Monday, February 4, 2019

We Has Met the Enemy Part Four

With the Triumph en route to the Flying Dutchman, the Martian Admirals saw an opportunity to at once cripple Earth's Asteroid Belt operations and destroy their new flagship. The decision was made to attack the Flying Dutchman base and facilities and destroy the Triumph as well. This would leave the Earth without a major warship or facilities for other ships in the Belt.

Admiral Buckner meanwhile had given Megan Detwiller carte blanche to modify two Thunderhead fighters at the base to operate from the Triumph. Two was the limit since the battleship had two suitable airlocks. Every dog owner was familiar with that reasoning: hands, two leashes, two dogs on a walk.

Ensign Cornelius 'Wings' Chen was promoted to Lieutenant and given one of the modified Thunderheads to fly. Admiral Buckner figured he had less to unlearn about flying the new style fighter. Chen had also handled a drunk Megan detailer and the only way he'd top that in Buckner's mind was to disassemble a working nuclear reactor by hand.

The other modified Thunderhead was to be flown by Lt. Rita Elora, who had the most experience on the base. Buckner figured 'an old hen makes good soup.' He didn't say that to Rita.

As the Triumph neared and nerves frayed like a bargain store throw rug the Admiral announced he would fly out to it to show his support for the battleship's test crew and thank everyone who had worked so hard on his project. He poo poo-ed the idea of the Martians hitting the Triumph. Even if they were to do that it would have been outside effective range of reinforcements.

He climbed into the Thunderhead banging his head, knee, and shoulder. "I'd rather be flying on a shuttle!" he complained to Chen. Wings gave him a thumbs up and answered, "I'd rather be flying with a gunner, sir. But I am game if you are!" That got a laugh, no dope slap.

Now, the Big Brains had not allowed compact electronic computers for centuries, and might never again. They hated competition. With the limited processing systems onboard a fighter, the pilot had an inordinate amount of work to do. A fighter pilot needed the math weaponizing skills of a sniper, the reflexes of a gunfighter, and the persistence of a cartoon canine. In fact even with all these things the odds were heavily weighted against a fighter pilot actually hitting a ship with any effect.

There was an old truism of war: wounding an enemy was better than killing them. Dead enemies merely needed a mortician and a hole. Wounded people required a great many trained medical personnel to heal and rehabilitate. In recent years it was determined that convincing an enemy to be a fighter pilot was even better than wounding them! The number of trainers, instructors and administrators necessary to produce a pilot was huge, as were the personnel necessary to build and maintain a fighter in combat ready condition. All those people could be assigned to training a great many ship's crew and producing ships!

Mars had encouraged Earth to develop fighter tech for years, smaller reaction drives, better fuel cells, smaller sensors. Some of it was through investments, some was by funding media that constantly touted the fighter pilot as the dashing hero. It was a brilliant move that totally bit them on the ass.

The average Earthman was unconcerned with solar politics and not ready to fight a war off world. There were already rogue nations, warlords and mad scientists to contend with at home. The fighters, however, were quite good at dealing with threats at home and seized the public's imagination. The Martians laughed (presumably evilly with hand wringing).

Then a Special Forces team operating out of the Kingdom of the Golden Vale on Mars ran into trouble. The Vale was a warm and comparatively well watered area of Mars. The Polar Kingdoms had a long history of plotting against it. Earth ships regularly called there and missions were run from it to collect intelligence on the Polar Kingdoms.

One mission ran into a large force of Polar regulars. They were pinned down and surrounded. To their credit they did not break radio silence to call for help. Vale sensors intercepted the Polar transmission reporting the action. The Vale wouldn't send help. Its neutrality was mostly a sham but it was still useful.

The Vale was hosting several Earth ships with many 'advisors' including a small fighter force training the kingdom's pilots in the latest Thunderhead fighters purchased from Earth and now two thunderheads took off (without orders or permission as the Earth would later claim). The Thunderheads engaged the Polar ground forces in several passes, clearing a way for the Terran team and making sure the Martians kept their big heads down. Most of the team got out alive.

More importantly they got out with recordings of the ground and fighter action.

Earth was incensed at the Polar Kingdoms attacking earthmen engaged in practice maneuvers in neutral territory. They were stirred by the images of their fighters engaging the enemy, because they were all certain Mars was now an enemy, and driving them off. The Vale denied any knowledge of these actions and in fact confiscated the fighters (that were already bought and paid for).The fighter pilots were placed on suspension, transferred back to a media tour on Earth and later quietly reassigned back to the Belt. One was Rita Elora.

