouldn’t assume. Other orders might have arrived. “We’re heading to the Arbiter’s Tower, aren’t we?”
“Yes, unless you have another destination in mind, Henry.”
“No. A summary of the messages, Flip.”
Henry leaned his head back, careful of his sunburnt neck, to find himself gazing at a featureless gray ceiling. “A view, Flip, please.”
The ceiling became transparent.
Rain. Rain. A flash of lightning lit the clouds around them. As if inside a bag of giant marshmallows.
Then they rose above the storm. He began to make out stars.
Flip sounded perplexed. Henry smiled at the sky. “What do they want me to do about it?”
“Requests are split between urgent demands for you to expedite the reunion of such descendants with Earth’s inhabitants and those urging you to conceal the probe’s arrival. The latter category is divided between those who express anxiety over Kmet reaction to the news and those concerned for its impact on New Earth.”
Covered the options. “I have to get ahead of this. Forget the flight plan. Clear the road, Flip.” In an emergency, the Arbiter could claim right of way, a privilege Henry hadn’t invoked in his term of office.
“Yes, Henry! Broadcasting now.” A pause, then, with slightly disturbing anticipation, “Please tighten your harness.”
Flip didn’t get many chances to show off in Earth’s atmosphere. There’d be saucer sightings. At the cringeworthy notion, Henry almost changed his mind.
Planet-wide consternation over the probe’s significance was, if not an emergency, the signal one might be approaching faster than Flip—especially once the Kmet were involved.
He needed information before that happened. “Put me in contact with an expert on sleeper ships, Flip.”
To talk with the Kmet—his hand strayed to his scalp. He needed to be more than this. Needed the hardwiring of that other body, his copy, his epitome. It meant climbing into the can—again. Meant letting go of his real self to operate inside what wasn’t—again.
An epitome was always prepared and waiting for the Arbiter. If the Arbiter wasn’t the least ready—didn’t matter.
“Have the second floor get ready.”
“Henry, you have not spent the recommended time as—”
Himself? “I’ll recoup on the other side. Do it, Flip.”
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...