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This is an incredible long shot, because I read this in the late 80’s in a USENET newsgroup and I have no idea if it ever appeared in print.
In schoolyear 87-88 I had newsgroup access via my university. I could only read and post through terminals in the university datacentre. Didn’t have any hardcopy possibility so I couldn’t save or print anything.
There was a newsgroup (I presume in the rec or alt hierarchy) covering SF and Fantasy. Mainly book, movie and TV show reviews. Short stories got posted (mainly Star Wars and Star Trek fanfic) and occasionally a longer one.

This story was posted in installments of approximately 3-4 paperback-pages (10-15 pages of screen text at 80x24) each. (This was way before binary posting became a thing and it pre-dated eBooks as well: plain text only.) There was a post every 3-4 working days (Monday, Thursday/Friday, next week Wednesday, etc.), with a 3-week gap at Christmas and 2 weeks around Easter.

I followed the story from the initial post beginning of October 1987 until June 88 when I left that university. I transferred to another university that summer, where I didn’t have internet access. (It was not standard at all in European universities back in those days.) I didn’t re-gain internet access until 1992 when dial-up started to become available in my country. I’ve never been able to find that story again.

Even if it never appeared in print, I would be happy if someone could just tell me how the story ended.

I remember the storyline quite well:

The main character is called Lara O’May. (Possibly Laura or Tara. Not sure about the surname. Could be O’Malley, or O’Hara or something else “Irish” sounding.) The story was called Lara’s Journey, Lara’s Travels or Lara’s Voyage (or something similar). She is the chief engineer on a large (a mile long) interstellar freighter with limited passenger capacity called the “Space Rover”. (It is NOT called the “Irish Rover”. I’m sure of that.)
The other character is Lucy. She is a fully sentient AI that resides in a computer that (together with an RTG based independent power-supply) resides in 1x1x1 meter crate. She can move around on a mini anti-gravity sled build into her crate and has 2 retractable robot-arms as well. Although she can directly interface with the non-sentient shipboard systems and control them, if need be, she is not part of the ship, but a crew member. She is the ship’s cargo-master/logistics officer.

At the beginning of the story Lara wakes up in engineering in the stern of the ship, after being unconscious for some time. She is bruised all over and has a concussion, but she is otherwise fine. She quickly realizes that the ship dropped out of hyper-space unexpectedly and suffered serious damage. It is drifting through space and running on emergency power. During the crash translation out of hyper the ships artificial gravity spiked wildly in multiple directions, which threw her around like a rag doll causing her injuries. From sensor data it appears it was even worse at the bow of the ship where everyone else on-board was located at the time of the accident. No survivors probably, except for Lucy in her protective crate, but the internal communications grid is broken due to a hull breech near the bow of the ship, so there is no way to know for sure.

Lara spends a week or 2 making repairs and is finally able to re-connect the front of the ship to the rest by doing a spacewalk to run an umbilical cable for data and power across the hull-breech. Lucy is indeed OK and everyone else is dead. With Lucy back in the communications grid repairs can be done a lot quicker. The ship’s maintenance and repair computer is semi-sentient and can do basic repairs and maintenance on its own (with several androids to do the physical work), but it needs guidance due to the sheer scale of the damage. Besides that, Lucy can directly take control of the maintenance androids. Still, it takes them about half a year to get the ship operational again.

The crash translation out of hyper-space has dropped them in normal space way of their planned course. They are in fact several 1000 lightyears outside the Terran Space Federation territory in the direction of the Galactic Core. The hyper-drive is not repairable. They still have ultra-drives which are also FTL, just a lot slower, but these don’t have the range to make it back to Federation space.

Especially Lara is keen to find some place where they can find other humans. She has a very rare genetic mutation that makes her extremely long lived. (The average human lifespan is about 200 years, but she has a life expectancy of 1800 to 2000. She is only 270 years old now and she isn’t willing to spend the rest of her days on board of the Rover.

Since returning to the Federation is not possible, they decide to go looking for some of the “lost colonies”. These Terra-formed planets with colonies were established about 3000 years ago in the early days of FTL space-travel but contact with them was lost. A pandemic broke out that was lethal to about 90% of mankind. Society collapsed and took over a century to recover. Afterwards population never rose back to original levels alleviating the need for far away colonies. Additionally, a war with an alien species further blocked off expansion of the Federation in the direction towards the Galactic Core preventing any further attempts to re-establish contact. They have sufficient fuel to visit 5 of these colonies and hopefully at least one of them is a place they can find refuge. They plot a course such that they visit all 5 and still have enough fuel left to return to the system they like best, in case number 5 turns out not to be the best choice.

As far as I was able to read the story, they visited 3 colonies and in the last episode I read they were just entering the system with colony number 4.

