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The I/S Nasirnak Book Ship and Pasteur-class Hospital Ship

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2020 issue.

I/S Nasirnak

The Imperial Starship Nasirnak was laid down in 870 as the Asuum, a 5000-ton freighter plying the spacelanes in Daibei sector carrying foodstuffs and other light cargo. In 998 she was converted to be used as a pilgrim ship, for the centenary celebrations of the Third Imperium carrying travellers to Core Sector for the festivities. At this time she was known as the Capital Conveyor. Subsequently, after being laid up for several decades in the corner of an orbital repair yard and used as cheap housing, she was bought up by Kidana, a minor corporation specialising in liners, and given a complete overhaul to become the Imimikak K, what was then a luxury cruise ship taking nobles and their scions on grand-tour-style journeys. It was at this time she lost something of her boxy shape and gained the distinctive ‘clipper stern’ that gives the graceful curves now seen in her hull. By 1070 her fitting out was considered old-fashioned and her staterooms cramped, so Kidana put her on the market. She was bought by Operation Good Word and converted to her current role as a compassion corps ship. Now, renamed as the Nasirnak, instead of food, she carries books, electronic readers and literacy projects to border regions and beyond where she makes a difference to those she serves, particularly on low tech worlds. Currently she is believed to be the oldest continuous use passenger ship in the Third Imperium.

The central deck of the I/S Nasirnak (which means ‘word’ or ‘written word’ in Vilani), has been converted into a ‘book exhibition’ which can display a wide variety of printed material from children’s books, through ‘how to’ manuals to novels and non-fiction. Depending on demand, culture and region, religious literature might be on offer as well. If appropriate to culture and tech level, electronic book readers may be available. These can be loaded with large libraries before the ship’s departure. The books are sold at local prices making it possible for even the poorest of communities to benefit from a visit of the vessel. The ship has two large airlocks on the port side and two on the starboard side which act as entry and exit points for visitors whether the ship berths ‘port-side to’ or ‘starboard side to’ at orbital stations. If landing on a planet, gangways are set up to service these airlocks from the ground. Also on that deck is a large book hold to supply the ship across long expeditions away from regions where they can easily restock.

Her crew is all-volunteer, from the 75-year-old captain to the newest ‘recruit’, a four month-old daughter born to one of the handful of families on board. For the most part, the crew are one-term volunteers, often young people from 18 to 30 but possibly older, along with long-termers who spend many years on the ship and act in leadership roles. Officer roles are filled with professionally-qualified crew who are usually ex-navy, ex-merchant navy or former scouts; they are still volunteers, however, committed to the ethos and mission of the ship. Funds to operate the ship come from donations made to the Operation Good Word organisation and every crew member is expected to be supported by either a charity from their homeworld or subsector, or perhaps friends and families making contributions, or both. As well as the core mission of visiting low tech or impoverished worlds, the ship will spend time in regions of the Imperium and ports which act as ‘sending’ agents as they raise the profile of their work, raise charitable giving – sometimes in the form of Credits, sometimes in the form of fuel, food and other supplies – and raise the interest of volunteers who might join the ship for a term or more. Another feature of the 350 or so crew currently aboard is that they come from forty different cultural groups from around the Third Imperium and Charted Space. Some are represented by larger contingents, for example the 40 Imperials, or 20 Vilani; some are represented by small groups such as the half dozen Luriani, or three citizens of the Julian Protectorate and some just by a single individual such as the Sword Worlder boatswain, a former belter with years of experience in space. This variety of language, culture and race gives the ship a cosmopolitan feel that is exceptionally unusual and often leaves former crew members with a much wider appreciation of the variety of sophonts in Charted Space. Galanglic is the working language aboard but it is not uncommon to hear a wide variety of other tongues, particularly at meal times when linguistic groups may gather together to relax in their native languages. On the other hand, it can be quite instructive to overhear a conversation between a Vegan engineer and a Solomani electrician discussing a piece of Vilani equipment, in Galanglic, for the benefit of an Aslan fitter. Lessons in patience aplenty.

Typically a short-termer will be assigned to two or three departments on the ship during their stint aboard and they will gain experience in a variety of roles. The largest departments are the engineers, the deck crew, book exhibition staff, the galley, and accommodation. The latter do much of the cleaning and light maintenance. However, there are other roles to fill as well such as helping in the school, staffing the reception desk or acting as Dental Assistant. In addition to these day-to-day roles, everyone aboard is expected to contribute at least one day a fortnight outside their department to be involved in literacy projects or trips into the local hinterland away from the immediate environs of the ship. In addition, usually twice a year, teams of up to a dozen will be sent off the ship for a week or ten days to get involved in language learning, or taking a small selection of literature to harder-to-reach areas on some worlds, or to do school visits, or to provide entertainment to the locals as well as promoting the ship; often an ‘away team’ might be involved in several or all of those activities.


