Thursday, January 19, 2017

TravellIng Coach

There seems to be two different kinds of parties in most SF settings: those with a starship and those without.

There is a third alternative (not stowing away ... okay a fourth alternative) a group could own a spacecraft like a launch. A Cepheus Engine style twenty ton launch runs about 4-6 megacredits. If you're paying attention that's a monthly mortgage and expenses of 14,000 to 21,000 credits per month new, far cry from the mortgage for even a Courier. Crew are also small so your payroll is more manageable. If you aren't making a jump you don't need to blow money on refined fuel. Leaded will do.

But you can't make jumps. Why would you want to saddle yourself with a shuttle?

First of all in some settings you can make jumps using wormholes, star gates or what have you. You you may just have to pay for it. Since it costs 1000 cr. to ship one ton planet to planet, a launch would cost 20,0000 cr. and be at some discount considering it is jump point to jump point or even free if you use natural wormholes.

A launch has 10.9 tons for cargo at most. The ten grand for shipping won't cover the mortgage or expenses unless you have a  rush job and are being comped for stargate use and are charging more than that 1 cr. per kilogram. This is possible for express jobs or flights into dangerous situations. Doubled fees might not be out of line which would cover expenses and pocket money.

It is possible to engage in speculative trade. You can make money but you can also lose it and get your ship repossessed. You really need an FTL drive to properly skip on the banks. They have a long reach and never forget.

You could also set up in a system with a lot of settlements on different planets. A gas giant with several settled mooons could provide trade and travel opportunities for an entire campaign. For that matter a launch could provide hypersonic transport between points on a single world. If that planet is TL7 or less you are likely to be the fastest thing around.

If trade seems a little dodgy there are other business models. Search and rescue, hunting parties, research expeditions might want a gig hanging around but not want to rent a starship to hang in orbit for weeks. In this case the gig would ride in the cargo bay or in a berth on a rented merchant to its destination to perform its services. This would be ideal for a cash strapped organization. Say a university sends an expedition to investigate anomalies on the moons of a gas giant. They need transportation among the moons for a couple of months. They only need a starship to get there and back. A starship has a much larger mortgage than a launch (at least 5-10 times the cost to rent). They instead hire and ship a gig with their expedition to ferry several parties among the moons to look for shiny stuff.

Similarly a low tech world with several colonies and outposts in system might hire a launch for routine cargo runs and become a base for adventures in a campaign.

There are many options for fitting a gig for voyages of several weeks. This might be necessary when a remote outpost needs a good or service from the mainworld but a merchant ship doesn't want to perform a micro jump or truck it out via STL and lose time spent in more profitable trading. If a planet is occluded by the jump shadow of it's primary it could also require additional jumps or a long trek that a gig might perform more economically.

Refits include permanently changing cargo space over to staterooms. Since most launches only have a ten ton cargo capacity a cabin for two will almost halve this. Small crafts typically use accommodations similar to cube hotels. Passengers and crew often make do with living areas similar to the ancient NASA expeditions on short trips.

(The Tokyo Capsule Inn is a good example of compact but cozy accommodations.)

In settings with more dependable forms of cold sleep, low berths are favored with automatic systems waking the crew when their expertise is needed. Other enterprising individuals have bought and installed stowaway style crates (after knocking a couple of windows in them).

(An example of the low berth section of a starship ... hey wait a minute!)

A mercenary unit might be forced to use a small craft transported by a larger vessel for several reasons. Security is one. Some merchant vessels do not care to have a number of proficient killers onboard and a stroll from vital areas of their ship and some commanders are wary of unit members spilling plans to just anyone. Some captains will also have a problem transporting heavy weapons and explosives in their hold. For the security and safety of both ships it's sometimes better to transport a whole small craft.with its contents and occupants locked behind a hatch (that can be blown at a moment's warning.)

The mercenary team might also require certain features on an assault or insertion shuttle. Instead of hiring one on, they bring their own.

This might be the common transportation method for groups transporting particularly valuable cargo. Why trust a merchant's security systems and crew when you can trust your own. The transporting ship also provides an early warning of scurrilous activities (when their crew starts getting shot grab your guns. In the event of a pirate attack you have an extra ship to run to. The list goes on.

Me, paranoid? Maybe but being paranoid doesn't mean you don't have real enemies. it just means they're a sort of external validation!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Thank You Masked Man

The Masked Man was a type of mystery man who mostly appeared in the U.S. They were vigilantes, thought to be the victims of crime and injustice themselves. Whatever their origins something about them drove these individuals to excel in their chosen skill, typically with a weapon or unarmed combat.

The mindset leading to this mastery has several quirks. The most obvious is the insistence on remaining masked. In a pinch dark glasses and a hat will do or a disguise but they do not appear unmasked willingly. Failure to wear a mask deprives them of all their special abilities.

