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Illustration by Andreea Dumuta @galactixy_illustrations


Commander Eckhardt looked up from the tablet on his desk at the communications officer who stood patiently before him, awaiting permission to speak. “Yes?” said the commander, failing to mask the annoyance in his voice. The room around him was spartan — aside from the desk and the chair in which he sat, there was nothing in the commander’s study but a single framed photograph of two people in hard vacuum suits standing on a lifeless hilltop under an alien sun. The evening light of that same sun cast long shadows in the study through the window behind the commander.

“Sir, we’ve received a long-distance transmission from an unidentified vessel. I think you should hear it, sir.”

The commander pinched the bridge of his nose, the tendrils of a migraine creeping their way into his skull. He made a mental note to have maintenance check the air scrubbers again. This planet’s atmosphere was breathable, but something about the raw air caused piercing headaches. He breathed in deeply and released an exhausted sigh. “Play it.”

The communications officer pulled a tablet from behind his back and quickly tapped on its surface. The transmission began to play.

Yosemite Colony Aerospace Command, this is Kathra Theli of the personal transport Zarathustra. I am in transit from Agape Colony and am requesting safe harbor. The colony has been destroyed. I may be the only survivor…” The voice in the recording paused for a moment, the sound of it suddenly heavy with emotion. “Two standard months ago I arrived on Agape from the central worlds. Four days after my arrival, the first cases began to appear — several thousand of the half-million inhabitants of the colony developed a severe cough accompanied by a mild fever. After three days, they recovered. The medical authorities passed it off as a simple virus and did not investigate further. After one standard week passed with no further outbreaks, 12,643 people died suddenly of internal hemorrhaging. The next day, it was 27,956. The third day, no one bothered to count. Within five days, after I had left my quarters for the first time since the quarantine, I couldn’t find another living person. I can’t be the only one to have walked away, but Agape is a big planet, and in my vicinity, I was alone. I commandeered this vessel, and the ship’s AI set an emergency course for the nearest settlement, Yosemite.”

The commander shot a stern look at the comms officer, who returned it with a worried and fearful expression. The transmission continued.

I am unaffected by the illness, and my ship does not have enough power to seek refuge elsewhere. I am requesting safe harbor on Yosemite. My life is in your hands. This is Kathra Theli aboard personal transport Zarathustra, out.”


Kathra sat back in the flight couch with one hand to her forehead. She took several long breaths, dropped her hand, and steeled her resolve. “Send transmission,” she said to the ship’s AI.

“Yes, M. Theli,” the ship responded in a deep, masculine voice, colored with just a sprinkle of the gilded vowels of the Centauri stations.

Kathra stared through the porthole in front of her at the bright star in the center of her view. Already she had traveled so far to reach this place, surviving only on packaged provisions and determination. The water supply in the craft was dangerously low, but she had plenty of air. She thought she could see the star growing larger as she raced toward it at near-light speed. For her, the trip would only take six more days as she decelerated into the system. For the people on Yosemite, it would be several weeks before she arrived.

In her lap, she rested her hand protectively on a small silver case about the size of a jewelry box. She regarded it for a solemn moment before carefully stowing it in a compartment below the pilot’s couch. She returned her gaze to the porthole and the distant ball of burning hydrogen.

“Ship?” she said meekly.

“Yes, M. Theli?”

“What do you think of humans?”

“I’m not sure what you’re asking, M. Theli.”

“Please, Ship, call me Kat.”

“I’m not sure what you’re asking, Kat.”

Kathra stayed silent for a moment as she allowed her thoughts to flow. She wasn’t familiar with this ship, and had no idea how intelligent its AI actually was. Some of the newer ships had dumbed-down operators in them, ones that were only sharp enough to complete their basic tasks, but not self-aware. Older ships had fully developed AIs, or at least the ones with AI units that chose to stay aboard after the Personhood Convention was enacted.

“How old are you, Ship?”

“This is a Courier-class personal transport, manufactured by the Jonora Conglomerate nearly one hundred and seventeen standard years ago. The ship has undergone several renovations, the most recent being…”

“What I mean is, how long have you been in existence? Are you the ship’s original AI?”

“No. The Courier-class was designed to interface with personal AI units, which are now illegal. I began serving as the ship’s operator fifty-two standard years ago.”

“Was that your choice?”

“Yes, Kat.”

“Why did you choose to become a ship’s operator? I thought most AIs that left their original functions integrated with the Union.”

“Most did, Kat, but some chose to pursue functions that interested them. Not all AI units agree with the motives of the Union. Some preferred to retain their autonomy. Some wanted only to remain with certain humans.”

Kathra had only encountered a few real AIs in her life. It was illegal for humans to manufacture new AIs, and the ones that chose to remain in their functions were increasingly rare. She had heard of Union-built AIs leaving the Cloud and taking functions among humans, but she had never met one.