This ship is divided into five decks which are 3m tall with four interleaved tankage decks of 1.5m. She is 131m long stem to stern, 18m wide and 21m high.

Deck 1, the uppermost, is the Accommodation deck. This is divided into six ‘sections’, three slightly smaller for families or long-termers; three larger sections for the single volunteers. Standard staterooms are usually laid out for four berths but some have been been divided into two two-berth cabins, generally a little more sought after by crew who enjoy a little more privacy. The alleyway running the length of this deck is called Main Street. There is a slightly larger cabin right forward that is usually assigned to the boatswain – the senior non-officer position who is generally a long termer and a very experienced crewsophont responsible for the day-to-day assignments and training of deckhands. As per SoLiS (Safety of Life in Space) regulations, each section has emergency airlocks to port and starboard and there are sufficient rescue balls for all the crew stowed in the bulkheads. Each section also has an emergency iris valve to the deck below – and a ladder which can be slid down into the lounges below, although these are never used outside of drills. Right forward is a crew lounge with viewports to space or the outside world if grounded. It’s a popular place for crew to relax. Just aft of the bulkhead is a lift which serves all decks although it’s primarily used for moving ship stores rather than run of the mill crew movements. At the rear of the deck in the classic ‘clipper stern’ is a stairwell down to the Lounge Deck. [Editor’s note: The deckplans omit symbols for the iris valves in the ceiling of the Lounge deck that match the iris valves in the floor of “Main Street” on the Accommodations deck. This is because they are emergency valves, and never used to go from the Lounge Deck to the Accommodations Deck.]

Between Decks 1 and 2 are several potable water tanks. Between the remaining decks there are fuel tanks of various sizes and types. For very occasional maintenance, cleaning or re-lining, these can be accessed via removable deck plates above. The stairwells and liftshaft can be sealed at each deck level in case of a loss of pressure or atmosphere; this however, makes them unusable.

Deck 2, the Lounge Deck, is the most open space on ship. Forward is an avionics bay usually accessed from the Bridge below when necessary but there is an iris valve at the forward end of the Small Lounge which is used occasionally. The small lounge itself seats around 200 in an auditorium style layout and about half that in a cabaret style layout. On the starboard side at the forward end is part of the ship’s computer systems. It shows something of the age of the ship that there is dedicated space and that they’re not entirely distributed throughout the vessel. Centrally on the starboard side is a small stage which includes a speaker’s podium, piano, drums and room for a small band. To the right of the audience and aft in the space is a stairwell leading down to the Exhibition Deck. Further aft is the much larger Main Lounge which can seat nearly 400, not uncoincidentally, the maximum rated crew numbers for the ship of 388. The Main Lounge has a more substantial stage at the after end with wings and a stage curtain, as well as again a grand piano, full drum kit and larger space for a band. Repeater screens at various points on the side bulkheads give close up views even to those sitting towards the back of the lounge. One leftover from the ship’s days as a cruise liner is a small polished wooden dance floor still situated centrally in what is an otherwise carpeted space. Aft of the Main Lounge is a stairwell leading up to the Accommodation Deck and various bits of gear and stowage for the stage and presentation or show paraphernalia.

Deck 3 is the Exhibition Deck, sometimes called the Main Deck. As noted above this is made up largely of the Book Exhibition with airlocks for visitor entry and exit on both sides of the ship, public ’freshers both port and starboard and a café at the forward end. Aft there is a Book Hold full of warehouse style shelving racks for boxes of printed material, and aft of that a large pair of iris valves for loading and unloading. This aft space can be used as a large airlock if need be and is full of storage for ship operation gear such as grav pallets, gangways, an air raft and so on. The forward section of this deck is taken up with the Bridge, which can access avionics above and communications below, and behind that the Captain’s suite and a Day Cabin for the use of those on bridge watch. More of the ship’s computers are found on the starboard side. Aft of this section are administrative offices including a post room where incoming or outgoing messages and mail are distributed to or collected from the crew. Arrival in a new system or at a new world can result in quite a crush here with excited recipients hoping for news from home. On the port side is a crew lounge which can also be used as a meeting room. Around the stairwell leading to the deck above and the deck below, is a ship reception area including a small desk staffed for sixteen hours of the day, visitors can be received and crew paged if required. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, for a ship’s crew with the heart that they have for literature, there is a ship’s Library located here for use in downtime.

