Friday, July 13, 2018

Hex Signs and Wyrmholes: Technical Difficulties

I'm having some technical ical difficulties. That is I'm making unwise decisions. Curse you Dunning-Kruger my old foe.

I'm trying to use my subsector system to focus upon individual star systems or just a few. I thought I could even map them out in a new and improved way.

Nope. Not yet anyway. The major problem I have is when you blow up a few hexes with their stars and branes you get something like this.

You almost have to BE a navigator to make sense of this mess! I'm sure it is laughingly simple compared to real maps but we're talking about a roleplaying game aid here, not giving people homework.
How to differentiate between systems (which have planets and all manner of crap flying around them)? How exactly to show the entry/exit points on the branes?

Well first I got rid of the plus sign style markers. I went with lines radiating along the points of the hexagons. Duh.

The differentiating between systems problem remains and I am afraid my answer involves a rendering program. I'm not sure how to clean up a representation for a 2d image but here's what I got.

What you have here are five star systems, a type G star, three K's and an M.

Branes create two kinds of jump exits, fine and fuzzy points. Fine points are on the order of a few light seconds across. they are in practice spheres. I represented them with thin black lines. There are are two leading from the M star to the adjacent K stars next to it.

Fuzzy points are way bigger, light minute or light hours across (especially in K or G type systems). I represent them with circles at right angles to the systems they open onto, connected by light gray panels between the systems.

Those are what we want. Too big for anything but a well funded navy to patrol constantly and even then you might get naughty people slipping through. But wait there's more, now you can rep0resent objects in each system thought really, aside from planets at this site you might want to reserve such details for a single system map (with jump points and such).

So this is probably more info than most referees will want, but what he hell. I have a 3d rendering program. Some people like doing this sort of thing and it looks sort of 3D!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Hex Signs and Wyrmholes Part 3

So, how do we set up a hyper Venn diagram map?

One way is to draw up a grid. I suggest we honor tradition with eight by ten measurement and 80 hexes or squares. I used that in square or hex format and went with a 1 in six chance of a star in each square or hex. This gives us about 10-15 worlds which should be plenty for a game. If you need 40 or so worlds then roll up three or four such subsectors.

A tip for rendering artists out there: create your grid and make it a group. That way when you  no longer need it you can delete it or hide it. I think W.I.N.G.S. works the same way. The stars shown have the minimum size 'brane for the dimmest stars. 
Once you have a grid and your stars positioned you start placing their membranes (or just 'branes). A star has a number of branes according to a die roll or assignment 1-3 one brane, 4-5 two, 6 three or four. generally speaking there is no more than one star with four or more branes in a subsector. Anymore would really scramble the branes of the other stars cutting them off from easy travel or 'pushing' them into their own subsectors (more on that in the next post).

A star with one brane is low mass and likely cool, and dim (M and some K stars). Stars with two branes run the gamut from midsize K to smaller G. A three membrane star is Sol class or larger. Four branes and we're talking Procyon and Sirius or larger.

Subsector flipped on its side -because it looks better! More accurately, rotated 90 degrees counterclockwise.
Membranes are generated by thermonuclear reactions of the stars and thrown out by forces that are analogous to light pressure. They are held in place by the star's gravity. In the case of a star no longer undergoing fusion, some might persist for a hundred million years or more.

Stars are much closer (nearly touching) in hyperspace. Nearby stars can pull on each other's branes distorting them or making them collapse. Where branes overlap, a ship with ftl can transition from one star to another.

Small, dim stars that are close to large bright stars may lie entirely within that star's branes. These are known as captive stars, and we will discuss them further in the next post (yeah, I'm milking this for -reasons.) Other stars may barely touch branes. On a hyperspace map the size of the overlap indicates how large a volume you can appear in. In the case of branes barely touching or kissing, the area will be very small perhaps a light second in radius or less.

How big are the branes? How big do you want them? This is double-talk (though hopefully entertaining and insightful double-talk). Pick radii to suit yourself. I went with about half a hexagon's width as radius separating each brane.

The star cluster above has a number of K stars that not only are prone to having planets with day and night and breathable atmospheres. Their medium sized branes let you fly from one end of the cluster to the other. The larger gold colored F-star is not positioned to take advantage of its larger branes.

Next we'll see how gravity affects this (working title 'Stupidity got us orbiting this neutron star, it ought to get us out of it!")oo

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Ship's Computer

I was on the Thera en route to the Asteroid Belt. The part where the Belters didn't shoot at Earthmen. Publicly I was there to examine the effects of space travel on my metabolism. People had changed in a few hundred years due to war, medicine, and their own tweaking. I was special.

Privately, I worried the Big Brain. It decided to send me on a tour of the Solar System or at least the parts we could reach. Professor Ormsby spent most of the trip in our cabin fuming at being away from his lab and business. He was poor company when he was in a good mood and I avoided him and hung out with the crew. I was amazed a ship could be run with so little automation and processing power. I guess I never heard of the Apollo Program. Despite the nano plague the Space Fleet and its auxiliaries ran a pretty smart outfit.

The Space Fleet had seen some criticism for its employment of computers lately. The top brass were quick to defend Fleet policy.

To whit:

Even with current tube technology ships can't afford the space and mass to include a state of the art  analytical engine and indeed some ships can't afford anything but the most rudimentary devices. Fleet computers filled in the gaps economically and efficiently and were a credit to their uniforms.

Yes most computers were female personnel. The reason for this was the limited resources a ship possessed. Air, water, and food all takes up weight and space in a hull. Women tend to be smaller than men and use less resources. Brain activity contrary to popular belief uses a lot of calories and again female personnel use up less resources than men.

This is doubly important because on most Fleet ships crew members have more than one job when the vessel is underway. Computers have one full time job but no fixed hours, sometimes working round the clock to perform a particularly tricky bit of navigation. A one jobber should take as little resources as possible.

Needless to say a competent computer was a valued member of any ship's crew regardless of gender or background.

The Thera's computer was Dr. Deborah Wu from Luna. So you could say the ship's computer wore heels, though only for formal occasions. She was one of the youngest computers in the Fleet and one of the best. In fact the captain had already repelled several attempts to win her away.

Dr. Wu was very interested in archaic methods of computation. Of course my boss, the Big Brain wasn't letting me tell anyone about that. No need to start people on building compact electronics and more AIs. I was as vague as I could be and played up the stupid guy from the past card as much as possible. Then I hit on getting her to talk about her job and duties.

This went on for quite a while, since we were on what amounted to a milk run and the navigation was fairly routine. She showed me her collection of nomograms on microfiche cards as well as her own hand drawn ones on paper. She showed me her electric slide rule. It was a cute little affair that used a back projector to let you dial up whatever scale you wanted and show it on the slide. It stored dozens of functions.

I wasn't allowed to tour the bridge yet but Debra took me to the uppermost engineering deck, right under the tractor rockets and showed me a slide rule table. You could plop your electric slide here, onto contacts and use it to load data directly onto computers. It also allowed ultra fine manipulation of the slide via waldoes.

It was a very nice gesture and I told Dr. Wu she reminded me of Margaret Hamilton. Then I had to spent 30 minutes remembering everything I could about Margaret Hamilton. I had to spoil it at the end, of course.

I asked her if she had an assistant who repeated everything she said? She was amused. Apparently Dr. Wu knew who Sigourney Weaver was ... and they still had that movie.

Friday, July 6, 2018

The Inversion Effect

No it is not a drive or a weapon though the title suggests some really neat drives and weapons. It deals with a modification to your 2d6 system of choice. Invert the rate at which you use fuel in space craft.

