Monday, December 4, 2017

Borsten's Folly

The Battle later called Borsten's Folly unfolded as follows:

Borsten's Leap was a going concern. It was a sole point of refueling on a longish route linking two pockets of civilization and ergo trade and money.

It also had a piracy problem. Actually its piracy was causing a problem for nearby worlds. The pirates running a refueling operation at Borsten's Leap practiced a strict code of not shitting where they slept. the few surrounding worlds, just beginning to industrialize and still sort of hung over after their Long Night bore the brunt of the pirates, harassing the traders trying to just trade.

It took little knowledge of interstellar relations and recent history to know Borsten's Leap had a history of pirates. It even had a Sargasso in orbit, ships that were looted there and left when the frontier began moving on.

So the surrounding worlds pooled their lunch money and began financing a Patrol. The Patrol Commander -Abednego Fisque was a clever sort and quite proficient in in situ resource utilization. Unfortunately he regarded the contents of other people's wallets as a resource.

Fisque quickly took station and began harassing the pirates who used used several asteroid bases for refueling. The harassment consisted of demanding a cut of their profits. He also began intercepting traders coming to the Leap and assessing various fines, demanding payoffs to avoid lengthy systems inspections. His ship was the biggest warship for a few systems around and everyone had to pay up. Worse he wasn't doing the job he was paid to, because it no longer paid enough for him to bother with it.

The pirates were not happy.

The Leap's government was not happy.

The local cluster leaders got together and decided Borsten had to go. He was a worse nuisance than the pirates. Pirates after all had to reign in their activities lest they destroy the people they were preying upon and draw the attention of the Fleet. Fisque was the Fleet locally at least and he could ruin everyone and move on to another cluster or retire with what he already had.

Then Fisque began bothering the Belters and government and pirate alike held their breath and got out the popcorn.

Belters to quote the cabevison  series, "Don't bother." They gather. In this case they had gathered a lot from that star system and even had a Sargasso of their own. It orbited the largest failed planetoid in the Belt called the Lodestone. Belters with ships too worn out or shot up to bother with stuck them in orbit to be scavenged at leisure or melted down. In the absence of a recognizable seat of government Fisque went to the Stone to begin his shakedown. He had entered weapons range when the Belters told him pointblank to leave their locality. Fisque was making for a fat ore processor ship that was moving to keep the Stone between Fisque and themselves.

Suddenly there was a jerk on Fisque's cruiser, Acquisition (the name should have been a red flag but cultural references vary even when everyone speaks Basic.) Then the cruiser began accelerating towards the Stone. Fisque ordered full reverse and the pull slowed but remained. So He ordered full lateral on a heading that would establish an orbit. Simultaneously he ordered the gunners to begin laser bombardment of the Stone.

He knew he was snared in a tractor beam. He also knew tractor beams didn't work at any level of technology he'd ever encountered. The reason was simple: if you exerted a force on say, a ship, that ship exerted an equal force on your beam projector. Either your tractor beam was ripped from your hull or you spent so much mass and expose on reinforcement that your ship was a dog slow heap and vulnerable to other guys who ignored tractor beams in favor of launchers and other conventional weapons. No one ever made it work otherwise.  He knew his ship would be able to break any such beam. Moreover at a few thousand kilometers no missile would be moving fast enough to hit him. the tractor beam would drag it back down to fall on Lodestone.

The Stone, however, had many, many such projectors, reinforced and spread out. The force ot the Acquisition on any one of them was easily countered. They normally used the projectors for simulating gravity. In terms of maneuverability being reduced: hello, asteroid!

The Belters moved to shelters and scoffed at the laser barrage. It mostly melted surface ice and once it melted enough ice the barrage itself was dissipated. A wave of missiles came next and the Stone fired up all manner of transmitters and jammers to mess the missile's electronics up. As for the few that got through, damaging a spaceship hull is far easier than damaging 'surface installations that still had a meter of crushed rock above them.