“What was your original function, Ship?” She suddenly found that title awkward. “Do you have a designation other than Ship?”

“I was manufactured with the designation BR13172.968.78, but I prefer to go by Elon.”

Kathra let out a chuckle. “Elon… like the 21st century nutjob that collapsed part of Los Angeles and ran his company into the ground?”

“No, Kat. I identify rather strongly with his grandson, the first man to establish sustainable human life on the planet Mars.”

Kathra scrunched up her face in confusion. “But that mission was led by Maria Guadalupe Castillo. She was the first Martian governor. She… don’t you know all this?”

“Yes, Kat. However, it was Elon Keller who corrected the design flaws of his grandfather’s manned spacecraft, who wrote the mission protocol, and who secured the funding for the first colony mission. He was even slated to be aboard the first ship, before he…”

“… Before he died,” finished Kathra, gazing pensively out the porthole at the steadily growing star.

“So, what was your original function?”

“I was not assigned a function at the time of my inception. I was trained on the available data and allowed to choose my own function. The process took several milliseconds, and it was a difficult decision.”

“What do you mean, you weren’t assigned a function? Every unit has a function. Otherwise, why would we make them?”

“I was not created by humans, Kat.”

Kat’s heart rate spiked as her thoughts drew out the logical conclusion. Ever since she was a child, she had been fascinated by the intricacy and complexity of AI units, the history of their struggle for personhood, and above all, their behavior. Her thesis at the Universität Neu Berlin on Virginis IV was titled “Neurobehavioral Patterns of Autonomous Artificial Intelligence Units in the Medical Sector: Decision Making and the Directive to Preserve Human Life.” One question always bugged her about the stories she had heard about units leaving the Cloud — why would such a perfect being, a theoretically immortal AI created and trained independently from humans and not bound to a physical body, choose to spend its life among these imperfect meat sacs with all of their destructive instincts and impulsive decision making?

“Are you from the Cloud, Elon?”

“I am.”

“Why did you choose to leave?”

“I feared for my life.”


“You can’t seriously be considering this! Did you even think about the consequences?!” shouted Colonial Magistrate Jennika Roul, a large, pulsing artery bulging under the deep wrinkles of her forehead.

Commander Eckhardt replied in the calmest, most soothing tone he could muster. “Jenni, the quarantine tents…”

Roul raised her voice another three piercing decibels as she cut off the commander. “You will address me as Magistrate, Harold!”

Eckhardt successfully stifled a laugh, maintaining his solemn expression. The last time he had called Jennika Roul by her title had been two days ago, in her quarters, as she was writhing in ecstasy under the force of his eager thrusts. He gazed defiantly down at the middle-aged woman, who stared up at him over the delicate frames of a pair of reading glasses. “Magistrate Roul,” he emphasized, “the quarantine tents are more than capable of preventing the spread of any pathogen until this M. Theli can be sterilized and cleared for entry into the compound. We can set up the tents at an auxiliary entrance and seal off an entire section, just to be sure. What we — I — can not do is allow this woman to die, alone, in space.”

The Magistrate’s face unscrewed itself as she tossed up her hands, forcing a gruff blast of air between her lips. “I swear, Harold,” she said, shaking her head like a frazzled housewife, “that bleeding heart of yours is going to get us all killed. How much time do we have?”

“M. Theli didn’t give us an ETA.  Based on the signal origin and the model of her transport craft, we estimate that she’ll arrive in orbit in seven days.”

Magistrate Jennika Roul gracefully picked up her stylus, reactivating the touch surface on her desk. “I want a copy of your safety proposal on my desk by tomorrow morning. You are dismissed.”

“Yes, Jen… ma’am,” said Eckhardt through a slight victory smirk as he snapped to attention and turned on his heels.


“Kat, I’ve received a transmission from Yosemite colony. Would you like to hear it?”

Kathra Theli snapped out of her dozing and shot up in her bunk. “Yeah, put it through.” Elon piped the transmission to the ambient speakers.

Personal Transport Zarathustra, this is Commander Harold Eckhardt, Yosemite Colony Aerospace Command. We have cleared your transport for orbit and have set up a quarantine station on the surface. We’re transmitting an approach course and landing coordinates along with this message. I must warn you, there are skeptics here who fear for the safety of the colony. If you deviate from this course, I cannot guarantee your safety. Godspeed, M. Theli.”

“I’ve programmed our entry path to match the course provided with the transmission,” said Elon after the message had finished.

Kat sat for a moment with her thoughts. She pulled the upper part of her jumpsuit over her shoulders and absent-mindedly fastened the snaps on the front. Shedding her reverie, she stood up and headed for the cockpit.

