Summary: Once upon a time in the future, a little blue woman worked on a tiny space station, waiting for the world to end.
Disclaimer: I own nothing from the Whoniverse and make no coin from it. It all belongs to the BBC, RTD and other official creators. I simply love it all.
This is a story of the far, far future. Once upon a time in that future, a little blue woman worked on a tiny space station, waiting for the world to end so that she could be about her business.
There was some unpleasantness on the station just about then, and it almost burned up, it and all the people on it. It was saved by a traveller, and there was great drama involved, murder and fire and that sort of thing. The little blue woman herself was accosted and knocked on the head as part of the unpleasantness, and was quite frightened indeed after she crawled out of the vent to find out about it all.
But that really wasn't the story we're telling. We're telling a story of the Great Ships.
All her life Raffalo had been proud of who and what she was. From the moment she understood what the Infra-Tech did for civilization, she'd dreamed of a destiny with the Great Ships.
All Crespallion clan children went through training in basic hands-on infrastructure technical trades -- the clan was fief to the Jaggit Brigade, after all, and was honored for the number of its members who became Brigade Guilders or Ship Assignees.
But only 10 in 100 actually made it past their unforgiving clan training to be accepted into the Brigade. And then, only one of that 10 might expect to rise through the ranks of probationary Brigade apprentices in the Jaggit Guild halls to be assigned to a ship. Especially one with the power and prestige of the Scarlett Junction.
But she did it.
At the age of 15 standard Humanish years, she packed her grip, wiped her tears, accepted the hugs of parents, sisters and brothers, then left Clan Crespallion's ship to enter Jaggit Station. She was a Jaggit Brigader now, and her responsibilities were great. Learn, and carry the name of Crespallion honorably into the Brigade and into whichever Guild claimed her.
Five years later, she had survived everything Jaggit could throw at her. She had done better than that; she had prospered in her assigned Guild, had learned to love its work, its traditions and its mission.
"Water," her instructors repeatedly told her and her fellows, "is our mother and father. Without water, the gift of breathable air avails us nothing, for we will die. Water must be clean; it must run where we tell it to run. We must clean it when it is dirty, move it where it must go, stop it from going where it should not. We maintain the systems that master water. Let the Agro Guild grow food for the galaxy. Let the IT Guild keep the galaxy informed. Let the Electric Guilds give us heat and light and power. Let the Metal Guilds build what we work on and in. We know our own power. Without plumbers, we would drown in filth, and die of thirst."
At 25 she and hundreds of Jaggit Brigade Station journeymen, from every Station Guild hall, went to the boards, breathlessly awaiting word of their lifelong fates. Would they face the honorable disappointment of orders to return to their clan ships and ship complexes or stations, to ply their trade in one place only? Or would they make it to the brigade's Great Ships as Assignees, destined to travel between worlds, between systems, perhaps even galactically?
Would they be happy on Silver Ships? Would they proudly answer as Assignees on Blue Ships?
Or would they be good enough to make it to a Scarlett class ship? Would they (whisper it!) Make it to the Junction?
Infra-Tech clan mothers everywhere sang to their toddlers about it, and Crespallion mothers were no different. Little Crespallion boys and girls pretended they were swaggering around the outer systems, adventuring on the Scarlett Junction. Girls wanted to marry a Junction man. Boys wanted a Junction lass. Old men talked in wistful and scratchy voices about having seen it in orbit on some world where their own ships had been.
Even on the cosmopolitan and powerful Jaggit Station (so much more sophisticated than Emment Station or Mekkat Station, or even venerable Solla Station), Brigade Guild masters boasted to each other of how many of their probeys went on to the Junction. Jaggit Station Guild instructors always swore at their best students and told them, "do that kind of work on the Junction, and you'd be airlocked."
The Scarlett Junction was its own kingdom. It was 10 kilometers in length and two K's high. It could never land planetside, or even dock in most ship complexes or stations. But it didn't need to -- not with hall after hall of workshops, factories, metal refineries, rendering plants, clean rooms, print shops, weavers, libraries and industrial halls, not with its own hydroponic farms, and its school and its dormitories and married quarters and hospital sections and Guild suites.
