The long strange trip
Within the Imperium, the single most important duty of the Interstellar Scout Service is performed by its Communications Office. This office maintains the sprawling express boat network which provides communications between the stars for government, industry, commercial enterprises, and private individuals.
The Express Boat Network
Like the arteries and veins of a body, the express boat network binds the Imperium together by providing worlds with a constant flow of information and communications for official, commercial, and private purposes.
This system has three basic components: the Express Boat itself, the Express Boat Tender, and the Scout/Courier. Each performs a different purpose, and each has its own niche to fill within the whole program.
The express boat (also called an xboat) is a small, fast ship filled with a pilot compartment, message data banks, and jump drives. The fit is so tight that there is no room even for maneuver drives. Each is capable of jump-4 (four parsecs per week); it jumps, relays its messages to the station on arrival, and then waits to be picked up by a tender, to be refuelled and sent on its way with a new load of messages. The local station, meanwhile, accepts messages, encodes them, and transmits them to a tender at the edges of the stellar system. Messages brought by the arriving xboat and intended for further down the line are consolidated with the new data and all are sent on to another xboat already fuelled and standing ready to leave. The entire network operates like the pony express — messages are always moving at top speed. Transfer time for messages from one xboat to another can be as short as ten minutes, and is rarely more than an hour.
The express boat tender is responsible for servicing the xboats when they arrive. It constantly roams about the stellar system, picking up newly arrived xboats, refuelling them, performing minor maintenance operations, replacing fatigued pilots, and generally seeing to the welfare of the xboat station. The tender also carries data banks which relay messages to the xboats just before they leave for the next system. It also carries replacement pilots for the xboats.
The scout/courier is the final part of the network, although this type of ship is not restricted to working with the express boat system. The xboat network is a general framework of routes connecting major worlds and population centers with other similar worlds. Economic considerations make it impossible for the network to reach every single world in the Imperium; the scout/courier is used to fill the gaps. When a message can no longer be forwarded by xboat along the major routes, it is transferred to a scout/courier which then carries it to the specific world in question. Main routes are plotted to come within several parsecs of every star system in the Imperium, so the added transit time is rarely more than an extra three or four weeks.