Earth is a storm-ravaged wasteland
Humanity has fled the planet, establishing bases off-world. But disaster has struck the food crops of Luna Base, leaving the Orbitals starving, and Mars Colony ignores their pleas for aid.
Hot-headed pilot Janlin Kavanagh will do anything to save her friends, so when SpaceOp captain Stepper Jordan proposes a sketchy plan to save their people, she immediately volunteers. Anything is better than slow starvation, even a risky voyage to an alien solar system in a ship with unproven Jump technology.
The mission faces unexpected dangers, and the mettle of Janlin and her crew is tested, against each other and the strange, new species they encounter. Can Janlin overcome mistrust and betrayal to salvage the mission and restore hope to her friends and herself?
Jumpship Hope by editor, author and Aurora nominee Adria Laycraft is also an Odyssey, but one in which the wanderers must find a new home: not only has Earth become uninhabitable, but the solar system colonies—established as desperate acts against impending extinction—also find themselves beleaguered. A jump to a barely known earth-like planet with untested propulsion methods looms as perhaps the only option left; and the volunteer crew of the scouting starship takes on the challenge, unaware that their destination is already fully inhabited by more than one sentient species possessing advanced technology and at war with each other. – Athena Andreadis
"Combining old-fashioned SF with 21st century concerns and a cast of flawed but very human characters, Jumpship Hope is adventure with heart."– Tanya Huff, author of The Confederation of Valour and the Peacekeeper series
"…a fast-paced science fiction adventure that had both a strong plot and compelling characters. It reminds me of the best of the works from the "golden age" of science fiction."– Scott T. Barnes, 5-star review on Amazon.com
"The characters are vivid, raw and real. Sometimes I wanted to reach into the pages and smack 'em one upside the head, or wildly hug them in triumph. … This is one of those books you experience rather than read."– Jennifer Rahn, 5-star review on Goodreads
By Adria Laycraft
JANLIN WOULD GO dirtside, SpaceOp restrictions be damned.
Her fingers flew over the keyboard as she did her best to convince the orbital's security system to let her book out a Shunter without authorization. She wished she could ask Gordon for help. Or her dad. But Gordon would tell her to wait for SpaceOp to save the day, and her dad was missing.
Her stomach ached.
The fungal spore from the now-abandoned Luna base had ripped through their crops, starving out plants just as they would starve if they couldn't fix it. Such a nasty way to die.
So she made up her mind to steal a ship, get Ursula some uncontaminated green life, and get out, storms be damned. As a pilot, this was her only way to help, and she was one of the few who could actually pull it off. So what if she wasn't willing to wait for the proper channels of authority to approve her flight? They would dither until it was too late.
First, she needed a Shunter, and that wasn't going well.
Janlin's comm buzzed. She touched her earlobe. "Go ahead."
"Ursula wants to show us something. You got a minute?"
Janlin stared at her botched attempts to hack the orbital's systems and sighed. "Yeah, sure."
She stepped out of her quarters to find Gordon waiting for her. At nearly six and a half feet, he dwarfed Janlin's lanky five foot four and caused all kinds of hassles for SpaceOp's cockpit designs.
"What's this about?" Janlin asked as they fell into step together. His long face was more drawn than ever, and kinda grey. Just another thing to drive her.
Gordon shrugged. "Not sure. Ursula probably wants to experiment on us again." He stared straight ahead as they walked the corridors, face tight, broad shoulders hunched. "Blimey hell, but I'm sick of being hungry."
Janlin wanted to tell him, wanted to ask him for help with her plan. But he knew the restrictions were in place for damned good reasons, and he tended to respect that. "We need a new damned planet," she muttered. Gordon gave a humourless laugh and agreed.
They strode along the corridor linking the thousands of pods that made up the orbital station. "Any word from Mars?" Janlin asked. That was the other place her dad could've gone, maybe to plead their case, maybe to negotiate more settlers, maybe to beg some fresh plant material to work with.
"After their response when the Luna base went under, they can blow it out their arse."
Janlin had to agree with her Brit friend.
"Do you think my dad's gone there?" she said, unable to keep her voice steady.