The Acquisition continued accelerating from its forced orbit and was slowly moving away from the Stone. The force on them was weakening as well. In space combat the inverse square law was your big brother.

That was when the asteroid opened up with its mass drivers.

Fisque wasn't terribly worried. Mass drivers were poor weapons and easily dodged by any ship with a working maneuver drive.

A stream of steel buckets each bearing 50 kilos of crushed rock  was streaking through space at 20 kilometers per second. The wide and diffuse network of gravity beams would hardly slow them down and the assault waited till the Acquisition was in the middle of a network of beams meaning the projectiles would avoid most of the effect.

Oh wait.

Fisque was one of those rare commanders who actually ordered 'Abandon ship!' In some accounts he didn't order it so much as the crew got the idea when they saw him running and most managed to keep up. It was also a rare case of a ship being depressurized by weapons fire. Until it no longer resembled a ship.

Traders, Belters, and pirates all complained about the bits of half me;ted debris that fouled Stone's near space for a few weeks before drifting further away or being vaporized by Belters who were civic minded or bored and had a laser. Fisque made it to Borsten's Leap and was promptly jailed and charged with every piracy related offense under the stars. He exited jail decades later a broken man.

Long before that Borsten's Leap took up a collection to have the melted hulk that was the Acquisition towed to into orbit as a warning. The Belters did it free of charge for once.

Even your ultra efficient Belters do some things for the soul.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Spin Doctors and Damage Control on the Luna

Damage control. No one likes to think about it. But everyone wants to be very good at it. The Luna had a board on the bridge for damage control. Tornado, the ship's master at arms had brought me on the bridge after we were a few days underway to Mars. It was the late night shift. There was a skeleton crew who looked bored. Professor Ormsby was in the cabin we shared sleeping.

"So what would happen if I started pushing buttons?" I joked. Tornado shook his head and gestured to his hip. I hadn't noticed he was packing a sidearm. "Button then. I wouldn't push a second button. I take it the joke was in poor taste?" Tornado agreed it was. it was the pithiest affirmation I had ever heard.

"What you got here is two types of damage we brace for, heat and impact. Now impact can refer to anything hitting the ship from outside, missiles, rays, old shoes. Heat ... is any energy build up inside the ship we don't want, like from pushing the drives or the shields."

He explained that R-Rays and the fields they generated where prone to losing energy to different effects. In practice, in normal situations you kept that nonsense to a minimum. Combat was not a normal situation though. Engines and generators were driven to extremes. Some smart Earth man figured out a way to turn an advantage out of that. Earth ships could generate enormous amounts of electricity in the R-Rays and that formed a barrier to destroy incoming missiles or dampen the effects of R-beams.

The downside was it put a strain on your R-Ray and that caused heat build up. A lot and from what Tornado said more ships were destroyed by R-Ray malfunction than impacts. So people devised different ways to lose that heat and fast.

The problem was compounded by accumulator storage (Tornado told me not to call them batteries, too much confusion.) The accumulators stored energy in these rings of some unobtainium that required a strong magnetic field moving through them to remain superconductors. If these flywheels slowed down or the power to the magnetic field was interrupted, or air got into the vacuum the wheels spun in, the super conductor became a so-so conductor and within a millisecond you had to a lot of energy on your hands looking for a new home.

DamCon involved picking out where energy from the various accumulators and excess heat would go, in advance. In practice it was choosing the least evil of several systems that were still better than having a couple gigawatts explode in your face.

First there were the radiators. Luna had three on her hull and four supplemental radiators that opened up like pamphlets. The supplemental radiators did heat up other areas of the ship a little like gun barrels and the rocket engines. But they were sections that took heat better than other areas like the bridge.

The three radiator sections on the hull were also resistors. If you pumped a certain amount of energy through they they were radiators. Pump more and a resistor would blow with a minimum of fuss taking that energy away in a happy little cloud of plasma. Obviously you didn't want a resistor to blown when your ship was accelerating through the debris it created. That could damage your sensors, flow gun barrels and was just not a ticket to a long and fruitful life. So the radiator use changed as the ship maneuvered.

