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FREE EXCERPT: Read a Sample of Jason Sanford’s “Rumspringa” from the Science Fiction Anthology BEYOND THE SUN

Beyond The Sun is an anthology of space colonists stories currently being funded on Kickstarter. Editor Bryan Thomas Schmidt really needs your help to make it happen. Writers include Robert Silverberg, Mike Resnick, Nancy Kress, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Cat Rambo, Jennifer Brozek, Jamie Todd Rubin, Brad R. Torgersen, Jean Johnson, Erin Hoffman, Jason Sanford and more. If the project is funded, it will be released either print on demand by the editor or with a small press. The goal is to pay the authors and artists to illustrate the stories at professional rates. In this economy, many small presses are struggling, so the editor felt the concept and talent deserved better than token rates and decided to bring it before fandom and ask for support. There are some great prizes, including special artwork, signed copies, and more available to backers. Kickstarter has information on the anthology, including a full list of writers and artists, bios, guidelines and rewards. The project has less than 1 week remaining to fund. Please consider contributing to this exciting collection.

Visit the Kickstarter page for glimpses at Silverberg’s story, including the accompanying illustration and for links to stories by other invited writers. Grasping For The Wind has a free excerpt by Autumn Rachel Dryden.

And, as extra incentive to check out this fine anthology, here’s an exclusive excerpt of one of the stories, written by Jason Sanford.


by Jason Sanford

The English arrived at the farm shortly before supper, their ship buzzing my draft horses and baling combine and kicking a cloud of hay dust into the dry air. Even though I wasn’t impressed with the ship’s acrobatics, my younger brother Sol, who’d been wrapping the hay bundles with twine, stared at the English with excitement. Knowing I wouldn’t get any more work out of him, I stopped the horses. The socket in the back of my head itched in resonance to our new visitors, which I took to be a particularly bad sign.

The ship landed by the barn and three English stepped off. One, an older woman named Ms. Watkins, had served as New Lancaster’s mediator between the Amish and English for the last three centuries and always respected our customs, as demonstrated by the plain gray dress she wore. The other English, though, didn’t share her regard. The man behind Ms. Watkins wore a blue militia uniform, a definite slap at our nonviolent beliefs, while the teenage girl beside him was naked except for a swirl of colors obscuring her private parts. She gazed around the farm and smiled when she spotted me.

“What do you think they want, Sam?” Sol asked as he stared at the naked girl. I shook my head, even though I had a good idea. A new comet had shone in the sky for the last few weeks, growing massively larger with each passing day. My father and I had discussed its looming impact several times. Now, as the English approached my father, I knew our concerns about the comet had come true. I handed the horse reins to Sol and walked over to join the conversation.

“Ms. Watkins,” my father said, shaking her hand.

“Bishop Yoder,” Ms. Watkins said. Then, turning to me, “This can’t be Samuel? Last time I saw him he was just a little boy.”

“Sam hasn’t been a boy for almost five years,” my father said without a trace of pride, just like any proper Amish man. “In fact, he will turn twenty-one next month.”

“Ah, rumspringa,” the naked girl said, rudely stepping between my father and Ms. Watkins. “I assume you’ll be baptized on your 21st birthday?”

“I hope to be,” I said, annoyed at an outsider asking such a personal question. In addition, these English surely knew exactly who I was. Their pretense of ignorance was merely another of their endless, convoluted games, although it would be rude to say that.

“Well, I hope you’ll reconsider. After all, there’s more to life than working a left-behind farm.” The girl dimmed the colors flowing across her chest, allowing everyone a full view of her bare breasts. “It’s not too late, you know. You can still seek forgiveness for any deadly sin that comes your way.”

My father coughed awkwardly. Even Ms. Watkins blushed a solid, scarlet red, testimony to the modest personality proxy she’d downloaded before coming here. The militia man, of course, didn’t respond and stared stone-faced at everyone.