It boasted the greatest crew in all the Ships. They were skilled navigators and explorers who could guide the Junction through Space High, Space Low or Space Three, to get to a mission.
Its physicians and nurses were trained on ship, from the best the Guilds had to offer, and they were better by far than any Outsider medicos.
It had the most powerful defense force of any of the Great Ships. It needed them. Planets and civilized alliances everywhere wanted to capture a Scarlett Ship of the Jaggit Brigade, make Jaggit Infra-Techs their own. And the Junction was the prize of prizes. But none could succeed because Junction soldiers were ready to kill or die to maintain their Ship?s sovereignty.
Finally and most importantly, the Junction boasted the most skilled and diverse Infra-Tech strike teams of any of the Great Ships.
The Junction wasn't a one-Guild ship like most of its lesser sisters, like all the Great Ships of other Brigades. It wasn't even a dual- or triple-Guild ship like its noble sisters, the Scarlett Line and the Scarlett Input. The Junction was a MultiGuilder -- the greatest MultiGuilder in the history of Infra-Tech society. Even the magnificent Line and the rakish Input, famous and honored in their own rights, bowed before the Junction.
Junction had electricians. Electricians who could master, maintain and repair any system, from primitive pre-flight to quantum-dimensional morphing power grids. It had IT people -- IT masters! Its Agro Guild teams were renowned for their fruitful miracles. Its Metal Guild teams could make and repair anything built and not grown. Its Water Guild had plumbers and water engineers unparalleled among all the stations, not just Jaggit.
That was the Junction's glory.
Let other Infra-Tech ships, Jaggitt or otherwise, call for help, and they celebrated if the Junction was near enough to offer it.
Let ship complexes and stations need help staying alive out amongst the stars, and they would empty their trade coffers to contract with the Junction, even for a day's help.
Let a military fleet, planetary or ship complex, need last minute prepping of systems and living quarters, and its admirals prayed their governments would pay for the Junction. They knew they could proceed into war without worrying about what their cannon fodder would eat and drink or stay alive in.
Let a world call for help in anything, let it plead for clean running water or interruption-free light and heat, let it ask for uninfected computer grids, let it seek freedom from hunger when its farms were drought-stricken or waterlogged, and that world would agree to years of tribute in hopes of rescue by the Scarlett Junction.
The Junction had saved Axit Five from planet wide famine. The Junction had rescued Complex 56 from infrastructure problems so severe that 90 million intelligent beings faced a bloody merger with Complex 12. (In gratitude, the Complex had granted its greatest honor to the Junction -- it was named a Convex, and so could demand any planetside goods it wanted, in perpetuity.) The Junction had brought civilization back to the plague-ravaged Pole Star station confederation.
And Raffalo im' Crespallion was a Water Guild tradesman, plumbing trade top class, on the Scarlett Junction. When she sent word to her clan that she was a Junction Assignee, her parents cried for joy.
In 10 years aboard the Junction, Raffalo only grew more skilled. Like every Junction Guilder, she placed pride of Ship together with pride of Brigade and Station, and because her ship was the Junction, she was ready to learn, to work and to die in its service.
That meant, among many other things, that she would die to keep Ship and Infra-Tech secrets from Outsiders.
No Outsider could know what went on in Brigade, on Station, inside the Guilds. Rulers might know that Ships had saved their worlds, generals and corporations and high commands might know the value of the Guild members who kept their worlds running.
But to the people of the galaxy, the Great Ships were legend.
Outsiders didn't connect legends to the quiet technicians who moved in and among them every day. After all what could the legendary Great Ships have to do with uncounted droves of pleasant little people who arrived unheralded, said they were "from the agency" and spent their days and nights tidying, cleaning, fixing, growing, smelting, weaving, and communicating to keep alive Humanish civilization?
