Here is a sneak peak at the sci-fi story I’m writing. It’s more in the tradition of Ender’s Game than true Middle Grade. I am making efforts to be kid-friendly, but it’s not a safe world where adults can always protect kids from having to face difficult adult issues and may only be okay for kids whose worlds aren’t that way, either. To see links to other participants samples, check out Ruth Snyder’s blog.
Life After Mars Chapter One
Flashes of a claustrophobic white tube haunted the Martian pioneer girl. Gloria was playing Quarter Liter in her favorite cartoon. Virtual reality was getting so good, the Old West frontier town’s empty street looked almost as real as the videos of Earth. She should be watching one at school with her sister. Instead she was at the hospital clear in the New Plymouth sector of Xanthe Outpost.
It was normal for her head to hurt a little. Why would it hurting a lot get her sent to a tourist trap for Earthers with cancer? They came seeking miracles and got death instead.
Remnants of her headache throbbed despite the strong medicine that had been pumped into her veins. She squinted in Cartoon Earth’s strong sunlight and shook her head. That nightmare made no sense. What would make sense was skipping school to go play with Pa.
Her sister would be mad. This had to be coming out of her sister’s allowance. Federica—pronounced FE-de-RI-ca—somehow made her energy rations last all week. Gloria used up her energy rations in three days. Then she’d have to wait four long days before she could again run down the cartoon streets of nineteenth-century De Smet, North Dakota.
She’d skipped the forth Vast Prairie show, Apricot Pond, as her sector was named after it. Her sector was an oasis in a vast, freezing, deadly desert. An oasis under Plexiglas was a cage.
Pioneer girls weren’t made to be caged.
She and Federica would be dead long before their people won their battle to achieve a Mars with an atmosphere both plants and people could breathe. How could Federica stand the thought of living in a cage for their whole lives? Gloria gulped. The only scarier thought was having been shipped to the hospital in New Plymouth to die like the rich gringos.
If only it were Commander Peyton Fowler. Having two daughters by him got Ma the same energy rations as everyone else in Apricot Pond. The sisters did have bearing Peyton’s surname to thank for their allowances, but maybe energy would be unlimited if he were dead. Then she could be a Cruz like Ma.
She’d gotten way too old to daydream about Pa magically becoming real enough to marry Ma and adopt her and Federica. No, he’d still be only a virtual doll if he ever stopped giving her dumb error messages and moved to her early birthday present, augmented reality glasses. Pa ought to be able to use the military satellites to access Oceancast’s cloud server on Earth and give her a reason to use her present.
And Pa had once again proved he was a virtual doll by putting himself away when she stopped playing with him. She stomped her foot. “Pa!”
The computer loaded as a tall cartoon gringo—a man who wasn’t Hispanic. This one had pale skin, a scruffy black beard, a stripped pink shirt, and dark trousers worn with suspenders. His blue eyes had a permanent, most unnatural twinkle. “Could you please remind me where we are in your version of the show’s script?”
Grr. Stupid machine. She rolled her eyes. “We are at the part where you prove you are an inteligencia artificial rather than a máquina estúpida.”
Pa shifted his feet. “If you must know, this ‘stupid machine’ is a program. I am a self-aware actor being dragged into handling a customer service complaint. I wish you would accept ‘no’ already and let me get back to what I was made to do: entertain you with a VR show.”
Grr. Maquinas estupidas. “Play your role! Just do it from my new augmented reality glasses. They’re supposed to be less energy-consuming.” Plus Ma doesn’t care for the number of hours I spend with my head inside a virtual reality helmet. I shouldn’t mention her, though. She isn’t a part of his world. She glanced at her cartoon body. It had braided pigtails, and her sunbonnet hung down over her calico dress. Can Pa hear my thoughts? If I understand right, the VR works by the computer reading my mind while I’m asleep and influencing my dreams.
Pa nodded. “If you want us to talk telepathically, then play a show not set two hundred years ago. Unless my user insists, I am to refrain in settings where it doesn’t make logical sense.”
Ooh. She grinned. “Rewrite the show’s genre from historical to time travel.”
“Which role is the time traveler?”
“Me and Federica replaced Quarter Liter and her big sister when we were really nine. We’re twelve now.”
“Yes, you are now old enough for Vast Prairie: De Smet Part 1. You can replay it.”
“That’s nice. I want my requested script change to the third part of De Smet, please.”
Pa sighed. “To confirm, in the script, you stole the bodies of my oldest two daughters at the time you deleted my wife and my younger two daughters and made us move here early?”
“Yes, and now I have to move back home to my time, and I am offering to take you with me. With your lust for adventure, how could you possibly resist a new frontier to settle?”
“I wouldn’t without my wife around to insist we stay put in De Smet. However, I am still not sure that request is a legal operation in real life, Quarter Liter. One moment, please, while I try to call my maker. He lives on Earth, so please expect delays.” Pa froze for a long, long time.
She shrugged and ran off into a field beyond Main Street in long leaps. Cartoon wild flowers waved in the wind. She plucked some and began braiding them into a crown. She’d finished one for herself and one for her sister, too, before the computer’s avatar finally reloaded.
Pa beamed at her and puffed out his chest. “The government spybots managing the military satellites did generously permit me to use their bridges. I reached Oceancast’s cloud service and was able to get a software update. My shows are now playable in augmented reality, but the spybots instructed me to remind you that I am for entertainment purposes only.”
“And their point is?” She scrunched her brows.
“It is legal for me to make your virtual dolls move and speak for your amusement, but I can’t assist you with any other computing task. You’d need another kind of AI for that.”
If her system didn’t already have one, likely, it cost more energy than she got for her allowance. She squared her jaw. “Pa, we are pioneers! We make due with what we have.”
To see links to other participants samples, check out Ruth Snyder’s blog.