So in most systems that means you burn .01 of the ship's 'mass' in fuel * p-ower plant number per month using the jump drive. That extends the range of a ship by four, assuming a basic load of fuel. there isn't a captain living that wouldn't jump at that deal but there is more.

A straight interpretation of inversion means your maneuver drive now uses .1 of the ship's mass per drive number. I assume that would be for one week under thrust. A ship that could thrust at one gee for one month would have to be 40% fuel! A ship with a thrust of six gees would need 60% fuel to thrust for a week and could only manage 1.5 gees for an entire month.

Accelerating for 1 gee for a week (accelerate, flip, decelerate) will take you 900 million miles or about 8 AUs. Almost to Saturn. Why you want to go that far in a Traveller style system is up to your referee (who is no doubt reading this and plotting). You can also just  make a jump in system that far or longer for much less fuel.

With the fuel inversion of course you could just jump into a system and jump right away to another without all that pesky refueling. defenses in depth will need much more depth. If you allow jumps to and from 'empty' hexes it will play hell with canon ideas of defense.

The idea has appeal for merchants. A mainworld has an average diameter of 8,000 kilometers. That's  a mere four hours away at one gee, your M-drive fuel, even a mere 10% would last you 33 such trips on average! Note that a 200 ton ship uses 20 tons of fuel for a jump of one parsec in the old system. That's 10,000 credits twice a month (on average) except now that ten tons will last about seven months (four in system hops a month 5 hours each). The fuel for the j-drive will come to 7,000 credits in seven months (two ton a month). Using the CE rules that ship will on average burn 48 tons a month and in seven months pay 168,000 cr. So fuel costs are a real factor even with a mortgaged ship. A 200 ton trader'r mortgage runs 35 Mcr. The mortgage is 146,000 cr. The mortgage is less than the fuel costs ('not even going into the life support, maintenance, berthing, and salaries -you know that I could.)

So fuel inversion makes defense a lot harder, exploration and invasions a lot easier and it reduces the monthly costs of your plain old trader by half. The merchants still have to scramble for credits somewhat but it isn't quite as frantic a pace, meaning they have more time for adventuring. Ships that have to make even short inner system runs might not use their thrusters. The jump drive is far more fuel efficient. They would if time were a factor and they were getting supplies from the same system. An orbital port might be at the jump limit, accepting cargo from ships and launching it to the destination with a magnetic accelerator to save on fuel.

One more thing, the fuel inversion effect avoids the gig of global destruction problem. No ship will carry enough fuel/propellant to reach anything close to light speed. Just accelerating at one gee for a week gives you 6048 kps. That's fast but not impossible to stop or survive.

Of course that accelerate for a week business is from a literal interpretation of 'inverse'. People may want less acceleration time. You could go with 10% of the ship allowing a day or an hour at one gee. In that case you're down to insisted traffic taking weeks if not months and anything beyond far orbit will probably see the use of jump drives.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Fireworks for the Fourth

First happy Independence Day to my fellow Americans. Happy Wednesday to the rest of you. In the spirit of the day I am discussing fireworks. Specifically the sort emanating from the turrets of your spaceships. The sort player characters like.

I never gave turrets much thought. I'll admit this and if I was pressed to describe one fast, I'd go with a block, or cylinder, or pyramid, with one to three barrels sticking out if it, built to swivel.

Does this look familiar? I ask you, would this scare anyone?

Something like this. It takes up 150 cm square or half a displacement ton. The other half is taken up presumably by the gunner's station, some spare missiles a/o sand canisters and maybe a couple magazines to read when things are boring.

Okay, it's short hand for a weapon installation.At least it was for me. On reflection not all of a ship is shown on the deck plans. There has to be some gear not contained in the hull, sensors, engine nozzles, landing gear. There's stuff that sticks out that you, safe and cozy and breathing, standing in your 1 gee artificial gravity field do not deal with unless you're doing maintenance in port or an EVA. So your turret exterior doesn't have to be a 1.5 meters across.

That's a little better but I'd worry more about a guy with a Desert Eagle if I didn't know better.

Well I had too much time on my hands. I began doodling. I thought about things. It took very little time for things to progress to this.

I humbly submit the blue beast on the left as an example of a triple turret. It makes sense to me for several reasons.

1) There is ample room for power lines, coolant lines, missile and canister loaders.

2) It's big. If you consider the 1 displacement ton a turret takes up it seems pretty ludicrous to fit one of the darned things for every hundred tons. This beast looks like it would take some doing for a Scout to haul about. Making visual sense is important in an RPG. especially if, like myself, you are neither an engineer or physicist and your last name isn't Chung, Black, McVay, Choi or Campbell.

3) The missiles (the three little circular holes in the front) are kept a little ways off from the laser. This is a good thing. You don't want exhausts and such messing your lenses up and at some point some dumbass will ignore that <Laser Firing -Do Not Fire Ordnance!> light and let fly.

4) I will also note that keeping your missiles away from your delicate machinery isa good thing. A laser or rail gun malfunctioning generally means you have a warning light letting you know. A missile malfunction means you have a loud boom letting you know. Better it has a little distance from the non disposable weapons.

5) That nasty thing that looks like a small artillery piece is a sandcaster. In this reimagining the sand in a canister is loaded into the turret. This coil gun then takes the grains off sand and fires them in carefully chosen speeds and vectors to block incoming laser fire or missiles. I think that is more effective than exploding a canister some distance from the ship. That's a good way to have a few grains take out a sensor or laser on your own ship. Some of the grains in an explosion will be flying back at you so yeah, the sandcaster fires squirt of sand. Return the empty canisters for .05 cr. Not there are two launchers for the purpose of illustration but they count as one launcher for purposes of combat. Each one covers 180 degrees.

6) The laser cannon has two emitters at right angles to each other and that swivel independently. There is still only one laser. A mirror lets you chose which way it comes out. Two lasers increases the coverage of the beam, making you avoid tilting the whole ship to fire one way. Also turrets have got to track targets very precisely and you can't be accurate and fast. Finally, sometimes you have to tilt the ship and that firing solution you were working on becomes meaningless as the laser's field of fire moves.

7) It looks badass. To the ill informed the sand casters look like the nastiest weapon system. this might be the case since the ill informed are generally. people on the ground in some backwater and a sandcaster is a good substitute for a hundred guys with shotguns.
A wing mounted version of a turret. Note there is only one (larger) sandcaster because several turrets (or at least one other) will handle some of the 'casting.

I leave the single and double turrets for you to work up yourselves. Or wait till next week and I'm sure I'll be working on other turrets.

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Paragon Papers

This is what I worked on after Operation Starfall (if you have read my posts on diesel punk and the Luna spacecraft and like them but didn't hear of this go check it out.)

The Paragon Papers deals with  an enigmatic race of super humans in the White Star setting, able to hurdle orbital towers, faster than a missile, more powerful than a terraforming bot! When I first read of these bruisers in White Star, I wasn't sure how they fit in with the usual bunch of scruffy, reluctant heroes. Superhumans figure in a lot of space opera though. You have the Legion of Super Heroes, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and any number of strange aliens with powers beyond those of other humanoids.

I've included notes on various powers they have, how to get around those powers and some devices that will negate their abilities or replicate them. There's a section on their homeworld and civilization and notes for dropping it into existing games as overtly or subtly as possible. Finally there's a chapter on playing these superhumans, which may not be as easy as you think (take a look at the introductory sentence of this paragraph.) Class levels let you drop them into your game as anything from exceptional muscle to campaign bosses.

I hope you'll give it a look.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Hex Signs and Wyrmholes Part 2

When we last left hyperspace we had discovered that

1) Stars have a number of 'membranes' determined by their size.