"Maybe," Gordon allowed, but he did not back it up with any further hope.
They entered the growhouse, where thirty pods were joined into one large area filled with rows of hydroponics. A lone soul moved among the plants, her lean figure clearly female but her face obscured by an old rebreather mask. When she noticed their approach, she tugged the mask off over what was left of her blonde hair.
"What have you got, Ursula?" Janlin wrinkled her nose at the smell of rotting foliage and stagnant fungus underlying the green life.
Ursula blinked, her eyes ringed with dark circles of exhaustion. "All I can figure to do is preserve as much of the crop into food as I can. Hopefully it will be enough to sustain us until we receive help. But once it's gone, it's gone. None of the new seedlings survived." She lifted her chin, but fear shone bright in her eyes. For all her calm logic and belief in science, Ursula's despair ran deeper than Janlin had realized . . . which left Janlin feeling a deep-set terror.
Gordon laid an encouraging hand on Ursula's shoulder, and she slipped closer to lean into him.
"What have you cooked up, luv?" Gordon asked.
"It's in my lab," she said, straightening and waving them to follow.
Ursula led them across the corridor to another pod, the door opening to a room stuffed with machines and equipment. A smell like sun-baked hay overpowered the place.
"This is mat-grass," Ursula said, presenting them with a small plate of flat, green squares. They each popped one in their mouths. Blue eyes wide, Ursula gave Janlin a look of appeal. "It utilizes every part of the plant to create nutrition, albeit lacking in taste. I don't know what else to do."
Gordon winced, chewed, and swallowed. Janlin quickly swallowed her own square, wishing she had a drink at hand. "Have you started new seedlings?"
"Sure," Ursula said, but Janlin caught the shadow that crossed the scientist's face. "We have a dozen different trays in containment that I'm testing different solutions on."
"How long can we last on these wafers?"
Ursula's look begged Janlin not to ask.
"We need to know," Janlin said, squeezing Ursula's arm in useless comfort. "How long?"
"The mat-grass wafers will last eight weeks. The seedling trays won't be ready for three, four weeks, and of course that only gives us baby plants, not full-grown crops." Ursula looked away, giving a little shake of her head. "If all the seedlings are clear of contamination, I could make more of this mat-grass out of some and let the rest mature . . . but we still have at least a hundred days until harvest." She gave them a look of desperation. "That's about fourteen weeks. We're short by six weeks, and that's only if these crops make it."
"We've sent for help, Urse," Gordon said, giving Janlin a murderous look over his wife's head. "SpaceOp will have to send those new bio-engineered plants they've been using on Mars."
"If Mars doesn't respond, then it's official. SpaceOp has abandoned us," Janlin said with quiet vehemence. "It's like they have no clue what we're really up against. Why else just shut us out?"
"Those blokes haven't gone hungry, not like we have," said Gordon. "And they're scared . . . for good reason." He took another tiny square of green and turned it over and over in his big fingers, but he didn't make any move to eat it.
"Kulturkampf," Ursula said in a mild voice as she poked a tray of the dried plant material.
Janlin tipped her head at the German. "Culture-who?"
Ursula smiled. "It's a 'culture struggle' . . . this is what we have here, don't you think?"
Janlin nodded. "Yeah, I guess so. Mars is its own culture now. But they're not really going to let us starve, are they?"
"I've done what I can . . ." Ursula began.
"Of course, you have, Urse. It's certainly not your fault." Janlin stared at the pile of green squares on the plate. "The mat-grass is . . . tasty."
Gordon sputtered, tossing his square at her. "Janlin Kavanagh, don't you lie to my wife!"
Janlin caught the tiny morsel and pulled her face into the best look of wide-eyed innocence she could muster to try and lighten the mood. Gordon shook his head. Ursula just looked sad. Janlin thought of how they were when they first came up to the station, how they would eat together in the lounge, laughing and talking late into the night shift, playing off each other's humour and basking in the glory of being involved in such an innovative program.
