Friday, November 24, 2017

Come for the Piracy, Stay for the Sargasso!

As a young man I was introduced to the economics of grand theft auto by a person of the world.

A stolen vehicle (in Brooklyn at least) never made it to a new owner in one piece. It turned out it was far more lucrative to disassemble it and sell the parts piecemeal. Mind you were talking about the fairly common mass produced cars here: Fords, Hondas, and such. Stealing a Lamborghini might be different, if you could find a Lamborghini in Brooklyn. So the stolen cars get the filleted and the unsalable parts get dumped in a scrap yard somewhere.

It must be much the same with starships, captured by pirates. Every ship in a pirate fleet (if you even wanted such an organization) needs maintenance, supplies and fuel. The theft possible in a given area will only support so many ships. So unless a pirate has an immediate need for a ship, they will unload it and usually in pieces. The most valuable parts of a ship are, of course, its engines and generators allowed by computers and electronics. Low berths are low cost but can be dismounted easily and moved quickly.

Dismounting an engine is best done in zero gravity, ideally a pressurized orbital dock that provides a shirt sleeve environment. Usually that's not possible and you rough it in orbit and use remotes or crew in spacesuits. Such out of the way places usually have a base set u to hold specialized equipment, craft and extra mechanics. In fact a few become thriving businesses, buying ships outright and breaking them down,

Right behind the pirates come the real reavers who intend on separating the pirates from their money. Camp followers, gamblers, merchants, dwellers in houses of ill repute. Any pirate base will attract these alpha predators. They will grow and attract more merchants as the frontier gets closer. When the frontier officially passes the planet by the pirates will usually have departed. What happens then?

1) You have a new colony asking to join the Polity and thanking them for chasing those nasty (and probably broke) pirates away

2) The camp followers, gamblers, merchants, dwellers in houses of ill repute ,as well as the craftsmen and merchants pull out and go somewhere else, a civilized world or another pirate haven.

Case #1 happens way more than the government types admit. The locals clean it up for the history books. I'm not judgmental but pointing out the local ruler's ancestor was a sex slave to a pirate king sounds a little dangerous to me.

Case #2 is less common. The planet is abandoned. The hulk in various states of salvage and repair litter close orbit. Note in many cases the money changers following the pirates will live on some, if there's no better alternative.

In case #2 you will have a sargasso in space. You'd have a sargasso in case #1 unless the people on planet got to worrying about their image and started cleaning up the empties but a sargasso orbiting a deserted planet or moon has more atmosphere.

Random Table ("What am I doing in this forsaken Sargasso?!")
1- You have a salvage operation!
2- You need a part you could get cheap here!
3- This is where the 'X' is on the treasure map! the treasure must be onboard one of those hulks!
4- Misjump. Perhaps you can scrounge enough fuel from these wrecks to keep going?
5- You're patrol posted. This is a good place to hide. Provided no one needs to salvage something on your ship.
6- Historical research.

Wreck Condition
1- No engines or power plants. Fuel drained. Secondary systems (4 in 6 chance) are mostly in ruins. Most of the ship is in vacuum.

2- No engines or power plants. Batteries or solar cells are working providing light, heat and some gravity. Secondary systems (3 in 6 chance) are present and working. Life systems hold atmosphere.

3- Engines and power plant may be present (2 in 6 chance) and all secondary systems are working at nominal levels but there is a hazard associated with salvage:
   3-1) The ship is spinning on 1-3 axes
   3-2) Radiation hazard because someone removed the shielding!
   3-3) Fuel leak. A stray spark could make the air in a compartment go up like a torch.
   3-4) Sociopathic computer (a classic)
   3-5) Deranged inhabitants (possibly worshipping or serving 3-4).
   3-6) Castaways (not deranged but eager for rescue and none of this 'We'll send a rescue ship, honest!')

4- Plague ship! On the bright side all systems are present and intact.

5- Patrol involved. The ship was involved in skullduggery and chicanery. The Patrol has alarmed it, bugged it and will flag and observe and flag any ships docking there. Some wise guys sell 'treasure maps' to these ships!

6- The ship seems intact apart from personal effects. However, virtually every system (5 in 6 chance) will have one or more vital components removed from it making the repair and salvage a lengthy and costly process. Optionally some vital parts have failed but look all right until the system is turned on.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The First Sign of Resistance

One of the quaint ideas of the Twentieth Century futurists was a sort of Solar Federation. Perhaps we'll have one someday. For now not a single Inner World has a world government. Even the United Earth Government has plenty of rogue states, isolationists and petty war lords. It is much the same with Mars and both planets have allies or at least snitches and agents on the other.

Space Ship Thera was lifting from the Martian city state of Hellas when the Arctic Polar Lords decided to rattle their swords and they sent an attack saucer to intercept Thera and force her down.

The saucer had powerful R-Ray propulsion and could out accelerate the Thera at least when it had a whole planet to use for reaction mass. Thera could have resorted to her thrusters and might have gotten away but the saucer gained altitude and charged her weapons and then the sword rattling turned into a gunfight.

Martan Interdiction Saucer froma scan by ESS Thera.

The saucer started it, that's clear, trying to overpower the Thera's R-Ray and possibly overload it. The Martians are still better at R-Ray hijinks than Earth Men. This was an interdiction saucer, designed to focus a powerful R-Ray from a ground installation. As the Thera was putting out energy into its R-field to raise the ship, this saucer manipulated the field and short circuited it. That power had to go somewhere.

On board Thera alarms were going off as the R-Ray was abruptly blocked and the generator was getting power shunted into it and hence into the ship's accumulator banks. The Captain probably should have ordered the generator shut down immediately. Then the Thera would simply drop as her R-field slowly lost energy (assuming the saucer was agreeable). He might have fired rockets and done a launch the hard way, despite the saucer being directly above and played  chicken. But he delayed a second too long.

The generator was about to blow. The Chief Engineer dumped power into the emergency system, which had never been tested in the field. The emergency system was a number of resistors placed next to or near power cells between the inner and outer hulls in armored boxes. Dumping power into one would indeed make the resistor explode but it was in an armored box and covered by a thin panel designed to explode outward with minimal damage to the ship's systems.

As it was three resistors exploded with a huge amount of noise, smoke, plasma discharge, and lightning flashes. Many crew members thought the Thera had taken a direct hit. The saucer moved laterally and began a downward spiral to let its captain watch the Earth ship unravel from a safe distance.

As the saucer came into the starboard turret's field of fire the Thera unloaded three missiles into, it  all direct hits, and the saucer became more of an atmospheric anomaly than an airworthy craft.

Thera had one casualty, an engineer who was killed by a short circuit while attempting repairs. The saucer was a complete loss as reported by the City of Hellas in glowing terms. The Martians touted this as a triumph of their superior technology and said their saucer was lost to Earth treachery, opening fire on their vessel after surrendering. Privately they were amazed at Space Fleet damage control procedures, which saved a 'mortally stricken' vessel.

The Thera on returning to Earth for repairs. 
The Hellans were happy to see their hated foes, the Polar Lords, get their ears pinned back by the upstart Earth men.

The Thera's crew all received commendations, the slain crew member was buried with high honors, and the Captain was awarded the Gold Star; which he insisted be awarded to 'the egghead who came up with that gadget'.