2) In hyperspace at least these membranes intersect and ships in this area can engage their ftl drives and move from one system to the other.

3) You have some choice of which area to exit in, if several membrane overlap.

This is a hyperspace map, perhaps from a children's book or a media production. Do NOT use it for navigation purposes. Though a real navigator would know that and if you aren't a real navigator-don't touch anything!

Well then we have a number of problems integrating this into ahuhu! 2d6 systems. To wit: 2d6 systems have these lovely charts of ftl engines (skirting copyrights here) indexed against increasingly huge hulls. Cross index the drive with the hull and either it don't fit or you get a number of parsecs range the ship may jump. My set up pretty. ugh imagines it like the Alderson Drive from Jerry Pournelle's future history. You get to a point (determined very carefully) hit the drive and bang( well hopefully you didn't hear a bang, that'd be very bad)! You're in the next star system. There is no skipping star systems. Essentially a ship (any ship) has a range of 1 jump (though that jump could be Lurrdy knows how many parsecs.

Most Interstellar Empire settings reserve better gear for the military because they are the MILITARY dammit! In many 2d6 settings, for example, commercial traffic travels at 1 pc a week, faster commercial traffic (express runs) and auxiliary military (those ships some Service hands out to their vet, lok like pizza slices) 2 pc, slow military at 3 pc etc. How to give some people an edge?

Well first there is fuel efficiency. Perhaps each level is the number of jumps you can make between topping off the tanks or recharging or some such. So if a ship needs 10 tons of fuel to make a jump with a jump-1 it needs one sixth that with a J-6. or whatever scale you set up for your setting. Having a ship with less room need for fuel is a huge advantage in most settings.

Fuel efficiency is even more important if your precious drive requires specialized fuel that you can't synthesize en route. Maybe there is no such thing as a ship board fuel refinery? Refined fuels must be purchased at installations. In this case logistics becomes crucial for an invasion or colonizing effort. It also means if you really want to have adventures you tinker with fuel use. Maybe a flat 10% per jump if you go by 2d6.

No, I don't now why it would have to be like that. Ask an engineer. Those guys are great at telling you why you can't do something and then making it work. It's the only profession that likes proving itself wrong.

Another possibility is to give engines saving throws vs. local effects, nebulas, strongly ionized regions, radiation belts or frequent flares. A military ship or explorer should be able to go anywhere. Some untrusting types might plant secret bases and such in dangerous areas just to keep you from popping in, taking a few scans and popping out for this reason. If the Dubbel-Tok Effect blows your drive or even delays jumping out, things might get hot for you.

One final thought. When size and expense of a drive merely determines range you have fewer options constructing ships. All J-3 ftl drives are alike. They let you jump 3 parsecs (or whatever). But with the effects I mentioned, let's say each level of drive e can reduce fuel use by 15%, or give you a +1 modifier to avoid drive damage, or displace your ship .1 AU from the jump point of your destination.

A pirate might use all three levels of j-drive to displace his ship .3 AUs away from the average entry point. He wants to avoid the law. A merchant does the same because he wants to stick his ship as close to the destination planets and stations as possible. In an M star system like Trapist you might be able to appear anywhere in the Goldilocks zone and give your M-drive a rest.

An explorer vessel ready to jump into the unknown might got for fuel efficiency, using only 55% of fuel they would use otherwise. Or a ship about to jump into a nebula known for raising hell with electronics would take all three levels as a +3 modifier to avoid damage on a jump, and misjumping. Finally, a new system for noting these ginchy jump drives if you play 2d6 and like fitting everything on index cards.



J-3 +1, +1FE, .1AU
The drive above has a +1 mod to rolls to prevent misjumsp and damage to drive, one level of fuel efficiency (15% less fuel), and can exit .1 AU from the jump point.

Next Monday we get into misjumps and similar hilarity.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Hex Signs and Wyrmholes Part 1

In the beginning there was the hex grid and life was good. Hex grids are a staple of war-games the which led to roleplaying games. They are all over the OSR and CT. In fact CT was recently criticized for mapping the galaxy as 1 parsec thick. In light of recent development, it turns out to be a little thicker!
Is there another way? Join the mission to protect our vanishing third dimension!

Some people explain this as the maps being a representation of jump space with some distortion necessary in projecting it onto 2d paper or screens. Okay, fair enough. No one likes 3d maps and using trig. No matter how good they are at it. (Disclaimer: yes some of you like it. Go play Universe, don't bother calling BS on this point).

Diaspora is one (excellent) game that ignores the holy hex entirely. Worlds are in a cluster and the routes between them tagged for your use. It's similar to a node map, made popular by Winchell Chung on Atomic Rockets.

The main point of these systems is the map is symbolic, representing the hyperspace (tm) relationship between stars. So you might have situations like this:

First of all take these two star systems each full of adventure and chances to make the most wanted list. One parsec separates them in our universe.

Stars not to scale. So I really need to say that?

Since we do not want to use sleeper ships or other hard SF conveyances to get between them in our setting we have a faster than light drive. On an FTL map the two systems might look like this-

Representing the stars with their 3d spatial positions is unnecessary and wasteful of paper (at 1/10,000 scale you'd need about 10 trillion sheets of paper.)

This is much more economical and concise. It shows that in ftl space, at least, the star systems have a way between them or are touching for practical purposes. The distance in real space doesn't matter to our ftl pilot. Let the torchships worry about such things.

A jump point is formed when two or more stars kiss in hyperspace.
The two star systems are touching, meaning there is a hyper space path or wormhole or whatever between them. The intersection of the two circles is a jump point. So far so good.

If we do this then the two systems have not one but two jump points. Only we are talking about three-dimensional objects (at the very least) so the arcs between the jump points overlap in hyper and thus we have a volume of space for our naughty players to use to slip into systems on the low down. It also makes defending a system a little harder than sticking a gigaboom a few kilometers from the jump points or covering it with a really big laser.

I’m going to add one more factor. Not all stars are equal. The more mass to the star the more jump points in general. Though this depends on other factors like the proximity of other stars and of course you have to factor in Speed of Plot etc. 

Here we have a happy little star around Sol's size. It has three ftl membranes, just 'branes. Smaller dimmer stars might have one or two. Brighter ones might have four and up. So instead of one or two jump points (which are really more like sections of a sphere in practice) you have several as the different membranes overlap and rub against each other.

More on this Friday.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Halfway to Nowhere

My latest creation -Operation Starfall: A Strange Mission Against Time, went live on RPGNow yesterday. Without giving too much away a Word War Two Special Forces team in the Aleutians comes across a space hopping and time hopping ship and must prevent it from falling into enemy hands (there's much more than that). It runs 87 pages with 21 pages of tactical maps of the ship, renders of machinery, weapons and gear -all for $5 American! Get it now before I become famous and popular and conceited and maybe will charge you $6!

Anyway one of the themes deals with a dodgy FTL drive. If you read this blog at all you know I love making up weird stuff to confound space travelers. Ghost ships, non-biological entities, wild psi talents. Part of it is because at the present time, FTL travel is wish fulfillment and, if you read any stories about wishes or ever got a wish in a roleplaying game, you know wishes always have a downside.

Andre Norton is also to blame (and Winchell Chung for reminding me of her). I cut my SF teeth on her Solar Queen stories and they had an impressive amount of spooky lore. My personal favorite (and I believe Winchell Chung's): the New Hope, a ghost ship always sighted by ships in dire distress, its 'deadlights' shining through eternity. No idea how ships that were lost got the message out about the New Hope showing up, perhaps they wrote it in their logs. 'Sighted the New Hope but confidence and morale remains ... Get it off! Get away!-aaaaagggh' (Got to love verbal transcripts in a horror setting.)