The damage was done. Earth was ready for a fight. In fact many demanded it for good or ill. Worse, Earth had shown that their media sensation fighters had a purpose: home support was an important mission. Looking good for the people watching the news was another. There would soon be other uses found for them.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Sandoval's Folly

<<This is Transgressor. Cut your drives and prepare to be boarded.>>

//This is the Profit Rockit. Sorry we can't do that. There is a Patrol ship inbound. If you check the registry the captain is one of the good ones. You have 2 hours-point twenty tops. You could never board us, strip our cargo, top off your tanks and get away.

Second Tier Navigator Sandoval//

<<Sandy? Listen gorgeous, convince that shambling plumber you call a Captain we mean business. You already need a radio telescope to see the far end of this ship's wrap sheet.>>

//Why is that Bart? Sorry, no can do. But sweetie, why bother? We aren't worth a missile. We have a hold full of synthetic fuels and you don't want to move that stuff in the time you have left before oh you know ... POW!

2nd Tier Navigator Sandoval//

<< ... we won't be close enough to use our laser, but we can and will fire a missile up your tail. That'd slow you down real good. Plenty of time to come aboard then and strip your ship. Besides how do we know you got hard to move cargo?//

//Apologies if this isn't Bart. Anyway, like I said why bother? We have a hold full of synthetic fuels. We also have insurance. We will gladly vent it. Then you wasted a precious missile for nothing. In fact set up a video channel I will gladly go down to the hold and shot you what we have and poke into any odd corners that interest you."

2nd T. Nav. Sandoval//

<<Your concern for my economic plight is touching. But we will fire missiles. What the Hell?>>

//That's my new missile evasion algorithm at work. ;)

Sandy//

<<You can't dodge missiles forever. Good as you think you are.>>

//You meant, "You can't dodge missiles forever, good as you think you are." We don't have to. We just have to convince you that you will waste more missiles on synth fuel  than it is worth, sweetie. Do the math, inbound patrol cruiser, marginal cargo. Missile defenses.

<3Sandy/ ^.o//

<<Okay Sandy. I'll tell you what -- transmit that new algorithm and we'll leave you alone. That IS worth something. Maybe a lot under present circumstances. Otherwise we'll see just how good it is..>>

//:'-( //

"Wow," Captain said from his station. "Look at that pirate twitch! Think they'll get away from the Patrol, Sandy?" Sandoval pondered whether Bart would get any missiles off  at them, then reasoned he'd probably save them for the patrol ship.

"Not a chance. Those bugs we slipped in the program are bad stuff. Remember all the debugging and software upgrades we needed? Never throw anything away, I says," Sandoval spoke with authority. "Serves them right for accepting a download from us."

"Caveat emptor. Takes on a whole new meaning with you."

Friday, September 21, 2018

The Economy of Tyranny Part 2

It's a fact that you go to war with the space fleet you have. As I said in the previous post building big ships is uneconomical. Smaller ships can cover more bases and provide more surface area for mounting weapon systems.

The Republic of Alpha and their neighbors, the Evil Empire of Beta are beginning hostilities. More than likely the first blow in any war will be crucial. Going off unprepared will be worse than doing nothing at all as it will waste ships and leave one open to attack.

The Empire started out as a trade-friendly province in the mod rim. They were a local cluster capital and they produced mid-range (200 meter) ships for the Old Empire Navy. Since the Old Empire fell and a plethora of new empires (note the capitalization conventions) Beta decided to follow suit. After all, the new golden age has to start somewhere.

They could build the biggest ships, but most of their worlds are agrarian with bucolic and stupid locals who do not build let alone comprehend the problems of building and crewing starships. Pilots, engineers and trained crew are crucial. The shipyards were optimized for such ships. It was their role in the galactic economy (RIP) and were less than efficient at building smaller ships. Furthermore, the firms producing larger ship systems were all tight with the Evil Parliament and you didn't want to mess with them.

The Alpha Polity was a frontier province. It had shipyard facilities to service the smaller navy vessels and with some corner cutting can now produce smaller (100 meter) ships. Being spread out with defense and research outposts they have a larger pool of crew than the Betans but can't produce such big beautiful ships. The square cube law says the Betans are doomed. What can reverse this? Evil empires are a necessary component of the dramatic tension constant! Without the DTC the universe just ... winds ... down ... Everyone stays home and shops for shoes or hats.

