Kris Katzen wrote her first novel—all of seven! pages—at the age of seven and hasn't stopped since. She has written more than twenty novels and novellas, mostly speculative. However, a historical, a hockey novel, a romance, and several adventure/thrillers also sneaked in along the way. Other science fiction tales include Curai-Nal about a brand new starship captain who must win over her crew in time to save millions of colonists from an alien attack, and the collection Sailing the Cosmos. Most recently, she released the first in the Interstellar Exiles series: Escapes, in which several rogues and outcasts band together to save the galaxy.

She wrote a series of YA Jovian colony stories for Bad Ass Moms, and Brave New Girls volumes 4 and 5. "Kaboom, Ka-bye" kicks off the stories in Shadowrun's sourcebook Seattle 2072. A major Star Trek fan since forever, as Rigel Ailur she made her first pro sale with "Brigadoon" in Strange New Worlds 10. It combined every (at the time) iteration of the series in a centuriesspanning adventure that she had an absolute blast writing. She contributes essays to ATB Publishing's Outside In series, and has stories in Sandhill Publishing's Strife & Harmony, and Spies & Heroes anthologies. Her other series include Tales of Mimion and Sorcery & Steel.

Kris loves theater, history (especially archeology), and cinema. Most importantly, though, she absolutely dotes on her beloved swarm of astronomically adorable felines.

A Little Piece of Home by Kris Katzen


at the vanguard of a golden new age

A ship the size of a small planet.

A century-long voyage between galaxies.

A crew that will grow from five thousand to five million.

A renegade group determined to ensure the mission fails.

Sera Logan helped design the ship and assemble the crew. Finally, they are set to embark on the next great phase of science and exploration. Under the leadership of the woman who spearheaded the program and now captains the ship, Sera and the most diverse crew ever assembled stand poised on the brink of the greatest journey in history.

But will they survive the trip? And if so, what awaits them once they arrive?




Chapter 1 – Planning Eden

January 13, 4913

"Come as fast as you can, dear. It's very important. But don't worry, nothing is wrong."

Sera Logan felt equal parts anxiety and annoyance at her aunt's summons to Jupiter. Or rather, at the nature of the request to rush to the research station orbiting the sun between Jupiter and the asteroid belt. Possessing an effusive personality, her Aunt Tamlin was not normally given to melodrama or exaggeration. Blunt, but not to the point of rudeness, Tamlin Anillan was about as far from mysterious or secretive as a person could get.

Yet Tamlin stubbornly refused to elaborate when Sera asked, insisting only that Sera needed to come and see for herself. Immediately. So trepidation and irritation overshadowed her curiosity as Sera crossed the galaxy and returned home, not to Earth, but at least to the Sol System.

Sera's journey to the Anillan Research Center proved to be uneventful. The construct looked like a massive silver spider floating in space with its eight arms spreading in every direction from two of the three spherical sections that made up the main body. Beyond the space station, a ship appeared to be under construction closer to the asteroid belt, but Sera didn't pay much attention to that. It was a common sight since the development of matter conversion technology. The asteroids were used as raw material and changed at the atomic level to whatever material was required. Sera knew that much even though she used her engineering skills to transform worlds, not to build the ships that took people there. Nevertheless, Sera had a strong appreciation of the latter. And her aunt ranked among the best design engineers ever.

Sera climbed down from the cockpit of her single-person silverwing and left the sleek craft in the landing bay where the automated system of tractor beams moved it out of the way of other ships. It always amazed her how the cavernous room, measuring a hundred meters on either axis, remained pristine despite the high traffic. Then again, that's what the maintenance system was for. If it didn't do the job, someone would have fixed it until it did.

She knew the layout as well as anyplace else in the galaxy and quickly made her way through the pale blue corridors to her aunt's lab. Judging by the muted lighting, dimmer yet not too shadowy, it was early evening on the station. Sera saw only a half dozen other people—all human—as she strode through the broad hallways. That made sense. Since the workday had concluded, people would have already retired to their quarters or to the recreational areas of the station.

Aunt Tamlin, however, would still be in her lab. Of that Sera had no doubt. Sera found the tiny woman—a relentless bundle of energy—right where she expected her to be. The windowless square room appeared to be much larger than its actual measurements due to the displays on the four walls. Two showed landscapes, a tree-lined river and a mountain range; one a seascape; and the last a spacescape.