  • Colony 1: Nuclear waste land. Apparently suffered a global atomic war.
  • Colony 2: A tropical paradise originally colonised by nudists that wanted to go back to nature. Society and tech-level have completely collapsed. The locals have regressed to a very primitive stone-age culture. Lara considers this a maybe if the other colonies don’t offer a better choice. Lara and Lucy discuss at some length if it would be ethical to start an extensive education program for the locals to reboot their society. (An obvious nod to Star Trek’s “Prime Directive”.)
  • Colony 3: This planet was only partially terra-formed and inhabited (1 continent out of 4). Ruins of several small cities and many towns/villages can be seen from orbit, but there is no human activity whatsoever. For unclear reasons mankind didn’t survive here.
  • Colony 4: As soon as they come out of FTL they find a functioning navigation beacon in orbit around the supposedly inhabited planet, but there is no other communication at all in the system which is weird. They proceed carefully towards the planet.

At this point the last instalment that I read ended.

Please note: If this ever appeared in print, I would expect that the first part (until the ship is repaired and they go looking for colonies) would be greatly shortened by an editor. The author went into excessive detail about the technical details of the ship, what was wrong and how they repaired it. This took about 20 weeks of installments (about a 100 pages) and could be easily condensed into about 30 pages.

As I said above: I have no idea if this ever appeared in print. Any information about this story will be highly appreciated.

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    Sadly, unless you can find the original author, or someone had the forethought to save those posts at the time and also migrate them forward, I suspect you're going to be out of luck. Having tried more than once to find my own posts from that era, where I know the user id, the topic (at least to keywords) and the group they were posted in, I have never managed to find anything before about 1990.
    – DavidW
    Commented Aug 26, 2022 at 13:33
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    @DavidW Agreed. Even more recent material, such as chat groups well into the 90s, has evaporated. Some items can be found on the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. Commented Aug 26, 2022 at 13:42
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    Just for instance, I can't find a single post of mine to RASFW, which is the group I was most involved with, up until I drifted away from active posting in the 1990-1991 time frame. There are a very few surviving posts of mine in ACP, all from 1991+.
    – DavidW
    Commented Aug 26, 2022 at 13:50
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    @DavidW I know this a longshot. My story is similar to yours. I've been active in several newsgroups since I regained internet access in 1992 and I can still find some of those posts, but anything prior to 1990 seems to be gone forever.
    – Tonny
    Commented Aug 26, 2022 at 14:30
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    @YaroslavKornachevskyi I'm guessing the author was (at least at the time of posting) an amateur (the story was a good read but had a bit "unpolished" feel to it) ) and most likely a student or staff at some university (based on the postings were done during the university year and followed the Christmas and Easter holiday and usenet at the time wasn't widely available outside universities.)
    – Tonny
    Commented Aug 28, 2022 at 20:51

1 Answer 1

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Self answer as I have managed to track down the author of the story.

A few weeks after I posted the question I was contacted by a former fellow student from university, that I hadn’t seen or heard from in over 30 years.
Back in the day we both read that story and discussed it among ourselves.
Ronald had seen my question and he knew it was my question because he had heard (from a mutual friend) I was active on the SE sites on under this screen-name. That friend also supplied my contact details to Ronald so he could contact me directly.

Ronald had a few more details to offer.
As Ronald explained the last episode I read was indeed the last one published. It was about twice as long as the normal episodes, had a cliff-hanger and it ended (I had forgotten that) with the line “To be continued… In September.”
But there had been 1 more post by the author end of summer just before the beginning of the new academic year. Ronald had mailed a copy of that last post to himself and had carried it forward all these years in his email archive.
In this last post the author stated: “Due to family circumstances I have to take a prolonged leave from work. I'm momentarily not able to continue posting or react to emails. I hope to be able to return in a few months but it could take substantially longer.”

Ronald had kept an eye out for the continuation of the story, but it never happened. After a year he tried to email the author at the address given in the last post, but it bounced with the message "unknown user".

Still, that gave me something to work with. The email address listed the author as [email protected] and he had signed that last post as "John".
So I know I had to look for a "John Doe" who worked as staff (the last message made being a student a bit unlikely) at that particular university in Florida in academic year '87-'88 and most likely left there in August '88.

The company I work for has offices in the USA. I contacted Connor, a colleague working at our offices in Miami, and asked him if he knew anyone that had attended that university in the late 80's. Turned out his wife Susan had studied there a few years later and she had several friends and family members that had attended a few years before her.
Connor and Susan liked playing detective and really put in an effort. They went through a lot of year-books and university records (all paper, nothing digital in those days) and were finally able to determine that John worked for 3 years as a lab-assistant in the faculty of Chemistry, before leaving end of August '88.

