Big Shooey was unique in the Fleet. She was the only Worldship without sleepers.
She didn’t have the space for sleepers, especially after the disastrous experiment in engineering which had created the garden and required a lot of decks to be powered down entirely. Everything she had left was poured into life support for the almost two billion geezers and assorted brieflings who haunted her halls.
It was the largest waking population since the Bonshoo, and even if her power systems were fully functional it was doubtful she could have sustained much more. Indeed, her razor-thin survival margins were a large factor in many Fleet authorities believing that the origin story of the Bonshooni was as jumbled as … well, the Bonshooni themselves. Because everything went into life support. The Shoo couldn’t even fly. She’d been towed, by the Bosskra and the Darkmas, for millennia. And perhaps the greatest reason she was able to sustain such a huge waking passenger manifest was that they were pretty much the lowest-maintenance passengers you could get.
Molranoids close to and directly following their Third Prime were practically in a sleeper-state without the benefit of pods. Their energy conversion and waste was at an optimal near-zero that only four thousand years of practice could apparently train into a metabolism. They didn’t run around shouting and demanding things. They didn’t require that much in the way of entertainment. And even if they did, the denizens of Big Shooey were uniquely placed to entertain themselves. Almost every one of them – the billion and a half Molren, the two hundred million Blaren, the two hundred million Bonshooni, the half-a-million humans, the hundred thousand-odd Fergunak and the two aki’Drednanth – were entertainers or artists of some stripe or other.
For an appreciable proportion of the Fleet’s history, and no small amount of its mythology dating right back to Bason the Ship-Singer, Big Shooey was where creators went to die. And the thing about dying was, it really didn’t require that much in the way of resources.
Oh, the brief species were a little more demanding. Humans in particular had some fairly specialised medical and upkeep requirements as they counted out their last breaths, and they got a bit shrill if you pointed out how aki’Drednanth and Fergunak killed and ate their elders when the time came. But their populations were small. And they really only constituted a noteworthy drain if you compared, say, a thousand-year-long chain of humans to a single post-Prime Molran and tallied up their respective needs. The largest consumers on the Shoo were actually Third Primers like Magdus – for a hundred years or so, a Last Gasper could churn through resources and run pretty damn hot – and even that wasn’t saying much.
“So you came here the long way ’round,” Magdus prompted, “jumping from ship to ship like a lost Bonshoon.”
“Try not to joke about it,” Stansgaard said with a pained look. “I’ve been mistaken for a Bonshoon a time or two. You may have noticed I’m not quite Fleet spec.”
“I did notice,” Magdus said unselfconsciously. “What are you, three points out?”
Stansgaard nodded. “You have a good eye.”
“So what’s brought you here, of all places?” Magdus went on. “Bosskra and Darkmas aren’t going anywhere, and there’s plenty of work there. You an entertainer?”
“Of sorts,” Stansgaard smiled. “I’m no master of storycraft like your good self.”
Magdus snorted. “So you read up on me.”
“The Silent Midfrex Repositorium was something of a fan of yours.”
“Well, it’s not like you’ll ever be able to prove otherwise,” Stanssgaard said easily. “The truth is, you Final Primers are almost as famous as us youngsters here on the Shoo. I didn’t need to do much research to discover the talent which earned you a mouldering-place on this grand old derelict.”
“What’s your trade?”
“A bit of this, a bit of that,” Stansgaard said, then stopped evading. “I’m not here for my art. I’m here because I’m a low-down and despicable thief, and a middling engineer. You know the relative field torus retrofits we’ve been making?”
“Sure,” Magdus sipped his drink. He didn’t need to have been on the Outer Ur-Decks for the most recent departure to know what a Worldship going into soft-space looked like. It was really only impressive the first time, and even then it wasn’t very impressive. “That was you?”
“That’s what I’ve been doing,” Stansgaard confirmed. “I’ve been making myself useful in a few ways since the Feast. Pulled a few strings to get onto the Earth contact convoy in the first place, and pulled a few more to stay here. And then stay here. And then stay here.”
“Low-down despicable thief, eh?” Magdus said.
“Scuttlebutt is that it wasn’t a Molran who cracked Margan’s enigma and put relative speed jumps back on the table,” Magdus said. “Scuttlebutt is that it was a shit-dancer stole the answer from the monkeys.”
“Is that what the scuttlebutt is?” Stansgaard said casually. Magdus let his ears rise slowly as he sipped his drink again. “Scuttlebutt’s gotten a bit mean-spirited in these troubled times.”
“Sad, isn’t it,” Magdus said.
“Well, it was nobody from Garatron Maximum Security who did the deed, I can tell you,” Stansgaard said, “although of course for the purposes of the official record and my precious saggy skin, it was all above board and sanctioned. Relative tech wasn’t stolen. It wasn’t given away either, exactly, but the transaction was honourable.”
“You going to do the same to the Shoo?” Magdus asked.
Stansgaard nodded. “Well, to the Bosskra and the Darkmas,” he said. “If the Big Shooey can provide some power for joining the three ships in relative convoy, so much the better,” Stansgaard chuckled. “I suppose you could say I’m here to see if I can squeeze blood from a stone.”
“You’d have more luck with that than getting surplus power from the Shoo,” Magdus predicted.
After they’d shared their drink and Stansgaard had amiably gone his own way, Magdus sat and pondered what he’d learned from the strange youngster. It hadn’t been much, even though it had sounded like a lot. There were plenty of old scientists and builders among the Shoo‘s fossils, and some of them had been involved in the retrofits. And they were certainly creative. To work on a power source like the one that had become the garden, even though it had been a spectacular failure … it was as much craft as any story he’d told in his time. And the tales of those old survivors, so few out of so many who haunted the garden still, were far more harrowing.
No, Stansgaard Strangle hadn’t told him much.
Frowning mildly, Magdus reached across the table and picked up Strangle’s empty glass.