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.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Weaponizing Geometry Part 2

Kyle Shuant pointed out he had already established what it took me some bathing and an online geometry number cruncher to figure out: it sucks to practice pirating anywhere near a main world.

In SF terms it is the equivalent of the daylight bank robbery in a western. In the movies you see the desperadoes rob the bank and get away where as in real life they would probably be shot to pieces the moment they went out the door. Yes, I know that historically most Western towns didn't allow open carrying of firearms but that didn't mean people couldn't get to them quickly and send the desperadoes to walk the streets of Glory.

I digress. There are spots for piracy of course. Star systems are not a main world plus an encounter table. There are belters seeking their fortunes, more marginal worlds that have inhabitants for various reasons, defense installations and administrative facilities (prisons!) They all need to be supplied. For that matter ever since CT we knew there were gas giants!

If you know this blog at all you know I have a love hate relationship with gas giants and wilderness refueling. I think one trip through a high gravity, radiation spewing cyclone that makes Hurricane Katrina look like a bug exhaling would be enough for any sane individual to STFU and pay the 100-500 cr. a ton for fuel at a nice starport (which usually has amenities like shopping and restaurants and not frying your ship with lightning strikes)!

then this whole thing about covering ships from pirate attacks came up so let's run some numbers. Say we start with a gas giant comparable to Saturn. That's 75,000 miles in diameter. To put it another way, that's 7-8 range bands in ship combat. So jump radius is 7,500,000 kilometers. That's750 range bands. It will take a ship making 6 gees 22 combat turns to get clear to jump. That's six hours. The surface of the sphere defining the jump limit has an area of 235 trillion square kilometers. Going with a 6 gee missile boat fro my previous post you'd need about sixty such response craft to cover all quadrants. Oh and gas giants are usually far enough away from their star for the primary's cup shadow not to matter so you pretty much have to cover all the quadrants.

If we drop the orbits of the task forces to half the jump limit things get better. We'd need a quarter the number of ships or about fifteen and the task forces would need 14 turns to get to either the jump limit or close orbit in case some naughty pirates are lurking in the depths or a ship needs a some rescue. 

Fourteen turns is plenty of time to board,  loot, and wave 'bye to a merchant. In addition most planets will not have the resources or the need to stick most of their Patrol around a gas giant. Smart pirates will lurk around a gas giant look for a quick intercept and leave while the Patrol tries to close and curse in vain.

How does the {patrol deal with this sort of problem. First they realize that destroying or capturing a pirate ship is not necessary. What you want is to convince them to go elsewhere. There are several ways to do this. 

Convoys: Group your merchant chips in large formations and provide an escort. This is a much more effective use of forces. The problem is pirates can group their ships as well. All they need to do is cause one merchant to drop out of formation, then the Patrol craft have to decide whether to split their forces to guard the crippled vessel or push on and let it fend for itself.

Q-ships: When is a merchant ship not a merchant ship? When it's a Patrol vessel with a bunch of hidden turrets and a hold full of fighters. Pirates practice this sort of thing all the time, sauce for the goose and all that.

These tactics are also very effective around the main world.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Weaponizing Geometry

If you played the earliest iterations of Traveller you soon realized there wasn't a lot different between a warship and a commercial vessel, design wise. Okay sure, the warship didn't need to justify its existence and could use space for drives and weapon turrets a civilian ship would use for cargo.

But what if some naughty people, say I dunno, pirates get hold of a 600 ton merchant. They stick as many turrets as they can onto the vessel and then run up against a 400 ton Patrol cruiser (go Patrol!) The Patrol ship has but four turrets. Surely the brave Patrol men are doomed!


The Patrol vessel has state of the art software, for targeting and to avoid being targeted. They can use their lasers to explode the corsairs' missiles. Indeed in short order the Pirates must strike their colors, jettison the turrets and surrender. Software makes the difference, and the military guards its 'ware jealously.

But military ships also need to get to the fight. If a pirate loots a fat merchant ship and jumps before the Patrol can close in that Patrol ship is a waste of credits. Patrol strategists minimize intercept times using hellacious engines and/or having enough patrols running to cover a large area experiencing traffic. Consider a TL 10 planet Prudence (Size 5 or average), with good industry, lots of loot, and a small population, so no huge armies to oppose a raider.

Prudence's government has placed her defense in a small but efficient Navy. Its jump limit is 800,000 kilometers. We all know the jump limit is 100 diameters. Jumping within this limit means roll for misjumsp, roll 1d6 for direction and 1d6*1d6 for distance. Jump within ten diameters and roll 2d6 six times for a new character.