I'm also kind of into dieselpunk right now and I am sticking to a Solar System setting (not necessarily our Solar System or timeline) so taking an FTL leap would be the equivalent of helming your sailing ship towards the area of the map where they drew all those funky monsters.

Another share of blame goes to the glut of paranormal books that came out in the 70's and 80's. In one book (Atlantis Rising I think by Brad Steiger) I read about the Philadelphia Experiment. Total bullshit BTW, but absolutely riveting and a source of inspiration for me.

So for all you people who started reading this and immediately said "Ahah! He saw Event Horizon!" Well, yeah, but this sort of stuff has gone on in my head for years before that. I think the latest contribution to the Science Unleashes Hell Upon Us All genre  is the Cloverfield Effect; which I wanted to like dammit! But they should have subtitled it The God Awful Particle after the story (but I couldn't like it and they even had Roy from The IT Crowd in it, and I love Roy.

So I invented the Halfway. The crew makes it halfway, not in terms of distance but in terms of returning to this Universe. Some are wraiths that are barely visible or shadows. Some got a fourth dimensional shuffle and returned as ... I'll let you find that out for yourself.

Of course with Stranger Things the idea of a twisted representation of our world, with inimitable life forms that makes their way here is almost mainstream. Stranger things is quite good and enjoyable but it is not original. Evil parallel worlds abound in SF, the most famous being Star Trek's Mirror Universe, but even Lost in Space had an evil Antimatter Universe. The Justice League had Earth Three, and you had Doom's Gateway to Hell at a research base.

People have a way of magnifying the danger in the unknown. When locomotives were state of the art technology everyone was sure traveling faster than 75 mph would asphyxiate the passengers and crew. When we started shooting people into orbit we were scared of the effects of microgravity -and basically everything else. FTL is the new unknown. No matter how many centuries elapsed since the first FTL flight, every time is like the first time (like kissing your soul mate).

Science deals with probing the Unknown in a rational manner. The Unknown however is under no obligation to be rational.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Dieselpunk Manifesto Part 13: River Dragons

This review deals with strips Buck Rogers strips 120-29 found  here.

Flying over the Mississippi near the ruins of Davenport, Buck is surprised by a ... well he says it better than I can:

Presented as written. Seriously Buck?

I think Buck and Wilma need some more couple time. Be that as it may he descends into the Dragons' underwater base. You have to admire the Han's civil engineering. A couple of scientists build an underwater base and two super weapons and support apparatus, all on the low down. Despite the danger descends ready for a scrap. Wilma even says it's terribly dangerous -I think she's screwing with Buck at this point and giving the Dragons a little payback for gassing her (this is the second time after all.)

Buck soon discovers that Morke Ka-Lono and Om Ka-Zoril were contrite about their little misunderstanding.

A kind word can get you far, a kind world and a brace of rocket pistols will get you even farther!

They quickly turn things over to a subordinate and move their really sweet gear and projects to the fort at Elmira the Americans have set up for them. I have to say they are two of the more respectable 'villains' I've read of. They keep to their word, make a savvy alliance and everyone winds up happy.

Consider: the Golden Dragons want to get rid of the Emperor, a democratic government and have no interest in troubling the Americans. The Americans want the Emperor gone and no more raids so everyone will be better off. Except that Emperor who is going to take it in the neck but considering he's a drunken would be rapist -who cares about him?

Seriously, the man set out an ongoing mission for the Han Air Force: you see any hot babes, you grab them for me! Probably even gave them a list of preferred looks.

Anyway: the two scientists are set up with automated sensors and defenses and presumably under Niagara's air defense grid so they can effectively moon the Emperor with impunity if they desire. A huge air fleet shows up (American) and a proper garrison. It's another sign that American might is growing. Over the next few days Buck and Wilma are brought into the Golden Dragon's network and taught many of their secrets. Everyone is having fun when MacGregor sends word electronically to return home as Niagara is in a grave crisis!

MacGregor explains that the city is overrun with spies. A treaty with the Navajo Orgzone is gone, a colonel whacked, and plans for the new super rocket gun have vanished! Apparently the Han have activated a very competent and large spy network. It is another sign that as I said there was some mixing of Americans and Han in cities on both sides.

Mac has thrown a air and ground guard around the city. No one is to be allowed out until those darned spies are caught! Buck and Wilma will do the catching of course. In fact their orders are to be instantly obeyed!

There's an initial setback in the form of a dagger thrown at the pair when they exit MacGregor's office. You have to wonder how the spies got word of these developments so fast. maybe they monitored Mac and knew he was sending for them or by this time the Mongols have standing orders to just kill Buck immediately. Anyway, it misses. Buck takes Wilma out the back way to avoid the crowds and a knife in the back.

Wilma seems visibly shaken. It was established in the past that she was a competent soldier and no card but unfamiliar with low tech weapons. Apparently she's fine facing disintegration or being blown to bits, but not getting shanked. The two make a leap to another building but Wilma falters and misses, plummeting to the streets far below and possible death. Maybe Buck should have given her a minute to get herself together? Leaping and rebounding between the buildings he grabs her and manages to grab a ledge. On the ground once again he goes looking for the assassin while Wilma goes home to lay down after nearly dying twice.

Wilma suffers from the eclipse syndrome common to most sidekicks here. She is weaker, slower and more timid when the hero is around otherwise the strip would be about her. there's also the 30's female stereotypes at work here.

Buck soon finds an ugly character and is about to question him (profiling pulp style!) when his suspicions are confirmed by another dagger whipped at him. You have to wonder what's with all these daggers? It's the 25th fracking century. Thrown daggers are not the most effective weapons, even in an expert's hands.  Buck ducks and then gives chase (maybe the spy is out of daggers?) The assassin boards a tube car and Buck grabs onto the car as the doors shut and is carried along!

The assassin gets off in an affluent suburb of Buffalo. Rogers trails him and is surprised by Lanlu!

Interestingly the Navajo Orgzone has a treaty with Niagara. Niagara is the big cheese but there are a number of org zones that are powerful or useful and the Navajo are one such independent entity. Also interestingly the Mongols steal plans for advanced rocket weaponry so they obviously feel the Americans have technology that the Han are vulnerable.

More importantly the Han are no longer openly attacking Niagara but instead seeking out weaknesses and using sabotage against the city state.

Next Time Buck encounters the head of the Niagara spy ring! Hilarity ensues (as well as some torture).

Friday, March 23, 2018

We Has Met the Enemy Part Three

The Martians had small attack saucers. These were force multipliers. A ship was limited in the number of turrets it could use effectively. Power was only one consideration, and not as big as some thought. The firing arcs were a major consideration. The bulk of a ship would allow only some turrets to fire at a fixed point, Getting all the turrets to fire at the same fixed point involved rolling the ship. This meant ships were accelerating, dodging and spinning during a fight. The more turrets the more spinning was involved. Plus turrets took up a nontrivial amount of mass for machinery to rotate the turret quickly and then stabilize it for a shot. The upshot was you mounted one turret per 1000-1500 cubic meters of hull. The Triumph class would have 12 triple speed launchers. A fighter would carry a single turret due to considerations of hull strength but you could carry a bunch of fighters in 1000-1500 as opposed to mounting a single turret.

Then there was the matter of ground support. Fighters were good at it and ships were not. Losing a fighter in support of ground troops was one thing, losing a destroyer or frigate another.

