Blackberry Targeted Content

Ship Focus: Almaz Picket

Type: Semi-improvised fast mover.
Original manufacturer
Unknown communes.
Current pattern status
Public domain.
Fusion drive.

Armament : 8x pebble launchers and 4x laser grid nodes on the military version.
FTL capable: Yes (thoughts and prayers recommended).
Length: 70 meters.
Payload: Up to 1,000 tons with canisters.
Crew: 5-10.
Passengers: up to 20.
Also known as Junkyard Dog, Soyuzwave.

The Almaz Picket is a ship that exists. It's the kindest thing I can say about it.

-- Anonymous engineer.

Sometimes, you really need to go fast and cheap. If you're a sane person, you'll probably try to get your hands on a decommissioned Luciole Interceptor, or perhaps buy an Inyanga and replace its q-drive with a fusion cell. Of course, these options are for cowards -- or worse, Earthlings. If you're a real spacer, and if you had enough drinks or shots of Vyirangan lichen, you might start considering the Almaz Picket. When you're at the bottom of the pit you dug for yourself in desperation but yet keep digging, that's what you'll find eventually.

The Almaz Picket is not exactly a ship. Rather, it's a million pieces of junk flying in formation. Building space ships out of space trash is not exactly a new concept in human space: it's been a time-honoured tradition to clean up encumbered orbits by assembling small shuttles, trade barges and other minor vessels out of discarded equipment, dead satellites and other Kessler children. It took more than a century for someone to decide that, yes, it was actually a good idea to glue a fusion drive to such a trash vessel -- and thus the Almaz Picket was born. A contained sun duct-taped to discarded fuel tanks of various sizes.

The Almaz is fast. Owing to a very favourable thrust to weight ratio, it has enough delta-v to out-accelerate almost anything in sublight, and can pull off translation shenanigans only a Luciole Interceptor can hope to match, adjusting relative velocities in the blink of an eye. Thanks to surprisingly decent radiators (when the ship they've been plundered from is in good shape, of course), the Almaz can remain under thrust for days on end -- for non-crewed versions at least. There's also quite a lot of cargo space for such a relatively small vessel, making the Almaz a prime choice for fast couriers. The rest of the ship is not exactly up to par. The Almaz is a very simple, rugged vessel full of antiquated fly-by-wire systems (in some versions, the radiators are to be retracted and extended manually), the RCS thrusters are little more than glorified gas sprinklers, the crew cabins are more than spartan and the less is said about the sensor suite, the better. But it is fast! 

Aside from its primary role as a fast courier for communes that can't or don't want to afford a more complex vessel, the Almaz Picket may receive a series of hardpoint and sensor upgrades that turn it into the Almaz Interceptor, one of the cheapest manned combat vessels in existence. Prized by outlaws and communal militaries, the Almaz Picket is a medium fighter, equipped with pebble launchers, laser gimballs and, if the crew is lucky, one or two hunter-killer missiles. To put it in charitable terms, it's very bad at actual combat. While it is quite good at "torch duels" involving fast translations and evasive manoeuvres, a well-piloted Luciole can dance around an Almaz with little trouble due to its vastly superior faster-than-light capability. Against anything bigger than an interceptor -- especially a Firebase -- the Almaz simply cannot withstand even a fraction of the firepower such a large combat vessel can unleash. It does, however, excel at peer combat against other improvised ships.

Illustration courtesy of Lilly Harper, who writes most excellent sci-fi prose on the Beacons in the Dark blog.

Ship Focus: Object 17 "Goélette"

Type: Azur Effect prototype/Courier vessel.
Original manufacturer
Azur Shipyards.
Current pattern status
All rights reserved.
Chemical engines (prototype), fusion drive (mainline).

Armament: None.
FTL capable: Yes, Azur Effect drive.
Length: 50 meters.
Payload: Up to 15 tons.
Crew: Up to 4, prototype is AI-controlled.
Passengers: None.
Also known as 017, the Waverider.

Test Flight 012: Initialisation of Azur Effect drive successful. Test aborted after seven minutes of calculation. Suspected cause: critical mainframe error. Atmospheric return nominal.

Test Flight 015: Initialisation and full translation calculation complete. Jump aborted by ground control at T+8 seconds. Suspected cause: software error due to coding mishap in translation code library. Investigation revealed that the error went back to version 0.78 of the Azur Translation Database (one missing comma).

Test Flight 016: Short-range translation completed with great success. Power draw and computation load under expected parameters. Return jump aborted after detection of critical structural flaw in left wing section. Suspected cause: dimensional sink overload due to translation overreach.