First, realize that people in power want to remain in power. Good guys and bad guys have that in common. Betans have a number of strategies to boost their firepower:

1) Alliance with a power that will enhance their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. In this case someone with smaller vessels. this might be hard due to the 'Evil' in their title but it's too late to change the letterheads!

2) A comprehensive education program for the bucolic population. That will take years and who wants to SF RPGs about comprehensive education reform? Monte Cook couldn't sell that idea.

3) Go with the ship numbers and crew numbers they have. Once the Alpha Polity is conquered we will use their shipyards and non-bucolic population to increase our forces!!!

Going with the plans for a brief successful campaign against the Alphans means maximizing the effectiveness of the Betan warships.

The first design proposal was to simply stack eight 100 meter hulls lengthwise. this would have very nearly the surface area to equal eight Alphan ships in surface area. that was shot down (pun intended) quickly. A ship that long and skinny would have insufficient area to mount enough thrusters aft. The length made maneuvering harder and the shape was comparatively fragile.

The next design proposal was to make most of the weapon systems internal. There were several ways to do this. The first was the spinal mount, building the ship around a horrifically huge weapon. This worked quite well if your target wasn't moving. Otherwise you had to steer the whole bloody ship.

Then next three proposals were simple: missiles, missiles, MISSILES!

While missile launchers took up space on a hull, they required ammunition which required volume. This was the main reason energy weapons were often favored over missiles. You could fire those till your power plant gave out. Larger ships could carry more missiles and afford to fire more missiles at longer ranges. More missiles co uld overwhelm defenses. Thus if you were lucky you could cripple or destroy several smaller ships.

This had application for commerce raiding. Instead of say, five  defending gunboats of 100 meters to tackle a raider, you'd need six or seven since several would be disabled by long range fire before coming to grips. These extra ships added ip fast when you were dispatching several task forces to find such a raider.

As the Alphans soon learned such larger ships could also lay eight times more mines, creating a hazard for civilian shipping that required military ships to clear.

The Evil Empire of Beta was also open to commerce raiding of course. However, the Alphan ships also had less fuel and supplies and thus a shorter range. The Evil Overlords gladly allowed several worlds of their frontier to be cut off. Remember the part about the high technology assets being concentrated on their capital?

In any case when the raiding an feinting was over a tad force of 20 Alphan ships faced an incursion of four Betan cruisers. Only the invaders were content to lob a whole bunch of missiles at long range, watch a few score telling blows and leave. They would repeat the process in a war of attrition. Appear, fire off long ranged missiles and leave.

While this went on the Betans and Alphans were desperately trying to build more ships to tip the balance of power. Ironically the fleet with the larger ships continued hit and run and raiding tactics. The fleet of smaller gunboats would try to maneuver their enemy into a telling battle because losing even one such cruiser would be a huge loss.


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Economy of Tyranny

Galactic empires in media have undergone a steady progress of increasing the size of their starships. It's almost as if, in addition to the technological problems or space space travel, the ships have to look good on film as well. Regardless of this, huge government ships are here to stay. But, there are a few problems for would be dictators who want to build mobile moons.

Take the polities of Alpha and Beta, unoriginal but advanced worlds of equal engineering skill and resources. They both eye each other warily and then begin building ships for their defense a/o offense. Assume a flat cost per ton for military ships. Alpha decides on building a fleet of fast attack ships 100 meters long. Beta wants good photo ops for their glorious navy and builds their attack craft 200 meters long.

That's where the cube law steps in and starts to ruin things. A ship with double the dimensions of yours will be eight times the mass and eight times the cost. For the moment the Betans go with the larger ships.

Out of their available resources the Alphans build a navy of  72 ships. The Betans construct nine. Now a Beta cruiser is more than a match for an Alpha gunboat, correct? It depends. In terms of surface area the Betan ship has four times that of an Alphan ship and can mount four times the weapons.

Or can it? The Beta ship needs larger engines, it's pushing eight times the mass and those glowing panels movie ships use to move take up surface area too. On a Beta ship they will have to be eight times the surface area of an Alpha style engine. That means they are 2.8 times the length and width of the engine panels/thrusters/whatever of the Alpha ships.