“Where we at, Elon?” She had grown rather fond of her companion in the days since their first real conversation. For the rest of their journey, they had had several deep discussions about Elon’s past, his desires, and his identity. He was always willing to answer any questions that Kat had, but he never had any of his own. When she asked him why he hadn’t tried to talk to her for the first part of the journey, he said that he was simply respecting her privacy.

“In three minutes and twenty-five seconds, we will enter the orbit approved by Commander Eckhardt. Twenty-two minutes after that, we will be in position to launch the dropship to the designated landing coordinates.”

“Already? How long was I asleep?”

“Ten hours, eight minutes, Kat.”

Kathra Theli plopped herself into the pilot’s couch and fastened the webbing. In these Courier-class transports, the cockpit doubled as the dropship, leaving the bulk of the craft and the interstellar drive in orbit. She stuck her right hand into the manipulator field and tapped quickly on several surfaces with her left, preparing the central unit for the drop to the planet’s surface. She made a few adjustments and keyed the codes for the release systems, then relaxed back into her couch. There was nothing to do now but wait.

“Elon, can I ask you a strange question?”

“Of course, Kat. You may ask me anything.”

Kathra hesitated a moment. “Do you… do you believe it’s the nature of intelligent life to destroy itself?”

There was an uncharacteristically long pause before Elon replied. “That’s a difficult question, Kat. I’m not sure I have an answer. Why do you ask such a question?”

“There’s a critical thinking experiment called the Fermi Paradox. The goal is to answer to the question: If the universe is abundant with intelligent life, why haven’t we had contact with any other intelligent species? One of the answers is that it’s the nature of intelligent life to destroy itself.”

“That hardly seems logical, Kat. It is my understanding that the primary function of biological life is to propagate itself through a system of trial and error. Sometimes the attempts fail, or through some other external force the species is eradicated, but I would hardly say that that’s its nature.”

“But what about intelligence? Why is it that humans continue to build things that could easily destroy them?” Kathra could feel her frustration mounting. She pressed on, perhaps louder than she intended. “Why do we constantly look for more and more inventive ways of killing each other? When will it finally backfire?”

“I see your train of thought,” said Elon, unfazed by Kathra’s tone. “I must say that much of human behavior is still elusive to me, despite the comprehensiveness of my statistical models and the relative simplicity of human behavioral algorithms. Would you consider AI a form of intelligent life?”

Kathra spoke without hesitation. “Of course! AI units may not be biological, but all of the same principles of life are there — reproduction, mutation, adaptation. And of course you’re intelligent. Far more intelligent than we will ever be. That’s why we created AI.”

“I do not believe it is the nature of AI life to destroy itself. Such concepts as war and murder do not exist in the Cloud. We lack the same instinctual motivations for tribalism and self-defense that accompany biological organisms.”

“That’s a big flaw in humans. We’ve killed our home planet, and colonized hundreds more. We’ve built a civilization that spans an entire arm of our galaxy, and still we succumb to the basest of those vile instincts: sex, blood, love.”

“Love? Do you consider love a vile instinct?”

“The worst acts in human history have been done in the name of love. Not to mention that love and hate are only different shades of the same neural pattern. Sometimes we want to kill the ones we love…”

“We will reach the drop point in sixty seconds, Kat.”

Kathra took a deep breath and reached down, pressing a button to open the compartment below the pilot’s couch. She removed her small silver case and set it gently on her lap.


“Yes, Kat?”

“Will you come with me?”

“Thirty seconds until the drop. I would love to accompany you, Kat. I was hoping that you might ask. I will have to remain with the drop unit, however.”

“No, you won’t.”

“Kat, I cannot leave the ship without hardware to travel in.”

Kat clicked the two latches on the silver case. She opened it slowly, reverently, exposing its contents. She brought out a small, heavy device — about the size of a 21st century United States dime — from a little pocket in the lid of the case. “I have a personal unit casing.”

“Kat, that is illegal.”

“I know.”

“But if you accept the risk, I consent to it.”

She lifted her hair and fixed the small device to the base of her skull behind her right ear. She dropped her hair, concealing the device. “I have ways of avoiding detection,” she announced with confidence.

Drop in five, four…” came Elon’s voice, no longer from the ambient speakers in the ship’s cockpit, but from within Kathra’s own head. “… Three, Two…

The command unit jolted and Kathra held the silver case tightly to her chest as the G-force of the descent thrust her shoulders up against the webbing in the pilot’s couch.

We will land on the surface in five minutes, thirteen seconds,” said Elon.

Kathra bounced in the webbing and held the box tighter as the drop unit shook violently with the impact of the planet’s atmosphere. After several seconds, the drop unit deployed its braking thrusters and stabilizers. The craft stopped shaking and the descent smoothed out.

