Throwback Thursday: Space Cowboys #9 – “Below Decks”
Pets were extremely common in space, in the ‘verse of the Space Cowboys game. The typical trip would involve a few days’ work, scattered over the course of several months, separated by weeks of boring routine. The challenge was keeping busy. The crew of a sailing ship had to find ways to amuse themselves during those slack hours, lest “space madness” set in. (The ship’s log recorded at least one incident in which murder was done on board the Cabra because of such a bout of extreme cabin fever.) Everybody had some kind of hobby or project: Bubba tinkered with his still and took correspondence courses towards getting his engineering degree; Osolo practiced elaborate cooking knife techniques, engaged in extended correspondence with members of the family, and read voraciously; Hal had a side project where he tried to get a tree growing. And, just about everybody had a pet of some kind.
This was the episode shown from the point of view of the crew’s pets. As such, there’s a certain amount of vagueness about things like time and date, because animals can’t read a calendar. Furthermore, it was demonstrated early on that human-animal communication wasn’t going to happen beyond the basics, and the cameras would only roll when the animals were out and about.
Hal’s ziggy-adapted flying squirrels and Nanika’s shoulder-monkey got bored and wandered off looking for amusement. They bumped into Osolo’s star fighting rooster, the Big Black Chicken, and decided to go talk to the raccoon that has been stowing away in the habitat utility spaces for some time now. Once they found him, during the conversation, BBC offered to lead an expedition to Bubba’s room, to attempt to steal cigars. This was accomplished without incident, but the pets couldn’t figure out how to open Bubba’s cigar safe. Instead, they settled for making off with a half-smoked butt, which was enough to earn the raccoon’s trust.
While bragging about how much only he saw from the shadows, the raccoon mentioned that there was a new person coming on to the boat. The pets, guided by the raccoon, went to see the 6th crew cabin, which Osolo had recently opened up and aired out. The pack went inside to investigate and frolic, only to be interrupted by the sound of approaching magnetic boots!
Rapidly, they responded: The squirrels concealed themselves on the ceiling, where humans rarely look. The monkey, who had been digging in to the complimentary fruit basket, froze in place. The raccoon, an old hand at this sort of thing, dove under the bed. And, the BBC went into a mad panic, running in circles and squawking, until the door opened and he flew in the face of Dub, loaded with luggage.
Dub screamed and dove back outside, allowing the BBC to escape. Shaken by the experience, he dragged his luggage into the room and proceeded to pull out a giant joint. As he did this, the shoulder-monkey quietly went about plundering the fruit basket. Their eyes met. Having had enough, and assuming the brown acid was finally kicking in, Dub freaked out and ran from the room.
Retreating from the places frequented by humans, the pets ran in to some bats who made their home between the habitat canisters. The bats shared some news, prompting the pets to decide to check out their story of an unknown human inside the boat. The bats were willing to give a description, but since none of the pets have sonar, it was of limited usefulness. When consulted, the raccoon admitted that he had seen someone slither in through the garbage chute, peeling off a sort of full-body protective suit upon emerging. The bats showed the pets where the intruder had installed some sort of machine in the claustrophobic crawlspace between one of the habitat canisters and the outer skin of the habitat ring itself. They couldn’t figure out what the machine was for, exactly, but it reminded the monkey of some of the stuff “Mother” (Dr Nanika) used in the control room for communications. They tried to remove it, but it was bolted down too solidly.
Outside the crawlspace, the pets saw Osolo, in his bathrobe, leave the canister with the strange device. While discussing their next move, they overheard the oncoming marching column of giant aggressive house spiders, who had been driven from their old homes when Hal moved the barrels of moonshine. Moving quickly, the pets entered into parley with the spiders’ leaders. Negotiations were tense, but the pets finally convinced the spiders that they would be able to set up a new home in the nook with the intruder’s device.
There was then a sneak-attack on the kitchen to liberate silver-dollar pancakes, which was a roaring success.
Later, the pets overheard clanging from the area of the engine room, nearly covered by the sounds of loud music from outside the boat. They decided to investigate. In the dimly-lit upper cargo area, they discovered Sen Yung, Hal’s old friend from the tree ranch and now employee of Lo Pan, sneaking around carrying a good-sized carpetbag. The pets quickly coordinated a prank: BBC jumped up in Sen Yung’s face, doing the “crow-and-flap-wildly” intimidation attempt, while the monkey snatched the bag away. The plan worked perfectly, with Sen Yung stifling a scream and running for the engine room door, completely abandoning the bag… which began to rattle.
The source of the strange noise was a rattlesnake, over six feet long, which emerged from the bag. Without a word, it began to menace the monkey. The other pets joined in on the dog pile. During the melee, the squirrels discovered their instinctive ability to confuse rattlesnakes by using their tails to spoof the snake’s IR1. They confused and confounded the snake, then tackled its tail, while the monkey grabbed it by the neck, and the BBC raked it unmercifully with his claws. Shortly, the wounded snake was manhandled back into the bag.
The monkey dragged the bag into the engine room, hoping to give it back to Sen Yung, but found no sign of him. The pets deduced that he must have gone to the semi-mythical “outside” place, through the airlock. So, they opened the airlock door, chucked the bag in, and slammed the door closed – problem solved! (Note, they specifically did not cycle the airlock, as they didn’t really understand what it was or how it worked.)
Minutes later, the pets were thrown around as the boat suddenly took off. None of the pets were injured, but they decided to return to their stations, continuing to take care of their homes.
(Just as the credits roll, the camera centers in on the detail that the animals couldn’t see: The little brass plate on the bag-o’-rattlesnake, reading “Property of David Lo Pan”.)
1No, seriously, it’s a real thing, I kid you not.