The Old Scout: Out in the Sargasso
This article originally appeared in the July 2013 issue.
The Old Scout was in the middle of his breakfast, about to go on watch. The New Kid was monitoring the Sissy’s systems from the bridge, which was a pissant job but the Old Scout was hardcore about such things. You always had a watch-stander, no matter what, and they stood watch from the place where The Book said they should.
As the Old Scout had lived long enough to write parts of The Book, and he based it on avoiding repetition of what the non-surviving New Kids did, there was some logic and personal motivation to that.
Just as he was draining the last of his glass of OJ, there was a loud “CLANG!” from somewhere around Starboard Frame 15, Dorsal. The Old Scout raised an eyebrow, and very precisely lowered his juice glass. His timing was perfect: just as the New Kid came running down-passage from the bridge to see what the clang was, his glass very precisely hit the table with a THUMP that brought the kid to a halt.
“Junior… what are you doing?”
The Kid blanched at the ‘Junior’, but was too excited to complain. “Something hit us! In Jumpspace! Maybe the hull is damaged!”
The Old Scout said, “so… you ran from the Bridge, without a vacc suit, to see if there was an air leak? Instead of just looking at the enviro monitors for an internal pressure change?”
The Kid stopped. “…Uh….”
“So if we did have a leak, I’d be here sucking vacc, and you’d be the only one on the ship. Except you’d be running down here to take The Last Gasp too, and then who’d run the ship?”
The Kid went completely pale, “Damn. OK. So…. but something hit us… in Jumpspace?”
The Old Scout’s eye flickered with the tiniest trace of amusement, quickly hidden, then he said, “well… my question was not rhetorical, Junior. The Jump creatures would run the ship, since they’re trying to board us right now.”
“Put a vacc suit on, get a blade, and go up there. Run your hand over the hull, you’ll feel where they’re trying to get in… I’ll go up to the bridge and dog the hatch, so there’s someone on conn.”
The Kid ran and did as he was told, then crawled up toward Frame 15. Running his gloved hand along the hull, he felt… something. Faint, at first, then stronger, until he found the spot the repeated, rhythmic tapping was coming from. “Praise the Emperor! They are trying to get in!” he whispered in terrified awe, setting himself to repel boarders.
Meanwhile, the Old Scout dogged the bridge hatch, kicked his favourite chair into position, and sat down. Putting one monitor on the external camera (which the Kid should have done), he watched the Jump Remoras on the hull. As usual, once the female had a good grip, the male had come up behind her and started the age old dance. The remoras liked something solid to hold on to during romantic moments, and such things were apparently few and far between in Jumpspace.
Now and then you’d run through a swarm of them – a swarm being a few million scattered over a hundred billion pseudo-AU cubes – and the ones close enough would jet over and grab onto the hull, using it as a love nest.
The Old Scout watched the remoras critically. They normally went at it for hours, with breaks while the female dropped the fertilized egg-sacs on to the hull. “Yuck,” said the Scout, as the first such break occurred. “I thought the sheets in that bawdy house on Eros IV were bad…” he muttered as the first glob was dropped onto the Sissy’s hull and the two bugs moved a meter or so for their encore performance.
Seven hours later, near the end of his watch, the egg sacks began to split open, and the larval remoras, looking tadpole-like, came out. They licked up the last of the ‘amniotic nectar’ from the broken eggs, and then crawled along the hull to look for more food. By this time, “Romeo and Juliet” had completed their life cycle, and their husks were sitting in the center of the egg sack pattern, and the young Jump Tadpoles took advantage of their parent’s gift of sustenance to those they gave life. A few hours later, the tadpoles ejected the digested food, using it as reaction mass to jet away, and in the process adding to the globs of goo stuck to the hull.
By the time the New Kid came on watch, his nerves were shot. He’d moved back and forth, following the thumping and bumping, the whole time waiting for the hull breach that never came. At change of watch, he came to the bridge and saw the Old Scout keying commands to the Jump comp to spike power to the grid – and he saw the globs of exploded alien creatures that those spikes must have made. He thought to himself, “the whole time, the Skipper was up here fighting the enemy! Single handed! Wow!”
The Old Scout said, “Looks like the Jump bubble got a little twisted from energy surges, we’re probably going to be a bit late coming out…. but it’s worth it. Keep an eye out… I need a nap.”
As the Old Scout relaxed in his bunk, he felt a little guilty. They’d been right on profile, but the temptation to set off just a couple of grid flares as the Kid came in was too strong to resist. He’d carefully planned the flares to not mis-Jump them, but it would delay Jump exit.
On the other hand, the look on the Kid’s face had given truth to his “it’s worth it” comment. You have to have some entertainment out here in the dark.
As the Old Scout dozed off, he pictured the look that would be on the New Kid’s face in about 70 hours… Byzantine was somewhere between Class X and Class E as a port. It was a TL3 sea-port, and ships would land in the ocean and then slide up to the quay to load and unload through the dorsal hatches.
The Old Scout planned on handing the kid a locally made deck brush and pointing at the ‘goo’.