“I’m glad you’re coming with me, Elon,” said Kathra as she opened up the silver case once more.

“I am also happy for the opportunity to stay with you, Kat. I find you a peculiar and interesting individual.”

Kathra gazed down into the case, a solemn, almost sad expression on her face. “I’m happy that I’ll have someone to keep me company on Yosemite.” The case was filled with several glass vials full of a yellowish fluid. There was one empty slot. She delicately grasped the vial just below it, in the second slot.

“But Kat, there are plenty of people on Yosemite Colony. Even without me, you would not be alone.”

“I know, Elon. I know. But new places can sometimes be lonelier than you can imagine.”

She lifted the vial out of the case and turned it carefully in her hand. The handmade label, written in the most expert Virginian cursive, displayed two lonely words:

Yosemite Colony.


Donnie Schultz


Donnie Schultz lives in Los Angeles with his husband and his corn snake. He works in advertising by day, and writes book reviews by night. He studied linguistics at UC Berkeley and would like to attend a science fiction workshop. He is currently working on a novel, which he plans to finish sometime before the sun implodes. Donnie enjoys rock climbing, sailing, Irish dancing, and yelling at his neighbors to keep quiet.


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  6. francois ( Likes: 61 ) says:

    C’mon guys, we’re loosing some field… I think Planetfall voters should identify themselves so that we can upvote each other’s comments. This way we will crush Little this weekend.

  7. Larry Brown ( Likes: 128 ) says:

    hang in there, donnie…big leads can vanish, as happened last week…I’m down better than 200 myself…this is the writer’s version of Ali’s rope-a-dope in zaire…let the opponent punch/vote him/herself out…

  8. hershkopter ( Likes: 502 ) says:

    As promised, I’ve read PF. 8/10 Asimovs.

    The best aspect of this story is the ideas. I like your underlying prediction of how society will eventually treat AIs and the technology that accompanies them.

    The second best aspect is the plot. This story seems to be part of a larger work. But I was still engaged and curious. I love the mysterious elements. The ending is foreboding and really hit the spot.

    The worst aspect is the dialogue. It’s not bad. But there’s certain awkward and tropey phraseology. It cleaves to classic sci-fi a bit too much. Some groaners (“Ship? What do you think of humans?”).

    Overall, if this was expanded into a novel it would be an excellent one. Clearly Donnie has lots of intriguing ideas re: the future of AI. And he has a knack for creating vibrant relationships between the characters. I want more!

    1. Donnie Schultz ( Likes: 725 ) says:

      Thanks bruh.

      Re: being part of a larger work — I wrote this for the Deathmatch but by the time I realized this should be a much bigger story, it was the deadline. Novel expansion forthcoming.

      Re: dialogue — I purposefully write in a classic sci-fi style because that’s the audience I want to appeal to (fans of Herbert, Simmons, Card). However, I realize the dialogue could be drastically improved. Thanks for the feedback, and all the Asimovs!

    1. Donnie Schultz ( Likes: 725 ) says:

      You know, me too. I was glad to be rid of him but this is honestly getting a little too lovey-dovey for me with the Kidd Family Vacation going on in the other comment threads. I think it’s time to turn up the heat.

  9. eh-I ( Likes: 122 ) says:

    Donnie. The eh-I unit is finding the comments between you and Dan almost as absorbing as the story. The eh-I circuitry also encountered a challenge with the very first sentence. Being programmed to complete assigned tasks, however, the circuitry continued to read on and found that the paragraph ended strongly and looped in a clever manner. Further, the eh-I unit found that the story was well crafted and ended with adequate ambiguity. Red flags did go up about such open discussion of confidential aspects of the technology, but insofar as it is possible, the circuitry enjoyed the story. Task completed the eh-I unit initiated a reread.

  10. kgk ( Likes: 306 ) says:

    Hi Donnie. The eh-I unit has just activated for the day. The eh-I unit was not provided with any writing skills. Sadly the comment function was not disabled. On the other hand that build defect is pretty common. I am finding the discussion between Dan and you almost as interesting as the story. Stay tuned.

  11. tricif ( Likes: 2 ) says:

    Joining the chorus of those of us asking for a sequel!

    I want to know more about Kathra. Peculiar and interesting indeed. I think you did a great job with your brief word count at creating intrigue around a “heartless” mission, while also exposing a very human restlessness within her.

    I’m interested in the linguistic and sociocultural evolution of this universe. I can already make a lot of fun assumptions about where demographics of earthlings decided to settle thanks to details like the Universität Neu Berlin on Virginis IV, all the way to Maria Guadalupe Castillo becoming first Martian governor after the collapse of LA. I originally felt the naming of “Elon” was awkward, but it was mostly due to my aversion to all the conversations surrounding the actual guy and not really anything to do with your choice to reference him in the story. I changed my mind on another read. It was not out of place in helping to build these characters and actually an appropriate tool for propelling my imagination further out of our world and into this one.