Test Flight 017: Mid-range translation successful. Test pilots report succession of abstract dreams during dimensional transition. Dimensional force nominal, well-balanced between individual sinks.

Test Flight 018: Dimensional translation anomaly: Object 017 narrowly avoided collision with "non thermodynamics compliant object" during long-range jump. Object appeared as a 2000 kilometers square artifact, less than a millimeter large, that seemed to hover at the very edge of liminal space. All systems clear.

Test Flight 21: Test pilots report feeling of "being observed" during translation. Post-flight debrief reveals presence of one (1) additional heat signature aboard during the flight, though no additional crewmember or stoaway have been noticed. Suspected intrusion of a Lady That Wanders, later confirmed by CCTV footage.

Test Flight 22: First successful contact with liminal space. Dimensional sink expansion within expected parameters. Crew reports conflicting depictions of liminal space, albeit they are all coherent with the commonly accepted idea of liminal space being a "transition area", similar to a hallway or empty road. Second contact with non-thermodynamics compliant entity registered during dimensional exit.

Test Flight 25: First full range translation performed. 6,500 lightyears covered across three sequential translations, estimated time including jump calculation: 2 days, 23 hours, 45 minutes. First visual observation of dimensional waves during translation exit, recorded by the crew as similar to foam following in the wake of the ship. All systems nominal.

Test Flight 67: First Sequence interdiction bypass performed. Crew reports heavy pressure exerted on dimensional sinks, an "invisible storm" in their own words, while passing within the interdiction bubble. Stabilization of the ship resulted in heavy structural damage to the Sequence megastructure, possibly caused by the absence of dimensional sinks on the ringworld. Further investigation required.

Test Flight 82: Narrowly avoided destruction via dimensional sink overload, requiring emergency translation abort. Post-flight debrief identifies unknown force as Pale Path-related entities encountered during initial waveriding process.

Test Flight 125: Replacement of dimensional sinks after 103 jumps, exceeding expected lifespan by 25 jumps. All systems nominal. Regular wear and tear observed on external surfaces. Psychological strain on crew and navigators deemed acceptable.

Object 17 "Goélette" is thus considered operational. Proceed with initial production run.

Ship Focus: Migrant

Type: Settlement/Deep space surveyor vessel.
Original manufacturer
Starmoth Initiative.
Current pattern status
Public domain under Starmoth Initiative designs.
Fusion drive.

Armament: None, may carry a military laser grid.
FTL capable: Yes.
Length: 800 meters.
Payload: Up to 50,000 tons.
Crew: Up to 2,000.
Also known as the Immigrant, the Great Wanderer.

Many would liken the vast Migrant vessels to arks for the interstellar age, but the comparison is ill-advised. Humankind isn’t settling new worlds because it has to, but because it can. Colonization isn’t a last-ditch attempt at giving a new home to a dying race, as was often prophesied by writers of old. It is a long, careful and complex project aiming at attuning a small human population to a new planet all the while preserving its ecological integrity. In this context, Migrant vessels play a key role, not so much as immigration ships but as surveyors and initial outposts.

Migrant ships are among the largest FTL-capable vessels in existence, starting at 800 meters. Their crews are surprisingly low for their size, with passengers, colonists and navigators accounting for one to two thousand people on most Migrant vessels. These crews aren’t meant to populate a colony, they are not even the first settlement wave. They are the surveyors and pioneers tasked with assessing the ecological viability of a habitable world and setting up the initial infrastructure. Migrant vessels are typically populated by a mixture of scientists, engineers and artists, with an emphasis on geography and biology-adjacent disciplines aboard. In the initial settlement attempts, Migrant vessels often carried a “cold storage” compartment of colonists plunged in deep cicada sleep. This practice has fallen out of favor however and modern Migrant ships are not equipped to support hibernating crews, unless the navigators expect to be stranded for an extended period of time.

The key element of a Migrant ship’s design is redundancy. The size of these vessels is partially justified by the fact that every single system aboard a Migrant ship is doubled or even tripled by auxiliary modules. They are the only human ships to routinely carry two geometry drives and twice as many fusion reactors as necessary, and the only non-military vessels to be entirely coated in ablative armour. The central habitable section of a Migrant ship is almost impervious to radiation and contains enough supplies to last a lifetime. The vessel is large enough to provide artificial gravity in its crew quarters through rotation-induced centrifugal forces, though the habitats can be folded to trade gravity for compactness. It is not an exaggeration to say that Migrant ships are the single most resilient human vessels in existence. There have been many occurrences of Migrant ships being damaged in their deep space ventures, but not a single one has ever been lost. This desire for self-sustainability extends to the political organisation of Migrant vessels, which are always independent communes made of passenger-citizens.