“Rumspringa isn’t a time to simply run around and sin,” I said. “It’s when one ‘puts away the things of a child’ and becomes an adult. Nothing more. Nothing less. And I’m well aware of what life has to offer.” As I said that, I readjusted my straw hat, feeling the skull socket I would give anything to remove.

My father nodded to my words, indicating I had spoken a solid truth, then waved for Ms. Watkins and the others to follow him into the house. I wanted to follow but, glancing back at Sol, I saw he’d somehow tangled the horse reins in the baling combine’s gears. By the time I reached him one of the horses had kicked the baler, damaging the main driveshaft.

I groaned. It would take all night to undo the reins and repair the driveshaft. Wanting to join my father inside, I glanced over at Sol, who was backing the horses up to give the reins more slack. Luckily for me, when the English created antique machines for us with their nanoforges, they included the same repair gollums as on their own equipment. With Sol distracted by the horses, I reached my mind through my socket and accessed the baler’s gollum. The driveshaft’s metal flowed and reworked itself until the reins lay free in my hand and the driveshaft looked as good as new.

As Sol and I led the horses back to the barn, he glanced once at the baler. But he didn’t say a word as we unharnessed the horses and washed them down for the night.


* * *

By the time we finished, the sun had set and the new comet glowed brightly across the sky. I led Sol into the house, where my mother intercepted my brother at the doorway.

“The men are on the back porch,” she said as she led Sol the other way, to my brother’s obvious disappointment. “There’s chicken and mashed potatoes on the table, but it’ll keep.”

I nodded and headed for the back porch, fighting down a combination of pride at being considered a man and nervousness at why the English were here. The pride worried me the most – right after violence, our worst sin was hochmut. Before stepping onto the porch, I took a deep breath and calmed myself until I felt humble before God and life and the world.

“Sam,” Ms. Watkins said. “Glad you could join us. Please, have a seat.”

Ms. Watkins sat in a wicker chair, while several elders from nearby farms sat on a bench beside my father. I walked toward my father, irritated at Ms. Watkins offering me a seat in my father’s house. Beside her sat the militia man, while the teenage girl leaned on the porch railing with her body colorings flowing to the slight breeze. As I passed the English, my socket buzzed slightly and I wondered what they were discussing among themselves. As if knowing my thoughts, the teenage girl smiled a most wicked smile and slid her tongue along the top of her red lips.

“We have been discussing a mutual problem,” my father said, stroking his beard in irritation at the girl’s behavior. “The comet will impact near here next week.”

“How far?” I asked.

The militia officer, whose name holo read Captain Stryder, looked over. “Just over 500 kilometers from this settlement. As I told your father, there will be some modest damage at that distance – windows blown out, that type of thing – but your community should survive. Still, we need to do a temporary resettlement to be safe.”

“Why are we just being notified?” I asked.

Captain Stryder didn’t even blink. “Until yesterday, we didn’t need to. A massive outventing changed the comet’s course. Otherwise it would have impacted well away from here.”

I nodded. New Lancaster was an Earth-size planet, but lacked sufficient quantities of water, with little standing liquid and only modest underground reservoirs. Since settlement began four centuries ago, periodic comet impacts had been used to terraform the still mostly deserted planet.

Captain Stryder looked at me with the calm, reassuring gaze generated by his militia leadership proxy. But despite Stryder’s attempt to put me at ease, I didn’t trust him. I also recalled his name from somewhere. But short of accessing my socket, I couldn’t figure out what I’d once known about him.

“There really is no choice,” Stryder said. “We’ll move everyone to a safe holding location, then move you back after impact.”

Assuming nothing goes wrong, I thought, filling in the unspoken words.

My father opened his mouth to respond, but before he could say anything the teenage girl jumped up from the porch railing. “This is ridiculous,” she said in agitation. “Why are we even discussing this?”

My socket again buzzed as, I assume, Ms. Watkins and Captain Stryder told the girl to shut up.