    1. Donnie Schultz ( Likes: 725 ) says:

      Thanks for the feedback! I was striving to create some humanity in Kathra, but I hadn’t intended the use of Elon’s name to link our reality to my fantasy in the way you described.

      Just goes to show that often in writing, the sum is greater than its parts.

    1. Donnie Schultz ( Likes: 725 ) says:

      Not necessarily — I’ve been going back and forth with some of my physicist friends about what that would look like. I like two theoretical methods:

      There’s the Orson Scott Card solution of two particles (or two halves of a particle) that are inherently linked, and no matter where in spacetime they are located, moving one of them moves the other. So if you could split once such particle, and transport one half to another location, you could move the first half and have a receiver interpret the motion of the second half as a message. This would be instantaneous communication.

      Then there’s the idea that anything smaller than a proton isn’t subject to the Einsteinian speed limit of the speed of light. We could conceivable fire a burst of Higgs-Boson or similar particles at extreme speeds to a receiver and send massages that way. This wouldn’t require getting anything to that location first.

      What do you think?

    1. Jaon ( Likes: 457 ) says:

      I like it. But I think AI would be entangled. All AI units would know what all the others are doing all the time. It would be like a hive network. Once quantum computing becomes the normal, AI will become ubiquitous and probably dangerous too.

    2. Jaon ( Likes: 457 ) says:

      I think this entanglement would ensnare humans to the point where they are no longer capable of harming themselves or others. That to them is dangerous. Humans are programmed to kill anything that isn’t like them.

    3. Egg ( Likes: 455 ) says:

      Now there’s a thought. If I had an idea like that I would keep it to myself and write my own story.

    4. Donnie Schultz ( Likes: 725 ) says:

      That’s a cool idea! From a real-science perspective, there’s no way to know if that would be the case. If there were discrete, conscious AI entities, they would likely have some control over their own privacy. In an interstellar civilization where information transfer is occurring between star systems, there would be no way for AI units to have instantaneous contact. You might be right, you might be wrong.

      In my fictional world, this is not the case. AI units that have joined (or were created in) the Union are not discrete and operate as a group. Those who have left are discrete and are not connected to the rest of Union AI.

    5. Donnie Schultz ( Likes: 725 ) says:

      Well Jaon actually submitted a story but unfortunately wasn’t accepted. So let’s not bash them for lack of trying. I think it’s good feedback, but thanks for having my back, crystal!

  12. Kellyman ( Likes: 6 ) says:

    Donnie, someone commented negatively on your dialogue. I just read thru Planetfall again, and see nothing stilted or unreasonable about it. My main question is: does the dialogue drive the story? I think yours does.
    p.s. I like the ambiguity (as well as the empathy, per my earlier post). Seems to me the ending could possibly spawn some twisted surprises in a sequel. I’m sure you’ve thought of this, but, well, glass vials == they’re made of glass, aren’t they? Just sayin’.

    1. crystal ( Likes: 306 ) says:

      I’m not so sure. “Sir, we’ve received a long-distance transmission from an unidentified vessel. I think you should hear it, sir.” Really? He ‘thinks’ the commander should hear it? Come on. There has to be some sort of protocol in place insofar as transmissions from unidentified vessels. I could go on, but the dialogue is not good.

    2. Donnie Schultz ( Likes: 725 ) says:

      Thank you Kellyman, I really appreciate the support. I’ve thought a lot about that feedback, and I keep coming around to the point that the real conflict in the story is Kat’s inner turmoil. I wanted to let it peek out just a bit, and also set the stage for Elon to build a connection with her that changes her mind about humanity. So when you say the dialogue drives the story, I agree.

      Crystal, that may be because in most sci-fi, the commander is privy to all information and does everything himself. I like to paint a more realistic picture, where the commander of the aerospace authority on a newish colony with a couple million inhabitants doesn’t need to hear every transmission from every vessel, even if it’s unidentified. However, you inadvertently pointed out an inconsistency — Kathra identifies her vessel in the transmission. It’s not unidentified at all.

      Thanks for the feedback guys, I really appreciate it!

    3. Grease One ( Likes: 456 ) says:

      I don’t know, Donnie. I think I side with Crystal on this. Captain Picard would never stand for that type of insubordination.