So instead of four times the area, say a Betan ship has three times the area to mount weapons. That means for every eight weapons the Alpha fleet brings to the party, the Betans will bring three. Assuming there's an equal amount of tonnage.

What about flexibility? Say both empires have 18 worlds to protect a/o invade. The Betans will have to shuffle their nine ships around to prevent rebellion, deal with pirates, and show the flag to keep the Alphans honest. The Alphans could keep four ships at each of their worlds, maybe get away with two ships and have a mobile reserve or attack force to keep those ships from Beta honest,

In contrast, in the event of hostilities the Alphans could match the Betans in weapons using 24 ships of their fleet, and use the other 48 to attack and out gun the big ships. Moreover those 12 of the Betans worlds without protection are going to get awfully angry and might rebel or secede.

So it looks like the guys with the bigger ships are going to lose. What are some reasons for building those lovely, gargantuan ships we all love?

First of all, resources, technology, and missions might not be equal. The first example that springs to mind is the Trillion Credit Squadron  GDW loved to organize. Your humble author had the distinction of playing in the first tournament GDW held at GenCon. Never mind how long I lasted! In TCS you had a fixed number of pilots which put a cap on the number and size of ships you could build. personnel are a very valuable resource, you can't train them overnight, and they might have other plans (like joining the Resistance!) Don't forget some of those pilots or whoever are needed to provide civilian shipping.

Star Trek:TOS had dilithium crystals. they always seemed to be in short supply. Even t he Enterprise never had any spares on board! This being the case yes, you bet you'd build big ships and get the most of a scarce resource.

If your empire uses star gates of some sort then the 'resource' is how much mass a gate can move. Again you might want to consider that a limit on ship size.

A navy designed to protect against pirates and other naughty types might run towards small ships, even smaller than the average pirate in order to be more places and swarm. the odd corsair they find. A culture with little or no piracy might run towards large ships to do tasks the smaller locally built vessels couldn't. When war threatens you go ahead with the forces you have.

Say the Betan Republic was a stable, secure and friendly power for years. With little or no piracy, their 200 meter ships were more a deterrent than anything else (but very good at that). The Betans have a revolution and become the Evil Empire of Beta. The overlords begin a crash ship building program (no pun intended) but for now their evil schemes are limited by their monstrously huge ships. The Alphans seeing the handwriting on the hulls decide to declare war.

Scale efficiencies are another, important factor. In my simple and naive example, we were talking a fixed cost per unit of ship. What if say, larger engines were more efficient, cheaper per ton or more powerful? It might be cheaper to build bigger engines for bigger ships, it might be impossible to build them small. In Traveller you have the minimum size of 100 tons for an ftl capable ship. It could be a lot more than that in some settings.

What about endurance? People do not often consider the cargo capacity or a warship. A ship's cargo hold contains the things it needs t complete a mission, whether that is hauling freight to remaining on station for weeks and months. If the Alphans have eight times the number of Betan ships but they have only half the supplies, then you'd have less of your fleet on station while the rest is heading back to starport, getting resupplied or heading back to station. Or we have to pay extra for supply ships that can be attacked and will require defense ships.

For our example, I've kept weapons simple and ignored defense. In reality a bigger ship will probably want to mount a few bigger guns that smaller ships couldn't spare the space for. To continue our example, the Betan ships would have armor twice as thick as the Alphans. A Betan ship could defeat several enemy ships at once meaning attack forces would need to be built around several Alphan ships and cutting down on the flexibility of the Alpha fleet. A single Betan commerce raider that got past the defenses would raise a huge ruckus and draw many ships from their missions to track down and eliminate it. Moreover some weapons might be more dependent on volume than the size of their launcher. A really big laser could be mounted in the hull with a mirror in a comparatively small turret to direct it. Missile launchers need cargo for their ammunition and of course the spinal weapons beloved of Classic Traveller and anime take up a huge amount of internal space.

As a final note: larger ships have more room for force multipliers. Classic Traveller excelled at this with the concept of battle riders. Basically ships carry smaller ships, fighters, missile buses and whatever to increase their firepower. If instead of building eight 200 meter cruisers the Betan build four and each of them carry four 100 meter ships well hey! -You have the same surface area as the Alpha fleet for mounting weapons and you have several ships with larger weapons and thicker armor to base your task forces around.