Weapon Mastery
Masked men chose a single weapon to excel in. Pistols are usually taken because they're concealable and quick to use. Bows are also popular. Bazookas and heavy weapons are right out. With their chosen weapon the masked man attacks with +2 to hit and damage (-2 to their roll in The Front). This increases to +3 (-3 to their roll in The Front) to hit and damage at 3rd level (6th in The Front) and +4 (-4 to their roll in The Front) to hit and damage at 5th level (9th in The Front).

Unarmed combat specialists receive the pluses to hit though not damage. Their fists do 1d6 damage . They are also stealthy receiving an additional +1 to surprise (see Surprise below)

Both types can make a called shot. For weapon masters this is fancy shooting such as shooting a pistol out of someone's hand. This does no damage and doesn't get the bonuses above (only the normal THB). Unarmed combat specialists throw a haymaker that will stun their opponent for 1-3 rounds if the target fails a saving throw (Constitution save in The Front).

Masked men surprise their opponents on a 3 in 6 chance. They are +1 to initiative.

Saving Throws
Masked men receive a +2 on saving throws to resist mental powers and fear (they roll all Charisma tests with advantage in The Front).

Masked Men
Level       XP          HD          BHB          ST        
1          2,500          1+1          +1              14        

2          5,000          2              +2              13        

3          7,500          3+1         +3              12        

4         10,000         4              +4              11        

5         15,000         5+1          +5             10          

A masked man will only kill when it is necessary to save an innocent, ally or themselves. They will never kill an unresisting enemy, preferring to capture them or knock them out. They can't allow innocents to be hurt or killed while they stand by. If they fail in protecting an innocent under their protection they will lose their special abilities unless they immediately work towards avenging that person.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Glass Tiger

There are two ways to expand into space: vertically and horizontally. Note I'm talking economics here, not astrogation (then we'd be talking x, y, z's and +/-).

If a culture expands vertically it develops an entire star system then moves to another. Expanding horizontally means you grab as many star systems as quickly as you can and move on, minimally developing  each.

There's no absolutes. A culture will do a mix of both but cultures running on a vertical model will have a few well populated and settled systems in a tight little empire. Horizontal models will have a widespread empire with worlds at whatever stage of development they can achieve.

Most sf settings posit humans as fans of horizontal expansion while their fans, friends, and allies favor vertical. This explains why we haven't run into a bunch  of aliens planting their flags here and buying Australia for a string of tesseracts.

Banks favor the horizontal method. That needs ships and they can make money on loans for ships. Colonies also take a while to become self sufficient. That requires offworld capital which means more loans because they aren't exporting much of anything yet.

Some planets find a way out of debt, some resource or industry they have a talent for. This is the way they like it. they. Most don't and the banks and few select worlds keep getting richer. One of the tools to keep the debt cycle going is providing standardized technology worlds can buy before they produce it themselves. Lifter vehicles, fusion generators and starships are all things banks like to dole out to their clients.

This doesn't work when some uppity little world starts building it's own stuff. The Zaonians already became noticed when they built their own lifter tech using vacuum tubes. No on realized that was possible or knew what you could do with vacuum tubes.

Now they we;re using metallic hydrogen rocket to get to orbit. A Zaonian boomer frightened to people selling lifters and maneuver drives. MH rockets  could get you clear of the jump radius as well as maneuver drives and you could build them yourself. Coupled with the vacuum tube lifters and you had a cheap assed ship. All you needed was to buy a jump drive and odds were someone would build that using flint knapping and cured hides at the rate things were going.

The subsector bank had a lot of loans out for lifter equipment and ship construction.

More to the point, the bank had powerful investors who might not see a return on their investments. If that seemed likely they would pull their money out of the bank and a bank run would commence.

It was starting already when the Zaonians introduced their aeros. then they had to go and push pre stellar tech to the limit and create metallic hydrogen. No one even used the stuff anymore. It was dangerous. The Zaonians found the risk acceptable much as early pioneers went to space in phone booths sitting atop a huge explosive device.

It might still be cut short. Except the news was getting out.


"Her name is Sandoval. Not sure of the honorific. I need her, now," Luchador said deliberately. The Inerzan clerk behind the desk was not impressed. 

"You supposed to be one of those street fighter types?," the clerk asked tossing her red hair back and adjusting her face scarf. She was nearly as tall sitting as Luch was standing and clearly amused.

"I don't see what that has to do with my request. I need our navigator. She's here on a guest pass from the Captain," Luch said calmly. 

"I see. What is your Captain's name?"

"Captain ... ship ... master?" Luch mumbled.