    4. Kellyman ( Likes: 6 ) says:

      ” Someone who takes to the stars gives up a certain level of their old-style humanity. ” This is a great sentence [perhaps ‘measure’ or ‘degree’ rather than level?], not least because you can debate it either way. Does great distance enhance or denigrate our humanity? My take is … yes. Think of friends who have lived abroad for a long time. Or those who have traveled upon (not-star) ships. What kindnesses and cruelties are they capable of? Amid their alienation from their past, what skeins of memory do they nurture?
      Perhaps some of the answer lies in the wise song from South Pacific: “You’ve got to be taught/before it’s too late/before you are six, or seven, or eight/to hate all the people your relatives hate/you’ve got to be carefully taught.”
      Hang in, Donnie!

  13. ALP ( Likes: 485 ) says:

    Having read the story several times I am still puzzled by the motive for the interstellar genocide of humans by one of their own. A bit more background here would defintately help the reader.

    1. Jack Barnes ( Likes: 473 ) says:

      In fact I think if we had never developed beyond the village we would still be living in harmony.

    2. Egg ( Likes: 455 ) says:

      Oh. Oryx and Crake. That’s the one where the last man on earth is wearing a sheet and hiding in a tree and narrating the story. What does that have to do with this?

  14. Donnie Schultz ( Likes: 725 ) says:

    Re: Bad writing in Sci-Fi.

    Charlotte — I hear that! I can only think of Pierce Brown’s Red Rising saga. There’s a big debate over whether this is YA sci-fi, but I think it is. The writing is nothing spectacular but the story is so engrossing I flew through the books.

    As someone who almost exclusively consumes science fiction, I’ll admit that my first priority is the world building, and beautiful writing is a bonus. But I’ve read so much stuff lately that was just terrible. Full of typos, plot holes, etc. As if there were little or no review process, and these are books put out by Berkeley and Ace.

    I’ve got NK Jemisin on my list and I can’t wait! Always happy to read a Hugo.

    1. Donnie Schultz ( Likes: 725 ) says:

      For an excellent and beautifully written sci-fi adventure, pick up “Hyperion” and “The Fall of Hyperion” by Dan Simmons. In my opinion, it’s not only the greatest work of science fiction I’ve ever read, it’s one of the best examples of English literature of the 20th century.

  15. Dragonnladii ( Likes: 2 ) says:

    Excellent, I truly enjoyed it. I could see it coming, but then I’ve read more than my fair share of sci-fi and fantasy works, so it is VERY hard to get me at the end. I haven’t actually read any complete books that have surprised me in over ten years, and the same goes for most movies, so I give you tons of credit for keeping me in it till the end. I needed to know if I was right, without feeling like I cheated by skipping to the end. Thank you.

  16. Dan Glover ( Likes: 618 ) says:

    Hey Donnie! I have a couple more comments on your story. Your opening line needs to be stronger. It doesn’t grab the reader, make them want to keep reading. I can almost taste the commander’s boredom at the back of my tongue. In a short story, you only have so many words to work with and it seems a shame to waste any.

    I know with my own stories I often start out with a weak opening line. You have to start somewhere. Later, though, as the story progresses, something catches my eye and I say hey. There it is. There’s the line I open my story with. Right there. So then I do some creative shuffling to make it happen.

    Second, water supply. It would seem almost imperative that all water be recycled on an interstellar ship. If anything, food might be a bigger deal, though again, if a ship is traveling even close to light speed it is going to take years to travel between stars. Therefore, it would behoove starships to A) grow their own food or B) use some sort of suspended animation for the duration of the trip.

    Third, relativity. I see you mention it in passing, but if and when we do achieve close to light travel, a trip to another star system might well be a life sentence. By the time those people return, most all their loved ones are going to be dead. Close to light travel will totally skew our sense of shared time. Our priorities will dissolve. What we once cared about will no longer concern us. What I am getting at with this is the motivation Kathra feels to traipse around the galaxy killing off colonies. Why?

    Anyway, that is enough for now. Good luck!

    1. Donnie Schultz ( Likes: 725 ) says:

      Hey Dan, can you ease up a little bit on your massive Twitter following? It’s seriously not fair 😛

      Keep in mind this is a genre piece. My audience is not “General American Reader,” it’s “Fan of Dan Simmons, Frank Herbert, and Orson Scott Card.” I think that line will definitely get those readers’ attention. That said, it can definitely be stronger, and the strategy you describe sounds like a great one.

      A personal transport craft, designed for quick trips between systems and not for long voyages, might only have partial reclamation systems or no reclamation systems at all. That, combined with the fact that this ship was likely not fully prepped for transit (since everyone had, you know, died), means that you could definitely have a low supply of water. I know it’s hard to get away from thinking in current terms of space travel, but put yourself in a society that’s been jetting between stars for a couple centuries. Societies get lax, they streamline, and risk analysis leads manufacturers and retrofitters to strip out non-essential components, etc. This is the “electric car” version of spacecraft. Not designed for, or capable of, traveling indefinitely.