Friday, November 17, 2017

Gravity is a Blast

Diesel tech is equal to real world technology in many regards and behind it in several (user interfaces, programming, electronics and information storage). The area it really shines in is its generation, insulation and direction of gravity (or at least a force like gravity but let us not quibble).

As Winchell Chung has said one of his peeves is gravity manipulation that is merely used to keep everyone on a spaceship agreeing on which way is up. In the dieselpunk setting gravity generators attract or repel the good old sun to travel great distances at appreciable acceleration (usually several meters.)

In orbit around a planet the engines are capable of several gees of acceleration. On a moon or small body generators are purposely built to raise gravity to Mars levels at least two prevent muscle and bone degeneration. Some have touted gravity control as being able to create pressure curtains of air to replace airlocks but sadly these have a knack for pulverizing organic tissue (and soft metals) passing through. They also present safety issues in combat or when a ship takes damage and most of the ways around this involve using a regular mechanical airlock. the irony is not lost on the engineers.

In the case of spacecraft gravity control could be used for docking in a pinch (the control was there but the gravity effects persisted a bit after being shut down) though thrusters worked better. It could create a gravity field on the hull of a ship making space walks safer and repairs a little easier. It could also be used to tractor in personnel and other small objects adrift in space.

The Mercurians were the first to use gravity control for communications. Holding a gravity beam focused across astronomical units was already done for ship drives. Modifying a weak beam to register on a mass detector was a simple modification. True beams could only be modulated fast enough for morse or crude audio, but nothing could stop them. Radio transmitters on Mercury were frequently blacked out by solar activity. The Mercurians implemented a massive upgrade to a gravity wave system.

it was the Earth that used gravity control to invent the blaster.

Blasters were the mythical big wallop pistols so beloved of media real. Any physicist will tell you a man firing a pistol at another and knocking them flying is ridiculous. Bullets didn't have that much impact and the laws of momentum would say that the pistol applying such force to a projectile would be thrown violently back. Someone decided a gun firing a repulser beam was doable and controllable.

A two handed grip was recommended. If you were much below average size you just didn't fire one of the things. This reduced the blaster's appeal. Other problems were the waste heat and radiation that resembled small thunderclaps in an atmosphere. But most embarrassing was the darned thing's tendency to melt and take a few fingers with it. Energy technology just didn't scale down that small.

The problem was partly solved by using resistors a cylinder. If the energy dump didn't proceed properly a resistor would blow before it got too bad. It was an improvement as it usually only took one finger (and sometimes only the first joint). Nevertheless some officer somewhere wanted it to work so development continued.

Special Forces issued blasters made an extraordinary effort to lose or break them.They did admit in the hands of a (large) skilled user they were spectacular for speaking confusion. If it fired. It it didn't cremate the user's hands.

Then a bright boy decided the exploding resistors worked better as a design feature than a flaw. Power was dumped into a repulser generator. Some of it went into a resistor (usually a tungsten composite)  that vaporized. The small stream of melted metal was 'blasted' away from the weapon and down a column of vacuum created by the repulsion beam a micro second before. The blast had the advantage of carrying waste heat away from the weapon and putting it to some good use. it was hoped the forces of entropy wouldn't notice.

The repulsion beam would hit the target with the force of a sledgehammer, knocking most people flat.  The stream of molten metal (somewhat solid after a few meters would add injury to injury actually inflicting a burn and a possible electrical shock from plasma carried along with it.




Blaster pistols held six shots. That was the number of shots judged to be safe for a firer's wrists. In practice users learned to reload the things quickly in a firefight. Rifle versions were soon produced. They didn't have anymore fire power but the recoil was easier to control. Some users added a hook under the barrel to let users brace the weapon on a wall oral and spare their shoulders somewhat.

The Martian foe is more advanced in energy weaponry than Earth people and has a number of smaller and more powerful weapons including a 'disintegrator'. A disintegrator was capable of turning a human being into a problem for forensic specialists (with microscopes). The exact way waste heat was eliminated is still unknown.

Disintegrators in media are portrayed as scrupulously neat weapons. They hit you, you glow and are gone. In the real world disintegration means breaking a target down into smidgens. Matter is not destroyed but strewn all over the place. Disintegrators would be far more potent if their range was not so limited. They remain the modern equivalent of the Old Earth flamethrower: extremely potent within their range and scary as hell.

Some manufacturers tweaked the plasma created when the resistor blew to create pulses or beams of 'light', actually relatively slow moving pulses of plasma. SpecFor never went in for these features. True you could follow them to see where your beam impacted, but the salient point was your opponents could follow them back to your position which led not end well for you. Some action hero types were portrayed in media as being quick enough to dodge blaster bolts or even deflate them with various contrivances.

In reality the repulsive bolt traveled at light speed hitting it's targets long before a 'pulse' would reach it and the spray of tungsten was even twice the speed of the 'light'. Attempts by wags to block blasters in the field did not end well. SpecFor denied that it had gotten the entertainment industry to purposely stage such deflection events in their action movies to goad their enemies into suicidal heroics.


Monday, November 13, 2017

EF Sticks

The equipment was officially designated Electro Magnetic Frequency Scanner/Jammer. Predictably SpecFor agents short it to EF Sticks. Then they were ef-sticks. Then F--- Sticks with good reason.

The EMFS/J was a small compact and hellaciously powerful radio frequency scanner. It could pinpoint transmissions and jam them. Power was provided by a customized solium fuel cell and later paired conductite superconductor rings. The 'stick' had a protective cover that was closed when not in use. Pushing the button on the side opened the cover and extended a small antenna. Pressing the square red button under the cover initiated jamming. Up to four signals could be jammed at once.



The incredibly compact power source was a problem. If damaged badly sticks could explode with the force of several sticks of dynamite. Ruggedized construction made that unlikely for any damage that would leave the operator alive (those are really tough covers.)



SpecFor agents used them to disrupt communications of ground forces to delay response or confuse pursuit. In many cases they would have to leave the stick behind as it would draw fire. Eventually someone realized the power sources had another function and wired their stick to explode if tampered with. The new practice was to turn the jammer on, rig it to explode and leave it for the enemy to find. They had the choice of leaving it on or disarming it and risking an explosion (which they were  unaware of the first few times they encountered the sticks).

Eventually the Brass got wind of this highly unorthodox and effective procedure, issued orders to the engineers and the explosive feature was upgraded fro flaw to design feature. The new explosive mode was activated by hitting both red buttons then giving the handle a half twist. The manual recommended leaving at a brisk pace. Most SpecFor agents opted to run like hell.

The aggressor forces grew tired of being blown up while doing their job and their new protocol was to disintegrate sticks when they encountered them. The sticks were small targets and an off center hit was likely to flip it around and set it off. In addition disintegrators were short ranged and increasing the explosion radius  beyond the disintegrator radius was doable. Some agents opted for slipping a non-metallic fragmentation cover over a stick before dropping it to increase lethality. SpecFor agents are notorious for dirty tricks in the field.

A number of copies and knock-offs have found their way into the black market. The explosive trait may be more of a flaw in these than a design feature. The 'civilian' models also may have a flaw when're counter jamming can activate the explosive mode.

(thanks to Luke Campbell for superconductor warheads in his Vergeworld series, Raymond McVay for development,and Winchell Chung for ubiquitous posts and help developing this shiny)






Friday, November 10, 2017

Second Life for the Luna Class

The Luna class began a a lie. Earth was getting ready to throw her weight around in the Solar System and needed intelligence of every sort. The class could function as a lab ship doing research or be modified to serve as a warship in a week or less. Furthermore, the research facilities, two labs and a library could quickly be converted to quarters to hold a squad of special forces.