"Sera, Darling!" Sera's aunt Tamlin Anillan swept across the lab, threading between several tables to do so, and enveloped the taller woman in an effusive embrace. "It's so wonderful to see you! Was your trip a good one?"

"Yes, thank you, it was fine." Sera gave a mild yet sincere smile as she leaned down and hugged the diminutive woman.

Tamlin's black skin was much darker than her niece's paler brown complexion, and the elder woman had inherited coarse hair, now prematurely white, that she kept so short as to be almost shaved.

Never demonstrative, Sera drew back and regarded her paternal aunt with mock suspicion. "So what exactly do I absolutely positively have to see?" Yet warmth and affection showed plainly in her deep voice and in her dark eyes as she allowed the older woman to lead her by the hand to a battery of computers.

"So, Aunt Tamlin," Sera's curiosity was beginning to outweigh the courtesy of patience, "What exactly is this project you've started? And how do you think I can help?"

Tamlin's eyes glowed with excitement as she brought up a holographic display that hovered in the air in front of them. It showed, surprisingly, a saucer. "World-building, dear. Our mission is literally building worlds. We think it's high time we explored other galaxies, and that we should take Earth along with us."

"Visit other galaxies?" That was the current hot debate raging through the scientific community. Competing theories abounded on how best to accomplish the goal. Some favored smaller very fast ships, others larger vessels that were slower but self-sufficient in case of emergency. Yet others thought it would be not just possible but preferable to teleport between galaxies either directly or using relay stations.

Sera had no burning interest in the subject herself. Small as the Milky Way had become, it was more than huge enough for her. But she didn't begrudge anyone else the goal.

Tamlin's eyes sparkled. "Indeed. This will be the first ship of, well I have no idea how many, but I hope hundreds. Galaxies are big places to explore, after all. It would take a whole fleet decades, if not centuries, even to chart a galaxy properly let alone fully explore it. And when we do, we want to take Earth with us."

"How do you mean?" Sera felt her interest stirring. "Aunt Tamlin, start from the beginning please." Sera gave a little half-smile.

"I'm not talking about terraforming, dear. How would you like to start from scratch? Design it and actually build it. An entire terrestrial world."

"A whole world?" the concept sounded fascinating, but Sera still wasn't sure she was understanding what exactly they were talking about. "How?"

Tamlin explained, "We think the best way to conduct extragalactic exploration is with self-sufficient ships. We also think it will greatly benefit the crew to have natural environments on board, and not just Microhabitats that encompass a few hundred square kilometers. Our plan is this: we're constructing a massive ship to do to just that: explore other galaxies. And when people see what we're doing, we're hoping the effort will catch on and that other such ships will be built.

"The most important aspect of each ship will be its Core, the main habitat on board. This will take the longest to develop, construct and stabilize, so that's the section of the ship we started construction on first. I can easily envision it taking over a hundred years to be finished. As technology won't stand still over such a length of time, we'll save things like engine and computer specifics till last.

"I called you because we need you now. We just finished the shell for the Core, but now we have to fill it. Or, more accurately, someone first needs to design what we'll fill it with. Look at this," Tamlin went to one of the computer stations at the perimeter of the lab and hit a button. A holographic display appeared above the tabletop. Even without looking around, Sera could feel her aunt's eyes on her awaiting her reaction.

The saucer-shaped object appeared suspended in mid air. The silvery representation was over a meter in diameter and two decimeters at the center where it was thickest. It tapered to one decimeter at the edges. The surface looked mirror-smooth aside from a vertical ring of equidistantly spaced nodules that bisected the saucer. Sera counted fifty arching along the radius above the equator and fifty below. Each was tiny, only two millimeters long and half as wide, yet they were particularly noticeable in contrast to the otherwise featureless shape.

"Exactly what am I looking at?" Sera studied the projection but didn't see any visual clues.

"Exploration," Tamlin replied, as if that should explain everything. Then she laughed. "That, my dear, is the ship. Will be a ship that will soar between galaxies so we can explore outside the Milky Way."

