Captain, Jackal’s Trove
Young Bren is fitting in well. We got him clothes, textbooks, his own cubby to sleep in. He likes the clothes and the cubby; he’s not so happy about the textbooks. But that’s the deal: he studies and works and plays, eats, and sleeps. He’s even helping take care of the passengers.
“Welcome aboard the Jackal’s Trove. My name is Chief Alvarson. I will be teaching you the basic class on this ship’s hull breach survival skills.”
Alvarson stood in an interior hold with Bren and the pawful of passengers—A Cratif, some Rasafac, and Cibosan pack—they had picked up at Outba Station. Before Alvarson was a survival trunk and a couple of flattened survival spheres.
“We don’t actually expect a hull breach on this journey,” said Alvarson. “If we did, we wouldn’t go. That said, space is dangerous; it will try to kill you if you let it. We want you to enjoy your journey and arrive safely at your destination.”
Alvarson looked at the passengers. Some of them looked bored; some were attentive.
“I can tell some of you are experienced spacers … and some of you are new, on your first interstellar trip. If you’re experienced, please set a good example for your newbie traveling companions and pay close attention.
“Bren has volunteered to demonstrate his survival-trunk skills. This is a survival trunk. If you think this looks like your bed, you’re right. All the cabins are fitted out with these. The reason is that if you’re asleep and something bad happens, you’re already in your survival trunk. And if you have to get into your trunk, you might be stuck for a while, so it might as well be comfortable. These trunks are also capable of cushioning you for high acceleration if that ever becomes necessary. We don’t expect it, but we’re ready.
“Keep your trunk open, like this one. Never lay anything on the trunk or over the edge. Bren will now demonstrate getting in and closing the lid. Go ahead, Bren.”
Bren nodded at the chief, then with youthful vigor clambered into the trunk, reached up and grabbed the handle, and pulled it down.
“The trunk is now locked. Bren, can you hear me?”
“Yes, Chief,” Bren said through the trunk’s speaker.
“The trunk has everything you need to survive a couple of days to a week: air, water, food, and diapers … just in case. Go ahead and open the trunk, Bren. You can get out.”
Bren pushed up on the handle an the trunk opened. He climbed out.
There were none. Bren lifted his paw.
“Chief, if it was so easy for me to open the lid, what’s to keep me opening it if the room is in vacuum?”
“Excellent question, Bren. The trunk has a vacuum sensor. It will not permit you to open the lid if the outside air pressure is too low. If you can’t open the lid, then don’t.”
Alvarson looked around at the passengers.
“Well, then. Please line up over here. One at a time I want to see you all get into this trunk and pull the lid shut. The guest who gets into the trunk the fastest will get to sit at the Captain’s table for an evening meal. Bren will time everyone.”
Bren stood and poked his datapad as the chief said, “Go!” and poked it again when the trunk slammed shut. He kept the tally.
“Thank you, passengers. You all did very well. I don’t think anyone was slower than five seconds. Bren?”
“Very well. Who was the fastest?”
“Um … Ian Davies.”
Bren pointed him out: a Cratif wearing comfortable travelers’ clothes.
Alvarson shook Davies’ paw.
“Congratulations. I hope you never have to use that skill for real. Now what happens if here’s an emergency and you’re nowhere near your quarters? Look for a cabinet like this one.”
Alvarson pointed to a cabinet next to the hatch. The sign was black with six blue spheres in it.
“In here you will find survival spheres. I want you to line up, go to this cabinet, and take a sphere for yourself. Come back here when you’ve got it.”
Some of the passengers rolled their eyes, but they all complied with the order. Bren got a sphere as well.
“Set your sphere on the floor here, zipper side up. Bren, please demonstrate.”
Bren set his on the floor: It was flat and folded up, so he had to unfold it into a circle. The zipper was unzipped but distinctly marked. He sat on the unfolded sphere.
“Sit the way he’s doing, then separate the sides. Tuck your knees in, pull the sides up, and pull the zipper up all the way. The zipper will lock and the sphere will inflate. I want you all to do this now so you know what will happen.”
“Chief,” asked Davies. “You said the spheres will lock. You mean with us inside?”
“Yes. You better be inside your sphere when you zip it up. Please do this now.”
They looked at him, and with a little grumbling did as he said.
“Don’t worry: In the event of a real emergency, you have the rest of your life to get in, zip it up, and lock it.”
With wide eyes they struggled to seal up their spheres. Bren looked at Alvarson and smirked. Alvarson winked. One by one the survival spheres locked and inflated.
“Okay, very well done. We will now release you. Be patient. You knew you signed up for this when you booked passage. Bren, start unlocking and helping passengers out.”
The passengers in two of the spheres started punching kicking and demanding to be let out.
“Wait your turn! If you struggle, I’ll get to you last.”