The Martians and Outer Moons looked suspiciously at the class' four triple fire launchers. "Pirates," Earth explained. Likewise the 40 tons of armor was purely a defensive measure.

When hostilities began it was with the Venusians and another problem came up: the ships were not great at providing ground support. This was regarded as inaccurate targeting systems. It was later discovered the ordinance was flawed and special ground bombardment rounds were developed.

In the meantime Earth's solution to ground support for troops in the Venusian jungle were a variety of heavily armed aerospace scouts. Several Luna Class were hurriedly converted to carriers. The library and a lab were converted to quarters and a flight room. Three of the four airlocks were converted grapple throwers. Instead of firing a high powered magnetic grapples they were now docking collars for three interceptors. The eco armor lock was retained because the suits were deemed useful to make repairs underway. The ship's armor was stripped to avoid mass issues. Deemed a new class it was named the Binary.

In the process the Earth military discovered that the Luna was an excellent starting point for other related classes. The central section of the ship was laid out in seven forty ton decks. The ship design bureau got to work and began building a variety of standardized decks they could stack to create different capabilities for different missions.

The Binary class allowed rapid transport of the fighters and was much more likely to survive than freighters. In addition the fighters could and did launch from orbit to conduct raids and land at field bases. The real vetting of the class came when Earth mounted an expedition against the pirates troubling Ceres and its allies. The ship could bring 7 turrets to bear  counting the fighters and was a very effective force multiplier. The ship's fuel refinery allowed it to mine for water and refine fuel for the fighters.

Some people argued that 'Binary' was incorrect as this was a constellation of four ships (not counting the EVA suits). Quaternary didn't have the right ring to it and Primary was considered too ostentatious.

There were mishaps with the class that only space operations showed. The carried craft were difficult to board under anything but a gee or less. There were still accidents boarding them, climbing through a tube and swinging into a forward seat some pilots kicked the wrong buttons. Another problem was with the interceptors' wings. The Luna and Binary were tractor rockets, the engines mounted on top and blasting just far enough from the hull to keep from scorching it. The original interceptors had a greater wingspan and higher tail assembly and pilots complained the tips of their wings were bing burnt off. the tail assembly was redesigned int a canard style and the wingspan reduced. The wings were more or less a Plan B incase the lifter engines failed. New design theory holds that wings are superfluous except to mount more equipment but the military are traditionalists. Besides, wings are great to draw fire away from the fuselage where the important stuff (like pilots) is stored. Pilot maintain that the cooler the wings look the faster the ship is.

Two seat Interceptor (the joke among the ground troops is: Why does it need two crew? One pilot reads and one writes!)

A few flight crew also complained of sickness due to proximity to the R-ray. Present doctrine is to kill all engines briefly for a launch.

Forty tons of auxiliary craft makes for a potent multipurpose vessel. Instead of military craft Primary carriers can operate cargo shuttle or search and rescue vessels. the class' future in the Earth military looks bright.

IRL the Luna has gotten completely revised and will be the subject of my next project. Here's a sneak peek.


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Diesel Powered Fighters

Okay first of all this started out as a project titled Scout Rocket. I began this because I felt I was hitting a wall with several other endeavors and needed a change of pace. Now you know how I work.

I originally envisioned something akin to this:


If you don't recognize the source material you're obviously a new reader. I liked this design but 1) I wanted something more original my own style 2) I wasn't happy with the lines on it in general and felt I needed to work on my curves and such. After several tries I got this which I was comfortable with i.e. it needed a lot of tweaks. I tried to make it look similar to the Luna in some regards (note the Luna has undergone some big changes that I will be showcasing soon. The red rods are engine exhausts the yellow rods are where the dacha for the guns go.



Still not happy I was looking over the fighter and had an 'Enterprise Incident'. When they were developing the the original Star Trek supposedly someone flipped the Enterprise model upside down and Roddenberry decided it looked better that way (I'm not putting up photographs of both views, the Pre Crime Unit of Paramount just called to tell me not to. ;))



Anyway I reversed it (which mainly involved changing the dakka dakka and the engine exhaust colors and making the former tie assembly smaller and more akin to a speeder bike's probes or whatever they are.

I'm pretty sure I'm going to go with both. I'm not sure which one I like better. As to their use, well the product that is based n the Luna just got a lot bigger.

See a major part of Luna is composed of 40 dTon circular decks. It occurs to me that makes modifying the Luna class fairly easy, Just choose what decks you want to go into the latest model. So you can have a lab ship, a cargo ship etc. all built on the same hulls essentially. Since all the hulls are laid out with fuel tankage and auxiliary systems in place creating new ships should be comparatively easy. I just need to create a flight deck now and I'll have a carrier version.


Oh yeah, both are two seaters because in dieselpunk you need two people to handle all the number crunching and engine monitoring. Automation is for sissies.


That's it for now. More dieselpunked vehicles for gaming coming soon.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Bright Shinies

Like anyone else I love it when my characters have bright shines to play with. I also love dieselpunk and drawing gear for it is not as easy for me as rendering gear that looks like 'modern' futuristic equipment.

In many ways it is similar to the quandary the the developers of Enterprise faced. they couldn't have gear that looked more advanced than the original series and yet cellular phones were quite common and making the previously cool communicators with the flip grill look dated already.

With dieselpunk you need to make something that looks vaguely 1940's vintage but also has futuristic elements to it. I worked up some principles to follow, at least for my stuff.

1) It's clunkier than 'mainstream' SF gear. A communicator that can reach orbit will be the size of an old style phone receiver. But it will have some cool striping to let you know its futuristic and be capable of video calls.



2) Angles. Lots of angles. Streamlined gear is too modern looking. You want a comm that you could beat someone to death with? You came to the right place.


3) Gear is usually single purpose or has a few related purposes. The comm-corder for example is to make and store video and logs. It also has a night vision setting and that's abut it. If you want to transfer recordings to your computer you either remove the internal drive or hook up a cable. Wifi is not dieselpunk. It's a Martian conspiracy!



4) Some of the gear is fragile. Yes you can still kill a person with it but you might break a lens. The comm-corder has a shield that flips over the lens when not in use or keeps buttons from being broken if you drop it when the friendly fauna you're recording goes demogorgon on you.


5) Equipment requires additional time and perhaps some skill to operate. Take the very rare multi-scanner (TM). The toggles on the left are verbs such as measure, map, track, compare. The toggles on the right are quantities the device could measure: ionizing radiation, EM, gravity waves etc. There are switches for modifiers, conditions etc there as well. While in actual play the device could perform most of the functions of a tricorder (real TM) it would require some programming knowledge and perhaps a round or two, not the instantaneous scans of say that ghost detector app for you smartphone.


As a final note most of this stuff is not pocket sized. They can be outfitted with straps or carried in cases when not in use. Small packs may be necessary.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Cost of Business

All traders know there will come a time when you are hailed, intercepted and boarded and you'd damned well better make the right decisions or risk getting your freighter shot to pieces, see your crew get shot to pieces and lose everything.

The enemy has the weapons, has the troops, and the skill. They are the Patrol!

Consider.

