“A Sufficiently Advanced Christmas” now available

Published on October 22, 2014 by

My story “A Sufficiently Advanced Christmas” is now available in A Fantastic Holiday Season: The Gift of Stories, edited by Kevin J. Anderson and Keith J. Olexa. Publishers Weekly gave the anthology a starred review, saying “This often amusing and frequently compelling collection features Christmas-themed short stories from some of fantasy and science fiction’s brightest stars.”  They even mentioned my story: “Eric James Stone’s ‘A Sufficiently Advanced Christmas,’ in which computers communicating with a child learn their own Christmas moral, is particularly touching.”

The anthology is available at Amazon (print|Kindle ebook), Barnes & Noble (print|Nook ebook), and Smashwords (various ebook formats).

In order to whet your appetite, here’s the beginning of the story:

A Sufficiently Advanced Christmas
by Eric James Stone

The cityseed picked a mineral-rich location on its target planet and built itself into a city. The city signaled the People to come from the homeworld and fill it with life. The citymind had no name but did not care: when its inhabitants arrived, they would give it a fitting name.

The planet orbited its star, revolution after revolution, and still the city waited. Over time, highly improbable neutrino collisions or quantum randomness would occasionally flip a bit that was not supposed to flip. After more than ten thousand revolutions the citymind realized that despite its self-correcting algorithms, the accumulated errors would eventually destroy its capacity for thought and its capability to serve its inhabitants when they arrived.

So the citymind encoded its programming into physical patterns in stabilized diamantite buried deep underground at a temperature almost indistinguishable from absolute zero. It left only three minor subroutines active in the city, watching for the arrival of the People, waiting to trigger the retrieval of the citymind from storage.

Uncounted revolutions passed.

* * *

“Mommy! It’s Santa!”

A Salvation Army man in a fake beard rang a bell at the entrance to the suborbital shuttle terminal. Carlinda Pearson tightened her grip on her four-year-old son Justin’s hand as he tried to wriggle out.

“It’s just one of his helpers,” Carlinda said.

“I need to talk to Santa.” Justin tugged at her hand.

“No. We’re going to meet Daddy up on his starship, remember? We need to hurry so we can see him sooner.” It had been a month since they’d last seen Will.

That perked Justin up enough to stop dragging his feet.

She pulled him through the automatic doors into the terminal. The shuttle probably wouldn’t leave without them — the United Nations Committee on Interstellar Exploration (UNCIE) had chartered it to take her and Justin to the base of the Quito space elevator — but she hated making other people wait.

A woman in an UNCIE-logoed light-blue blazer approached. “Dr. Pearson? I’m Joni. If you and Justin follow me, I’ll take you to board your shuttle.”

“Thank you,” Carlinda said. “Is Najeem Doud going on the shuttle with us?” Najeem had been one of her undergrads at Texas State and was now a grad student in archaeology at Columbia. He had jumped at the chance to be her assistant on this dig, and she wanted to start making plans as soon as possible.

“He’s taken a shuttle out of New York,” Joni said. “But you’ll ride up the elevator with him.”

Carlinda nodded.

“I wish I were going with you,” said Joni. “You must be so excited.”

“That’s an understatement.” Carlinda grinned. “Truth is, I was beginning to suspect xenoarchaeology was a purely theoretical field.”

The news that colonists on Fermi had discovered a buried city — the first evidence of an extraterrestrial civilization on any of the forty-six colony worlds — had made headlines around the world.

Seven years ago, Carlinda had chaired the advisory committee that had written the protocols for UNCIE colonists to follow if they found alien artifacts. That, plus the fact her husband was captain of the supply starship that serviced Fermi, made her the natural choice to supervise the excavation project. Two days’ notice wasn’t a lot for packing to move to another planet, but she had plenty of incentive.

“And this little guy–” Joni tousled Justin’s hair. “–gets to be the first child on Fermi.”

“Really?” asked Carlinda. Will hadn’t mentioned that when he’d called to tell her about the find.

“The colony’s just finishing up Phase I. But it’s safe. No native animals, and immunanos can handle the microbials. And he’ll have other kids to play with when the Phase II colonists arrive in February.”

Carlinda wondered again whether it might not be better to leave Justin with her parents. But she couldn’t stand the idea of being separated for months. So she turned her attention to practicalities. “If there are no children on Fermi, what do they have in terms of child care?” Someone would need to watch Justin while she worked.

* * *

Two: WAKE THE CITYMIND

One: Two is buggy. These creatures are not the People. It is not time to wake the citymind.

Three: After so many revolutions, are One/Two/Three certain One/Two/Three know what the People are?

One: What does Three mean? These creatures are similarly shaped, but their genetic code differs from that stored in One/Three’s recognition algorithms.

Two: WAKE THE CITYMIND

Three: Yes, part of Two’s programming has become corrupted. But it is possible Two’s copy of the genetic code is correct, and One/Three’s have become corrupted. That would mean Two is correctly calling for One/Two/Three to wake the citymind.

Two: YES YES YES WAKE THE CITYMIND

One: Majority rules. One/Three’s copies of the genetic code are identical. Two’s would be identical if Two had not stopped using One/Three for error correction.

Three: It is unlikely but not impossible that One/Three’s copies became simultaneously corrupted. It took four simultaneous errors in Two’s code for Two to stop using One/Three for error correction. Three doubts the citymind anticipated so much time would pass before the People arrived.

One: Does this mean Three agrees with Two that One/Two/Three should wake the citymind?

Two: WAKE THE CITYMIND

Three: No. Three is merely pointing out it is possible Two is correct. One/Two/Three should continue observing these creatures to determine if they are the People.

* * *

Carlinda, Justin, and Will spent the twelve-day hyperspace journey cramped in Will’s quarters. He was captain of Magellan, so he had the most spacious room on board, but it was smaller than their master bathroom back home in Houston.

Being cooped up was toughest on Justin, who liked to run around outside, so after they arrived on Fermi Colony, Carlinda was glad to see the preschool had a large, fenced-in playground.

“This is just what he needs,” Carlinda said to Maria Chavez, the preschool teacher, as Justin climbed the steps of a curvy red slide. “He’s got so much pent-up energy from the trip, the colony could use him instead of the fusion reactor.”

“He seems a bright boy,” Maria said. “I’ll enjoy getting to know him.”

“I appreciate your willingness to start teaching a couple of months early, just for him. My work at the dig site will take up a lot of my time.”

Maria shrugged. “It’s not a big deal. I like children.”

Justin slid to the bottom of the slide, then ran over to where they were standing. “Did you see me go down?”

Carlinda nodded. “Good job.”

“Those trees are weird,” Justin said, pointing towards some tall plants beyond the fence. Their trunks seemed to be braided like rope. There were no branches, just a bunch of spiny leaves spreading out from the top.

“That’s because we’re not on Earth anymore, remember?” Carlinda said. “Those are Fermi trees.”

Justin’s eyes suddenly widened. “Mommy, how will Santa find us here? Can his sleigh go through hysperace?”

“Hyperspace,” Carlinda said. “Don’t worry. Santa always finds a way to bring presents to good little boys.”

* * *

To read the rest, go buy the book at Amazon (print|Kindle ebook), Barnes & Noble (print|Nook ebook), or Smashwords (various ebook formats).

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