"I see. You know Citizen Sandoval's first name?"

"... Sandy!"

"Get out. The Outreach Hostel respects the privacy of its guests. You obviously need a Vend-A-Doc. Beat it before I toss you out on your ear," the clerk snapped getting up. She loomed over Luch.

Luch waited for her to grab his shoulder then flipped her almost effortlessly. The woman lay spread eagle on a lovely rug that accentuated the rest of the lobby's furnishing. Luch thought about suggesting the Captain change the carpet on te crew and passenger decks as he sat at the desk and called up the hostel register and found Sandoval's location. Luch hopped over the feebly struggling clerk, flipped her the bird and headed for the spa entrance.

He backed up carefully keeping step with the guard sticking a pistol in his nose.

"Well played sir! Nice occupation you got going here," Luch said cheerfully. He was a dead man,

"What the hell is going on here?" the guard demanded.

"I'm looking for my navigator and that clerk got handsy with me," Luch said shrugging.

"Are you a Zaonite?" the guard asked sparing a glance at the clerk who was rolling over.

"... Zaonian is the word I think but, you're running things. No. Do I look likeI'm from around here?" The flame pattern on his mask twitched over his forehead as he did an eyebrow waggle.

"Ah ... screw it. She gets handsy with everyone," the guard snorted. "Go ahead, Sandy, right? Room three. Go on. This one is on the house. Don't do anything to make me want to shoot you. Scat!" the guard followed his warning with a mock kick as Luch headed for the door.

"Sandy!" Luch yelled. Sandoval was getting a massage. That in itself was not surprising. The towels provided adequate coverage but her skin was a bright blue. A turquoise streak in her brown hair complemented her new hide. Sandoval opened one eye.

"Get ut before I beat you to death with my slide rule," she said softly.

"The Captain wants you to move your ass, of any color, right now. Get to 'guest quarters' Ay-Sap," Luch said. He pulled a bunch of credits from his pocket and handed them to the masseuse. The lady seemed pleased and left with a bow. either the strange little man was going to be beaten to death and she could resume or she was done and paid in advance with a hefty tip. She stuck it under her bra strap and went for coffee.

Sandoval began dressing. There was no point in being modest with Luch who was a professed asexual and had already had to apply and remove a great deal of tape from her body. Besides he was hurling her clothes at her with great force. At least as much force as you could impart to a pair of undies.

"What in the name of the Last Hell is going on?" Sandoval ventured making sure her slide rule among other things was secure.

"There's a meeting of captains. All of us crew too. We're going to discuss this internment."

"About time. I don't get the Captain. We ran our asses off out of this system, got shot up annnnd he turns around and heads us back into a war zone ... and gets us interned by the same guys who shot at us," Sandoval muttered.

"Why are you telling me this? I was there for everything."

"I wanted to see if it sounded like it made any sense."

The Captain had fled the system under fire. Being part Zaonian his desire to help his people was understandable. He and the rest of Zaonia's merchant fleet had fled to regroup on Inerze. He had lost no time refueling, repairing damage and booming back out with a load of medical supplies and other items for relief and under a charter of the Outreach Foundation.

The charter was important. No one screwed with the Outreach Foundation, a humanitarian organization that would kill anyone in their way. Humanitarian relief was taken seriously by them and there were as many admirals and generals in their circles as pirates and assassins it was said.

A charter kept the the mercenaries occupying the starport from shooting them down. It didn't keep them from interning the merchants as they came in and go through their cargos for security reasons indefinitely.

On the other hand the amenities in the port were surprisingly good, as long as you didn't tick off the occupiers. Luch was treading a fine line as usual.


The bunker was deep below Zao Prime. There was a dampness that the bright lighting and carpet did not dispel. The Mayor, Elevator ... now Sir Eli and Dame Ranna looked over a map. Mayor Burns was looking at a laptop monitor. Some offworld tech was always necessary in a war. 

"Near as I can predict they're going to keep to the starport and its island, shore their defenses and take potshots at us with missiles another two maybe three days. That'll bring their forces to about a thousand ground troops. Plus them aero tanks and few fighters," Louie finally pronounced.

"It makes sense. You'd be a fool to attack with only part of your force and we can't get near those aero tanks. Their rocket launchers took a toll on our own aeros and your last sortie was a disaster," Sir Eli tapped his chin.

"So, dad how do we play them for fools? Got a plan?" Dame Ranna asked taking a draw from a cigarette.

"My dear ... the Tech Knights of old were the greatest heroes this world has known and ... they would find this hopeless ... though they would attack anyway and die. Fortunately they aren't here. Instead you have a criminal mastermind ... who finds this tough but doable," Sir Eli said with a grim smile. "For this job ... call me Professor Elevator!" Professor Elevator's laugh echoed in the small conference room and after a moment the Mayor and Dame Ranna shrugged and joined in with their own laughs.