Here the trail stopped for a while, until beginning of this year. Susan attended a reunion at the university and had the opportunity to talk to a retired professor of Chemistry who remembered John. This professor remembered that John left because his father had a severe stroke. John needed to assist his mother and temporarily take over the running of the family business. This family business apparently was a retail-shop located somewhere in the south of Florida. It seemed that John eventually had stayed in the family business or had found a job elsewhere.

With that information we were able to find the business, which still exists today. On the company website I found that John is still the owner, but the day to day business is now run by his son John Jr.
The site did have contact details for John Sr. so a week or 2 ago I send him an email. He reacted a few days later and last weekend we had a FaceTime meeting and had a very nice conversation.

John (obviously NOT his real name) has asked me not to divulge his identity. (You'll notice above that I'm not very specific about the university, location and type of shop either.)
As John explained his wife is from a very conservative Christian background and her family can barely tolerate John (who is non-religious) as it is. Writers of speculative fiction are in their worldview just a notch above heretics. And if they found out he wrote a SciFi story with profanity and some blatant erotic scenes, they would make her life really miserable.
(I didn't mention the erotic scenes before, but they are some of the best parts of the story. Lara gets urges during the months-long voyages between the systems and she discovers amongst the cargo a shipment of male and female sex-bots of which she makes good use. Some interesting things happen on colony 2 as well.)

John hadn't retained the original story. It was stored in his Unix account on the university server and he never got around to retrieve it.

But he gave me a summary of the last chapters and I have his permission to publish that here.
In fact: If anyone wants to take the concept and write their own novel based on this they have Johns blessing too.

The story was called "Lara and the voyage of the Space Rover" and I had remembered the name Lara O'May correctly.

Colony 4 turns out to be a planet were (a bit like colony 2) the inhabitants wanted to establish a society with a lower tech-level, but they intentionally reset their level to just prior to the industrial age. (No combustion/steam engines, no electricity. Also no fire-arms or cannon. Explosives are only permitted for mining and/or demolition.)
The navigation beacon belongs to a large orbital space-station that, during the actual colonisation phase, acted as staging-point/space-port. The colonists had made a deal with the Terran authorities back in the day that they would allow the development of their society be unobtrusively monitored from the station (using small drones with cloaking devices) by anthropologists and sociologists. This monitoring never happened (because of the lost contact situation), but the station is still on standby for the science teams and is kept maintained by the resident semi-AI and its android minions. Lara and Lucy pretend to be a science team to get docking permission and as soon as Lucy can establish a connection with the station AI she takes control.

Using the available monitoring equipment Lara and Lucy spend months studying the planet.
Lara and Lucy learn the local language (which luckily has not diverted too much from the English originally spoken by the colonists).
It is a very nice place and the locals have managed to keep their tech-level as intended. Lots of monarchies, but most have a proper constitution with a parliament. There is no religion, no slavery, no serfdom. Society is pretty much equal opportunity for men and women. No prostitution and very little crime.
There are no large scale armies or wars. Noble's have house-hold guards that can act as the nucleus of an army if needed. They would be backed by levies from local militias and city-guards, but those are normally mostly concerned with police activities.

A lot of time (in-story and in the telling of it) was spend on trying to figure out if Lara can safely go to the surface. (Local diseases for which she has no immunity is one problem. Obviously she also wouldn't want to infect the locals with something she is carrying.)
Lara also needs to figure out how to blend in when she is on the surface and come up with a good cover-story that can mask her lack of knowledge about local customs and her lack of vocabulary regarding local names for things.
Eventually she decides to pretend that she has a bad case of amnesia caused by a head injury. This will give her an excuse not being able to remember certain words and to be ignorant of important things that the locals take for granted.

The story ends with Lara arriving on the surface in a (cloaked) shuttle and walking into the nearby city which is the largest sea-port on the continent where one more traveler won't attract notice.

John told me he had originally intended a sequel detailing Lara's adventures as she travels around the planet, usually while working as a guard on merchant caravans (or pretending to be a caravan guard between jobs).

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    Congratulations on finding them! Don't forget to accept your answer.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Feb 20 at 16:32
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    That's some dedicated detective work.
    – Shawn
    Commented Feb 20 at 16:41
  • Well done! Both on the answer, and on the research/investigation you, Susan, Connor and the professor put into it! BTW, did John remember which Usenet group he'd been posting to? Commented Feb 29 at 13:46
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    @Astrid_Redfern He didn't and Ronald also had not retained that info. It was somewhere in the rec.arts hierarchy for sure, but that is a big one and there have been a fair number of groups that have come and gone over the years.
    – Tonny
    Commented Feb 29 at 14:19

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