A Migrant vessel is destined to carry out three distinct roles during its operational lifetime. The first one is to act as a deep space traveller, transporting its crew, biosphere and high-tech infrastructure across thousands of lightyears, very often through uncharted space. The second one is to act as the target planet’s initial orbital station, serving as a scientific outpost, remote sensing platform and small craft harbor. Then, after a few years, if the planet is deemed suitable for long-term settlement, the habitat section of the Migrant vessel is separated from the engine modules, disassembled in space and de-orbited. The various modules will then be used as is for the first planetary settlement, while ship-specific systems will provide much-needed resources to the initial manufacturing efforts. The rest of the Migrant vessel can then either remain in orbit as a rudimentary space port or travel back home on its own and pick up another habitat section.

Due to their mission profile, Migrant vessels don’t usually take part in more than one settlement attempt, though there are a few notable exceptions. One of them is third generation Migrant Gaia Theory which successively took part in the initial settlement of Smyrnia, Concorde, Masan and Azur. In old colonies, the initial Migrant vessel has often been turned into a monument; such is the case of Look At What We Have Here whose orbital section now rests in Elora’s Remembrance Dome.

It is to be noted that Migrant vessels share more than a passing resemblance with heavy warship designs, and especially USRE Firebases.

Mass Effect Andromeda - EA/Bioware, all rights reserved.

Ship Focus : Luciole Interceptor

Type: Dedicated combat vessel.
Original manufacturer
USRE naval shipyards. Produced under license by the Eloran Ekumen, Laniakea and Algorab.
Current pattern status
Well-controlled license.
High-acceleration fusion drive.

Armament: Offensive laser grid (all models), 2 external missile hardpoints (Mk1), 4 internal missile hardpoints (Mk2), 4 hardpoints or UREB spinal mount (Mk3).
FTL capable: Yes.
Length: 150 meters.
Payload: Up to 200 tons in ammunition.
Crew: Up to 8.
Passengers: None.
Also known as the Matchbox, the Flight Stick, the Angry Firefly.

The Luciole ("Firefly") combat vessel was the first dedicated FTL combat vessel. Still in use today, it embodies the modern style of space combat, based on FTL missiles and tactical mobility.

 Upon the discovery of the geometry drive, the USRE was the first polity to conduct a serious study on faster-than-light combat vessels. This study led to a classified memoir, the Falkland Report, which outlined the specifics of a speculative FTL-capable combat vessel. Far from the massive, hulking combat vessels of the interplanetary age, this ship would be a small vehicle, favouring computing power and missile weaponry over lasers and raw sublight speed. A vessel that would "dance around the battlefield", in the words of the Falkland Report, translating in and out of weapons range to avoid return fire. Many powers had come to the same broad conclusion, including the Moon Communes, but the USRE was the first polity to actually implement the idea and build such a vessel.

The first Luciole Mark One left the Kenyan Orbital Shipyards roughly one century ago. It was unlike anything seen beforehand. A slick vessel, armed with FTL missiles, whose thin frame was made of nothing more than radiators, a powerful fusion drive, a high-frequency geometry drive and a cramped crew section. It owed more to the jet fighters of old than to the slumbering giants of its time, geared towards a form of warfare that had yet to be seen in space: high mobility, low resilience combat. Much like the tank or the original Dreadnought, the Luciole immediately made all extant combat vessels obsolete. The Luciole immediately triggered a new arms race, though the vast majority of its competitors were basic derivatives of the "angry firefly". Almost a century later, the Luciole remains the single most widespread combat vessel in human space, both in state militaries such as the USRE's High Fleet and in paramilitary outfits. Constantly updated and refitted, the Luciole is expected to remain in active service for the decades to come. 

When the Luciole Mk1 entered service, it was effectively impossible to counter on the battlefield -- their main opponents were hastily refitted fission cruisers, unable to keep up with the teleporting vessel. A century later, the ship is not the "queen of the stars" it once was, but remains a solid choice for space-to-space combat. The Luciole is primarily armed with missiles, stored in ammunition bays that may be complemented by external hardpoints. Two mid-section rings bear laser grid emitters used for point-defense and close range combat. The rest of the ship is filled by a fusion drive and a powerful CPU section, cooled by four radiators. The crew is lodged between the propulsion bus and the first laser ring, in rather spartan conditions -- the Luciole is not a very liveable vessel, closer to a 21st century bomber than a navy submarine in terms of habitability. The Luciole cannot withstand a direct missile hit: when battlestations are called, the ship's tubular bridge is sealed, ready to act as a self-contained escape pod.