On the command ship, Colonel Leogain looked up from his report. His aide rocked back away from him ever so slightly.

"We have the bulk of their merchant fleet here under Outreach Foundation charter and interned. The crews were removed. You had free rein to search those ships and you're telling me there's nothing suspicious?

"Sir, we've torn those supplies apart. There are no weapons, nothing explosive. It's emergency rations, water purifying gear, thermal blankets, medical supplies: antibiotics, fast drug, anti-rad ... there's nothing no listed on the manifests."

"These stiff necked barbarians just wouldn't ground their ships here knowing we'd intern them or worse. Find what they're hiding!" Leogain threw the paddlet in the aide's face, turned and stalked away. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Vacc Tape

At least there was no smoke on the bridge. The ventilation system had cleared it. Death by smoke inhalation was almost as bad as death by vacuum. Sandoval fancied she could hear the vacuum on the other side of the hatch scratching to get in and kill them all.

The Captain and Luch were going over the readings and checking the view on the rest of the deck. Finally thr Captain looked up and rubbed his eyes. "Okay. We have a direct hit on this deck which, aside from letting the air out and messing our quarters up did not real harm. But we took that hit right before we went to FTL. Good job on that Sandy. Now we gotta get to the main damage control locker and the space suits there and get them back in here. Then we can see about patching that hole before it lets FTL space in ... that isn't good. And there's ten meters or so of indoor vacuum between us and that locker."

Sandoval shuddered a bit. FTL entering STL space was never good. As a navigator she knew enough of the theory of FTL to know that. Non-biological entities, jump trauma, flash fever ... the list went on.

The bridge damage control locker had compressor masks that could be hooked up to a small air tank or air line. No space suits though. In aperfect world they'd be suited up already and at their stations for a hazardous operation and the bridge was too cramped for a locker to hold their suits. It was only designed to keep them alive when things were killing them slowly.

 Using a breathing mask in a vacuum was a good way to kessler your lungs. Absently Sandoval began rooting through the locker, digging through the various odds and ends accumulated over the years. Power bars, lanyards, vacc tape spilled out. What was she looking for? A new hyperdrive to get them to port and a rescue ship?

"Well I was told this sort of freighter was designed to explode on a direct hit killing us all cleanly," Luch said in mock anger. "I get out of this I'm suing the fucking shipyard."

The Captain administered a dopeslap that forced Luchador to adjust the mask he never removed, for no one knew what reason. Sandoval never thought it was polite to ask. "Not the time Luch," the Captain reproved.

"Sorry sir. A little gallows humor. On the bright side we could hide in the electronics hole and prolong life a few more hours. None of these doors are completely airtight but we could get by."

"How long till we break out, Sandy?" the Captain asked.

"At least six days," the small woman answered toying with the materials she'd pulled from the locker. They all knew the air was going to leak out before then. Even with the last refuge of the computer and sensor service crawspace they had maybe a day of air. Air tight doors everywhere was too expensive.

It wasn't fair. She'd plotted that jump perfectly and in half the time. The ship had ducked missiles and beams like a courier on uppers. they had all performed so well in the face of an invasion and an enemy determined to kill them. It just wasn't good enough. But to die knowing there was a locker full of air tanks not ten meters away was galling.

Luch grabbed a roll of tape. "We can seal the hatch with this. Buy us a few more hours. We could just say screw it, hit the overrides and open the hatch now. At least it'd be fast. Why do we have so many damn rolls of vacc tape anyway? Your previous quartermaster was a tool, Captain! And this damn ship ... you do everything on the cheap! We're going to die because you didn't spring for some extra spacesuits!"

The Captain grabbed Luch by the arm and hauled him as far fro Sandoval as he could. It wasn't very far. Urgent and harsh whispering followed. The Captain finally ordered the Steward/Mechanic to take a seat and eat a power bar. Sandoval toyed with an old wallet someone had constructed out of tape. Probably an attempt to stave off boredom on a watch during FTL, much like this but without a hole in the hull dooming them all.

"Hey ... Captain!"


Adhesive tape was invented in 1845 by dr. Horace Day. Clear adhesive or tape was made by Richard Drew in 1922 and the Holy Grail: duct tape appeared in 1942. By TL 8 in the year 20-mumblety-rhubarb we have Vacc Tape!

The salient feature of vacc tape is it works in vacuum. More primitive tapes use adhesives that boil off in vacuum or are destroyed in extreme temperatures. Vacc tape works in extreme temperatures and vacuum ... for a while. By TL 10 synthetic adhesives are able to keep a bond and even strengthen under temperatures extremes to rock hard consistency.

