From Gaia to Proxima Centauri

There often isn't a whole lot of science in my fiction. As a speculative fictioneer, I write "What if?" stories; so even when I write sci-fi, I'm flying by the seat of my imagination. But when Cat Sparks invited me to write a story for Cosmos, she asked that I make  it "sciencey." She'd published my story "Minutemen" in Cosmos a couple years before, but that one was about the Revolutionary War and zombies. Not much science to be found. This time around, I'd have to do a little research.

And research I did: everything from ion drives and deep space exploration to nuclear reactors. I came up with the following plot outline:

In the future, an alien species near Proxima Centauri has made contact with Earth via the Delphi satellite on Pluto, requesting that we send our brightest minds and most talented artists to meet them. It will take centuries to make the voyage. Gaia -- a synthetic humanoid carrying a composite mind of a dozen geniuses and virtuosos from around the globe -- will man the shuttle on a one-way solo mission. Due to the distance, all available space must be maximized for the nuclear reactor and ion engines; expected erosion issues will require backups. So will Gaia. 

The aliens have requested new work (having already received our telecommunication broadcasts for decades), so the artists and composers within Gaia will be creating their masterpieces while in transit -- taking turns commanding Gaia's body. But unforeseen difficulties will arise; Gaia will be damaged, and she will have to download into one of the alternate bodies stored in case of emergency. The composite mind will rebel, afraid of potential degradation after the transfer, that their work will be lost. Their mutiny may abort the mission.

Cat liked the idea, but she passed on the story, feeling it was too dense for 4,000 words. Maybe so. But the good news is that Sam Bellotto at Perihelion liked "From Gaia to Proxima Centauri" enough to publish it. "I love stories where the earth is destroyed," Sam said. Is that a spoiler? Maybe not. Find out in next month's issue of Perihelion Science Fiction. Stay tuned...