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.