“No,” she shouted. “These people depend on us for trips across the universe and machines and everything else, but they still don’t want anything to do with us. Why do we bring them to each new world and baby sit them? I’d say it was nostalgia, but who even understands that emotion anymore.”

In the faint glow of the gas lantern, Ms. Watkins blushed while the elders looked away. My father, though, kept a steady face. “I don’t believe you’ve been properly introduced,” he said. “This is Emma Beiler. She is an expert.” He paused. “On the Amish.”

“I see,” I said, struggling to find a suitable response. “How does one become an expert at such a young age?”

Emma snorted. “Watch your manners, boy. I’m 641 years old come September. Born on old Earth herself.”

I was quite familiar with life extension, having witnessed it up close among the rich and powerful in New Lancaster’s main city. A millennium ago, our Amish order decided that life extensions were not part of our ordnung, or rules of living. While there was nothing sinful about preserving one’s life, extending it indefinitely was extremely expensive, more so to revert to a vastly younger age. This expense would have caused dissension in the community. In fact, I had no doubt that Emma’s teenage body was an attempt to create jealousy among her much older-looking colleagues. I shook my head in sympathy. While I refused to judge Emma, the fact that she’d lived so long and understood so little of life saddened me.

“As I was telling our guests before you arrived,” my father said, “we will send someone to their ship to examine the data on the comet impact. Once that’s done, we will discuss this among the entire congregation.”

Captain Stryder nodded. “We’ll need an answer in four days.”

I felt the far-too familiar buzz in my socket, meaning the English were heavily involved in matters among themselves. Even without accessing their data streams, I doubted they had come here out of concern for our Amish settlement. I wondered what Captain Stryder and Ms. Watkins would do if we refused to leave.

As the English walked back to their ship, Emma glanced at me. For a moment her eyes looked old and sad, as if she’d lost something she’d give anything to regain. But then, with the flash of a new proxy, her eyes became young again and she giggled in her teenage voice.


* * *

After the elders left, I walked to the barn with my father to make sure everything was in order. Because of the excitement, I hadn’t properly taken care of the hay baler, a fact my father pointed out almost immediately. Embarrassed, I picked up a rag while he grabbed the grease gun.

“What do you think?” I asked.

My father placed the grease gun’s nozzle over a lubrication nipple and squeezed the handle. “I think it’s suspicious. During your time with the English, did you work on their comet program?”

“No, I worked in high orbit on the nanoforge assemblies. But as part of my advanced training, I studied comet work.” What I didn’t tell my father was that everyone working the assemblies downloaded complete work proxies covering any possible job one might be asked to do. All I had to do was access the proxy in my socket and I would become an instant expert on comet movement and impacts.

“That’s good,” my father said. “The elders and I will present this information to the congregation on Sunday. While God’s will always prevails, any information you can provide – without using your socket – will be appreciated.”

My stomach sank at his mention of the socket. While my father had lived his entire life among the Amish, he always knew far more than he let on about the English world.

“What if that’s the only way to find out the information we need?” I asked.

“Then we don’t need it.”

I nodded, remembering my years among the English. Every Amish adolescent was expected to make his or her own decision about whether to commit to our faith. Like many of my friends, I’d wanted to see the life I’d be giving up. Unlike them, I stayed away for over four years, only returning shortly before my 20th birthday. I hadn’t talked much with my father about my life among the English, or why I had returned, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he knew a good deal about what I’d done.

My father finished greasing the baler, then placed the grease gun back on the tool bench, where he eyed the damaged horse reins Sol had jammed in the combine’s gears. “Do you remember when I was chosen as bishop?” he asked.

I said yes. Our congregation cast lots to select our deacons and bishops, letting God decide who should be chosen.

“A few weeks after I was chosen, Ms. Watkins flew in to congratulate me. I didn’t know what to say. Until then, all anyone had expressed to me was sympathy at the heavy burden I’d been chosen to carry. Still, Ms. Watkins meant no ill. She simply doesn’t understand us. No English can. Do you see what I’m saying?”