The Patrol has problems. A sphere 800,000 kilometers in radius has 8 trillion square kilometers of area. If a ship can see and hit things out to 2 light seconds, 600,000 km then you would need seven or eight task forces/space fortresses/cyborg space whales etc to cover a planet from all directions. A ship's lasers cover 1.13 trillion square kilometers figuring a circle with a radius of 600,000 km. Assume the star's jump shadow prevents jumps from one quadrant and that is still 6 trillion square kilometers or six task forces. if you go with 400,000 km (maximum acceleration of missiles in MgT 10g4)  it's 10-11 task forces for such a sphere. If you go with 50,000 km (for lasers and energy weapons) then you need about 750 defense points. Yikes.

Mind you, that's if you want to control the jump boundary and be able to burn anything that jumps in. A navy that says drop dead to ships coming in from the jump boundary and concentrates on defending the world has an easy time of it. Four task forces can form a tetrahedron around a planet at a distance of 50,000 kilometers from each other and 30,000 kilometers from the surface. This lets one group engage incoming forces while supported by all the other groups and ground installations.

If you have enough forces to take an icosahedron (d20!) you're really talking coverage. Twenty task forces fifty thousand kilometers apart Eans each force is supported by the firepower of five task forces and you're still only 47,000 kilometers from the planetary surface batteries.

As for ships jumping in towards Prudence, if general approach vectors are established then those volumes will have most of the available ships on patrol and search and rescue ships assigned. Appearing outside those areas could indicate 1) your  ship has had a misjump and may require aid 2) you are trying to sneak about unseen 3) your navigator is an idiot. Such ships will be hailed, forces will be placed on alert, interceptors will be launched in more volatile systems, and S&R ships rerouted.

Running an intercept pattern beyond far orbit requires more ships. Covering a quadrant completely requires about 250 ships or mines or whatever (note that mines are pretty poor at performing search and rescue, they are more for drumming up business.) You don't need to just burn everything at once (though that sort of defense overkill is in use around throne worlds and such). Figure a pirate needs at least two hours to cripple (or intimidate), board, and loot a merchant. You need enough fast ships to perform an intercept, fly within weapon range, and start blasting.

If you keep your forces around your planet then traveling 750,000 kilometers to the jump boundary will take about two hours as well or seven combat rounds. How fast can your guys loot a merchant?

Merchants for their part can expect local forces to crash the party in 7 or so combat rounds. Delaying tactics might be worthwhile. For example shipping gold or other valuable minerals in ingots weighing several hundred kilos, putting misleading labels on containers (or hiding the labels inside the crates), and turning up the gravity and locking the controls could keep unwanted visitors from making off with your whole cargo.

Most crews will not fight for freight, however, hazard pay for repelling pirates based on the value of the cargo retained does work wonders.

Missiles can move 390,000 km in two hours or so. A 6 gee ship can move 780,000 km assuming it drives at zero relative speed to the larceny. That means a 6 gee ship within 1,170,000 km is in the game. That means such a ship- can cover 4.3 trillion square kilometers. A fast reaction force could get away with two task forces on opposite side of the main world.

It's not as simple as that though. What makes up a task force? Are they a credible threat? How many incidents can the Patrol respond to at once? How fast are the pirates? How much of a fight will the merchants put up? Start your world building.

Or roll 2d6 for the number of combat rounds till the Patrol shows up. Obviously the patrol will vary the positions or their task forces, send ships put in odd directions and such hoping to catch someone being naughty. Having information on how these positions vary will be of great interest in certain quarters.

If there are few ships faking an emergency to get a Patrol ship to respond is an option. faking a distress call can result in your ship being seized, loss of master's paper and jail tie for this reason. Thus most ships working as a decoy create a real emergency. Having a pirate aboard your ship to hijack it or sabotage it's engines is one thing. Having some saboteur trash your life support system, kill crew and passengers or start a fire is far harder to deal with. This sort of mission is only done by the most skilled operators or what the pirate chiefs refer to as throw aways.

If the CT rules linking drive types to tech level are used that will determine the size of the ships used in anti-piracy and S&R. In the case of Prudence the local TL 10 shipworms can produce type H drives, limiting the size of 6 gee response ships to 200 tons. S&R ships might be larger and slower, because they need room for S&R gear and transporting evacuees. A backwater planet might have to make do with ship's boats (6 gee acceleration, power for one energy weapon, and room for a Model 2 or 3 computer if you don't want lasers).

Appearing on the wrong approach or well inside the jump limit, if that is possible, can result in being intercepted and boarded, fines, and being forced to pay for the fuel and other expenses of interceptors. Everyone is scared of epic misjumps leaving them stranded but some of the smaller ones can leave you broke or your ship impounded.