Ship Focus: Almaz Picket
Type: Semi-improvised fast mover.
Original manufacturer: Unknown communes.
Current pattern status: Public domain.
Propulsion: 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.
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've 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 was 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.
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