The other feature of vacc tape is not obvious at first. It changes color in vacuum. A roll of red tape turns a bright blue. Exposure to oxygen turns it red again. Seal a hole with it and air leaking out will turn the tape red making it easy to judge the worth of your damage control. Air bubbles can be spotted and reinforced before they burst. Savvy spacers in an unstable situation or hull will lay strips around the door to the living section. A blue strip around the door indicates vacuum on the other side. Suit up. Some spacers put a strip around the wrist of their space suit as a final check that an airlock that says it is pressurizing is pressurizing.

Needless to say the stuff also spawns its own craft industry. Spacers make all manner of things, wallets, bags even clothing, slippers and more ...


"The breathing mask is not ... optimal," Sandoval said. The Captain's voice rattled in her earbud. "Explain?"

"It's fogging like a sonuvabitch. Also the soft helmet part is inflating. I'm dizzy," she said walking down the corridor. To compound matters, her tape slippers were slippery: a small etymological irony and she was dragging an air line behind her. The journey of ten meters seemed very long.

She was sure she was starting to feel the bends despite the Captain lowering the bridge's air pressure and switching to a pure oxygen mix.

It was only logical they use her for a subject. She was the smallest, letting them layer the tape the thickest over her. She was female and needed less oxygen. She thought up the crazy plan.

She new her mask was filling with carbon dioxide, or was it monoxide? She always confused the two.  The mask's exhausts were puttied shut. To make maters worse the tape covering every inch of her below the neck constricted like a ... constricting animal thing. that monoxide dioxide was really messing with her.

Applying the stuff was the most undignified ordeal of her young life. The Captain and Luch applied the tape in rings around her torso and extremities. Luchs made sure the strip ends overlapped a lot. Then they reinforced the rings in the first layer with a layer of vertical strips. That was bad enough. But Luchs wanted to make sure the tape wouldn't peel up from curvy places and had puttied them up but good. It didn't help that Luchs was asexual. She'd blushed down to her toes. It didn't help when Luchs said there were establishments that would pay a few hundred credits to people submitting to such treatment.

 The Captain's dopeslap was perfectly timed and thump on Luch's head was most satisfying. They actually all managed a laugh.

To make matters worse her nose was itchy. Her nose was itchy. She was having all manner of trouble breathing and now had the figure of a twelve year old boy and her neck felt like it measured 70 centimeters because that pulchtritude had to go somewhere.

Her goddam nose itched. Was an itchy nose a symptom of suffocation/asphyxiation?

She was at the damage control locker! The door opened to her frenzied yanking and curses. Cursing helped all manner of things. She grabbed a spacesuit and turned to scramble back to the bridge. The door was open and looked inviting even though the vacuum was as hard on the other side of it. The Captain and Luchs were waiting in the electronics hole and were pretty screwed if she messed up. Lugging the suit and the air hose she slipped and slid back to the bridge. At least they still had gravity. That alone indicated the hull couldn't be that badly holed.

Sandoval threw the suit into the pilot seat. Her vision was blurring and not from a fogged mask as she reached for the hot key they'd set up. She hit it before she reeled and crashed to the deck.

She woke up in the deluxe stateroom's master's bed. Usually the captain took the cabin over when he couldn't fill it.

Luchs was sitting on the bed shaking her foot. "How are ya?" he asked. Sandoval stretched and saw tape still covered her arms. She moved her feet and realized it still covered most of her. She saw a very careful slit was made down her sternum letting her breathe. "I have the best vat steak in the galley cooking for you with your favorite sides. The Captain is still working on damage control but we're holding air. The beam went through the hull at stateroom three. There's a big hole on the outer hull and a nasty on on the hatch. He slapped patches on them and is welding the cabin's hatch shut."

"Sounds good. Can I get up?" Sandoval said. She really was enjoying the bed though. Much better than a bunk.

"Sure Sandy ... put here's the bad news: that tape has to coe off you before it cuts off circulation."

"Mmm ..."

"On three ..." Luchs said.

He yanked the first strip off on 'one'.

The Captain heard her scream through one deck and his helmet.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


The Zaonian Oldback was a parched area of sand and broken rock. Nuzon was looming fairly large in the night sky. Soon it would be visible just before dawn and that would be the closest approach. The would be when the enemy would strike. When they could use short range transports, like kegs, to land troops.

The Venture loomed over the sand and scrub, a huge cylindrical spacecraft attached to a saucer shaped lifter craft. It looked like a mushroom. This was a very unfortunate visual image in Jorge's mind. His accommodations had a window with a grand view of it. He rarely looked.

"You're pushing yourself too much sir. Your injuries ..." Calculo wraed.