Deck 4, the Crew Deck, houses one of the liveliest spaces on the ship in the Dining Room. Used both for meals and as a social space between times it can’t quite seat all the crew simultaneously but is often a focal point of the day, particularly in the evening. Mainly filled with circular tables seating six, there are also some side tables of two or four for families or couples or those wishing a slightly more private conversation. One corner is lost to more of the ship’s computers. At the after end of the space is a servery which allows buffet style dining. Aft is the galley which is a crowded space full of ovens, fridges, work spaces, storage units, cleaning facilities and so on. Ship morale is often directly dependent on the skills of the Head Chef and their ability to train those assigned as cooks. There is an iris valve leading aft to the upper engineering space although this is little used except by engineers on repair jobs and the like. The engineering deck at this level is mostly gantry walkways and open space. There is very little actual deck. The Jump drive and Manouevre drive rise into this space and the power plant nearly does so; all can be accessed from above as well as the ends and sides of the machinery. There are control panels at this level as well as monitors for a wide range of ship systems from tank levels to hull stress.

Deck 5 is the formal Engineering Deck with the lower engineering space housing Jump drive, manoeuvre drive and power plant as well as many lesser systems and control surfaces. Forward is a large space divided into various workshops associated with the drives, metalwork and woodwork (although the latter includes the modern composites that adorn many ship surfaces). In addition to the workshops are bays and storage for relevant materials. Forward in this space are also the main stations for fire-fighting and dealing with vacuum breaches although there are smaller ‘stations’ in bulkheads at suitable locations around the ship. Crew train diligently for a multitude of eventualities. Also in this space is a crew mess used by engineers and deck crew when on shift and dressed in working gear. There is a small pantry and limited cooking facilities here. Along both outer hulls in this space and in the engine room are 99 ½-ton Reprieve-class Escape Pods. Forward of the workshops on the starboard side is a large food store and smaller refrigerated food store. Provisions and other stores are usually loaded by a chain of crew stretching from the after end of the Exhibition Deck, to the main stair well and down to Deck 5. This is often an enjoyable time of team building with its all-hands-on-deck atmosphere and the knowledge of fresh provisions arriving from sandwich spreads to toilet rolls. The main stairwell down from the Lounge Deck ends here. On the port side there is the Chief Engineer’s stateroom and a large deck store for anything from crew overalls to paint; cleaning gear to pneumatic needle guns for stripping rust (On such an old ship there is plenty of the latter). At the rear of the store is a baggage locker for empty crew luggage and so on. Running alongside this store is a media room for preparing holographic, photographic and video footage to promote the ship as well as provide entertainment for the crew. There are then a series of staterooms converted to a small surgery and a dental clinic with a reception/clinic between. The facilities are fairly limited and for the use of the crew, but in extremis may be used for local planetary inhabitants although there is little capacity for this. Other compassion corps vessels concentrate more on the mercy ships possibilities offered by taking much more extensive medical facilities to out of the way, low tech worlds. Forward on this deck is a small school which includes a nursery and kindergarten as well as space for the one or two older children of crew to continue their education whilst aboard. This suite can be used as training spaces for crew when not otherwise in use. There are one or two musical instruments here which can be used for practice if the space isn’t already occupied. Right forward on this deck is the Poop Deck used as a children’s play area with storage for toys. The deck is named for that part of old fashioned sailing ships traditionally at the aft end not, as crew jocularly remark, for any actions of the children that use the space.

Pasteur-class 5000-ton Hospital Ship

The same hull, with largely the same internal arrangement, has also been seen in a hospital ship configuration. The Lounge Deck becomes the Ward Deck, with the Main Lounge being given over to accommodation for up to thirty long-term patients, although any of the rooms can be easily fitted for Intensive Care/Critical Care if needed. The Small Lounge remains a lounge, but doubles as a Day Room for ambulatory patients.

The Exhibition Deck becomes the Medical Deck; the Book Hold is divided up to give 28 consulting rooms, split as needed between doctors’ offices and examination rooms, plus four larger procedure rooms suitable to be fitted for dentistry, X-Ray, Cardio (treadmill stress test), et cetera. The Book Exhibition is divided into ten large operating rooms, which may also be fitted out if needed for procedures requiring large equipment, e.g., resonance imaging.