Monday, September 3, 2018

Come for the Sargasso, Stay for the Ghosts

There are many reasons for ghost ships. In a big Galaxy you will have unexplainable and unsettling coincidences just by law of averages. Add to this the fact that most merchant crews are the minimum number that can safely or legally operate a ship to save on salaries and life support, the vagaries of FTL and gravity technology on some people and voila you have ghosts or at least the paranormal.

Beyond this, the Universe is really big and under no obligation to preserve our sanity. Ask an FTL navigator if you wish. In the Sandoval stories non-biological entities are an established fact. They are composed of exotic matter, drain heat or electrical energy for food and can get a decent idea of what scares you and use it to drive you away. Doubtless as we move further into the Dark we will encounter things that make NBEs seem like 'Hello Kitty'.

Then you have some folks who just like a good ghost story and will maintain it no matter how much evidence there is t the contrary or at least lack of proof. They will truthfully declare that people have reported such things for millennia. In fact, odds are the Cro-magnon sat in front of scary paintings on dark nights and thrilled to them.

Not to mention some people out and out lie for various reasons.

Ships cost tens of millions of dollars and are a steady source of income. A bank watches credit signs and won't pay attention to weird reports. At worst they'll slap a new coat of paint on a haunted hulk and put it back on the market. Similarly, there are many good reasons for a crew not to abandon ship ("I don't care if the bulkheads are bleeding and bugs are crawling out of the USB ports! Any rescue is weeks away!") Bugs crawling out the USB port is a hardware problem should you seek tech support.

Nevertheless some crew abandon ship (law of averages again) or are killed outright. Again a ship is worth tens of millions of credits. So the natural impulse to use a 'cursed' ship for target practice is often ignored. Even if no crew wants to set foot on its deck a ship has value, it's a ta write off for one thing. It is a source of salvage for another. Salvage crews are often mobile and will have no idea of a ship's bad rep.

Ghost ships are kept handy but not too handy. They get relegated to -you guessed it- a Sargasso. Where you have a Sargasso, you will have ghost ships. That's been the pattern through out settled space and into the fringes.

Some enterprising Sargasso dwellers even run tours of infamous ships to ground pounders on a space holiday. The way money disappears from your pockets on these tours could be considered supernatural by some.

Ghost ships in the wild are another case entirely. Ships that move around but do not answer hails, are way colder than they should be, or have other anomalous readings do happen. Contrary to popular movies free traders do not usually board such ships in search of adventure -or- loot. It may be a pirate trick. It may be a ship with dangerous or even deadly conditions onboard. It might be a fricking haunted ship!

A remastered ghost ship for your SF game: the Icon Messier*

The Icon Messier was a naval auxiliary ship based in a well settled system. Substantial assets on various moons and planets needed defending and the system navy had a number of remote bases and defense systems the Messier was assigned to resupply. On her maiden voyage the Messier had to resupply a base in the outer system and faced a cruise of a few weeks. The first day out some crew had an uneasy feeling. Around third watch this foreboding turned to anxiety in some. By midnight a riot broke out with crew assaulting each other. The ship's officers attempted to restore order with gas and tranq rounds until a crewman fell through a hatch and broke his neck. The madness stopped then.

The Messier crew was calm for the next few days until a deckhand reported seeing a faintly glowing humanoid figure in the main hold. The figure walked behind a large crate and vanished. The antihijack program recorded a glowing orb that might be a video malfunction or dust mote. That night the madness repeated. The crew again rioted. This lasted until another crewman was killed by the mob. The captain ordered both bodies ejected into space, fearing the madness was caused by a pathogen. Oddly crew thought they saw the bodies following several times and the captain ordered the portholes sealed.

There was one more eruption of madness despite the crew being confined to quarters off duty. It started with the steward killing himself in the galley. By the time the ship reached its destination the entire crew except for the bosun debarked and refused to return despite threats of jail and violence. The base commander made the bosun acting captain and found some drifters and day workers to crew the Icon Messier (with fat bonuses). The ship headed out again for another remote base.

The new skipper committed suicide the second day out. The pattern of madness repeated itself three times on the voyage and the crew abandoned ship as soon as they could trust the SAR from the base to pick them up in their spacesuits. The Icon Messier was towed into orbit. At this point no crew would look at the ship, so it remained in orbit. A few weeks later sensors recorded a burst of thermal activity onboard indicating a fire. An SAR ship was dispatched to control the fire. As a precaution the search and rescue performed a hail to make sure the ship was indeed abandoned. The ship's radio transmitted a horrific scream that might be a malfunctioning auto distress call. The SAR ship was closing when several explosions occurred on the ship.