Jorge Gutman's voice was calm and measured out carefully, like each word was an effort that was carefully considers. "I'm not taking a couple days off now that we finally have success, when ... invasion looms."

"Understood," the robot replied. Calculo watched the light fixture flicker a little and said, "Bobo Frycook reports The Capitol is secure for the moment. Dame Ranna is safe. Radio stations have intercepted some enemy chatter from Nuzon. It looks like they will wait till a closer approach to attack."

"What's Project's status?" Sir Bert asked from his seat in the corner. Unconsciously the older man had picked a spot where he could watch the bathroom door and exit.

"Nearly complete. Propellant manufacture and machining is proceeding slowly. The fission reactor is causing some problems." Sir Bert didn't hear this last comment. An aero was coming in for a landing flying official colors. Sir Bert recognized the personnel emerging and breathed a little easier. Jorge and Calculo remained silent each with their own thoughts until the older man spoke again.

"Well? How long?"

"We should have all we need in three days. The fission reactor keeps overheating. We don't have enough water to cool it any faster.

"Overheating? How bad?"

"Not bad ... if you want to change the research from propulsion to deep core drilling ... and genetic experiments," Jorge said. Sir Bert squirmed a little at this.

"Closest approach to Nuzon is in a week." the Tech Knight repeated. There was little reason to attempt an invasion sooner. Telescopes would spot lift offs from Nuzon easily enough so there could be no surprise. The closer the planets were the more men and materials they could ship.

"I understand that Sir Bert. This assault was unanticipated. We'll make every effort to be ready in three days."

"Hrmph. Why not two?"

"Sir Bert, you want it sooner, I ... need some damned help! I can't exactly get around easily right now."

"Fine, you'll get it."

"We need the Elevated Man too. You better lash him under a couple of aeros or something and get him out here. I don't want just anyone handling the propellant."

"Is it that dangerous?"

"Yes and no. Handled correctly it is about as dangerous as flour. Calculo, let him see," the robot  handed the older man a tiny metallic cube about the size of his fingernail that was suspiciously light. "But you can make flour explode ... if you know how. You can make this explode with the right detonator or a blow torch. If a spy gets in here ..."

"How explosive is it?"

"That tiny cube there is equivalent to a stick of explosive or a few hand grenades, enough to obliterate the three of us," Jorge said. Calculo edged a little away from the mad humans but it was unnoticed.

"How ... is it radioactive?

"Even better. We used the fusion reactor in that old merchant," Jorge pointed to the cap of the Venture's mushroom. "It no longer could fuse hydrogen. But we could power it using our fission reactor and compress the hydrogen while cooling it to make the hydrogen solidify into its metallic form. It's a very efficient energy storage system. That was as close as I could get to using all local technology. We need a fusion reactor to make the stuff but old ones from decommissioned or wrecked ships will do. The fission reactor was built locally with fissionables a belter unloaded on us."

Bert stared at the cube a moment. "This is ironic. At one time we wouldn't be urging you on Mr. Gutman, we'd make you disappear for creating this. This is a deadly explosive. You could blow a vault with it or a city block. Now we're using it to demonstrate low technology planets like us do not require lifter technology to attain orbit. Once we build our own compressors."

"Then this damned embargo will be over. People will be stampeding to invest in us and I can get offworld ... I don't like ... this ... "

Sir Bert was a hard man, no less so because events forced it on him. He had killed men for betrayal before or to maintain control. He was not a nice man and that was just his nature. But he was not a monster, at least in his own mind. The cold look in his eyes softened for a moment and he spoke more softly.

"My friend, I will not forget what you have done here. Zaonia will not forget. You will get the treatment you need and deserve and more. I thank you," Sir Bert swallowed and continued speaking deliberately,"I am aware of your sacrifice and ... I'm sorry I was abrupt. I am working on something to ease your situation. Hang. Please."

Jorge eyes were shut tight and his expression that of a sleeper or more properly a dreamer. He floated in sterile solution in a modified cold sleep berth with tubes festooning his arms and entering the wounds the bullets had made near his spine. He seemed to be flying almost, his long hair braided carefully out of the way. The wires leading to pads attached to his forehead swayed a little from some micro current in the solution. Sir Bert knew it was old tech. Salvaged and rebuilt from the horde of a scientist deemed mad.It kept the body processes slowed down but allowed you to access the patient's mind. It was a lateral move from a coma in some ways. The speaker beside the man in the tube spoke again, this time more sharply.

"If we can't win this ... if I'm left like this ... you know what I want you to do."

"If there was no hope ... I would have ended your suffering by now. If there is a way ... if the Devil himself is in my way he will move aside or beg for mercy," Sir Bert said. He wasn't a nice man at all. But sometimes he could be a good friend.


