Strange IndiaStrange India

DATE: 2385-05-16; PARTIAL RECOVERY: Licence 10j1016c, headset.

2382-09-24: 09h 35m

Hello, Sidney Morrison? I’m Yanek, your substitute instructor for today. Sorry I’m late.

Oh, didn’t you read your mail? I’m afraid your usual instructor ran into trouble during their last trip. Not to worry, I’m sure they will be fine. I understand you’re already quite advanced? Let’s get in and start with the pre-flight checks then. Our destination today is Vega. You should be able to compute the navigation there.

09h 40m

Sorry Sidney, keep going, I need to run to the restroom real quick before we leave. Be right back. Don’t forget the exterior morphing!

No, the morphing algorithm can only do so much, check it!

09h 52m

Back! You done yet? I noticed the purple tinge and red zigzagging stripe morph outside. Nice touch with those blotches, too. If you finish up, I’ll call Port Control.

09h 55m

Port Control, this is Yanek Albeda on the Adder’s Wiles, licence 10j1016c, Sidney Morrison piloting, destination Vega, requesting launch.

10h 17m

You know, Sidney, I always feel as if this first part of the trip is just the world’s most boring dark ride. Steel-plated hangar left, steel plates right, and just when you think it’s getting started, a steel-plated tunnel for dessert. Yawn. You’d think they could come up with some decoration, for the price they charge … Hey, what are you staring off into space for — he he, space, get it? You’re not nervous, are you?

Don’t worry, it’s just a little hop. I’m sure you’ve been on longer stretches. No? Well, there’s a first time for everything. I hope you’re ready, because the boring part is over, there’s the gate. Here we go!


00h 05m

Well, that gate transition was a bit bumpy, but you had it in the end. I know gates are disorienting, but try to keep her steady.

00h 06m

Ahh, look at it, the colours, the shapes. Isn’t it a marvel? Isn’t it a rush? So much better than the hangar. Hold on, I need to grab my ginger cookies, settles the stomach a bit. The illusions sometimes get me. Keep an eye on the surroundings, yes? It’s always a bit tricky so close to a gate.

00h 09m

Here we are. Hope it’s not distracting if I snack while you drive.

00h 24m

Look, do you see that cubiform there? I know it’s a little disconcerting how our eyes keep trying to make that grid on its body warp around, but you know, that’s how it is. Anyhow, really common on this route, cubiforms, though not a pattern I’ve seen before. It’s about to devour that swarm right there. Don’t know if they’re native here or visitors like us. I’m honestly surprised the swarms haven’t all been eaten yet …

Just steer right, and tunnel behind that nematode — don’t want to attract that cubiform’s attention.

Yes, I know it’s a bit tight there, but that’s hyperspace for you.

01h 10m

Hmm, that serpentiform there looks familiar, don’t we have similar stripes? Bit risky. You checked the exterior morphing, right? Last week, there was a glitch in the algorithm; half our rides went out with the same look and it turned into a feeding frenzy for those cubes or whatever. Haven’t seen the Chameleon’s Curl since then, not sure if they made it out or are still waiting for rescue somewhere … Time’s weird here, but I guess you know that. No idea how long it’s actually been for them.

01h 13m

Look, I’m sorry, I know that was a bit insensitive. But there was no way I could know your friend was on the Chameleon’s.

Let’s just get to Vega, I’ll stop with the ‘dramatic tales’ as you call it. No need to get upset. Just, you know, make sure to check the exter—

… Exactly. Here, have a cookie.

Fine, your loss.

01h 49m

Whoah, whoah, too close Sidney! Didn’t you see that maw? Focus! Camouflage works both ways you know, predator and prey.

01h 50m

Left. Left!

Shit, I dropped my cookies.

01h 51m

Ok, I’m ba — that’s not a tunnel! That’s not a tunnel, swerve, DOWN! Get away from it, NOW!

02h 28m

… Traffic control? Traffic control, this is Sidney Morrison. Come in, please.

02h 41m

Hello? Hi, traffic control, what a relief! Yes, yes that’s me. I’m on the Adder’s Wiles, the licence number is … 10j1016c. My instructor is Yanek Albeda. I really need somebody to pick us up. Yanek is not reacting to anything. We need help, urgently.

Where are we? I don’t know, there was a tunnel. I mean, it wasn’t really a tunnel. I’m not sure what it was. It may have had teeth. I tried to go under it, but I lost control. Then a spiraloid showed up, and Yanek started retching and fell to the ground unconscious. I don’t know what’s wrong with him.

02h 59m

OK, I followed your instructions; Yanek seems stable at least. The beacon is on too, I think. And emergency evasion patterns seem to be working, or at least we are moving. Nothing will come for us like this, right?


Fine, yes, I’m calm, OK? I’m calm. So how long do I have to wait?

Yes, I know time is weird here, can’t you say anything?

Not even guesswork. Wonderful. OK, Sidney out.

07h 04m

Yanek? Yanek, are you awake? I think … I think we’re stranded somewhere, Yanek. Is that possible, in hyperspace? I always thought there were no solids here. I modulated the exterior morphing now, so I think we should be safe, but I don’t know how long we will be here.

Can I … can I have that cookie now?


The story behind the story

Sayan J. Soselisa reveals the inspiration behind We are nowhere near there yet.

In this story, I tried to reconcile two writing prompts: ‘science paper’ and ‘people travelling in a vehicle’. When it comes to science, my challenge has always been one of choice: I find almost everything interesting. My eye settled on a paper investigating an evolutionary concept in snakes, in which rare morphological features increase survival rate (T. Madsen et al. Curr. Biol. 32, 3385–3388; 2022). The idea is simple: if a bird knows to look for tasty, patterned snakes, it might initially ignore the incidental smooth mutant that’s also slithering around.

Now how does one integrate that into a story about people on a vehicle? Owing to my pilot training, I imagined a scenario of an instructor and student. But in what kind of environment would this evolutionary concept help travelling humans? And why would humans go to a place where they need to rely on appearance to survive?

It all came together when one of my pet peeves in science fiction reared its head: the instant travel between distant solar systems with the mumbled word ‘hyperspace’. What if hyperspace is a highly dangerous and very crowded environment, that takes specific skill to navigate, even in a high-tech era? The massive shortcut in interstellar travel might be worth the risk of getting lost or eaten — if a pilot is trained well. From there on, I only had to imagine a tense student and a too-relaxed instructor, and the story basically wrote itself.

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