Vonda McIntyre’s new novelette, “Little Sisters,” starts off seeming like a thrilling space opera tale. But halfway through, this companion story to her Nebula-nominated “Little Faces” takes a really unsettling turn.

Top image: Rosette Nebula by NASA

McIntyre’s story is partly about the strange cultural norms that might arise with an interstellar civilization, where journeys can take thousands of years and economies can be complex. And then it turns into an examination of an alien species, and its very different ideas of reproduction and commerce.

“Little Sisters” is available over at Book View Cafe. Here’s how it begins:

Damaged nearly to extinction by a war it had won, Qad’s Piercing Glory tumbled through deep space, its engines dead, deceleration impossible. Glory’s Mayday shrieked, insistent, while Qad, beset by nightmares, slept in his transit pod. Glory focused its failing resources on keeping Qad alive.

Decades later, in the nearest shipyard, Executives registered the cry for help. They created an account for this new consumer and dispatched space boats with gravity tractors.

A millennium later, the space boats returned. The ship floated obediently in their tractor nets, its tumbling damped, its momentum slowly, inexpensively reduced from interstellar speeds. The boats minimized energy expenditure and Executive attention, guided by Artificial Normals. The rescue required little intelligence, and had not been marked as emergency or priority. The estimated account expenditure reached neither level. The boats put the disabled ship into a repair bay and signaled for awakening.

Qad woke in the cold and dark, surprised to wake at all.

You can buy the whole thing at Book View Cafe.


Contact the author at charliejane@io9.com.