Sandoval turned from her station and said, "Entering Zaonia orbit in five, Captain." She really wanted to change her uniform. A number of mercenary ships had come far closer to their aging freighter than she'd wanted when they were clearing Nuzon space. The Captain called it intimidation tactics and ordered her to stay on course. It was an old trick. Make sure the merchants would clear out of a system. Show them war was coming.

It seldom worked. It was great for business. A subsidized merchant had the Polity government behind it. Free traders such as them selves were hungry enough to run cargos to either side once the shooting started and charge way more for shipping, let alone if they were selling stuff you needed. The Captain was also Zaonian by birth and said he didn't knuckle. Whatever that meant.

Now he slapped Sandoval on her shoulder and said, "You relieved. Smart job! Go and ..." He was interrupted by a beeping from her sensor monitor. The navigator turned to investigate and then swore softly as she ran some analysis software.

"What have we got, Stick?" he asked looming over her shoulder. The sliderule that earned her the nickname was sticking out of her breast pocket. They all could stand a shower, having manned the bridge the whole of the hop from Nuzon.

"We got a ship blowing up ... repeatedly in a low orbit and ... gaining altitude and speed. It's ... beats me sir."

"You're too used to maneuver drives. Out here some planets still have to do things the hard way ... I heard of this never saw it in use before. Shit ... "

"Sir ..."

"Zaonia just won. They found their way to space without using lifters or reactionless drives. And they did a sidestep around chemo and fission. Run extensive scans of the craft and get ready for a jump to Inerze."

"Aye sir," the navigator replied tiredly. She pulled her slide rule out to begin the gross calculations for the jump. At least once they were in transit she could get some sleep and a shower.


There are a couple of ways to get to orbit with almost all of your ship intact, rather than discarded along the way. Lifters and maneuver drives are popular. But they are reserved for fairly high technology planets (defined here as more advanced than modern Earth. Otherwise planets need to make use of chemical rockets or nuclear rockets (which are hard on real estate and eco systems). But there is a wonderful third way, an abandoned notion discarded when lifter technology appeared (around the time the big sign reading Tech Level switched from 7 to 8).

Solid metallic hydrogen. Compress hydrogen, cool it and you get liquid hydrogen. Do it still more and ... you still get liquid hydrogen. Do it even more and -nope, still liquid. Get it under ungodly pressure and it turns metallic. If you did everything right it will stay metallic and solid at Earthly temperatures and pressure. It weighs about .7 kg/liter. It floats. You can use it for a flotation device!

Now you can smack. It shoot it. Bite it. You can toss it in a campfire and nothing will happen. Bring it to 1000 Kelvin and brother stuff happens. Metallic hydrogen heated to 1000 Kelvin becomes plain old gaseous hydrogen and goes on to occupy a much greater volume very quickly. It explodes with fifty times the force of TNT, a whopping 216 megajoules per kilogram. Let's go to the Boom Table.

Two kilos of the stuff has the explosive force of one of the USS Iowa's 16" shells. One kilo has the force of 36 120 mm tank gun KE shells. A gram of the stuff has a quarter mega joule of wallop. Twenty grams gives you the bang of a kilo of C-4. Obviously the stuff has dozens of peaceful uses. Wait what?

Imagine a small piece of jewelry with the explosive force of a couple of hand grenades.

It's so brutal as a rocket fuel it outperforms nuclear thermal rockets and doesn't turn your bones to aluminum. It has an Isp of 1700 compared to 1400 for a Nerva. Unfortunately it also has a combustion temperature of 7000 Kelvin which is star hot. It'd make an awesome welding fuel if you could keep the torch from exploding (and those goggles wouldn't help the welder much if it did). If you diluted it, cut it with liquid hydrogen to bring the temperature down, you could get the combustion chamber down to 3700 Kelvin which is barely doable with current technology. the alternative is having a combustion chamber 30+ meters across which is not good for lift offs. this brings the Isp down to 1000.

Or you could build an Orion style drive (which is what the Zaonians did). Hang a pusher plate on the back of a ship. Shoot charges of metallic hydrogen (Metasol in Zaonian) out the back and use a torch or timed detonator to set them off. The boom is not the same as a nuke but it's still quite a kick. In that case the prototype was only a couple of meters long and only had to get to orbit; it was a proof of concept model. More on this follow.

I will note if you make your reaction chambers of inertron then you lick the heat problem (and much more).

On the downside some people are killjoys and believe that quantum tunneling will cause mH to spontaneously explode. It only takes one fuel pellet to go bad to turn a spacecraft into the Kessler Syndrome. Even being on the other side of the pusher plate won't save you. This could be used to explain the stuff's rarity. Outside of special containment (in a liquid hydrogen, cushioned by grey goose down pillows, gravitic negaflux) it could explode, making conventional explosives stay ... conventional and letting the people who make TDX in business.