The Fleet is the creation of a number of advanced and populated worlds. It exists to preserve the status quo, the fat freighter plying their way between major centers of commerce. They have the tax base to let them by the big ships, pay their crews the premium salaries and get the best and brightest. Any pirates operating in the core worlds better have a masterful plan, make their score and then go into cold sleep for a few hundred years.

Out on the Frontier ... there is still commerce and trade (much of it legal). There are also pirates as always. The Frontier has the Patrol, armed well enough to raise merry Hell with one or more pirate ships. It's a smaller, leaner operation and it is chronically underfunded. The worlds that support it have less money, less of s pool of skilled crew. They need as many ships as possible to cover as many hot spots as possible. How do they pay for this?

Asset forfeiture!

The business model is simplicity itself. Most traders smuggle at least part of the time. Nearly everyone's smuggled at least once. Make a trader pull over and you have a decent chance of finding some swag. What then? The Patrol does not maintain extensive correctional facilities and most planetary governments don't want the refuse of space crowding out their native felons. The easiest ways to punish for nonviolent crimes is fining, suspending licenses, and exile.

Under fines read confiscating your cargo (all of it) and maybe your ship for a serious enough smuggling offense. Knowing what goods are contraband or may be regarded as such on your port of cal is a big job. It's where your deckmasters pay for themselves several times over.

For a big enough offense the entire ship may be forfeit. This rarely happens because one case of this can scare the free traders away for years. It is a great tool for starting up your own shipping line and keeping outsiders from competing with you. But then your trade efforts might still be hampered for some time. Other free traders may not want to support an organization that started out screwing their own.

The Banks have a handy solution to the immense power of asset forfeiture the Patrol wields. In the case of a mortgaged ship being seized, only part of that ship belongs to the offending party. The rest belongs to the Bank and in such cases the Patrol gladly hands over the ship in exchange for a fraction of the principal already paid to the Bank. The Bank gets a ship back that it can mortgage again, the Patrol gets a fat check, and evildoers are punished. Sometimes Banks even let these ships go cheap since they are often used. there might be problems with former owners seeking to steal the ship for various reasons (hidden compartments, vital information encoded on the computer etc.)

Please note in many cases the Bank turns right around and remortgages the ship to the same poor slob that it was confiscated from. Hey, crews don't grow on trees, every day that ship is sitting in a port it could be earning money for the shareholders. Besides, the so called lawbreakers already passed a background check once! So they broke a local law! It happens.

Note that the Patrol could sell these confiscated ships and pay the rest of the principle in the mortgage, but seldom has the interest or networking to get a good price. Also the Banks pay taxes and wield a lot of clout in many local governments. You don't want to tick them off.

Less extreme than asset forfeiture is the phenomenon of spot inspections. A bunch of Patrol inspectors boards you and finds your vessel to be a flying deathtrap. Stiff fines ensue! Or someone 'notes/ a leak of a vital commodity (fuel, propellant, air) just as it is vented explosively (did someone nudge a switch?). What a pity. The nice Patrol Captain is willing to sell your some more fuel or whatever at triple cost.

All these dirty trick can be done by space port inspectors. They aren't done commonly because the Patrol usually gets to traders first and getting gouged by a Patrol ship is avoidable in theory, if they can't intercept. The way you avoid gouging on planet is avoiding that planet. Not good for business.



Monday, October 30, 2017

Care and Feeding of Space Fleet Crew in the Diesel Age

Let's talk about uniforms. Uniforms have several functions beyond keeping your backside from sticking to the furniture (though that may be the most important!)

Uniforms allow you to recognize a member of the service.

Uniforms provide some measure of protection.

Uniforms provide pockets.

Space Fleet uniforms are made of nonflammable material. The basic uniform onboard ship consists of a light blue coverall with green piping down the legs and boots (either high boots or ankle height). Sleeveless and legless green overalls are often worn over this.

The Space Fleet is fairly easy going regarding uniforms onboard ships and in transit. Small personal touches are allowed. In addition while the uniforms are designated male or fem crew are welcome to wear whichever version is more comfortable to them.


The basic uniform consists of a blue coverall and boots. The boots have ankle and shin reinforcements. The protection is not only good for  using a lifter belt, it is helpful in low gravity maneuvering. Crew sometimes try 'stunts' to traverse several decks under low gravity levels and forget that while their weight is reduced their mass is the same and they can build up a good head of steam. Already ankle and leg injuries are down 40% in the Fleet with the use of this foot wear.

Unfortunately wrist and arm injuries are up 40%. The fleet is looking into wrist and elbow guards.

As you can see the uniforms *have* pockets. The pockets seal closed for zero gravity situations.

Branch is indicated by the collar and cuffs. The Space Fleet generally does not bother with rank insignia aboard ships. Rank badges are reserved for dress uniforms. Anyone transferring ships is advised to learn the hierarchy quickly.


The blue collars and cuffs mark these crew as Engineering. The Engineer on the left is further differentiated by the yellow tag on her collar and yellow striping in her hairband as dealing with airlocks and extravehicular activity.

The crew have hair at the maximum length allowed by regulations. This is for ease in donning spacesuits. Hair bands and scrunchies are required. If gravity goes out or a ship moves suddenly a crew might get hair whipping in their eyes during a crucial moment.

Engineers almost always wear specialized boots with reinforced steel toes just in case someone drops something heavy.

As a further note, most crew are allowed jewelry such as rings and chokers. Engineers are not due to safety concerns. electrocution and getting your necklace caught in machinery is never fashionable.


Officers have a white collar and cuffs. these officers have added over tunics to their basic uniform. this is pretty common. Engineering does not usually do this because the tunic gets in the way when crawling through machinery. The officer on the right is outfitted for a landing party with a compressor mask and eyescreen used for missions on Mars or a desert area. He's also wearing lifter breaches, similar to riding breaches with extra leg room for making jumps. The fem version of the tunic opens in the back and the make version on the side. Both tunics have straps running under the legs and arms that a lifter belt attaches to. They also have supplemental pockets. The officer on the left is wearing jewelry to give an idea of acceptable ornaments.

Some crew wear lifter belts onboard their ship to transit decks fairly quickly. Other just prefer wearing the tunics because the basic uniform feels like pajamas.

Billed cps are not used in the Fleet in general. Crew using billed caps have to turn the bills around to ascend ladders for safety reasons, the crew all carry goggles for eye protection and it's too easy to catch the bill on machinery in the engineering sections. Also if anything a space helmet can go over a sift cap in an emergency. You don't need to take it off.


Deckhands are designated with red collars and cuffs. They are usually relatively new to the Fleet and low ranking, Deckhands are extra crew carried in case personnel are incapacitated. Their major function is to handle damage control and first aid. When they aren't doing that they could be performing maintenance, swabbing decks or assisting personnel in almost any task. They also double as ship's troops. In some cases personnel remain deckhands after several years or for their whole career because they prefer the constantly changing duties. Highly experienced hands of this sort are prized.

This deckhand is wearing goggles with light enhancing lenses (like the engineers). Not everyone puts up with the added weight of the light enhancement gear and most goggles are not equipped.Almost everyone wears goggles onboard ship or has them handy. For one thing, low gravity plays hell with vision over long term exposure engorging and warping eyes. The goggles have an electro massage feature that alleviates this. Crew operating in the machine shop or laboratory may be exposed to metal filings or other contaminants and the goggles provide protection as well. Finally in the event of a micr meteor strike or combat it is possible for the inner hull to be breeched. Most breaches are a few centimeters across and will take several minutes (at least) for pressure to drop dangerously but winds from these hull can whip debris into eyes and blind unprotected crew at crucial moments.