In fact, to Outsiders, any Infra-Tech they saw was a uniformed nonentity forbidden to speak unless spoken to, cheerfully ordinary and unassuming. Infra-Techs were merely the hired help. Nobody important.
That was what Infra-Tech society wanted Outsiders to think. That was the way of the Infra-Tech Ships.
Let Outsiders learn those skills, or know what went on in the Great Ships, or on Jaggit or Emment, or even in the clan fief ships, and the days of Infra-Tech power would come to an end. No Infra-Tech, no matter what clan, brigade or station she came from, would tell Outsiders anything. She would die, or be killed, before doing so.
Assignees who served on contract mission teams -- who travelled away from their Ships in swift little cruisers, to serve elsewhere for days, weeks, months or years -- were even more skilled in dissembling, and had sworn blood oaths of secrecy.
As a top Assignee, Raffalo was valuable to the Junction not only for her skills, but for her Virtues.
Virtues indeed. All Station masters and instructors looked through their student ranks for apprentices with the Virtues: stealth, duplicity, invention, charm, empathy, and ruthlessness. They kept files and waited and watched until they deemed it time to put those Virtues to use.
They didn't speak to Raffalo when she was young but in time, Junction's intelligence masters looked at her files and summoned her to stand before them. She learned that she had Virtues, and that in the service of the Scarlett Junction, she would ply those Virtues among Outsiders. If she found Outsiders who suspected the secrets of Infra-Tech, she was to report them to her superiors. The masters of Infra-Tech society had methods in place of eliminating such suspicion, just as they had ways of stunting any independent evolution of Infra-Tech skills outside their own control.
Raffalo was Infra-Tech of the Scarlett Junction, and she obeyed. She went into training again, and this time honed her Virtues. By the time the Junction's masters deemed her finished, she was Chameleon-ranked, which meant she could interact with any race, Humanish or not, without breaking cover.
After that, she went where the Junction told her to go, served with the Ship proper, or on contract missions that brought in tribute and information from temporary assignments.
Luckily, she rarely had to employ her Virtues; she was largely free to ply the trade she loved, letting the water flow clean and where it should.
Raffalo had been with Platform One for seven standard months, helping to prepare it for the Earth-Death Festival when the day of Earth-Death came. And that was when the other story happened, the story that didn't involve her (except for the little metal saboteurs surprising her and dragging her about and making for a very unpleasant awakening.)
When she and her team left the little station, their contract complete, she returned to the Scarlett Junction and asked to be relieved of active Virtue duty. During the mission she had slipped and, for some reason she could not explain, had mentioned Crespallion, Jaggit, even the Junction, to a passer by, and she could not excuse herself. She wanted simple plumbing jobs, she pleaded. She was 35, and it was time for her to leave the Virtues to younger, faster, more careful men and women.
Raffalo's plea was honored, with two provisos. She had to teach the Virtues to the next generation, either on the Junction or back at Jaggit Station. And she had to donate a child to Clan Crespallion.
She chose to stay on the Junction for 13 more years, passing on her considerable skills, and wondering if her slip would have repercussions. It did not.
When she was 40, she grew a child in the womb room, since she had found no man to please her. She sent the infant back to Clan Crespallion, with love and a promise to come home and be its mother when she could.
Raffalo's daughter was eight when Raffalo returned to her birth ship and claimed the girl as her own. Her own parents were old, and she was glad to have come home before they died. Everywhere she went on the clan ship complex, young men and women looked at her with awe. Children followed her about, and asked her daughter what it was like to be the daughter of Raffalo of the Scarlett Junction, Raffalo's daughter told them she was going to go to the Great Ships someday, just like her mother.
In time, she went to Jaggit station, and found a Ship of her own (not the Junction, but the nearly-as-noble Input.) Raffalo sat at home and waited for her return.
When Raffalo died, her daughter and son-in-law, with all their children, saw her ashes back to the Junction, which received them with honor. And that was the end of Raffalo.
And this is the end of the story. Travellers may come and go, worlds may spin and people may live in ships throughout the galaxy, but The Great Ships of the Infra-Tech go on forever.