The days of miniature electronic brains were over (or not quite here yet, dieselpunk, remember). So fighters required a human brain and life support came with that. A body came with that too. The brain in a jar designs had a marked lack of volunteers for pilots. Life support systems were more efficient the larger they were. So were engines and weapons.But the image if brave fighter pilots holding the line caught the public imagination. To the electorate that meant votes, so there would be fighters and pilots.

Much of the electorate knew nothing off engineering. Space fighters were easy enough to knock out. Pilots were recruited. It was a fraction of the cost of the program to develop the Triumph battleships. The number of engineers involved was ... nontrivial. this was noticed when someone finally asked, "What are we doing for carriers?"

The solution was to have the Triumphs carry fighters. The two additional Triumphs being rushed to construction were marked for modification. Simple.

The engineers didn't think so. Carrying fighter meant either an open framework with racks for the birds to ride on or a large interior bay and probably both. this required a complete redesign.

At the Flying Dutchman expansions and upgrades were progressing rapidly. The Martians thought the Earth people were a bunch of energetic imbeciles and they did nothing very well, but even the dourest Martian had to admit that they worked fast. The Triumph was going to undertake her maiden voyage to the Flying Dutchman to show the flag and Admiral Buckner was pretty sure disaster would follow. No one was sure what the spark would be to touch of a Mars-Earth war but this looked pretty close. Additionally the Triumph would arrive without fighter escort. There were delays in transporting the craft to the Belt.

The Flying Dutchman had some fighters: Thunderhead class, air space superiority craft. They might even reach Mars if you sent a propellant bus with them. they had wings that were just wasted mass unless you were hitting a target under atmosphere.

This fact was not lost on the Martians either.

Admiral Buckner called in Megan Detwiller and asked if she could arrange fighter escort for the Triumph.

Megan replied that she could. Just send the Triumph's course and schedule to the Martians and they would be sure to send plenty of fighters after the Triumph. Megan was working 36 hour days lately, lost her last scrunchy, and had taken to wearing her electric slide rule in her hair.

Admiral Buckner's reply was spirited and unprintable. So was Megan's response. Then the riot act was not read so much as broken over her head. Whatever they could do to help the Triumph along they, meaning she, would do. She was taken off all other projects. Besides it was time to see just how big a mess the Earth Defense Council made by ordering these fighters.

Megan fabbed up several models of the Triumph and a Thunderhead fighter and began examining docking strategies. Most were slightly less damaging than enemy fire. Clearly the Triumph would not play nice with smaller ships so much as sit on those attempting to dock. Then she had a drink. Then she had another. She was pretty much sold on the idea that docking a Thunderhead to a Triumph would be very hard on the fighter pilot but much harder on the battleship and in particular its Gamma outrigger pod. There were things in Gamma that did not react well to collisions.

They were the same things that were in the other three pods.

Nevertheless, a few hours later she was down in the canteen celebrating her brilliance. Admiral Buckner soon turned out because celebrating her brilliance apparently involved dancing on a table  and engaging in gyrations that her anatomy would find painful in a full gee field if she was sober.

Buckner got her off the table and called a bright young ensign to secure the engineer. The ensign inquired as to whether the engineer to be secured should be listed as: flammable, explosive, or volatile?

That got the ensign a dopeslap. The ensign left with Megan under one arm. That was grandstanding. In a tenth gee Megan could do the same with the ensign if she wasn't passed out and snoring softly.

Admiral Buckner swaggered over to Megan's office. It was hard to swagger in the low gravity but he managed it. She had to be happy about something. He found it, right after he found the empty fifth.

The next morning Megan had a meeting with the Admiral who informed her she was being cut off since she was crazy enough cold sober. She admonished him for the 'Sensitive Material' label stuck open her behind. The admiral said he had a much shorter name for her. Several in fact. Then she showed him her work.

Basically she had chopped a meter off each wing of the Thunderhead. This was no mean feat, since the Thunderhead's engines were mounted on the wings as well as landing gear, antigravity drive stabilizers, control surfaces, antenna for sensors and vents for said engines.

Buckner did a little flying in his time. The thing looked like it could dock. The question remained, would it be able to do anything else?

Megan thought it would. You just needed a pilot bat shit crazy enough to be first to fly it.

There was no shortage of bat shit crazy pilots, Buckner replied. They were more common, and less trouble than bat shit crazy engineers. Buckner freed up a detail and armed them with hacksaws to modify a pair of Thunderheads. He also modified an ore hauler into a fighter tender (meaning it carried propellant, and could do little else for the fighters).

Megan noted that with all the problems the Earth Defense Council caused a hardening if the Space Fleet that made facing an off world enemy relatively simple. Then she went off to resume her hangover and be thoroughly sick.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Viva the Shuttles

Metal armored pontoons just sounds wrong. It did to the admirals and the Earth Defense Council.

The Earth's new Space Fleet needed shuttles though and Admiral Buckner's one time protege and now ally, Captain Destry of the Special Forces, was lobbying for this unlikely design.

The Viva (working name) was small, fast and easy enough to build. Four solium powered rocket engines would get her to orbit and fast. Breakthroughs in metalizing and crystalizing hydrogen led to newer safer methods of storing the solium. Larger ships refined and manufactured the stuff as it was needed. The shuttle didn't have the energy reserves for that.

The lack of a reactor meant the Viva had a more energetic re-entry than ships with anti-gravs (though not as terrible as the old chem engines the used re-entry to shed all their velocity). Instead of landing gear, the shuttles had pontoons for water landings and take offs.

That was the crux of the brass' misgivings. Would pontoons survive re-entry and be watertight afterwards?

Eventually, was the answer. Two prototypes had mishaps before the pontoons were sufficiently thick and sturdy enough to survive their rigors. It wasn't as difficult as it sounded. Wet navy battleships floated with heavily armored hulls. The pontoons were made of the same stuff as the rest of the hull (a little thinner). Most of the shuttle was taken up with liquid hydrogen and would float a while without the pontoons. They learned their lesson after they sunk one of the two prototypes.

Landing gear was harder to install and maintain than pontoons. Spaceports on Earth were almost all near bodies of water. The same was true of Venus and Mars (canals -remember? They fed to reservoirs in many areas.) Mercury and Luna were a problem,

Vivas could reach geo synch orbit or Luna with minimal cargo. A boat that could reach the Moon but not land was a problem. Using a separate lander would defeat the purpose of the Viva in the first place. Having a pool for landing and keeping it filled with water in a vacuum would be a neat trick. Older vessels had used paved strips with magnetic brakes installed underneath and some of the older Lunar engineers remembered them and had a fairly simple fix. Who said the pontoons had to land in water

Going meta for a moment, this is a possible forward ramp. I need a dorsal hatch as well and for docking. I've not yet channeled the VVA-14 fully. That may wind up considerably larger as some sort of patrol ship.
The Lunars reactivated several of the old strips with the magnetic brake devices and they were soon  covered in finely pulverized dust to a depth of several meters. The dust was fine enough to behave like a somewhat thick fluid. Dust was the bane of Lunar colonists for years and it felt good to get some use out of the stuff. Surprisingly it worked (metal pontoons, remember?) After a few remarks about 'smart-assed Lunars' the Mercurians followed suit.

There were some mishaps. Viva-367 struck a rock everyone missed, landing near Lunapolis. The pontoons had a self sealing feature. It sealed the pontoon and the Viva returned to Earth with a pontoon full of vacuum. this actually worked pretty well till it imploded and the shuttle floundered.

Viva's now have air pressure sensors in their pontoons preventing similar accidents. If the sensors are working. Such is life in space.