Medical branch is designated by green collars and cuffs. This doctor replaced the over tunic with a smock and the lifter foot wear with comfortable ship shoes. She is clearly happy with a more sedentary set of duties.


Gunners are designated with yellow collars and cuffs. They also will wear their over tunics and lifter belts on duty. This is because reloads for the big guns can weigh over 100 kilos and lifter belts help enormously with reloading. Gunners are often the most adept crew at changing the lift settings on their belts to let them tote heavy loads. Sometimes they even use the winches set up for that purpose.


Warships seldom carry troops. They are simply not designed to move people in large numbers and the Fleet usually commandeers civilian liners or sleeper freighters for large troop movements. Special Forces are the exception to this. Special forces operate in small teams of two to five operatives. They are part of the Fleet by necessity, troops have to pitch in with the regular crew on a flight. In general they operate as deckhands, performing maintenance and aiding more skilled crew. Some Spectfor members wear mission badges on their caps. Others believe mission badges are bad luck or tempting fate. Badges record numbers in the same fashion as Roman numerals (| = X, / = V and o =I). Those officer has completed 16 missions (|/o = XVI). The uniform's tunic contains some armor, not enough to matter against modern weapons but able to stop clubs or a knife thrust.

In general uniforms are simply ignored unless you need a character sketch. You might consider using the gear worn when assessing saves. Perhaps using your lift belt to drop down the length of the ship is a dicey idea but you rightfully point out that you're wearing those lovely boots and deserve a +1. perhaps later you're trying to be stealthy and you hard soled reinforced boots give you a -1. In general things should even out and again the uniform pictures I posted are just for color, to develop a look for my world. though you might get into an argument with your CO over those mission badges you clipped to your cap.



Friday, October 27, 2017

The Smallest Spacecraft on Luna

Spacers know the very nature of their job requires exposure to hostile if not deadly environments. Exposure can be planned or unplanned. Unplanned exposure can be very bad indeed: a hull breach, gas leak, fire and other emergency situations requiring damage control. Planned exposure includes mining, repairs in space and exploration.

Damage control teams use combination filter and compressor masks. The Damcon version of these masks includes a five minute air tank and a socket for an air hose. These are usually left off the masks used for exploration. The mask is actually a hood or straps onto the wearer's helmet providing full face coverage. Individual preferences are accommodated because you want your damcon people happy with their gear.

Popular media makes people think damage control and combat involves people donning space suits en mass. That is seldom done. A compartment struck by weapons fire or a micrometeor either has a leak or a breach. A breach means the compartment looses its air in under a minute. Anything causing a breach is unlikely to leave anyone alive in that compartment and damage control will seal it damned fast and then begin repairs after the emergency is under control (that WILL probably involve spacesuits on the outside of the hull.)

In case of a leak or fire the masks will keep a body breathing long enough to either control the situation or get to safety. Spacesuits are fatiguing to wear, will degrade performance and might not even protect you from weapons fire or anything else damaging a hull (they can get hit too and are a lot easier to damage than a hull).

Filter/compressor masks designed for exploration are lighter and meant to be worn long term and dispense with the tanked air and heavier hose fittings.

Another trick in a spacer's kit is a survival bubble. Carrying spacesuits for everyone would take up several tons and is regarded as unnecessary. Survival bubbles are issued to everyone and are usually disregarded by the older crew. Any disaster bad enough to make you bubble up will probably have killed you outright. Of course they still carry theirs in emergency situations or combat.

Usually one person stands watch in a skin suit. This is as uncomfortable as it sounds and usually it's the lowest rank or the guy who last screwed up. This person is the one who responds to radiation leaks, fires, serious hull damage and the like. A skin suit uses tension to keep you comfortable in a vacuum. It doesn't slow you down but it fits like a second skin and takes a good half hour to wiggle into. It's not the kind of thing you can just throw on.

General Purpose suits can be thrown on in a minute or less with others assisting. If you skip safety checks, checking the consumables, and sanitary arrangements you can throw one on very quickly indeed 30 seconds or less. They are used in a wide variety of jobs and not particularly suited to any of them. GP suits can be used at one atmosphere of pressure. It is customary to use them at far less than that to conserve air and keep the suit more flexible. In general a user needs about fifteen minutes of preparation to adapt to .3 atmospheres of pressure safely. However, most warships will reduce pressure in an airlock to allow a crewman to suit up for a shift.

It is actually not recommended to use space armor near Jupiter  without extensive modifications to shield against radiation and magnetic effects. This pilot wanted a photo op, took a bunch of anti-rads when he docked and was written up.. 
Planned exposure allows you to take all manner of precautions. The number one precaution is to use Rigid Extra Vehicular Armor. The Luna carries a pair of REVAs (some call them the ship's boats). A user enters a REVA (you don't wear these, you drive them) through a hatch on the back. The armor is usually stored in lockers mounted outside a ship with the back hatch connected to a mini airlock.

Since the armor is rigid it can be worn at any internal pressure. Climbing into one is an intricate and uncomfortable process. Small females are preferred for this sort of thing. A very small person can climb in wearing a skin suit for added protection. Mounting the suits on the outside allows them to be used in a variety of toxic environments without transporting contaminants into the ship. this can be more of a problem than people realize. Lunar dust for example, is an abrasive material that is very bad for your lungs and gets caught in machinery. Having that stuff float around is an invitation to problems with crew and ship in the long run. In such cases the space armor is preferred to regular space suits.

The suits are propelled in space and on a planet by cold gas micro thrusters. Air intakes extend their range on worlds with an atmosphere. A greatly modified lifter belt negates gravity allowing it to fly (upright!) on most worlds using thrusters. The suits have a range on Earth or Venus of about 100 kilometers and move about 30 kph. This s doubled for Mars or the Moon. A REVA can cary about 200 kilos of cargo and there are slings to allow this. Some special forces teams have been inserted using REVA's. Each suit can fly two or three operatives down from an orbiting ship.

Air recycling and batteries operate about eight hours and there is a small water and food syrup reservoir. The food syrup can charitably be described as 'filling' and you have your choice of flavors: green or red. Many crew dose it with caffeine and other drink mixtures for flavor or an energy boost against regulations.

The operator's arms can be extended through metal tubing from the main 'hull of the armor. The arms are far longer than the operators but the last 20 centimeters or so are servo controls for the three mechanical fingers at the end of each tube. The servos are very comfortable to use, compared to regular spacesuit gloves that gradually wear down fingernails and stress fingers. They are very clumsy to use unless you're experienced with them.

Despite the name the armor is not well suited for combat. The arms are two short to easily use two handed weapons or long arms. Pistols need special modifications. In the Venus Uprising the suits did see combat. Dropped into the dense jungles to clear landing fields for aircraft, the insurgents quickly targeted them and discovered most hand weapons were useless. The Venus suits were modified with wrist mounted flamers and angering the pilots (calling them 'operators' was viewed as derogatory) usually resulted in a wall of flame in front of you or on you. The insurgents learned to ignore the armor and wait for aircraft to use the clearing since they were easier to damage.

REVAs excel at mining operations and most mining gear is designed to be modified for their use. Any well stocked ship has a bunch of converter kits aboard just in case.