“I believe so.”

“I’m not sure you do.” My father opened the access panel on the baler, revealing the clean, new-looking driveshaft.

I hung my head in shame. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.”

My father sighed and rubbed his beard. “Sam, you need to understand. Before you are baptized, the community can overlook these transgressions. But after baptism, if you keep using that socket, they will shun you. I don’t want that to happen. I know you use the socket to help out, but it’s not allowed. Don’t give in to temptation. That’s your burden to bear, just as mine was being selected Bishop. Embrace the burden and God will show you the way.”

I nodded. I started to ask my father if he knew what had been required of me to live among the English, but I couldn’t stand mentioning this shame to him. “I don’t trust them,” I said. “Few of the English care about anyone but themselves. Plus, this planet is almost totally empty. They could have easily aimed the comet to a place where it’d pose no risk to anyone. They’re up to something.”

“All the more reason to see what you can learn. English claims to the contrary, they have less understanding of life than we do. Perhaps something has tempted them. If so, we need to know.”

As we left the barn, I glanced at the sky. Just last night, the comet had been a object of beauty, a sparking exclamation of God’s power in the universe. Now it was one more sign of humanity’s ugliness, aimed directly at everything I cared about.

“Remember,” my father said, patting me on the back as we walked in the house. “To the English, being chosen is an honor. Don’t be like them. Don’t be proud at being chosen.”


* * *

Shortly before dawn, Sol and I woke up and fed the pigs and chickens. We then finished bailing the hay. I worked quickly, urging the Clydesdales faster and faster, unable to focus on the truth contained within this hard work. Instead, I continually glanced at the comet as it slowly disappeared below the horizon.

I finished my work around noon. After parking the baler in the barn, I walked by the water trough and noticed that the water flow had stopped. Because there was no rain on New Lancaster, we used large canvas water catchers in the foothills above our farms to collect the morning mists. Pipes carried the water down into large metal reservoirs for use in drip irrigation to grow crops and as drinking water for the animals and ourselves. While it rarely happened, the pipes sometimes clogged at different points. Not wanting to waste any more time, I told Sol to find the clog and remove it.

After washing up, I pulled on a plain gray shirt and pants, two suspenders, and my wide-brimmed, black-felt hat. I then harnessed a paint mare to our family’s buggy and rode off to the English ship.

The ship sat on a nearby foothill, which rose five-hundred meters above the plains. A stubby native grass called thickens, which stored their own water like a cactus, grew along the top of the foothills. Thickens were extremely difficult to remove from the land and the main reason we didn’t farm near them. Luckily, they only grew at higher elevations, where they could condense water from the nightly mists.

When I reached the English ship, I parked the buggy and hobbled the mare’s legs. I also slipped on her feedbag. Thickens were toxic to Earth animals and I didn’t want her to be tempted.

Captain Stryder waited for me at the foot of his ship. “About time,” he said in an arrogant tone. “I expected you this morning.”

“I had to finish bailing the hay.”

For a moment Captain Stryder’s personality proxy cracked as a smirk crossed his face. I knew what he thought: How could I bail hay with possible destruction heading toward us? But that just showed Stryder didn’t understand the Amish, for whom everyday work was an act of devotion.

I followed Stryder inside the ship, where I was struck yet again by how few people were needed to run English technology. While we used hundreds of Amish to build a barn, Stryder only needed himself to run his entire ship. He led me through the empty ship to the bridge, where Ms. Watkins and Emma waited. As I sat beside them, Ms. Watkins shook my hand. Emma nodded in the overly polite manner of an automatic proxy, meaning her other personalities were off diving in a different socket-accessed reality.

