The alien Umlari sent out a thousand starships in search of resources and to find, if they can, their long-lost home world. Walkers like Drewe are trained to use a custom-grown body to explore each new world. If she and her crechemates find the one where the Umlari first evolved, it will be the greatest discovery of their time. Or will it? For a terrible secret binds their lives together, and learning the truth may mean the end of all. First published in Forbidden Planets ed by Marvin Kaye (SFBC), this stunning science fiction novella received Honorable Mention in Gardner Dozois’ Year’s Best SF.
“When the Science Fiction Book Club published my anthology, Forbidden Planets, in 2006, I contracted for six stories, all of which are excellent. But as is well known by my readers, I always assign the closing spot to the story that I find most unusual and that honor was given to Julie E. Czernada’s novella, “No Place Like Home.” It is a poignant tale of a group of planetary explorers who are seeking throughout the galaxy for their long-lost home. The writing is elegant, the characters are appealing and the story’s conclusion is invested with wonder, eroticism, suspense, humor and ultimately compassion. Over the years, I have edited twenty-one fantasy anthologies. Among the many tales I have given the closing place to in these collections, Julie E. Czerneda’s “No Place Like Home” is among the top five!”Marvin Kaye, Editor, Weird Tales Magazine
Excerpt from “No Place Like Home”
She takes gentle steps. No one must know she’s been here.
Her nostrils, deep, ridged, well-suited to this atmosphere, flare to take in scents.
Through eyes, narrow, thick-lidded, well-suited to this light, she gazes at a world as beautiful as any other she’s walked. No less.
They want her to believe this is home, to feel it.
She has felt this much at home on every other world. And no more.
“Move on?” Glee stared at her, the quills of her head and neck stiffened in shock. “You can’t mean it. Not already. It’s too soon.”
Drewe tossed her gloves on the table, reaching for the jar of cream. She rubbed the soothing ointment into the angry cracks between her fingers, hissing as the sting faded to relief. Av-gloves were designed to fit comfortably; perhaps they did–just not for as long as she usually wore them. “This isn’t the place.”
“And you can tell. From one walk.”
“That’s my job.”
“What about the other walkers?”
Drewe perched on nearest bench of the robing chamber, easing off her boots. At the sight of her blistered and peeling skin, her crèche mate hummed a protest, a pattern of grief and concern rippling her quills from jaw to crest. Drewe ignored the display. Glee’s fussing was pointless; the boots were as they were, suited to most walkers, a poor fit for her wider-than-average feet. “The others,” Drewe said calmly, “will make their own reports. Mine is to move on. A17GH49 offers no unique resources or benefits. And–” she grunted as she bent to rub cream into the redness between paired toes, “–it isn’t home.”
“We shouldn’t leave orbit so soon,” Glee grumbled. “It’s not enough time.”
Since Glee wasn’t referring to planetary exploration, Drewe ignored this plea as well, although her own quills flattened against her head in mute warning to leave the topic. Feeling every muscle in her body as a separate point of strain, she leaned back to rest her spinal ridge against the wall.
Glee tried another tack. “Nevarr won’t be pleased,” she said. “He spent a full cycle perfecting these avatars.”
“That’s his job.” She pressed a chill pack over her face, welcoming the numbness on her eyelids, nostrils, and mouth as the gel soothed new blisters and eased the stretch of old scars.
“What if the council decides to stay?” her crèche mate persisted. “Will you go back down?”
Drewe replayed the sensations of the world in her mind: vivid, complex, unpredictable. Everything the ship was not. Everything they searched for.
And hadn’t found. “If they ask me to walk again,” she mumbled into the pack, the warmth of each spoken word burning the raw patches inside her nose, “I’ll go. But it will be a waste of time. This isn’t home.”