Or for true irony, say that lifter technology causes it to explode. Then you can understand why high tech planets avoid using the stuff. But then it gives the low tech planets a chance to play dirty.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Universal Docking Ports Part 2

Ahem in case anyone out there has learned to tune out the ads on these blogs (I have): Notice! The ad to the right refers to my new game company and the book is written by yours truly! Thank you. now back to the post.

This post refers to the previous one go take a look if you haven't seen it.

I suggested a docking 'ring' that was a pair of extendable metal sleeves that could fit most androgynously designed rings. Provided they were the same size. I came up with this this morning after reading some comments (thank you Evyn MacDude).

As you can see this has not one ring (actually cylinders that extend from the hull) but four of various sizes. One of them is going to fit! It extends from the hull, then extends its flanges on the inside of the ring. Then that gray gooey looking bumper, which is actually kevlar inflates and seals the ring against the hull around the foreign airlock.

Check the seal, then to be sure send the last crew to piss you off into the airlock with a couple rolls of vacc tape to make sure cylinder the seal is really good. Give them a spacesuit if you're feeling generous though sending crew in shirtsleeves to tape up the lock does motivate. It's a bit sturdier than the kevlar tube approach. On the other hand it's harder to disconnect. You could just pull away and say F*** the tube. It's disposable. This is an investment in metal and machinery. 

Note crew using this arrangement might feel a little safer than those in a kevlar boarding tube. 

If you're dealing with, say uplifted squirrel monkeys, some difficulties may still result from using their airlock. At least now you have a relatively safe spot to cut a bigger hole.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Universal Docking Ports

This always bothers me.

Two spaceships from different cultures, nay different species meet up. Friendly communications is established. For whatever reasons, physical contact is desired, trade, cultural exchange, some of those alien MOSs are cute etc. The two ships dock no fuss no muss.

First of all docking is one of the most stressful tasks a pilot can undertake. Ships are designed to travel in mostly empty space. Snuggling up to another mass of engines, fuel tanks and struts requires a deft hand on the thrusters. Add to this that docking can mess up one or both ships and the ship's Captain is probably breathing down the pilot's neck while calculating the cost of various collisions.

So the pilot does all that and ... the docking rings don't match up.

So in some venues everyone says "Screw this," and heads to the teleporter! If you're in a more Joss Whedon setting you pile into a shuttle or grab a spacesuit.

There's no reason for assuming docking rings will match. They roughly correspond to airlock hatches. A two ton sentient cephalopod will require a really big hatch with a ring to match. An uplifted squirrel monkey needs a much smaller hatch. Then there are the bee people of Honeypod III who have hexagonal docking ports and the Ooli who love ovals.

This is when that Mech-1 you took is gold.

As for humans in general eventually someone somewhere is going to start standardizing docking rings (and hatches). All rings must be of circular of X meters in radius and so on. But the mating features can still be a problem (no not that way). Human technology has two kinds of attachments, an innie and an outie. What if you both have innie docking rings, or both have outies? The last problem can be solved!

The airlock hatch is the gray circle in the middle. The inner yellow ring has sockets on the outside, the red ring has flanges along it inside that match the sockets on the outside of the yellow ring. Either ring can be extended. So when you want to dock you call the other pilot and determine who gets to lead, or extend their red ring. The other extends the yellow ring a bit further to fit inside the red ring and the flanges are extended to make the seal tight. The circles on the top of the red ring are bolts that can be extended or retracted or magnetized to aid in the stability of docking.

After docking both ships open their airlock hatches. Both are inward opening to avoid smacking hatches together and because air exiting an inward hatch can slam it shut making for a moment of terror followed by a wonderful anticlimax. There are still going to be problems. There are going to be different sized docking ports and rings on larger ships to accommodate large groups of troops or cargo transfers. The size of docking rings might also change over decades or centuries making entering that old hulk a little harder. In a pinch two dissimilar rings could be used. Stick the smaller ring inside the larger and apply emergency sealant #6 via EVA. It should hold. Try not to jostle the ships too much. Also leave the hatches closed after using them. 

Optionally the hatch could include a touchscreen on both sides reporting conditions on the other side. For that space opera feel add a telltale for gravity (strength and direction). After all there's not telling which way you'll fall going into a strange ship.

There should be a mechanical means of controlling and moving the docking ring. That sort of control is mounted outside the ring and a distance away to allow workers to operate it while a rescue or salvage ship arrives in an emergency. That sort of thing is under a very sturdy lock to make sure it is only used by the crew or someone who has the luxury of playing a torch over it for several minutes (which pirates typically do not have, being shot at and such).