In an earlier post, I related how I'd initially planned to write my story Aranya's Last Voyage as a science fiction story. Here's all I could find of that original draft:
Needles of steel, glass and plastic slice through space in every direction, everyday. Many of them wind up lost, broken on the crags of some distant asteroid belt, sucked into the gravity well of a gas giant, or simply absorbed into the furnace of a distant star. Others fetch up on habitable worlds and the seed-crew lands to start a colony; sometimes they die in a few years, felled by unforeseen hazards, sometimes the precious sentient stock takes root and a new world joins the glittering array.
Sometimes, it gets really strange.
There are whispered tales of ships that fall through vortices in space and time into paradoxical rabbit-holes where up is down and left is right. Tales of ships that slip through the trellis to a still place, untouched by entropy where everything blends together in a super-concentrated singularity. Tales of ships that fly far beyond all known stars and galaxies to oldspace, the farthest circle of this bubble cosmos, where the fabric of reality starts to fade and to fray.
My story is stranger still.
It was my first time out as captain. I’d ridden on missions before, to-and-fro trade runs between settled worlds, supply chains to fledging colonies, rescue parties to communities which had run into some unforeseen crisis, recovery crews for the remains of settlements that had failed. I’d worked my way up through the ranks from cabin boy to captain of my own colony-ship, looking for a new world to settle.
We traveled cocooned in stasis, to shelter us from the cold agony of the empty reaches between the stars.From time to time, the computers pulled the umbilici out of my body, injected my bloodstream with quickening agents and pulled me out of suspension to survey the surroundings. I jacked in to the monitoring systems and ran my accelerated sentience through the datastream anomalies that prompted these resurrections.
I was the human agent to make the human decisions to stop and explore. To turn and run or to press forward; decisions which can never be turned over to machines, no matter how sophisticated. I’d already diverted us from a score of dead ends, chosen the more promising branch on a dozen cosmic crossroads, and then subsided back into the ageless dream.
This time, however, everything was different. The data that I was being fed was either anomalously rich or disturbingly empty; I could not make out which. Baffled, I accessed further input streams and found the same paradoxical pattern. At last, I activated the external monitors and gazed, amazed, at a planetary surface where none should have been.
We seemed to have fetched up on some strange new world that was confusing the senses out of my machines. Stirring out of my pod, I drifted through nutrient fluid to the sphincter, which ejected me into the command section. I showered briefly, pulled on overalls (standard grey, with a small seedling-and-stars motif on left chest) and sat down at my console. I pressed buttons, called up surveillance records and guided cameras and samplers through exploratory routines.
Slowly, the flow of data began to subside into intelligible patterns. Gravity: .9. Atmosphere: Present, earth-like with a somewhat higher proportion of nitrogen. Native life forms: single-celled organisms detected. I ran through checks and counterchecks, but the results seemed determined to remain stable after the initial chaos, although much was still unclear. My immediate surroundings seemed to be a hospitable enough terrestrial environment. Beyond a certain point, my instruments failed. I could not discern the overall mass of this world, the star it orbited, the solar system it inhabited, nearby stars, or even the usually omnipresent expanse of space itself.
I sighed, and closed my eyes to distance myself from my confusion and think things through. When I opened them, still confused, the data had increased. They seemed to hint at a planetary mass in the range of a regular M-type planet, some orbital data (tilted axis – there would be the familiar seasons and climatic variations). Still no signs of a star, but the vista outside seemed sunlit. Shaking my head in wonder and dismay, I knew I was about to take a gamble. I slipped on a radiation suit and a breathing kit, and then programmed the ship to take off and retreat if I did not return within a stipulated time. My throat was dry, and there was a fluttering in my stomach as I stepped out of the airlock and down the dozen steps to alien soil.