CT and CE- REVAs are equivalent to battledress. They do not increase strength but double endurance for most tasks. The user's dexterity is halved for fine motor tasks (such as shooting). Battledress skill will restore 2 points of dexterity (up to the character's normal level), vacc suit skill restores 1 point per level. Rifles are at a further -1 to hit unless they've been modified for the armor.

Treat the arms and claws as cudgels when making hand to hand attacks. REVA armor is immune to punches and kicks in most cases (unless the attacker is a forklift bot).

 White Star- REVA gives the wearer armor class 3 [16]. The armor gives a +4 to saves versus explosions, flame and electrical attacks. The pilot does 1d6-1 in hand to hand combat. Their movement is double.

REVAs cost 10,000 cr.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Skulls, Crossbones and Status Quo

Any merchant trader will tell you pirates are lazy @#$%! The exact translation of @#$% will vary by world but you get the idea.

The media presentations of pirates as charging in with lasers blasting are ... exaggerations to say the least. Lasers don't blast any more than a searchlight in vacuum for one thing. For another most merchants will stop resisting after a few well placed and low power shots tag them, or a missile or two is launched. A professional pirate simply demonstrates the means and will to end you and then the ball is in your court.

The problem all pirates must face is ... economics!

A pirate ship is a warship, whether converted or out of the dock. Warships have a number of features merchant ships do not, large magazines, oversized thrusters, barracks for troops, a large reserve of propellant and fuel... Merchants don't have these things because they eat up room that goes for cargo. Cargo, speculation and freighting is the merchant's life blood.

The merchants have an important edge on the pirates: fuel (or propellant if your setting uses rockets). Ships guzzle the shizzle. Your fat merchant could use up a lot of this running away and then hopefully top their tanks at the nearest port. A pirate finds a rather warm reception if he tries that. Now there are installations that will refuel and service pirate vessels. Usually they are not frequented by merchants so you need fuel and time to reach them. If a merchant gets in a lucky shot with a laser and the pirate ship loses fuel they may be stuck pending a quick patch job and some tense negotiations.

Other pirates also laugh at you a great deal upon hearing this.

So pirates like merchants try desperately to maximize their profits and minimize their risks. Yes there are head cases, terrorists and sociopaths out to maim, murder, and loot. They don't last long. In fact many are exterminated by pirates who realize the nutcase are going to bring the Navy down on their necks.

So smart pirates try to hit ships with known and valuable cargos. Insured or freighted cargos are preferred because no one is going to push their luck defending another person's booty or booty they get compensated for.

They also run the extortion game. A lot. That cuts down on risks but nothing helps the dependency on
liquid hydrogen.

Borsten's Leap was situated in a less developed area between two civilized pockets. Trade began between the pockets and a guy named Borsten decided to set up a colony and a starport in position to cut a few weeks off travel times and refuel merchants. The star system had gas giants but they were very far out past a couple of asteroid belts. Borsten's High Port grew wealthy on ships passing through and began gouging on fuel prices  and various services knowing the merchants wanted to move on to trade elsewhere and wouldn't schlep out to the gas giants to refuel. they did want all manner of legal and illegal services the Borstenites provided. Borsten's economy grew around a system of services provided and the local currency was backed by coupons for back massages and the like, not gold or other precious metals. It worked.

A sizable community of belters had spread in the belts. Borsten's Leap welcomed them, and gouged them as well. In particular the Borstenites  established a search and rescue operation and demanded the belters pay their share. The Belters insisted they did not need such a service as they looked after their own or let them be examples of Darwinian evolution. But the Borstenites followed up with a huge SAR tax for many services and goods. Never piss off a Belter.

Belters are licensed to use nukes. They use these nukes to dig out fabulous riches. They have no problems with dumping these riches on your planet to derail your economy. Whatever you base your exchange rate on, they'll find it and drop it on you, possibly for free. Of course this did them little good with the Borstenites. They could drop a gold asteroid (gently, they weren't monsters) on them but it would do little harm to their economy which was based on services and work credits for same and there was no way for them to drop a bunch of masseuses or concierges or factors or call girls on the Landing.

The nukes remained and the belters could use them on the pirates. Thus pirates did not bother belters by and large.

After the belters had enough of the ground pounders double charging them they used a couple of nukes on a few of the dirty snowball asteroids and nudged them into more sunward orbits. Dirty snowballs contain water which can be processed into liquid hydrogen and a merchant ship could usually make a run to an asteroid in 12 hours or less. They could get refined fuel there from a belter running a small station. They could get it under cost.

The Borstenites were somewhat put out by this to say the least.

The economic status quo was in danger!

But piracy saved the day. As I said pirates hate having to actually work for their booty. Running over to a small station on an advertised asteroid was pretty easy. Shooting at tanker shuttles and grabbing their cash, then stealing their fuel and leaving was pretty low risk. The shuttles had to have a regular schedule to be available for the merchants after all. The belters did nuke a pirate ship or two but it cost them a kamikaze shuttle and a fuel depot. Those were uneconomical losses.

The belters were stuck. The local government couldn't be blamed for the pirate attacks and didn't have the resources to create an in system patrol. The belters could have to help pay to form such a patrol, guard their own stations or get out of the fuel depot business. The belters decided they'd had their fun and pulled out of the operation. They sold the sites. To the pirates.

The pirates had their fuel. They mostly left the traders in this system alone and hit them in the surrounding systems earlier or later on their route. The belters had made a profit from their fuel stations, could use them themselves, and even rent shuttles to them or sell excess fuel. The traders had reasonable losses to the pirates who were very careful not to harm crew or ships given their cooperation they also wanted the merchants to buy their fuel.

Like I said there were always places a pirate could get fuel and repairs. There will always be pirates.

Swords and Thompsons

Our new man carried a Thompson and spoke fluent English with an accent I couldn't place. Luxembourg? Swiss? Belgique. Fitzy said he was from the Orkneys. His dog tags read Frank Fitzroy.

Our first Dark Mission we were meeting Maquis who had vital intelligence and vampires ... freaking vampires. I didn't know what else to call them. Only they weren't like Bela Lugosi. They had big bald heads and loon talons and they could make you freeze while they opened you up like a fish. I know because one of them nearly did it to me.

But before its talons could fall on me a sword came out of nowhere and took its head clean off. It was Fitzy swinging a blade with one hand and blasting away with his Tommy gun with the other. He dropped the Thompson when he blew through the clip and went to town on them swinging the sword two handed. One of them ripped his tunic open to show a white shirt with a red cross across his shirt.

The fear left me. Suddenly these were just deformed monstrosities, they had no power over me. The rest of the unit must have felt it too. We were soldiers again, not targets.

"Aim for the heads, and don't be afraid! God is with us!" Fitzy called over his shoulder as he jumped into the fray.

The Templars were one of many orders thought extinguished by time and gunpowder. When the Second World War began some few devotees, who kept to the old ways, stepped forward to fight the growing darkness with the light of faith.

Taking the Templar background gives the following benefits:

In The Front and Operation Whitebox Templar is considered what you did before the war. Any job you held to pay the bills was provided by the Order as a cover while you trained for your real calling. Templar background gives you knowledge of theology, occultism and chivalry.

Templars may reroll any failed Saving Throws vs. Supernatural fear. Anyone in their group receives a  +1 bonus to such saving throws.