It's worth noting that while military crews do not overflow with love for the Luciole, shipyard mechanics greatly enjoy the vessel's modularity. It takes less than an afternoon to break a Luciole open and access its innards, thanks to a clever system of joints and neatly self-contained subsections. It is even possible to perform "field transplants" on two disabled Lucioles, swapping their components to obtain a working vessel out of two drifting wrecks.

The USRE High Fleet currently uses the Luciole Mark Three, the state-of-the-art version of the Interceptor, while most of the old Mark Two and Mark One have been either mothballed, dismantled or disarmed to be put on the civilian market as racing vessels and messenger ships. Laniakea operates a custom version, the Hornet Interceptor, that includes orbit-to-surface capabilities, while the Moon Communes have their own brand of Lucioles, trading the fusion drive for a high-power Selene Engine. Algorab, confronted to Sequence vessels in the Serene Sea, bought a few Lucioles to equip them with spinal UREB (ultra-relativistic electron beam) mounts used to engage non-human vessels at very close range, under ten thousand kilometers. Finally, a few mothballed Mark Ones have somehow found their way into the Smyrnian Bubble as "Luciole Gunships", armed with makeshift dumbfire weaponry. 


Illustration courtesy of Lilly Harper, who writes most excellent sci-fi prose on the Beacons in the Dark blog.

Ship Focus : Open Source Orbiter

Type: Versatile SSTO vehicle.
Original manufacturer
Current pattern status
Public domain.
Wide variety of chemical rocket drives or auxiliary non-rocket engines.

Armament: None by default, may carry a wide variety of weapons.
FTL capable: no.
Length: 50 meters.
Payload: 100 to 250 tons, depending on propulsion/refueling options.
Crew: Up to 6.
Passengers: Variable depending on configuration.
Also known as the OSO, the One-Ship Wonder.

The Open Source Orbiter is a great example of what the open-source economy of the space age can produce when given a very adaptable platform, lots of time and a plethora of problems to solve.

The OSO was born in the late years of the interplanetary age and first appeared as a concept, a speculative blueprint posted by an anonymous user on a communal forum. This blueprint drew inspiration from late industrial age vessels as well as modern orbiters to create something that, albeit not technically new, had not really been attempted before: an SSTO vehicle for the masses. The Public Orbiter, as it was known at the time, had nothing of a cutting edge marvel. It was a clever amalgamation of well-developed technologies that aimed at creating a rugged, robust, cheap and adaptable vehicle that wouldn't try to suit the need of a specific commune but could potentially be adapted for any mission in planetary orbit. The idea was received with interest by the aerospace community, then gained its focused attention when various community-fueled improvements turned it into what was to become the Open Source Orbiter.

At its core, the OSO is a VTOL single-stage-to-orbit vessel. What sets it apart from other similar designs and has ensured its longevity is the fact that every single one of its components has been selected and engineered to ensure the lowest possible cost. The OSO can use almost any type of propellant and fuel thanks to the use of universal tanks, its heat tiles are fast to replace and repair, its spare parts are ridiculously easy to source and its cargo bay can carry almost anything, with a clever system of joints and standardized containers allowing for on-the-fly module swapping. Granted, the OSO isn't as powerful as modern orbiters, nor is it as durable as dedicated deep-space vessels, and it certainly lacks the power to make it a true interplanetary freighter, but it's cheap. It's not just cheap in a monetary sense, it's also politically and socially cheap. Given that its blueprint is in the public domain, building the OSO or one of its numerous variants comes at no influence cost, even for a very small, isolated commune. 

Speaking of variants, there is one for about every single case use one can think of. This is emphatically not a metaphor. Drone OSO used as a detachable fuel tank/cargo container? Of course. OSO updated with a nuclear thermal engine for an interplanetary trip? Just give me some radiators and we're good to go. Hastily weaponized OSO used as a "Karman skimmer" vehicle? Illegal, but very much doable. Exploration OSO with reinforced landing gear? Come on. FTL-capable OSO? With a computing station and a fission stage, I will bring that thing to Tau Ceti and back. Two-staged OSO for take-off under high gravity conditions? Hot staging is my passion. Of course, it is also very common to find OSO hulls being used as waystation parts, given the durability of the vessel.

A recent study estimated that as many as 65% of all non-FTL vessels in human space were Open Source Orbiters or derivatives thereof.

Illustration: SpaceX Creative Commons.

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