One of the passengers calmed down; the other one’s sphere continued to bob about and show dents from the inside. Bren looked at it and then to Alvarson for direction. He nodded to the other spheres. The two released the passengers one by one. Soon they were al free except the one, who was still punching and kicking and screaming.
“What about him? Aren’t you going to let him out?” asked Davies.
“It’s very important that when you’re in your sphere, that you relax and stay calm. If you kick and scream, you’ll be a danger to whoever rescues you. If you’re relaxed and willing to do as told, we’ll let you out.”
“How is that fair?”
“This will only happen in a dangerous situation. Space is not fair. It will try to kill you. Don’t make it hard on those who are trying to rescue you.”
“Huh. I’n sure the captain will want to hear about this.”
“He will be pleased that you complied with my orders. So, what do you say. Shall we let your fellow passenger out?”
“Let him out; he paid first class,” said a Cibosan.
“Naah,” said Davies. “He needs to learn not to be a snob. Wait till he cools off.”
“Yeah,” said another Cratif. “We all did as he asked. Quiet down in there!”
Bren suppressed a giggle. The passenger in the sphere calmed down.
“Okay,” said Alvarson. “That’s what we like to see. We’ll let him out now.”
Alvarson pressed the button on the sphere and held it for a few seconds. The zip clicked. He pulled the zipper open a paws-width.
“Are you going to cooperate?”
A muffled “Yes, Sir,” could be heard from inside the sphere.
“Okay. Relax while I unzip your sphere.”
Alvarson unzipped the sphere the rest of the way and allowed the passenger to get out. The Cibosan glared at Alvarson. The other passengers suppressed smirks.
“Just wait till the Captain hears about this!”
“Yes, Sir,” said Alvarson. “I’m sure he’ll be pleased to hear all about it. Thank you all for your attention. Sorry for any inconvenience. I hope you never have to use that skill for real.”
“Thank you,” said Davies. “Uh, Chief, why do you not teach us about space suits?”
“A fair question. If the air is leaking out of the ship, you want to get into a safety trunk as fast as you can. You probably don’t have time to get into a suit. In emergency, the safest place you can be is in a trunk and out of the way of trained crew. In a situation like that, anyone in a space suit becomes a member of the crew and is subject to the captain’s orders. You have to have the training to carry them out correctly and promptly.”
Davies furrowed his long brow as if in thought.
“Thank you, Chief.”
Bren and Alvarson watched as Davies and the other Cratif passengers left the hold. A family of wolves stood together slightly apart from some Rasafac. Their pack elder, the one who had struggled, stood and smirked.
“Harrumpf,” he said. “If you are entirely finished with this farce of passenger training, we’ll be on our way to the lounge.”
The Rasafac glared at him.
“Yes, Sir,” said the chief. “Of course, Sir.”
He indicated the way out.
Bren tried to catch the eye of the youngster with the group. He thought it was odd that there was just one.
The chief addressed the remaining Rasafac.
“Do any of you have any further questions? No? If you do have any, please ask me or any of the bosuns. We will be happy to help.”
“Thank you, Chief,” said one of them.
“Thank you,” said Alvarson, indicting the way out.
Bren watched them leave, then looked at Alvarson.
“That didn’t seem to go so well,” said Bren.
“There’s always someone who feels entitled to more attention that they deserve.”
Bren looked at him and shrugged.
“Bren, you get the extended safety class. Come with me.”
They left the hold and went forward to the port airlock vestibule. As they walked, Alvarson talked.
“I’ve got to teach you the basic survival drills that any crewwolf knows,” said Alvarson.
“But I did all the survival classes on the Tarkel’s Glory.”
Alvarson let his annoyance show: he furrowed his brow and barely snarled his lips back. Bren bit his lip and looked down.
“You don’t have to call me Sir. Chief is good enough. Okay. On those passenger liners they teach the bare minimum they can get away with. It’s usually enough. But you’re a crew member now and you may have to help a passenger. You have to know more than they do. With me so far?”
“Yes, Sir. I mean Chief.”
“Good. Now I want you to say back to me what you’ve learned.”
Bren thought about the lesson.
“The survival trunk advantages are that they are sturdy, and connected to ship’s power systems and air … and communications. They’re big enough that you can stretch out in them, so they’re more comfortable. The disadvantages are that they’re mostly in people’s quarters.
“The survival spheres can be packed much smaller, so they can be kept in more places on the ship. For example the mess or a lounge. They can be moved around more easily, but they’re not armored. The disadvantage is that they’re small and cramped; you have to tuck your knees and elbows in. They don’t have as good facilities for, uh, biological functions.”
“Which one would you use?” asked Alvarson.
Bren thought about this.
“That would depend. If I was in quarters, I’d head for my trunk … or a nearby one. If I was elsewhere, I’d try for a trunk, but take a sphere.”
“That’s a good answer. Anything else?”
“Never ever fight over one. There are always extras.”
“Right. If you fight over a trunk and live, you lose your spacer ticket.”
Bren thought about that and nodded gravely.