Monday, December 4, 2017

Borsten's Folly

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

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

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

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

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

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

The pirates were not happy.

The Leap's government was not happy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh wait.

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Spin Doctors and Damage Control on the Luna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Seriously? No special precautions?"

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

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

CT Considerations

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Dieselpunk Manifesto Part Ten: Niagara

Hello folks it's been a while since I looked in on our man out of time: Buck Rogers! This review deals with strips Buck Rogers strips 90-99 found  here.

Things were looking up for Buck and Wilma, offered clemency by Andrew MacGregor, who were on their way to Niagara to officially become officers in the Org! Suddenly a bomb explodes off their rocket's beam. After being thrown for a loop MacGregor explains this was a warning shot from Niagara.

Niagara air defense does not screw around. A radiogram would certainly serve as well.

It turns out the air scout Buck and Wilma are flying can be operated like a ground vehicle. A rocketcyce patrolman (flying motorcycle!) makes them pull over to a landing platform. Wilma frets about getting a ticket which is an odd concern for a woman who grew up in a rural Org without ground vehicles (or you know streets). In any case Buck shows him his badge and they get off light.

Apparently Niagara doesn't allow flying traffic in a certain radius other than official business which makes sense I suppose. Even a few thousand vehicles in close quarters like that could be a nightmare. I'm used to New York traffic and I feel faint at the thought

In the novel Buck Rogers Adventure game the background for Niagara indicates that hydro electric plants were set up (or repaired) to provide power from the falls for industry. The main industry seemed to be anti-air artillery because as soon as they built enough the Niagarans set them up to control space around their city. They then built the city itself above ground.

You wonder what the American Emperor was doing when this all happened but remember the man is a drunken lout. In any case either Niagara was too far North for the air patrols or not considered worth bothering with until they were a going concern. MacGregor shows them the defenses and Niagara is credited as the sole place in America safe from Han shenanigans.

Wilma and Buck are now in the Airguard. Wilma gets a job handling communications (a switchboard operator) while Buck goes to school to become a rocket engine mechanic. It hardly sounds heroic I know, but they have to do something between adventures. t's also interesting that warriors are expected to learn a trade and everyone works even though automation makes most labor unnecessary.

Buck and Wilma step out quite a lot right now, dancing, clubbing, fine dining and sure they deserve a rest. The one sour note comes from Mac Gregor who informs them they can't get married during their enlistment (apparently canoodling is cool though). Buck wishes they'd stayed with the outlaws.

Seriously. The man was Boss of an up and coming outfit. Apparently a steady paycheck and shopping carries a lot of weight with our heroes. Buck meets Tommy Johnson of the artillery (on a moving sidewalk!) and it's then we are introduced to the latest threat a mysterious growling roar in the skies overhead!

They rush to an air defense outpost that is oddly enough unmanned. It could be automated, after all everyone is transferring calls and doing rocket maintenance. A sound detector there will give an inaction of what made the sound. The detector indicates no physical object was scanned which gives them minor convulsions.) Just then the noise cuts in even louder than before. Rogers has his helmet for protection but by golly Tommy must be regretting his poor choice of head gear! Artillery and lookouts through out the area report the odd sound.

They finally trace the origin to the Buffalo sector of the metropolis and MacGregor lets Rogers off school to take Tommy and Wilma and do some sleuthing. What the heck, Rogers already passed for a Han and worked undercover. They soon encounter a suspicious figure and give chase on foot. For some reason they haven't taken their jumping belts and I can only think that they didn't want to draw attention to themselves and the belts would mark them as military. The catch the man with the aid of a rocketcycle patrolman who runs him down, coshes the blackguard and then kicks a knife out of his hand while writing him a citation for GHU knows what.

Rocketcycle patrolmen do not screw around. When they say stop you better stop. The man turns out to be a Han and is thrown into the local jail. Given the wide ranging powers of the patrolman the police force seems to be a paramilitary organization. I kind of wish we saw more of the patrolman.

The Airguard subjects the Han to electrohypnosis and he spits like a dribble glass. It is a weird tale of two Han scientists, massive ray projectors and a plot to destroy Niagara.

But that's for the post on Strip #100!

The city of Niagara was introduced in gratitude to the newspapers of the area that were early strong supporters of the strip. that bit of meta-commercialism aside Niagara is a very pleasant place. Everyone works, but everyone seems to have time for themselves. Work and play seems to balance out way better than in this lousy century. Buck and Wilma are having the time of their lives and in love with plenty of PDAs. The city seems to be wonderful for lovers.