The SAR captain aborted the mission. The Icon Messier's burnt hulk was used for target practice on the next training mission. Stories persist that several cargo containers were thrown free of the explosion somehow and ended up drifting in space and that several parts or items were salvaged from the ship. Vessels that used or merely transported them had 'interesting' stories to tell. The hard science explanation for the madness was hysteria compounded by subsonic vibrations or electrical fields caused by malfunctioning machinery.

But where's the fun in that?

*Okay Icon Messier is stolen based on the story of the Ivan Vassili. The 'true' story is unfortunately not supported by any independent news sources or records of the time. Still a good story and more believable than Flat Earth theories.


Friday, August 31, 2018

The Branes Behind Deep Space Exploration

How prevalent are hyperspace membranes? In my example I said they were created by the fusion reactions of stars. That means the smallest body that could generate one would be a brown dwarf (abut 12-13 Jupiter masses) that can fuse deuterium. In other words there could be rogue planets in deep space that are nearly unreachable using FTL. These planets might hold all manner of interesting people, places or things, just looking to keep a low profile.

What about white dwarfs, neutron stars and blackholes? Perhaps the membranes their reactions created could persist for millions of years after they died out. In the case of these massive objects the membranes might break the normal convention of brane sizes and be perilously close to the hyper mass objects. They might be in a state of flux as they slowly decay with no energy being put into them or pulsate, changing in size over days or hours, in which case a badly timed jump could put your ship in great danger.

As for multiple star systems, I'm inclined to say they generate one set of branes in the case of close binaries and separate branes if they are several hundred AUs away. I already made things complicated enough. On the charts I did so far it is possible to have a star's branes completely inside the branes or a single brane of a nearby larger star. In this case one hemisphere of the smaller star's brane will be active and ready to accept or emit starships. This makes things much easier for shady types going in.

Planets could have an effect on branes, I said gravity contracts them, remember? A large planet orbiting close to a brane could pull it one way or another, varying the radius by an AU or more. This too could mean timing jump correctly would shave a a few days off your trip.

Finally if the branes are with you you could use them to cut time off an insystem trip. A good navigator could jump from one jump point in a system to another in the same system. Again this makes it easier for naughty crews to stay ahead of the law. At the very least a ship going from System A to System B could arrive in System B, then jump ASAP to System B's jump point for System C and change its transponder to calm it arrived from System C. This is handy if System B has tariffs on System A or favored trade status with System C, or you just want to throw the bank off for a few months.







Wednesday, August 29, 2018

There is No Stealth in Space, But There is Surprise!

By and large there is no stealth in space. You can take extreme steps and dodge the many sensors and AIs that labor to catalogue anything bigger than a couple of molecules in an orbit. But it never works for long. Even Borsten's Leap with a substandard port facility would usually get hours of warning about any ship thrusting for it.

They could track the numerous Belter ships, record their engine emissions and then after a mining trip compare those engine emissions to the previous ones to determine how much more mass they had in a hold for tax purposes. Not that they found a way to tax the Belters. Belters had nukes and the port officials had zilch beyond their own sphere of influence. The last expedition against the belters was a subject of tavern jokes.

A major problem was smuggling, and it was done in a very overt fashion. Since the Leap was situated ideally between two pockets of commerce ships were already passing through rather than taking the 'long' way around. It was the goal of the Borstenim to stop everyone of those ships and wring a few credits from them. It was the goal of the merchant captains to avoid this process if they could.

Usually a ship would break out of hyper with zero velocity relative to Borsten, get vital news updates, refuel and take a smoke or the equivalent. There was some hunting for cargo because you were usually stopped and fined for some nonsense safety inspection. The victimless crime sector of commerce got to work on the crew and after a few days you left, bellies full, having had a smoke or whatever and little lighter in the wallet.

The lighter wallets of crew and officers did not bother the captains that much. It was the delays. When the banks had paper on your ride, time was money. An ordinary trader held loans amounting to 11,000 credits per day. So even one day's delay was a sizable loss amounting to several senior crew members' monthly salaries. Add to that fines, fees and the intangible opportunities lost because a captain didn't act in time or missed a deadline with a hit shipment. The Borstenim did not finance ships of their own, and they just didn't get it.