Tamlin took a deep breath as if reining herself in. "Of course, dear," she said, her enthusiasm unwavering. "The Milky Way has been at peace for over two thousand years. Not counting the occasional pirate or skirmish, of course. And although there are no doubt some discoveries left to be made here, basically the galaxy has gotten pretty small.

"So it's high time we investigate some of our neighbors. Especially now that we can traverse the vast intergalactic space in only about a hundred years."

"A hundred?" Sera wasn't a shipbuilder or -designer, but she kept current on major news, especially in science and technology. "I'd have thought we could make it in ten."

"Not something that size," Tamlin's grin grew both impish and knowing. "The scale is four million to one. You are looking at a ship four and a half megameters in diameter. A Core Ship."

"Four point five megameters? Four thousand five hundred kilometers?" Sera wasn't sure she had heard right. "Why construct something that size? Why not much smaller and faster?"

"Because, my dear, accidents happen and even the best plans go awry. And should something happen between galaxies with help years away, it's important to be self-sufficient. And because, by your own estimation, a great deal of area is needed to house a self-sustaining environment. And such an environment will be invaluable so far from home for so long."

Tamlin worked the remote, and the avatar turned transparent aside from black gridlines depicting its shape. Red gridlines showed that the center of the ship was hollow. According to scale, the ellipsoid cavity—'vast' didn't begin to describe it—was three thousand five hundred kilometers in diameter and four hundred fifty kilometers high.

"You're allowing for the entire atmosphere? Not just the troposphere and adjusting incoming radiation accordingly?" Sera sounded amazed even to her own ears. Enthralled, she knew her aunt had her.

"If we did that, the environment wouldn't truly be self-sustaining, would it? Not according to the experts anyway."

Sera smiled at the good-natured teasing, as she knew full well that she herself was the expert her aunt was referring to. "We will still need to supply solar radiation a magnetic field and most of the gravity, so I guess technically it wouldn't be totally self-sustaining, but still..." Sera's voice drifted off as she studied the schematic in front of her.

"Almost ten square megameters," Tamlin said softly at her niece's shoulder, "Nine point six million square kilometers as a blank slate just for you."

"Where would the raw materials come from? And the wildlife we'll need?"

"The solid materials are being taken from the asteroid belt and converted to what we require. The atmosphere will be siphoned from Jupiter and converted. And as to the flora and fauna, well that's not my area any more than it's yours but I have some leads."

Sera frowned, not in displeasure but in deep concentration. Geology and meteorology were her specialty. She'd need a whole team, most especially top rate biologists and ecological engineers. She did know it was best to grow the animal and plant populations simultaneously, as they were interdependent. So many questions leapt to mind.

The saucer-shaped object appeared suspended in mid air. The silvery representation was over a meter in diameter and two decimeters at the center where it was thickest. It tapered to one decimeter at the edges. The surface looked mirror-smooth aside from a vertical ring of equidistantly spaced nodules that bisected the saucer. Sera counted fifty arching along the radius above the equator and fifty below. Each was tiny, only two millimeters long and half as wide, yet they were particularly noticeable in contrast to the otherwise featureless shape.

Sera began with one of the most pivotal. "What's the construction of the hull around the Core? Exactly how will the Core be insulated from unwanted outside influences such as engine vibration, inertia and the like?"

"Just zoom in and ask for details on anything you want to see..." Tamlin interrupted herself. "What am I saying? You know how it works. Ask the computer to show you anything you like."

Sera felt like her soul was exploding from the excitement and her head was bursting from the prodigious amounts of information she was studying. She couldn't read it quickly enough.

An intergalactic ship. Taking Earth along in its center.

Nearly ten MILLION square kilometers!! And that was just at the widest plane, the cross section of the diameter. The ship's Core volume would be nearly three billion cubic kilometers.

Over five point three billion, actually, for the whole ship, including the core. Of that, she had nearly three billion as a blank canvas to fill and make functional.

Right away she ruled out ocean habitat. There simply was not enough room for that if she wanted any substantial amount of land at all. No ocean meant no saltwater coasts, only freshwater lakes and rivers and the accompanying shorelines and riverbanks. It also meant Sera would have to be incredibly careful in calculating the water cycle so there was enough for the water table to be self-sustaining.