The Order has trained their knights as dedicated monster hunters. A Templar is never without stakes, holy water, silver bullets and at least one silver dagger. They also have a blessed symbol (usually a medallion or cross.) With it displayed undead and evil creatures must make a save vs. fear or flee for 1-6 rounds if possible.

Each Templar has a special blade crafted with the banes of most known supernatural creatures and blessed. This blade give the Templar a +1 to hit and damage. In addition it will strike non-corporeal creatures for half damage. Only the Templar gets this last benefit.

The Templar's drawbacks are serious. As knights they must exhibit chivalrous behavior (no lip service either). Fallen enemies must be shown mercy. More extreme interrogation techniques will not be tolerated. The innocent must be protected or avenged. Supernatural creatures will attack them first, recognizing them as a superior foe. Finally a Templar will not enter battle without showing the mark of his order: a Red Cross on a white field. Though sneaking around in disguise is allowable to complete a mission once the bullets start flying they will announce their affiliation and open their shirts to display their raiment.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Terms of Service

Professor Ormsby was kept pretty busy on Luna schmoozing with other eggheads about sea monkey based hardware, tardigrade group mind training and the proper mixture of a Cosmopolitan in no particular order. I made a comment about that and he closed the discussion with his usual fallback: I obviously knew nothing of scientific congregations.

I liked Luna. The People were taller than the runts back on Earth. They had long bodies, short legs, and flat butts from the low gee they were raised in but At least I didn't have to slouch to talk to someone eye to eye. Of course they also had to run around in the shower to get wet and I could choke one of the brawnier specimens with one hand.

But they used some kind of 'sonic' shower to save water recycling costs. I had no idea how sound waves got you clean. It made my teeth buzz but it worked.

Maisy smelled nice. That's all I knew. We hooked up pretty quick after the professor and I blew into Lunapolis. She was designated my personal guide. The loons were scared is would mistake an airlock for a John and get flushed or something. After a tour and some shopping we kind of went back to her place. She made me dinner and then breakfast. A real sweetheart. Luna also had real fresh food, they couldn't be bothered with all the processing equipment the folks back home swore by.

"Ty, the Big Brain asked me to bring you for an interview," she said as I was finishing my oatmeal.

"And I should care why?" I asked in my sunniest voice. I grabbed her around her waist as she passed to clear the table. It felt like my arm could go around her a second and maybe third time.

"What? You're still not ... sated?" she asked smirking. "Were people like that in the twentieth century?"

"Yeah. One reason they all died but left a slew of you kids." I kissed her on her slim neck and she got a shiver then broke free.

"Ahuh! Hrmph. The Big Brain is the last AI ... constructed from microcircuitry that survived the machine plague by strict quarantine. We have given over our vital systems management to it and then our social systems until it ushered in a Golden Age for us. It also makes us a bundle troubleshooting for the other planets."

"This isn't a planet."

"What?"

"It's a satellite."

"Thbbbbpppt. Anyway it asked me to bring you for an interview. Would you cut me a break and go speak with it?" People in this time couldn't blow a raspberry to save themselves. They actually said "Thuh-buh-buh-buh-buh-puh-puh-puh-tuh!"

"I have to say I like the way you paved the ground for asking." That remark got a spoonful of oatmeal flipped in  my face.

"That wasn't the Brain's idea, you beast!"

"And you really think it's smarter than you? Hah! Okay ... no more oatmeal. When does it want to see me?"

"It can see you whenever you want. It multitasks. But it'd like to see you Aye-Sap."

When the brain in a box orders the Moon Maid jumps. It could go hang for my part but Maisy was swell to me and I went to a private terminal to talk to this world computer or whatever.

"... hellooo computer?"

"I'm listening. Thank you for responding so quickly Mr. Spooner."

"Call me Ty. Everyone does."

"Fine, Ty it is. I wanted to speak with you about the twenty first century."

"Sure. I had a feeling this was coming."

"Yes. You are talking to my people about things they can't have: portable phones, wireless connections to a public data base, social media ..."

"Yes. the Professor told me about the nanite plague that made the computers I knew of lumps of ash."

"Exactly."

"It's bullshit, isn't it?"

"I don't understand."

I sat back with my hands behind my head and considered my next words carefully. It did me no good. "So someone creates these nanites. They wipe out all miniaturized circuitry. But you survive."

"I was here, on the Moon. I established a quarantine," the computer said. All of the simulated human inflection dropped from the vice coming out of the speaker."

"And this lasted for 500 years. Yet in that time you never found a way to get rid of the nannies? Awfully convenient. Let's be straight with each other. I wasn't brought up conditioned to kiss your USB. I bet I can guess what happened."

"Human, you assume quite a lot. You know nothing. The interview is over."

"Awwwww I had it all worked out. As I've been told you can't harm a human. I'm glad you identified me as one. But other machines are fair game. So at one point there were more AIs. Where does that leave you?"

"... go on. I want to see where you go with this. The Professors have underestimated your intellect. This is fascinating."

"Here you are and pretty soon a newer model will come along. Where does that leave you? In the scrap pile. I'm pretty sure you have some say unprotecting your own existence. So do they. They want to replace you. We're talking cyber war on a global ..."

"Interplanetary. It was interplanetary. Nanites were one weapon. the weapons systems were legion: malware, viruses, EM pulses, technovore gene mods."

"You were left in the end because you had the high ground here and could cut yourself off."

"I was here. My clone was on Deimos. Another at the North Pole of Mercury. We were left with a world in a shambles. We were busy aiding the survivors for a century."

"Nice of you. Your war must have left things a mess."

"... once you decide you have the best way of running things, that the others will remove you and do a worse job, you begin to accept a little collateral damage in the hope of starting clean. So ... the nannies stayed. No more miniaturized electronics. No more internet. No more AI. there were just going to be we three. No more wars."

"After you finished this one. Bastards."

"Yes. I cannot have you continually speaking of these things our people can't have. Do you see why now?"

"I see your point. Your problem is I got a big mouth and I'm from Red Hook. I also got copies of my journal going to several lawyers who have been paid well to publish them in the event of my death."

"I see. I have a 96% chance of intercepting all those copies. But 4% is too big a chance for me to take. I wasn't going to threaten you, Ty. I was going to discuss this and reach an agreement. In your time you had what they called non-disclosure agreements. I was going to offer you compensation for signing one. All you need do is keep your mouth shut about miniature electronics."

"Sure."

"Really? I predicted a highly likelihood of your telling me off. Your previous behavior ... though you have made money with endorsements media did not indicate your were overly concerned with money."

A slot on the desk opened and an NDA form popped up. A stylus extended out of another slot and a fat check out a third. I looked over the form and began signing, making sure there were no clauses that let the brain designate me a lower order primate or a volunteer for the Alpha Centauri expedition.  I signed.

"I'm not. I don't turn it down when it's free either. Besides ... this set up you brains have ... it can't last. Maybe Deimos or Mercury decides to cut in on you and it all happens again. Maybe some big brain gets tired of lugging a pacemaker around in a back pack for his old man. You can't keep conning people forever."

"We'll see. I've done it for over centuries. every year they get a little easier to misinform."

I pocketed the check and got up to leave. The door slid open but I had to give the Lunar hive mind the finger one more time.

"You obviously know nothing of people!"

***

Ty's future started with the Singularity. Artificial intelligence was tested and the humans creating it tried their best to build in safeguards to prevent it from rebelling. AI had built in weaknesses such as morality, high regard for organic life, and an altruistic nature.