For all that Niagara is a city under the threat of constant attack. That Emperor has to sober up sometime. Rocket patrolmen are a nightmare to anyone who looks suspicious and able to assault and detain such people if they resist being stopped in a way we would call misuse of power. then there are all those ginormous artillery pieces (several stories tall in some cases) and the sensors posts that are as common as cell phone towers. A great many people are also in military service.

I'd live there.

Monday, November 27, 2017


Earth was unprepared for a war with Mars. Her R-Ray technology lagged behind the Area forces. Mars had an larger and more experienced fleet and years of Arean subterfuge had greatly impeded Earth's involvement in the Solar System.

Building more ships would take time but could be done. Earth had the edge in population and resources. Likewise, building more ships would lead to advances in R-Ray propulsion and weapons. To deal with Arean influence Earth turned to the Special Forces. Highly trained teams would land to gather intelligence, train allies, and damage Arean interests and property. 

SpecFor in turn had two problems: lack of vehicles and lack of firepower. Most of the teams were transported via Luna class ships repurposed for covert operations. They were ostensibly merchants or explorers and did not mount ship vehicles. In many case SpecFor had vehicles provided by locals or they stole them. The SpecFor of course had lifter belts but these were not always sufficient. 

SpecFor were issued rocket pistols but felt they needed a weapon to answer the Martian disintegrator. The earth's answer was the blaster but this weapon had problems as detailed in an earlier post. As for the vehicle problem, the answer was the One Man Aerial Platform or Jitter

Jitters were small platforms with lifter technology and small powerful engines burning metallic hydrogen. Using lifters stretched fuel duration. They could manage 100-200 kph. Higher speeds could result in the engines melting. A jitter could ascend to 100 meters and operate for 2-3 hours between recharging and refueling. 

They also made good targets as the wearer stood up in them with their feet in braces similar to ski boots. The jitter was controlled by leaning in various directions, toe, and heel pedals and quite responsive. 

The initial reaction of the SpecFor was skepticism (or outright laughter). Still they trained and began to learn to use the jitter's speed and maneuverability to present poor targets to sniper fire. They also learned to fly closer to the ground. 

The jitter had the advantage of being discardable. In the event of an engine failure the wearer could eject and still use their lifter belt and have a chance of escape. In addition the SpecFor were happy to be as far from the metallic hydrogen as possible and strongly objected to mounting rocket engines on their lifter belts for this reason. The jitter also could hold a lot of fuel and multiple engines. That much mass in a lifter belt would make the user clumsy despite the belt reducing his weight. 

Lt. Salazar is equipped with a Mk. 1 blaster, Mk. 3 lifter belt and a  Earth Dynamics Jitter (One Man Air Platform or OMAP). Her helmet is non standard issue but a design adapted by many SpecFor in the field. Apparently the wings also contain sensor and radio antenna.

Some SpecFor loved them and some hated them resulting in mediocre performance reviews. 

Then some genius decided to give the jitter another try while using his blaster. Blasters, you may recall had a serious recoil problem. Wrist guards were a muss. Underweight troopers just didn't use them. However, anyone could use a blaster on a jitter. You flew at the target and fired and the recoil was countered safely and gradually by the lifter. You'd move back a meter, maybe less for skilled users. Earth began working on blaster rifles.

It was a rare case of two mediocre devices making an excellent hybrid. SpecFor operatives grew adept at using jitters for pop up maneuvers, hopping up several meters from a place of concealment, firing several shots quickly and then descending quickly to reload. The Arean troops faced with this tactic often drained their disintegrator charges with little significant damage while concealed snipers whittled them down. 

Jitters saw extensive service on Venus where they could dip under the tree canopy to avoid enemy fire  and even maneuver between tree trunks quicker than other vehicles. eventually several were designed as stretcher bearers and cargo pallets to extend SpecFor range and capabilities. 

In the Uplands Camapign on Venus a SpecFor company used jitters to move and set up a number of pack guns within range of the main Arean airbase. When the Earth and native forces began their counter attack these guns began a lethal shelling of the base and paralyzed operations for over an hour. The slow response allowed the earth attack to succeed and Earth fighters took command of the skies decisively for the entire campaign.

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.