She poured over the computer files, totally oblivious to the lab activity going on around her. There wasn't much information yet on the Core aside from the most basic engineering. Gravity generators were positioned beneath what would be the ground of the Core, solar generators above the sky, and electromagnetic generators in both positions. They drew power from the fabric of space itself, tapping into the quantum energy stored there and converting it to whatever form was required. All could be monitored—and, when necessary, managed—from over a dozen auxiliary control rooms, or from one of the two main control rooms located at the bottom and top of the Core.

Or would be. Sera looked to see what the actual construction status was.

The hull of the Core was a double hull, each two kilometers thick and encasing two kilometers of air. That much had been finished and the air pumped in. Yes, that certainly seemed like sufficient insulation, Sera thought. And inside the Core itself at the moment was...nothing. Literally nothing. They hadn't yet filled the vacuum of space.

Because Sera would have to design everything that went inside. The entire geography would be up to her.

The rest of the ship—Sera finally remembered there had to be a ship surrounding the Core—was growing around the Core like an exoskeleton. Construction had been started in the middle of the "top" and "bottom" of the ship and working outwards toward the edges. At the moment about thirty percent of the top was covered and forty percent of the bottom. Target completion date was still five years away, but that was only for the shell.

Then the waiting would begin. Technology would not stand still while they worked on the Core. There would be progress in engine design, computers would continue to advance, and who knew what other technological and scientific developments would occur? So while life went about its business filling the Core, that would allow the team to divide its attention somewhat and assist with the development of the other Cores.

Only after a Core had stabilized would the actual ship around it be equipped with most of its technology. That could take anywhere from five to ten years per ship, with another year after that to finish installing and calibrating critical systems.

The only assumption Sera considered safe at the moment was that the ship's engines would likely be quantum engines and would work on the same principle as the various Core generators and draw power from space. Barring any profound advance in scientific discoveries, each engine would be two kilometers long. They made up the ring Sera had noted encircling the middle of the ship. She figured that every engine would have its own control room which would then be tied in to main engineering and to the bridge as well. Numerous redundancies would be included in any design to make the engines and all the control systems failsafe.

But all that was still far in the future. Sera switched back over to the complete plans and studied them further. Exploration was designed to accommodate all manner of crew. Living quarters were set up with every possible environment for every possible shape and size being. Recreational areas of the ship were equally diverse, as were the hundreds of Microhabitats, varied environments from numerous worlds.

Most of the details thus far were structural engineering and also comprised computer systems, other ship's systems, and the engines. There were notations on required crew size and on arranging various quarters with different environmental settings most efficiently.

Someone tapped her shoulder and Sera glanced up to see Tamlin standing there, an amused grin on her lined face. Her aunt pressed a sandwich into her hand and set a cup of steaming liquid on the desktop.

"Thanks," Sera flashed her a brilliant smile—a rarity—and immersed herself in the data again. She barely registering that Tamlin had left and the lab had grown silent

The main control areas had atmospheric composition, gravity, temperature and air pressure matching the Core. The bridge, engineering, and the Core's and Microhabitats' control rooms all would be perfectly comfortable for someone from Earth. Tamlin and the others thought that an unusually high percentage of the crew would likely be human or humanoid—or compatible with the same conditions—due to the nature of the Core. Their estimates of "unusually high" equated to ten percent human or humanoid, and a total of thirty percent who required the same living conditions. Some auxiliary control rooms had different environments to accommodate different species.

The more she saw of the enormity of their ambition, the more her own excitement grew.

The next time she glanced up from her perusal, Sera saw that she was no longer alone. The rest of her aunt's team stood watching in amusement. Sera tore herself away from the data so proper introductions could be made.

All Sera knew for sure was that the others, like her aunt, were engineers and scientists. They specialized in ship and engine design, yet they had branched out as well by way of having second and third fields of study. There were physicists among them, and computer experts, bioengineers, astronomers and medical doctors.

"This is my niece Sera," Tamlin said, and Sera could hear the pride overflowing in her voice. "And we want her to come work with us."

Sera meticulously noted each person's name as they were introduced, matching the faces to names she recognized thanks to her aunt. She prided herself on never forgetting a person once they were introduced.