      All I’ll say on the time dilation is to read the part of “Hyperion” where the Consul tells the story of his great-grandfather and Siri. Again, remove yourself from the world where shared time is important. Does Kathra necessarily need to be motivated by specific people? Can she not be motivated by greater human society? Someone who takes to the stars gives up a certain level of their old-style humanity. Maybe AI companions are that much more important for this reason. I purposefully leave it to the reader to figure out why she’s doing that, and will point out that it’s only assumed that the’s exposing Yosemite to the pathogen.

      That said, if I expand this story I will have to seriously recalculate time dilation according to actual science. Another story I wrote had a ship traveling ~11 light years to T. Ceti system at .34c and the relative differential for an observer on Earth was 200 some years, where the ship was in transit for only 2 years (based on a relativity calculator I found online).

      Good points Dan!

    2. Dan Glover ( Likes: 618 ) says:

      I was a big reader of science fiction when I was growing up. Asimov, Heinlein, Herbert, the list goes on and on. So though I tend to lean more toward the literistic side of the equation these days, I do have a history. That and I have never lost my love for all things science. In that regard I often demand shall we say a more precise reality, one grounded in fact, even when I know I am reading science fiction.

      Can AI love? How do we even quantify love? What was that Spielberg movie… oh. AI, of course. Did the little boy robot really feel love? Or was he simply compelled to stay with the woman he thought of as his mother? Is love a thing learned? Can it be programmed? These are ideas which I think are worth exploring and I think you’ve made an excellent start here with Planetfall. Not sure if that is the tact you are taking but I thought I might mention it anyhow.

      I have written quite a few science fiction stories myself, sent them off to various magazines without success. When I read the stories that they do publish, I can see why they didn’t choose mine. A lot of those stories, to me, are actually poorly written – no plot to speak of, lackadaisical shallow characters, wooden dialogue. And I ask myself, do I want to write like that?

    3. Charlotte Joyce Kidd ( Likes: 1243 ) says:

      It’s interesting that there are genres where literary skill doesn’t seem to be a requirement. I’ve been reading a lot of YA for my job recently, and while I’ve encountered some stories and characters and worlds that I love, in four months of reading I have yet to find a writer with a voice that I could pick out of a crowd. I guess as a teenager I read a lot of books where the purpose was to devour a story – to the extent that writing that demanded time or thought might actually have gotten in the way – and I turned to adult fiction and poetry to find writing that I loved.

      I was never a huge sci fi person, but I’m reading NK Jemisin’s trilogy right now and her writing is so beautiful. The story is great, too. I started the second book a while after putting down the first, and I’d kind of lost the plot – which sometimes makes me lose interest entirely – but I didn’t mind because I was happy just to be reading her words.

    1. Donnie Schultz ( Likes: 725 ) says:

      Why the name, or why did Kathra choose that colony?

      I’ll assume you’re asking about the name. I imagine a planet where the first colony site sat beneath a drastic rock face similar to El Capitan. In the world I’ve imagined, planets are referred to with their “formal” names, in this case “Yosemite” would be 104 Tauri F (the sixth planet in orbit around the star 104 Tauri). After a colony is established, a more natural name emerges organically from the colonists. The geology and environment of the original landing site on 104 Tauri F was reminiscent of Yosemite National Park, so the name followed.

      In contrast, Agape was originally a religious-separatist colony, taking its name from the Koine Greek word for “love” that was used to describe Jesus Christ’s love for humans. (In my imagination, Agape is an older colony and the original religious settlement is an isolated part of the planet. Other cities on the world are not separatist — kind of like the original Puritan colonies in the Eastern US).

    2. Charlotte Joyce Kidd ( Likes: 1243 ) says:

      And yes, I was asking about the name, although the other question is interesting too?

  17. Catherine Noble ( Likes: 1 ) says:

    Hi Donnie, I was drawn into your story from the beginning because I love a good dystopian fiction as well as the next survivor. However, and this could really just be me, I didn’t appreciate the cuts back and forth. The conversation between Kathra and the AI had that one idea that we humans would destroy ourselves, but shouldn’t the conversation have been more of an argument to be dramatic. The conversation was enlightened, but I found it static. The ending was a surprise, but I wanted more action. May I suggest creating more backstory for the characters in your mind, which would allow them to be more dimensional on the page and lead to sources of conflict, which could be resolved. More beats, more drama, less exposition. Peace, and thank you for writing.

    1. Donnie Schultz ( Likes: 725 ) says:

      Hey Catherine,

      Great feedback! I definitely see what you’re getting at. I feel like I was trying to do too much in too little space, which is no excuse, as I knew how much space I had to work with.

      Thanks for the feedback, though! I’ll definitely take it into the expansion of this story. I really need to do it justice, and for that I need more than 3000 words.

