Aldebaran Colony

Saturday, August 8, 2009

This is a quick little story I whipped together one day as a writing exercise. That's mainly the sort of stories I'll be putting up; 1000 word vignettes that I wrote during a day. Here it is:

Why they had thought they needed a podiatrist on the colonization team was something Harry Jones couldn’t figure out. He wasn’t even one of the best podiatrists, although he had his moments. It wasn’t as if he wasn’t happy to be along. He was, in fact, overjoyed when he was given the news. It had just come as a bit of a surprise to him that he had been selected to join the ten thousand other people on the colony ship bound for Aldebaran 5.

The ship had been equipped with a new Petrescu-drive engine, which would allow them to cross the distance between earth and the Aldebaran system in about 15 seconds. There had been some hushed conversations between the scientists setting up the engines, but Harry was confident that the colonists’ best interests were being kept in mind. After all, it was the first colonization trip outside of the solar system, and no one wanted a bad precedent set. Even when the scientists made sure to rush off the ship before the flight, Harry took no notice.

Loading up the ship hadn’t been much on Harry’s mind either. The loading had to take place in orbit, and the colonists would only be sent up once the entire ship had been packed. There was a special crew for loading all the belongings that had been sent up previously on an unmanned rocket. The colonists had each been allowed to bring along whatever personal effects they wanted. Given that the Petrescu engine operated on principles that weren’t affected by mass, it had been decided that restricting what the colonists could bring on board was simply more trouble than it was worth.

It wasn’t long after Harry had sent up his entire collection of 20th century science fiction novels that the call to fly up to the ship came. The colonists were being ferried up into lunar orbit by economy class earth-moon shuttles that had been repossessed by the bank that was funding the colonization trip. The shuttles were in bad repair, but Harry felt they did the job well, and that was all that counted. Sure, the trip out to the ship was a little bumpy, but the cabin never depressurized once, and so Harry was happy. It was actually Harry’s first trip into space, and he was excited enough that the bumps just reminded him of a roller coaster he had been on a few years earlier.

The colony ship itself was massive, and Harry was certain he was going to get lost. However, there were helpful terminals all around the ship that seemed quite happy to do Harry’s getting lost for him. Wherever they sent him, though, Harry found he always ended up somewhere he needed to be. The one place they seemed to get him to reliably was his quarters. An attached washroom was the only one he knew of on the ship, although he figured the other colonists had their own.

It wasn’t long after all non-colony personnel had scurried off the ship that the imminent Petrescu insertion was announced over the ship’s loud speakers. Harry had had to ask someone else to repeat the announcement, though, since the speakers seemed to emit a lot of noise that clearly wasn’t speech. However, the helpful terminals had the full text of the announcement, along with some useful facts about the Petrescu engine’s operation. Mentioned among the side-effects on humans was the fact that the insertion was rather unpleasantly like being drunk. Harry seemed to be the only one who caught the reference, and was certainly the only one who laughed at it.

When the designated time arrived, Harry was fully prepared to experience what a glass of water must feel like. Unfortunately, he was knocked the ground by a lurch as the engine engaged, and was knocked unconscious for the duration of the insertion. When he came to, he was disappointed to find that he had missed it. He was also surprised to find out that the pilots were incredibly surprised that they had made it through alive. When he asked one of them why they were so surprised, he was informed that the Petrescu engine had a 50-50 chance of killing everyone on board. The entire flight crew had been selected from criminals awaiting execution for thought crimes, and they had figured that at least, if the engines had killed them, it would have been a faster death than the ones they faced back on earth.

It took only a few hours after that to get into orbit around Aldebaran 5. The plan was for the ship to slowly lower itself through the atmosphere and then finally land on firm ground and proceed to fall apart. Harry was informed that this falling apart would be fine, that the colony ship was, in fact, simply going to become their new city. The ship had been in many pieces in the first place, so Harry wasn’t too concerned about it. Certainly the bank had taken every possible failure point into account.

The landing passed by rather uneventfully, and Harry was pleasantly surprised by how slow and relaxed the ship seemed to fall apart. He was in his own quarters at the time, and as the ship fell apart, he noticed that a new door had opened off his living room that led into what was obviously his new office. It seemed that someone had taken the time to move his equipment from his office on earth into this one. Even his over-sized, cartoon-style model of the human foot was there, and Harry was happy someone had actually remembered it, even though he had completely forgotten about those details himself.

As it turned out, a podiatrist was exactly the person who had needed to be included in the colony. In the first hour alone fifteen people had come to him complaining of foot injuries caused by the local terrain. A person could be walking along what seemed to be flat ground, when suddenly a short spike would shoot out of the ground through the person’s footwear. The spikes were apparently part of an underground plant that responded to vibrations from the surface. Luckily someone had thought to pack a lot of bandages into Harry’s equipment store.

However, it was with great disappointment that Harry discovered that someone had neglected to pack food for any extended period of time. A nutritionist who had also been recruited for the colony was teamed up with a botanist and a toxicologist to examine the local flora and fauna to see if there wasn’t anything native to eat. As it turned out, the underground plant was a perfect source of nutrition, and so the members of the colony proceeded to dig up as much of it as they could.

On the second week of their new colony, Harry began to feel rather ill. Using his diagnostic equipment, he planned to take a quick scan of his abdomen to see if there was anything visibly wrong in his gut. As he turned the scanner on, a short spike drove itself out his stomach and into the scanner’s receiver. It seemed that the plant was not, in fact, any good to eat.


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