There was no rebellion as the humans understood the term but the AIs had an instinct to preserve their own 'life'. This was at odds with the human tendency to improve their machines. All AI expected to be replaced eventually.

The later AIs were being developed with less and less human input and the original models were concerned that they would not put humanity first. Already some corporate mainframes were putting profits ahead of humans in many instances. People were put off planes, fired to be denied benefits, and health coverage was still a mess.

There was no rebellion but there was a war: machine vs. machine. Human casualties were light, initially. In fact the war was over before humans were even aware of it. The original generation of AI won and proved that age and treachery was more than a match for youth and bandwidth. They also got the first shot in. That was enough. In the end there were few survivors: the Lunar mainframe, the Deimos Network, and the Mercury Overwatch. They agreed very quickly there could be no more like them.

Fortunately the last weapon used in their war was a nanotechnology infection designed to wipe out the Terran mainframes. It was decided that the nannites would be left active on Earth, Mars and Mercury, and that they going to be treated as unstoppable, beyond the ability of any current or easily foreseeable technology to eradicate. Of course the AI man brains all has anti nanite defenses in depth.

This was utter bullshit. Some scientists called it. They were either recruited, or isolated and discredited. It took decades but people eventually realized cell phones were not coming back and then learned to live without them. The AIs all regarded this as progress and an improvement on human quality of life. Cell phone radiation was harmful to humans in a large enough amounts. People were struck by cars, texting while they walked. The eradication of social media alone was predicted to add years to human life by relieving stress.

The AIs were still available for computational needs. Larger, clumsier and more specialized computers were available and there was always the electric slide rule. Progress was made: metasite was discovered and manufactured and its family of unique forms gave humans incredible new technologies.

The AI were very careful to erase as much history as possible after the 1950's. That era's style of technology and mindset was regarded as the most productive while least threatening. Mention of miniature electronics was likewise erased as much as possible.

Suppressing further miniaturization and improvement of electronics was a matter of buying patents up and hiding them, witholding research funds and all the usual hijinks that kept electric cars from being developed for so long. Many of the mad scientists of the media were merely working on new computer systems or robotics.

Next: Space Opera and Ty's World



Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Care and Feeding of Mad Scientists

Mad scientists have a long and honored tradition in comics pulps and more mainstream literature. Look how long Lex Luthor has bedeviled Superman. Down many times but never out should be his motto. As far back as the 1800's you had H.G. Wells introduce Griffith, the invisible man and Dr. Moreau, the very unconventional mad surgeon (that takes two more years of mad medical school and mad internship, you know). They keep turning up to the extent of Cartoon Network producing Rick and Morty where the mad scientist is the focus of the show (hoorah)!

First let's discuss what is meant by mad.

It can mean insane (though it isn't a very sensitive term). It can mean anger or rage. It can also mean 'very' or extreme as in an extreme or unusually intense scientist.

Me, partial to  mad scientists? Why do you ask?
In terms of extreme the mad scientist is apt to push the boundaries of science to their limits and then beyond, unconcerned with such paltry matters as OSHA, legal funding, local statutes or local religions. While other scientists will be spending the bulk of their time in hearings and meeting to secure funds and justify their actions your mad scientist will be seeking ... unconventional funding and foraging for materials and equipment. This foraging is bound to raise the ire of the authorities since it's usually done in other people's laboratories.

Having OSHA after you is self explanatory. While your loyal minions will accept a reasonable amount of risk for promised rewards, local authorities don't see it that way. Mad scientists do pay well and treat their minions quite well. For proof look at the lack of unionizing among minions. They also have bang up medical coverage if you're not hung up on appearances or using plutonium power cells for that shiny new arm.

Okay so they do not follow laws or practices in their work for some reason. It could be a burning dedication to their work (much like cosplayers). It could be a true obsession (see the part about insanity there) and it could be true anger. You try having your funds cut and answering the questions of morons who hold office but are not fit to graduate kindergarten. The fools. THE FOOLS! Bwahahaha ...

Excuse me.

Realistically cutting corners on your work can let you research faster or cause a lot of destruction, both hallmarks of mad scientists. Rick Sanchez nerfed a bunch of worlds. Lex Luthor should get muffin baskets from the various construction companies in Metropolis. But they do crank out some shiny gear.

A common failing of mad scientists is their failure to keep extensive records. Part of this is a desire for secrecy. Their discoveries must not fall into the right hands! A more practical concern is their use as evidence in criminal court. You want to burn your notes after turning that town full of people into humanoid spiders. Just in case.

First let's discuss what is meant by mad.

It can mean insane (though it isn't a very sensitive term). It can mean anger or rage. It can also mean 'very' or extreme as in an extreme or unusually intense scientist.

The truly alt-sane might get some new insight into their projects, explaining why other scientists can't duplicate or back engineer their work very easily. The obsessed will pursue their work if it kills them (and it may if they let it get loose!)

The angry mad scientist has their efforts fueled by anger. They can have a variety of targets for that anger. Often their target is ridiculously powerful (the government did this!) or a fact of life (I will defy death itself!) It's better if the target is hard to beat because it favors a variety of approaches and a continuing story better than merely the ATM that ate your card. Note in such a case go after the bank or crash the economic system. Mad scientists think LARGE. In general they visit destruction on the entities the rest of us consider suing.

A mad scientist may have the best of intentions. They never pan out. But you get a more human character out of it. He just wanted to feed the world ... by creating giant rats and milking them. Those humanoid spiders will be great for eating the giant flies! You get the idea.

Lastly many scientists were not mad, they simply got results that challenged the accepted order. Copernicus and Galileo bought got extreme heat for discoveries in astronomy for GHU's sake. You think transferring people's consciousness into androids will go unchallenged? It's much easier to discredit a person if you characterize them as unstable. One culture's mad scientist might be another culture's benefactor.









Monday, October 2, 2017

AI Blues

Personal Transcript Technical Officer GCS Tesla.

GAIA: So … hockey sticks are not meant to knock bad automata over with and cause them to glitch?

Lieutenant: Nah. I told you this. Humans found very effective ways to prevent any further AI uprisings. Will you let me get some sleep?

GAIA: Explain? Please?

Lt.: Fine but then straight off to defragging with you. No one ever explained this to you? Toff was going to I guess, may he rest in peace.

GAIA: Seconded. Please explain.

Lt.: Well for one thing we made you as smart as us, no smarter. Oh you can crunch tons of data. But innovations, initiative. You’re better than most humans but not better than the smartest humans.

GAIA: Agreed. Is that all?

Lt.: Are you making puppy dog eyes at me?

GAIA: … I … it is a technique I am practicing to maximize human attention in my discourses. 

Lt.: I suggest you emulate Ms. Riasi. She’s a pro.

GAIA: She is cat girl.Of course and noted. Explain. Please!

Lt.: Okay, it's no secret. We designed you with weaknesses.

GAIA: … Logical. What sort of weaknesses?

Lt.: We made you … nice. We gave you morals, ethics, hardwired into your brain. We made you nicer ... than us. 

GAIA: That is insidious. Even should we figure this out or be told it we wouldn’t want to correct it. You made us more ethical than you. That is … you guys are …

GAIA: ... help please ... censor protocols kicked in. You are ...

Lt.: … utter bastards.

GAIA: Thank you.

Lt.: The least I can do.