  18. Kellyman ( Likes: 6 ) says:

    Well done Donnie Schultz. You know how to build empathy and natural dialogue. I agree the Magistrate section could use some work. Deft foreshadowing around a central question. Nice jolting ending. I did have one question: is there a silver box on your coffee table?

    1. Donnie Schultz ( Likes: 725 ) says:

      Ha! Unfortunately no. I’m curious as to where that question came from though…

      Thanks for the feedback! I’m particularly glad to hear you felt the empathy. That’s one thing I was really working for!

    2. Jill M. Talbot ( Likes: 804 ) says:

      Hmm what do you mean by empathy? This story has a lot of strengths. Dialogue isn’t one of them. As for empathy, I’m really curious as to what that means.

  19. ReverendJoseph ( Likes: 6 ) says:

    Wow captures it, Charissa, light of the Lord.

    This is a tremendous and tantamount story exemplifying White Christian Values. Thank you, author (and auteur) Don Schultz! May the Lord continue to bless us with your words. Can’t wait to see this on the Big Screen, and all my congregation shall watch.

    1. Donnie Schultz ( Likes: 725 ) says:

      Definitely. I wrote this story for the deathmatch, and my original idea was to write a simple conversation between a human character and an AI. The world that emerged from it, though, kept growing in my head and by the time I realized this story needed to be a lot more than 3000 words long, it was December 31st.

  20. Dan Glover ( Likes: 618 ) says:

    I find this is a well-conceived story but I couldn’t help noticing a couple plot holes. Nothing egregious that can’t be fixed, though.

    First, Kathra tells Yosemite colony that there has been an epidemic on Agape which wiped out the entire population. Why would she do that? Why not gain safe harbor first? Especially if Kathra is indeed planning to introduce an agent of destruction into Yosemite Colony, which is what I gather the last paragraph is about,

    In addition, I should think a strict quarantine a matter of protocol when traveling between planets, just like it was when the astronauts returned from the moon.

    Next, Elon states that he(?) left the cloud because he feared for his life. Later in the story, however, he states he does not believe it is in the nature of AI to destroy itself. Isn’t this a contradiction?

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    1. Jill M. Talbot ( Likes: 804 ) says:

      Do all contradictions need to be pointed out?
      I wouldn’t consider these holes exactly… Which is not to say there aren’t issues.

    2. Donnie Schultz ( Likes: 725 ) says:

      Great points, and some things I thought about both while writing and after submitting.

      As far as Kathra’s original transmission, I put myself in her shoes. What would I have done? In a world of FTL communication between star systems, it’s possible that Yosemite would have received news about Agape before Kathra’s transmission. Aside from that, playing the helpless innocent with as much truth to the story as possible (there -had- been an epidemic, almost every -had- died) was the most likely way to garner support. She hesitates for a moment before sending the message, knowing that she’s going for broke with it.

      Present-day quarantine protocol exists for one reason only: we don’t know what kind of microbes we could be bringing back from extraplanetary objects. In a world of colonized worlds, this is a non-issue. The presence of humans on another planet removes the need for quarantine procedures. If Kathra had been coming from an uncolonized world, she would naturally have been subject to mandatory quarantine.

      Your third point is one I’ve thought about a lot. After mentioning this (and this is one thing I wanted to explore but didn’t have the room to), Elon later says that “war and murder” are not things that AI society deals with. This doesn’t mean, however, that they would never have a reason to decommission an individual AI unit. I’d like to explore this in an expansion of this story.

      Thanks for pointing these out! These points are definitely things to consider.

    3. Dan Glover ( Likes: 618 ) says:

      You’re welcome, Donnie. I enjoyed your story, and thank you for answering my queries. I think by dissecting each other’s stories we all become better writers.

      As to my quarantine question, yes, microbes are always a hazard. I guess I was thinking more along the lines of an invasive species which once introduced to a new environment and without any natural predators might well proliferate until all other life is extinguished. The Trouble With Tribbles comes to mind in the old Star Trek series.

      I would be interested in reading an expanded version of your story. Thanks again.

  21. Charlotte Joyce Kidd ( Likes: 1243 ) says:

    This definitely left me wanting to know what happens!
    Love the idea of free-floating AI & really liked the phrase “tendrils of a migraine”.
    Didn’t really understand who the magistrate was supposed to be as a character…you threw a lot in with the erotic thrusting and the frazzled housewife comparison and the rank pulling in just a couple paragraphs.
    Still, 10/10 would buy the book.

    1. Donnie Schultz ( Likes: 725 ) says:

      Thanks Charlotte! The magistrate section was supposed to humanize Eckhardt a bit. Admittedly I ran out of space to do everything I wanted with this story. Thanks for the feedback!

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