You also tried very hard to shunt that energy between the radiators so none in fact exploded.

The next back up system was the water vents. Salt water could be sprayed from these vents and then carry away electrical energy before it became way more noisy. There was limited water for this purpose though. You got one free screw up per ship in general and like the resistors they were very careful about venting the water in the least objectionable direction. Not to mention flying through the cloud as it was electrified was a bad idea. In fact the ship usually didn't fire ordnance when it vented water due to fear the electrical discharge would detonate missiles right outside the hull.

Of course the best place for this extra energy was in an opponent's R-Ray, overloading and damaging their engines, or an atmosphere, overloading and damaging a planet (hopefully an unfriendly one). It was a dirty trick to pull on the local real estate if you were near the ground.

Impact damage was usually minor given the R-Field repelling or disintegrating incoming matter and R-Beams. Most punctures would take minutes or up to an hour to evacuate a compartment, or kill you outright if your R-Field failed. Thus crew did not wear space suits for battle stations. It made sense to me, submarine crews didn't put on scuba gear at battle stations. They did wear goggles or helmets with visors because a hole could whip up a mean wind and blow debris in your eyes. That could lead to you hitting the wrong buttons in a pinch. There were also filter masks to deal with smoke and dedicated DamCon masks with ten minute air supplies and connectors for air hoses to allow crew to work in compartments where the air became unbreathable.

This ship could run if the bridge was knocked out but not terribly well. Docking was right out for example, but consoles on the engineering deck could handle straight line movement or simple dodging. The gunnery deck could work navigation. Ships had survived serious damage to the bridge and in some cases, evacuated the deck, repaired the worst of it and then manned the control stations again.

"What about the computer? What kind of protection does the computer have?" I asked. All this seemed very ... modern by my standards. One thing I got used to in this century was that every miracle of science was paid for with some kludge. I was curious how they would protect the computer as I imagined it was incredibly bulky by my standards.

Tornado looked a little confused. Then he said, "There's really no special precautions for the computer," he said considering.

"Seriously? No special precautions?"

"No. Dr. Wu, she takes the same chances as the rest of us," Tornado said.

I suddenly had a shit ton more questions. I obviously knew nothing of computers.

CT Considerations

Some games (CT in particular) suffer from very little differentiation between warships and civilian ships with a shit ton of launchers and lasers.this system gives options to warships that can be purchased with relatively little change to systems (ship systems and rule systems).

Radiators: radiators deploy to allow a damaged engine or power plant to function normally. They cost  50% of the most expensive system installed (power plant, j-drive or m-drive) and take up no volume (they're mounted outside the hull. A radiator set can negate up to three levels of damage to engines. So a ship with two hits to its power plant and one hit to its m-drive wild perform normally.

The downside is that the next hull hit has a 3 in 6 chance of destroying the radiators and inflicting an additional point of damage to a drive or power plant (determined randomly). In addition every turn the radiator is operating the engineer must make a save or another hit to a random engine is inflicted. The roll is +8 with DMs + Engineering skill and - Number of gees the ship is pulling. A ship can reduce its acceleration to reduce this penalty. An engineer can also perform damage control to restore the engines (hopefully before the radiators get hit.)

Resistors: A resistor system can be installed for 5% of a hull's cost and volume. The system costs .1 Mcr per hundred tons of hull to replace. A resistor system lets a ship convert an engine hit into a hull hit.

Plasma Venting: this is more a tactic than a system. Military and Scout crews are trained for this. Merchants must roll 10+ to perform it correctly. Venting plasma will use most of a ship's store of water or 10 tons of fuel per hundred tons of hull. In addition the ship must hold all fire the next turn as sensors and weapons are powered down to avoid damage. Military crews perform the maneuver on a +7 with Engineering skill modifying the throw. Merchant crew perform the maneuver correctly on a +10.