Monday, March 19, 2018

New Speeder

So I started with an image:

I couldn't find the original image. There was a series of abandoned Soviet installations and vehicles. It was the dead of winter in that photo and somewhat indistinct. So I filled in the holes (figuratively and literally). A lot of Soviet stuff looks sort of dieselpunk. Their mad science is legendary. 

I gave the poor bird wings and several engines. I was tired of antigravity. This bad boy was going to burn metallic hydrogen and be fast

I went with two versions to start. The one with the mirror canopy (left on top, right on bottom) has extended wings. These are racers. Given the power of the engines and the energy density of sodium (my unobtainium version of fuel) there are two main circuits, Trans Atlantic and Trans Pacific. As in you fly across one or the other.

Spacecraft use special antigravity fields to keep their rocket engines from melting. These speeders don't have that luxury. Instead as they race, they have to constantly watch engine temperature. They fly as close to the redline as possible and have a small quantity of liquid hydrogen onboard to use in emergencies. Or they can try to save it for a last dash close to the finish line.

There's more to be done of course, landing gear, control surfaces, lights, and greebles! I'm also toying with making this a modified shuttle for my battleship design.

I am not sold on the bubble in the back. Was it originally a turret? Observation dome? Should I just armor over it? It'll come to me. So rocket racing for your SF setting! Let's make this a thing. Also saw an interesting engine design I may use for inspiration when rendering my showy magical rocket engines.

Friday, March 16, 2018


We knew there were extrasolar planets out there. Mars, Earth, Luna, everyone wanted them without knowing why.

Slower than light was no good. An expedition had to go to another star and return while the administration that launched it was still in office. Preferably right before elections. Space had to be removed, folded, persuaded to GTFO of the way. Many people worked on it.

Then research announced a breakthrough, a drive that would could insure a landslide election victory and coincidentally cut down travel ties to the stars from centuries to weeks. Several ships were lost testing the Drive. That was bad enough. But then the Artemis returned. Some people thought that might be even worse.

The Luna was in range to make an intercept. We hung on for dear life as she shed velocity dumping it on Sol, Mars and Vesta, as her radiators glowed red under field drive. Her tactical rocket engines shed the last few kilometers per second of velocity difference and we came to rest a kilometer off. Normally the field drive would bring us even closer together but that was out if we had no idea what her drives would do.

Artemis didn't answer hails. Her interior lights were on and flickered. A search and rescue was ordered. Search and rescue team would consist of Tornado and me. I was a wormhole victim already and had skipped the last few centuries. therefore I was unlikely to recognize ordinary drive machinery, let alone the miracle machine they had plugged in over there. Moreover, like I said I had transited a wormhole already, just like Artemis. I might have some quality that would prove useful.

Tornado was a badass. Need I say more? Any hypothetical aliens over there had better be prepared to communicate in a polite fashion or T-man would hand them a first contact they'd never forget.

We'd rappelled (winched? pulley'd?) across the grapple cable and found the lowest deck open to space.  The entire lowest deck was an airlock. A sturdy metal door and an airtight hatch leading upward. We entered, floated to the deck and closed the hatch after fiddling about with the seals and making sure they wouldn't quit on us. The outer hatch had opened after all.

Nobody stopped us.

We pressurized the deck and opened the inner hatch. The gauges read 1/2 atmosphere, same as our suits and the airlock back on the Luna we'd run/float/climb to in a pinch. The hatch opened and we climbed the ladder, leaving our suits on and sealed.

I spent a bad moment or too wondering could there be things here that made wearing a space suit irrelevant? I got over my daydream quick. This was where the gravity field of the ship was generated. The deck we'd walked a minute before was now the overhead here as gravity reversed. My stomach did a small flip flop.

"Gravity is going ... about a half meter squared. Not too bad. No crew yet. But ... this deck is often left unscrewed in flight. It messes with your inner ear after a while."

So we climbed to the next deck: Power. No one there either. Or on the next deck, Machine Shop and Airlocks. Empty

That was what I told myself. They were empty. I had no idea what Tornado told himself.

The next deck was crew quarters and tornado allowed me a slap on the shoulder s and small smile. As we emerged his smile faded fast. The deck squished under our boots. The lights were on emergency mode: red lit. Tornado slipped a little in the uncertain footing. Then I got to the light switch and snapped on the normal lights.

It looked like ...

roadmaps? Each spread around a large red concentration or city.

Plastered on the deck and some walls but ...

the outline was of a person.

Blood vessels. We were walking on people's circulatory systems, the ones on the deck anyway. I froze and regarded the human wall decoration closest to me, embedded in the wall. Then its eyes opened.

Tornado was shaking me, roughly. You can't slap a person wearing a helmet and visor. Not well. He said softly but sternly, "Mr. Spooner ... Tyson. You just climbed a kilometer of cable with me in open space. I know you're not a coward or weak. We got eight more decks to check on. You gotta get yourself together. I can't drag you around."

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Let it loose slowly. It caught in my throat several times. I opened my eyes and said, "Ye-e-e-ah. If anyone made it back, we can't leave them here."

Tornado nodded. "Right. But these poor bastards ... didn't make it."

I shook my head, also not very well because of the helmet. I was watching those eyes. We couldn't even end their suffering with a bullet. Where was their brain?

"No,worse than that," I said. "They made it halfway."

Coming soon to a Alt-History near you!
Operation Starfall will detail a Special Forces team sent to investigate strange doings on a remote Aleutian Island. The team finds a mysterious derelict and must secure it from a Japanese landing force. except there are things aboard that do not want to be secured.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

We Has Met the Enemy Part 2

The work on the Triumph continued with some major hiccups. The structural engineers were not happy but they were never happy because a) they knew everyone should build spherical ships for the greatest hull strength, volume to surface ratio and b) after turning out a perfectly nice hull, the avionics, weapons, propulsion and operations monkeys just swarmed putting holes in it for avionics, weapons, propulsion, and operations (well airlocks mainly).

The propulsion group had a new greeble that carefully and forcefully adjusted the anti-gray for fine maneuvering. This could save many tons and dollars for a cold gas style reaction control system. This also led to a brief flare up of the old civil war between the reactionless and reaction drives departments.

The new greeble was a long probe mounted atop each outer pod with various vanes and panels extending. It seemed fine until the weapons team said the optimum placement of the missile turrets would be right under them. From her new HQ on an asteroid called Flying Dutchman Megan Detwiller got word of this, snorted and said it was a great set up as long as you didn't fire missiles forward or didn't care about the mother of all greebles.

The weapons division said the missiles could be jiggered to go around the panels and such. Fire them, they'd boost a little to the side, loop out, and come back on course!

The structural engineers laughed themselves sick and said there wouldn't be this sort of problem if you used a goddam sphere.

The weapons group got a surplus turret, mounted it on the Triumph, and fed it a bunch of their well trained sidestepping missiles. They fired eleven missiles and did well until missile number 12, which decided it was going to teach its creators some humility even at the expense of its own existence. Number 12 slammed right through a very expensive field variation panel, sending shrapnel through other panels and the main greeble. The structural engineers laughed their asses off yet again. For a while, the structuralists didn't get invited to any engineer parties. The Triumph's test crew, after losing stabilizers and having to shut down their engines to prevent a cascade failure, had rather harsh words for engineers in general.

"That poor greeble was just two weeks short of retirement!" -Megan Detwiller
Megan Detwiller was sent the video by a friend (probably one of those structural engineers) and remarked maybe they should have used a surplus greeble as well as a surplus turret? This led to one of the weapons guys calling her a name usually only used by women to refer to a woman and then behind closed doors. Megan Detwiller sent him a message daring him to call her that with less than a second's worth of time lag.