Captains could get external drop tanks and merely jump in and then jump immediately after getting their bearings and news updates. The Borstenim hated this and put their patrol cruiser to work stopping ships and running the inspection scam on them.

The captains found a new trick. Tanks strapped on they boosted for their jump point. No flip over, no deceleration. They hit the jump point at high speed. Once in the Borstein system they kept accelerating, falling through the gravity well of the planet beyond the ability of the patrols to intercept.

They did need their news downloads: gossip about all the little wars going on, what stocks were up to, what to buy low and sell high, and where. The Borstenim were adamant about refusing info dumps to these ships practicing the equivalent of the ancient practice of cutting across a gas station to avoid a corner traffic light.

That fact there was no stealth in space did little to console Brockhurst B. Borsten the Third, planetary governor, proprietor, and de facto owner of most of the commerce on Borsten's Leap. He was a prime example of someone who let their money work for themselves. It was widely accepted that was a lucky thing for him since he couldn't make a milli-cred on his own. All B3 knew was he had a ship too and it was a big one and it should do something about this.

B3 stormed and fumed to the captain of his patrol cruiser. The patrol captain patiently explained at length that his ship only had finite propellant reserves and finite acceleration. Those trader monkeys had done the math and they couldn't be caught before blipping to the tachyon spawning ground.

B3 blustered and ordered the patrol to do everything they could.

Fire warning shots? Warning shots were pretty stupid in space (this was cleaned up from what the patrol captain called it). You didn't see a laser unless it in fact hit you in a vacuum. That wasn't much of a warning. Missiles would either hit a ship or miss it and any navigator could tell the difference.

Fire real shots? Actually firing on ships could be considered an act of war, not just by their planets of origin but ... the Bank. You didn't declare war on the Bank. Besides traders would take the long way around the Leap at that point.

Sow mines so they'd have to slow down? Then no one would pass through for reals. The place would become a sargasso in a year.

The Borstenim parliament had a brief respite when B3 went on a fact finding exchange to Inerze and Zaonia. They even held out hope he'd piss off the feudal and honor obsessed Tech Knights of Zao and get bumped off. In the meantime the Borstenim trusted in B3's short attention span and simply began charging for info dumps to ships passing through. The charges included a hefty fee for presenting a hazard to navigation, breaking the speed limit and refusal to accept a safety inspection.

Most captains paid it electronically and for a while that was it. Still cheaper than stopping off. Let their crews take long showers and bitch.

Then a new faction appeared. People began sending free info dumps to passing ships. The messengers were the strangest of life forms, the altruistic. They didn't care about money. They liked messing with the government or were pro trader or they hated B3. Didn't matter. The point was ships were still whizzing by and Borsten's Leap wasn't able to charge them!

Info dumps were sent by social media or mail or piggy backed on fund transfers. Even B3 wouldn't screw with those. He used those! This resulted in the same suggestions as before (remember the short attention span?)

Then he threatened to stop payment on all funds to the patrol. The patrol captain was upset by that because truly burning a world down to the rock was easier than getting the uber-rich to cough it up after stiffing you. It was time to think out of the cruiser. The captain proposed a very simple plan because there was no time to make up a complex one. He did establish that he didn't get his rank due to the pleasing symmetry of his features. Strictly off the record he presented his plan and the Borstenim acted on it.

Ships passing through still got all manner of social media, electronic mail and fund transfers with info dumps. Only now some of the dumps were from the Borsten government hired hackers. The viruses they contained were mostly harmless. Their effect on the ship's computers were minimal. They could be contained and wiped out without a second thought. But you gave everything a second thought when you were about to enter hyperspace.

Cue soundless braking of a number of merchant ships. Cue several patrol ships and shuttles soundlessly revving their engines. All you could hear were the ka-chings as ships were hailed, boarded and inspected. They all failed. Their brain boxes were tainted by a virus! Fortunately the Borstenim had antivirus software for a nominal charge. After you paid the hefty fcost of a safety inspection. In fact the info dumps had extensive accurate and up to the minute updates of flagged messages with malware included in their official info dumps.

Rumor was, for an increased cost you could purchase antivirus software that would be good against all present and future viruses for a year. They were, of course, completely true.