For the next hour, Captain Stryder presented his data on the comet. A kilometer and a half in diameter, the comet had been directed toward the planet for the last century. While Stryder’s data indicated our settlement wasn’t vulnerable to the impact’s electromagnetic pulse – aside from the unused repair gollums in our nanoforge-created machines – we would suffer minor air blast and seismic damage. That said, if the comet changed course even slightly our settlement would be destroyed.

To make clear the danger we faced, Stryder proceeded to show me startling images from a recent megaton-range weapon impact. That’s when I remembered where I’d heard his name before. Stryder’s unit enforced quarantine, making sure no unapproved biomatter reached the surface and interfered with terraforming. The images of mushroom clouds now boiling before me came from his controversial decision to destroy a large, unoccupied section of New Lancaster after an unapproved animal species was released. As Stryder spoke with pride about that destruction, I wondered why he was involved in relocating us. Perhaps the militia figured Stryder’s experience using megaton-range weapons helped him understand comet impacts.

The fact that I hadn’t remembered all this until now made me miss my socket even more. Even the most basic of sockets could spin Stryder’s facts and figures and words a billion different ways to see through his flash and bang to the truth of this matter.

“That’s all very nice,” I finally said, trying to keep the English sarcasm I’d picked up out of my voice. “I still don’t understand why we weren’t informed until now.”

“The outventing,” Stryder repeated, as if I were an ignorant child.

“When I worked on the nanoforges, I downloaded a comet worker proxy. Based on what I know, any outventing big enough to cause such a large course change should have been easily predicted. I don’t believe this happened by chance.”

I was bluffing, since I’d never actually opened that proxy. While bluffing wasn’t the most Amish of traits, I needed to know if Stryder was telling the truth.

Unfortunately, his proxy didn’t waver. “That’s perfect,” he said. “Let’s dispense with this charade. Download my data and use that little socket of yours. You’ll see I’m telling the truth.”

My socket almost screamed at the chance to access Stryder’s information. Unfortunately, while my gut told me Stryder was also bluffing, unless I went against my community’s rules I couldn’t be certain. I glanced at Ms. Watkins, who refused to meet my eye.

“Can you provide the data in a printed format?” I asked.

“It would comprise a hundred million of your printed pages.”

My heart sank.

“That’s what I thought,” Captain Stryder said with a sneer. “I knew you would act this way. Distrustful. Outwardly humble yet inwardly proud. Wanting to explore the world beyond your precious Amish, yet afraid of all we ‘English’ can do. Is that why you returned to your people? Out of fear?”

Not for the first time, I felt violated as a stranger accessed the memories which I’d long ago copied and uploaded. Instead of responding, I took a deep breath and reminded myself that the memories Stryder had access to had been sold years ago. They weren’t the man I was today.

To my surprise, though, his words woke Emma from her socket-induced stupor. “Stop tormenting him. Provide the child with any analysis he needs. He wins, we win, we get to save these backward idiots and go home.”

Captain Stryder thought about this and nodded. “Yes, this is a waste of my time. Do you have any old-grade computers in your settlement?”

“Yes, in the school house.” Our order allowed a few higher tech machines for community use, in this case for accessing New Lancaster’s weather and emergency net. While the school computer was more advanced than anything else in our community, it was still a millennium behind anything the English used.

“Perfect. Emma can download the data and enter it into your computer. Run a simulation. You’ll see I’m telling the truth.”

For a moment, my socket tingled as Captain Stryder and Ms. Watkins and Emma engaged in a ultra-fast and obviously high spirited argument. The communication ended with Emma apparently satisfied.

“What’s the catch?” I asked. The English never did anything without payment in return.

“They said I can spend some time with the Amish,” Emma said. “My research on you silly people is out of date.”

I sighed but, seeing no alternative, agreed. For the briefest of moments Emma’s eyes shivered as her socket downloaded the massive data on the comet, causing my own socket to ache for the power and ability it had once possessed. I muttered a silent prayer for God to deliver me from this temptation.

Instead of God answering, Emma blew me a kiss with her red, red lips.

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.
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