By then Admiral Buckner told the ground team to rotate the loving greebles so the loving panels were out of the loving way and stop sending these loving puerile messages and get back to their loving jobs, and the next idiot using such loving language on Ms. Detwiller, or anyone else, would get a senior officer's size 13 boot lodged where you'd need a loving medical probe to find it.

The Admiral didn't use the word 'loving' in the actual memo.

All four big mother loving greebles were detached, rotated to have their vanes face inward and rewired and remounted. About this time the operations team got into a fight with the weapons team because their wonderful extendable airlock extended right through one of the gun barrels shearing it off and wrecking the turret. The airlock was repositioned but it was still too close to the launcher in the view of the weapons team.

It was a design feature insisted the operations team. A final defense against boarding actions. Sometimes property had to suffer for principles. The structuralists said the way the guns were positioned they were also a pretty good defense against a mutiny and a swell self destruct system at no extra cost!

Some people traced that last comment back to Megan Detwiller which did not help, but eventually a compromise was reached. They moved the turrets.

This also was not nearly as easy as they thought. The weapons engineer issued an apology to Detwiller. Detwiller issued a kiss to Admiral Buckner that merely bent protocol. Then she got back to work and began mounting anti-grav drives on truly huge chunks of ice and rock.

The project was a simple one. Earth needed a number of secure fueling depots to support actions against Mars and to allow further exploration of the outer Solar System. Defending those bases was a whole budget issue. defending earth and Luna was the highest priority and the Belt was regarded as a backwater, even though it could easily hold the key to strategic operations against Mars.

Earth ships battling at Mars would have to go about 200 million kilometers to return to Earth for more propellant, spares and repairs. An asteroid base (or three really) would that down by half or more. this could save lives and definitely saved propellant used in avoiding missiles, beams and other hostile emissions.

The planners were the same people who didn't understand Megan Detwiller's explanation of mass ratios and delta vee a few weeks earlier.

Megan's solution, supported by Admiral Buckner, was to fit a number of icebergs with anti-grav drives and position them in various 'easy to reach' orbits. Each 'depot' would have a small engine, reactor, basic mining equipment and a fuel refinery plant. Aside from a few short bursts of energy and heat when they boosted into an orbit they would have virtually not heat or EM signal and would probably stay secret till earth had need of them and could defend and upgrade them.

It might occur to less honorable, more inhumane minds that these mobile icebergs would also make dandy world wrecking weapons.

It occurred to the Martians immediately.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Dieselpunk Manifesto Part 12: One Morke for the Road

This review deals with strips Buck Rogers strips 110-19 found  here.

Om Ka-Zoril is about to renege on his surrender and sweetheart deal to the Americans, Back and Wilma. The two Orgzone scouts are amazed by one of those magic television systems that treats them to various views of Golden Dragon operations (theft of disintegrators, blackmail evidence on a viceroy etc.) Om stands behind them a monkey wrench in hand and is about to bash their heads in.

I doubt it would work. Number one, Om Ka-Zoril is not used to physical combat (he surrenders to Buck pretty quick.) I could probably take him. Number two, there are two of them and once he conked one the other would beat the hell out of him. Number three, they are wearing helmets so he might not even land a solid shot.

As it happens Om decides they would be more useful to him left alive and that the deal he offered is pretty good for him. He quickly hides the wrench in his robes. Buck says that running the Goden Dragons could be vital in their struggle against the Emperor. Wilma decides that Buck should take the flyer back to Niagara, to get MacGregor's final word on the deal. Sending a radio message would be to dangerous for a deal of this magnitude. Buck flies off leaving Wilma to guard Om. Wilma vows to blow him to the streets of Glory at the first wrong move.

Buck presents the deal to MacGregor who is all for it but fears bringing Om to Niagara (spies, remember?) Instead he assigns Buck a squad to garrison the old fort of the Elmira Orgzone. Buck heads back to Om's lab only to find Wilma and Om gone and traces of a gas bomb lingering.

It seemed that not long after Buck left several Golden Dragons arrived and knew something was amiss when they saw the lights on. Wilma was a little creeped out. Om was sleeping soundly. The scouts sneaked up to a window, saw Wilma lolling on a desk and threw a gas grenade through the window. They bundled the unconscious woman and Om into their ship and took off.

The Golden Dragons headed for More Ka-Lono's headquarters in the ruins of Davenport on the Mississippi River. More was expecting accolades but Om was ... ungrateful to say the least. Called More an idiot and everything while Wilma just clicked her tongue and rolled her eyes.

Meanwhile, Buck and MacGregor were going bat shit crazy over worry for Wilma. I would like to point out that Wilma Deering's degree of peril is often inversely proportionate to the amount of worrying Buck does over her. Buck sees the repellor beam marks indicating the abductors were Mongols and assumes (correctly) they were Golden Dragons once the Emperor's goons would have likely destroyed the lab.

MacGregor gets that luckless spy they'd caught in Niagara and demands answers and demonstrates that shit just got real, slapping him around and generally ignoring the stuff about treating prisoners humanely that we know everyone ignores.

The spy quickly tells  MacGregor that More Ka-Lono's headquarters is in Davenport and Buck flies off ready to fight to the last (Last Han that is) to save Wilma.

Meanwhile More and Om were inches away from a sloppy fight. Om in particular is panicked that rogers will 'smash their defenses like an eggshell.' This is not unreasonable. The man rescued Wilma from the capitol city, busted up the Emperor's 'adult' party and was involved in the destruction of at least one Mongol raider. Plus he did a number on one lab. They start a fresh round of name calling when Buck's ship is spotted.

Morke Ka- Lono is of the opinion that Rogers will not believe this all silly misunderstanding and blow them to bits without listening. Wilma poo-poos the notion and calmly calls Buck on her radio saying all is well, she's coming out and please don't level the area.

Buck hovers in his ship, suspicious while Wilma prepares to meet him.

The gas grenade used by the Mongols resembles a WW2 potato masher the Wehrmacht used (I think it was similar to the grenades the Germans used in WW1 as well.) This is the second time the Mongol s have used gas. Previously, they used a gas gun to knock out an entire section of an Org to kidnap Wilma (that lady gets kidnapped a lot).

The gas is very fast acting. Wilma is armed and ready for trouble but the 'pill' drops her before she can get off a shot. It and seems to have few side effects (Wilma has a headache but seems fine otherwise.) In fact you wonder why the Han raiders don't just drop gas bombs and round up Americans. They may do that at times for slaves or just for kicks.

We get a better look at Wilma's helmet while she is radioing Buck and you can see that there are ribs of metal or plastic running under the surface. It seems more like a bicycle helmet than a combat helmet. It has serious ear protection which makes sense as the American rocket pistols fire high explosive shells. She uses a 'radiophone' to contact Buck which is about the size and shape of a hockey puck. there might be some sort of wireless set up where she speaks into the puck but gets transmissions through ear phones. I guess Philip Nowlan missed out on throat mics but considering the things he did predict I can't fault him.

I'll also note that since earphones and a throat mic would still have to be linked to a communications device anyway she might have had a throat mic but was being theatrical for her 'captors'. Wilma does that.

The topdown view of the rocket that Buck's been using is interesting. The seams are all riveted, not welded and this may indicate the outer hull is inertron. In the original novel inertron was used on outer hulls because it could withstand disintegrators. Being opaque to all forms of radiation you couldn't wed the stuff. It had to be riveted. This doesn't seem to be the case in the comic strips. Disintegrators cause horrific damage to rockets in at least one later strip. Plating the outer hull with the stuff might have just been done to retrofit inertron to the rocket and increase its lift.