The two men dwarfed her petite aunt, who looked like a child among adults, and the other women scientists were a head taller than Tamlin as well. Neither man stood quite as tall as Sera, but Christopher Austen came close. Sera liked him immediately and found him unconventionally attractive. His toothy smile as he welcomed her with a firm handshake was so effervescent as to be goofy, if not for the keen intelligence showing in his dark eyes. He had a wonderfully expressive face, with a nose too big for it. His ears were oversized for his head and appeared moreso due to his extremely short haircut.

He looked too thin, but judging by his strong grip, the leanness hid a wiry strength. The laugh lines on his angular face were pronounced enough that he looked a decade older than her, but with lifespans reaching ten centuries, appearances meant little nowadays. Someone from Earth's distant past would have taken Sera to be about twenty five although she'd already lived almost a hundred years. Austen could have been decades younger than she, or centuries older.

John Keller brought Sera's hand to his lips and brushed it with a tender kiss. She was torn between chuckling at his theatrical audacity and rolling her eyes at the archaic gesture. The indecision didn't last. She found herself responding positively to his dashing smile and the wicked, winning gleam in his light hazel eyes, more gold than green.

A lock of black hair fell across those eyes and John brushed it aside. Broad shoulders, trim figure, what was the phrase her historian sister always used? Oh, yes, it came to her: matinee-idol looks. And mischief personified, Sera added her own assessment.

Tamlin laughed and wrapped an arm around John's waist as Sera disengaged her hand from his. "No one even uses his name any more, dear. We just call him 'the Flirt'."

"No fair warning people," he feigned hurt—not convincingly—then winked. "Welcome, Dr. Logan. It's a great pleasure."

"Likewise. And, please, it's just Sera," Sera demurred, including them all as she spoke. Although reserved, she was never one to stand on ceremony. Her engineering work in meteorology and geology spoke for itself; Sera had never required the additional validation of people addressing her by title.

Heather Rosen looked like the youngest person present although Sera knew from her aunt's electronic letters that the curvaceous woman with the tangle of long blond tresses, cheerful blue-gray eyes and pert little nose was the eldest among them. Heather somehow managed to appear girlish and still exude a comfortable earth mother aura.

Then there was Dawson Anillan, the favorite cousin Sera so rarely saw yet always kept in touch with.

Dawson was her mother's daughter, with delicate, striking features and a trim figure. Yet she'd inherited average height and softer, finer hair, and slightly fairer skin from her father.

Relatives aside, Sera knew the others all by reputation and thanks to her aunt's correspondence. She also knew that two more members of the group, brothers, were traveling and wouldn't be back until the next day. The seven of them were among the top scientists/engineers in the galaxy. But until now, Tamlin had been remarkably unforthcoming with information on the actual work they were currently doing.

Now Sera was most assuredly intrigued. Pleasantries concluded, she dove back into the data on the ships.

At that juncture, Sera's researching took her into a side file, little more than basic notations and the most general schematics. A fleet that her aunt envisioned of hundreds of Core Ships each with a different Core.

Sera saw mentions of a few aquatic Cores, some with saltwater oceans, others with oceans of methane or ammonia. She also saw references to all manner of terrestrial worlds. Other Cores would emulate gas giants—at various depths of the atmospheres. In all those cases, the main control areas would correspond to whatever conditions existed in the respective Core. Crew composition would likely shift accordingly.

Each design would present unique challenges. The basic shape of the ship itself might even have to be adapted to each particular Core. Sera tried to imagine hundreds of ships, each housing a distinct treasure in its center.

Her head pounded.

Sera leaned forward, elbows on the desktop, and pressed her hands over her eyes. The throbbing pain behind them refused to abate even as she massaged her temples with her fingertips. She twisted her head and rolled her shoulders to try to relieve some of the stiffness in her body.


She gingerly looked over at her aunt's exclamation of concern and noted with puzzlement that the older woman had changed clothes.

Tamlin rolled her eyes in amused asperity. "Sera, haven't you moved from that computer all night? It's already past lunch. Come on, you're going to get some rest. The project will be here when you get back. I should have remembered how you lose track of time like that."

Sera didn't protest as her aunt shooed her out of the lab with strict orders to go to her quarters. Opting to shower when she woke up, she made quick use of the bathroom, stripped and fell into the oversized bed.

Dreams of a majestic fleet swirled in her head.