The goal had been to become independent of Earth support, a functional, closed system. There wasn't much hope from that quarter anyway. The numbers wiped out by famine were staggering, and when the growing storms had made Earth a no-fly zone, it got real . . . and they had met the challenge. Now, however, one little spore could end it all, starving them slowly as they circled the innocuous but unreachable blue marble . . . one nearly as inaccessible as Mars at the moment.
They were all suffering. Ursula's fine golden hair looked even sparser than Janlin's darker hair, and her already lean frame now seemed frail. Gordon hid his hair loss by simply shaving his head, but it pained Janlin to watch his muscular bulk dwindle away. When her own auburn hair started falling out in clumps, Janlin took to wearing a hat, which only brought it home harder at the end of the day when the hat held more hair than her head seemed to.
"We have to find something to start over with," Janlin insisted. "We could take a Shunter down, just me and Ursula, and you could scan for us. All we need is a few plants or seeds, right?" She held Gordon's gaze, daring him to take this chance. She scrambled for some leverage with her rule-abiding friend. "If we could get the gardens producing like they once did, maybe they'll let you have kids, too."
Something hollowed in her as she watched the look of pain and longing pass between her friends.
"If they'd only open up another dome on Mars—"
"But they won't," Janlin said, cutting Gordon off. "Not until it's too late." Too late for them, anyway, but she didn't need to say it. They knew.
Besides, a new dome would take years to establish. And the growing population on Mars might simply move in, leaving them struggling back in Earth's orbit, stranded while they watched Earth being torn apart by storms and drought. The joke was that Earth scoured itself clean of humanity.
It didn't help morale that applications for Mars were no longer being accepted "for the safety of those already in place." Janlin couldn't blame them. Every attempt at decontamination before abandoning Luna Base obviously hadn't kept the nasty moldmould spore from travelling with them to the station.
"They should help more, send more supplies," Gordon said, persisting. "Their gardens aren't as dodgy as ours. I can't believe Diona would let it go so far as to let us starve."
"Well, she is Stepper's sister, and she's had control over the entire space-faring population since Earth collapsed."
"But they could send something unmanned . . ."
"Again, that would be too little, too late. Look, our gardens did just fine until this infection spread. If we could just get some fresh soil and a plant or two, start again . . ." She could see Ursula's wheels turning, but Gordon still shook his head.
"It's too dangerous dirtside," he said. "And we'd never get permission."
Janlin swallowed and looked away, unable to admit she would go without it. She always was more of a rebel than him. Thankfully Ursula took up the fight with what she knew best—scientific logic.
"New material could give us a fresh start, Gordon. If I could rebuild with a completely clean system, and somehow keep the spore out . . ." Ursula paused, tapping her chin. "Perhaps if I created pathogen inoculums before we bring anything in, that would do it."
Janlin and Gordon exchanged their usual blank looks at Ursula's scientific jargon, but Janlin held on to the small hope. "All I know is, we need fresh plants, and we need them soon. It's worth the risk."
She'd fired something up in the biochemist. Ursula confronted Gordon. "Love, you told me the other day that there are growing pockets of calm between storms. Perhaps it is worth the risk."
Gordon frowned. "Those pockets are brief . . ."
Janlin waved off his protest. "You know a Shunter can take it, and you know I can fly it."
"I still don't like it. Why risk both of you?"
The words stung Janlin to silence for a long moment, a moment where Ursula explained how her bio-chem equipment and storage cells for proper decontamination weren't something she could just teach Janlin to use overnight, and Janlin was of course the best choice to get them there, seeing as they would need Gordon on the scanners while Janlin piloted.
But if Janlin could get what was needed without putting Ursula at risk, that would suit Gordon better.
Janlin never felt as alone as she did in that moment.
"We have to do something," Janlin said, ignoring the sting. "We can't rely on SpaceOp to rescue us."
"You're not even going to try and get this cleared first, are you?" he asked, and Janlin grimaced.
"We'll all be long dead if we wait for that."
Janlin stopped him with a look, and the close quarters suddenly became uncomfortable.
"Let me look at the latest weather charts first," Gordon said, and Janlin grinned, knowing he'd given in.
-End Chapter One-