Inertron in the books and comics behaves differently from negative matter. It is stated in the books that inertron not only makes you effectively lighter in weight (not mass) but slows your fall somewhat. You may slam into a wall and knock yourself senseless but then you sort of float to the floor (like a cartoon character). It is also stated that a standard belt reduces your weight to a few pounds so air resistant or buoyancy can't account for it. I assume that while the inertron's major force is directed at the Earth it also will repeal any nearby matter and cushion a collision or fall somewhat. It must be weird to wear such a device, the inertron in it will repel you and strain on the straps holding it to you.

Friday, March 9, 2018

We Has Met the Enemy ...

The time leading up to the Solar War was tense. Earthmen had modified their research ships (Luna class) to do practically everything. Customs, trading, intercepts, and showing the flag. The special forces teams they transported to enact skullduggery go without saying (literally, the official secrets act could see you shipped off to mine ice on the Moon.)

As war drew closer Earth knew they needed larger ships and soon. The Martians had the technology, Earth had the edge in production and population. A study was commissioned to figure out how to get a larger battleship built, quickly. Engineers knew the ship should use as much existing equipment as possible. That meant that it would have comparable decks and layout to the Luna wherever possible. 

The first attempt  was a modest effort, double the tonnage (displacing 1200 tons of liquid hydrogen or about 16,500 tons in the old naval system). The thrusters were increased in size but the ship would only make 2 gees. This was deemed insufficient for a warship. The politicians wanted to know why?

The thrusters were much bigger, was the answer. Any bigger and they would toast the guns, sensors and any other equipment mounted on the hull. 

This was not a consideration with the original Luna and everything was more than double the size, right? The politicians you see didn't not get elected based on their knowledge of mathematics.

No, the engineers explained. The mass was three times the original. This increased the dimensions by the cube root of 3 ~1.44. But the thrusters needed double the surface area of the original models and as such they were bigger by the square root of 3 or 1.73. Thus the size was increased by 20% relative to the rest of the ship.. The larger thrusters were going to torch the ship using the tractor style rocket (which the engineers liked, and which was according to the original Luna's description.) SO they mounted the engines on pods, that were placed on wings further from the hull. They went with multiple engines to aid in maneuvering. It helped a little.

Were those oversized engines really necessary? 

Give us about another twenty years and we could build the engines smaller, was the answer. A few engineers got fired then.

The engineers were told to stick more engines on it then. But the Luna really was a dead end. More engines would toast the radiators that were mounted below. Moving the radiators above the rockets would mean moving the antigravity system somewhere else so the A-G wouldn't overheat or twist the radiators into ribbons. 

There were several prototypes built that demonstrated this. More engineers got fired. Admiral Rufus Buckner of the Space Fleet finally got a design group together, licked them in a room and the politicians out and swore them to secrecy. Give him a ship could be built within the year, with as little new tech as possible, he said. They could just stay in there till they did.

Some of the engineers thought the accommodations were better than their old ones. They kept quiet about this. One, Megan Detwiller,  snuck in a case of libations to lubricate the thought processes. She figured out a way to pack it that wouldn't allow any  sloshing. In fact she later used the same principles to keep crew from sloshing at high accelerationsThey kept quiet about that too. they rolled up their sleeves and got to work.

The new ship was going to have monstrously large drive systems. They mounted them on three pods, outrigger style. The A-G ring was a problem too. The ring generating it was made thicker, heavier and the mountings improved and strengthened. They held their breath on that too.

The ship  would use the Model 40 and Model 20 decks from the Luna class. Most of the decks would be laid out exactly the same. The new decks included a larger engine room (to fix all the stuff that went wrong on new ships faster), and a few smaller gun decks to spread the weapon systems out.

Admiral Buckner went to his superiors, who went to the politicians ,who favored letting the military handle the procurement. The top brass all agreed they would back Buckner right up to the lynching.

The design was run up the flagpole and it got salutes. Several of the newer engines were to be produced by companies in the more stubborns politicians' districts. That helped. Early on they discovered that the three outrigger deign had some flaws. Namely the Luna's decks had reinforcement points for four turrets or pods. The Triumph would have to have a similar layout. Four outriggers, for four rocket engines.

The ship was rushed into production in Siberia. The horrific weather and stealth defenses would keep prying eyes blind to it it was thought. 

The new ship was no thing of beauty. The Luna had smooth lines and Whipple shields. This monster had monolithic armor, a close structure that made atmospheric operations difficult, and would be bristling with equipment. While the Luna class took their names from moons, their features or comets, this class would be named after great battles in Earth history.

That plan was nixed pretty fast. Any great victory in Earth history was a great defeat for other people. Calling a vessel Midway was rubbing the Japanese people's noses in it. Instead these ships were to be named for various terms signifying victory or adventure. This made no difference to the engineers who were shipped off to Siberia to supervise work on the Triumph. Vodka would be available there, so Megan threw herself into the gravity simulators and gave up a promising future in liquid transport. 

Buckner would up attending more meetings of the Earth Defense Council. He had calculated they were taking up 35% of his time. The Councillors were not amused when he remarked that he had a way to increase his productivity 35% out of the gate. They had a few problems with the Triumph.

To whit, previously funds were allocated for four Triumphs and 18 Lunas. Due to war fever, the funds were doubled but the Admiral had authorized construction of two more Triumphs and six Lunas. Where was the rest of the money going?

The Admiral explained that doubling the tonnage of the fleet was a fine and good thing but ships needed proper support, transports with spares and replacement crews, hospital ships, and ammo carriers. Why, propellant tenders alone were vital to resupply ships after a battle ... it was unheard of to expect a crew to fight and bring go juice and their lunch. It got worse now that there were going to be space fighters!

Ah, but the Triumphs were going to be nearly thrice the size of the Lunas. That meant they had three times the fuel. That meant they had three times the range and thus you could at least do away with some of the tankers.

The Admiral let Megan Detwiller field that one. Megan was newly arrived from Siberia and wanted a drink desperately. The Admiral did too. She began explaining that the mass ratio of the Triumph was no different from that of a Luna therefore they had the same delta vee. 

Then she had to explain what delta vee was. 

Then she had to explain what a mass ratio was. That was harder through gritted teeth.

From left to right: What the Earth Defense Council wanted, what we could do, what they thought we did.
-by Megan Detwiller M. o E. age 37

Then Admiral Buckner lost it and remarked that the Council was a bunch of gerrymandering, pocket lining screw heads who were only good for getting re-elected and the way things looked he was learning the Martian Unity's anthem. That drink was starting to sound like a good idea to the other officers there. 

The Triumph was nearing completion. The contracts were in for the additional ships and there was little to be done about the reduced number of ships at this point. Production was already set up for the auxiliaries (including tankers!) Older, calmer officers prevailed and smoothed the Council's feathers. The Admiral made a contrite apology (clenched teeth could be a sign of contrition.) Then they got to wondering just how they'd find propellant and fuel for their new warships.

Buckner already had a plan. Battles fought near Earth weren't the problem. Resupply on Earth or Luna would be easy enough. It was battles fought near Mars that were a problem. There were allies of Earth on Mars but the Polar Lords would clamp down on them fast. Refueling on Mars was not going to work.

There were many asteroids though that were far closer and easier to reach than Earth. Buckner proposed building new bases in the Belt, expanding existing Belts, and building up defenses.

Buckner volunteered to supervise the program in the Belt and the Council sent him off. This made everyone happy. Buckner grabbed Detwiller for Project Head which didn't make her happy and they were off to the Belt.