Star Trek meets Firefly

Short mulling on antimatter as a big-bang-battery for FTL drive systems.

Last year I think it was, someone suggested that the USA could soon use a “Z-pinch” device to create the needed energy gradients to allow a spacecraft to exceed the speed of light.

Aside from the frankly terrifying thought of interstellar expansion being sponsored by Starbucks and Disney, it’s a nice idea. But you still need a power source.

In Star Trek the whole ship’s powered by a massive anti-matter reactor. Oh, it has several small fusion power sources dotted around the ship, including some dedicated for the Impulse Engines if I remember rightly. Yet the anti-matter plant, the “warp core”, runs 24/7.  Before this gets too long-winded, I have trouble with how much power the ship requires. Okay, the warp drive bends space-time to extreme degrees, the transporters are essentially managing very controlled atomic annihilation and reconstruction, the replicators also do the matter-energy conversion as does the holodeck to some degree. It’s quite frivolous, but expected in an apparently “free energy” future.

Within our lifetimes though, the economy of having a sustained annihilation reaction seems questionable. However if I understand it, the Z-pinch concept is to create a sudden burst of energy, that would somehow flip the vessel across great distances. To be able to do that continually would need something like the Trek reactor. But since the Pinch seems to be a one-shot concept, you’d only need a single burst of energy.

Antimatter is a terrible thing, and controlling such a fundamentally unstable substance would be very tricky. However it does go bang very nicely. So if you need a sudden intense burst of power, such as for energising a Z-pinch device (possibly explosively in a similar method to an EMP device*) then a bottle of antimatter may be just the battery you require.

I recall hearing that the interstellar engine on Serenity, in Joss Whedon’s Firefly, was planned to be the sort of drive that wasn’t casually used, but that everyone held on for dear life and hoped it wouldn’t explode when turned on.

An annihilation-powered-Z-pinch would probably be a similar, terrifying experience.

* I wonder if any sci-fi writers have yet considered the use of a one-shot disposable FTL drive?

Disaster fiction premise – fuel-air hurricane bomb

Pondering some disaster-porn based around the Gulf of Mexico oil-spill and the upcoming hurricane season.

Pseudo-Manitou on LJ just mentioned that tropical storm “Alex” has missed hitting the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and that there’s only 10 or 20 more such storms to come this year (the period of concern of course presumes the oil spill will have been dealt with this year).

Now the worrying idea has been put about that the higher than usual methane content of the oil (30% rather than 5%, IIRC) means there’s giant methane pocket down there, and the new leaks appearing through seabed cracks could mean the seabed is going to disintegrate, releasing the 50,000psi methane pocket in a gigantic explosion big enough to send a supersonic tsunami several hundred miles inland in a few minutes. And it throws in a secondary tsunami for free as the ice-cold deep-sea water meets hot and now empty underground cavern in a huge steam explosion. And of course there’s the added bonus of the giant methane death-cloud to wipe out any survivors and those beyond the waves reach.

But it occurs to me that we’re missing out another possible bit of disaster porn here; What if a huge tropical storm does hit the oil slick? Right through the middle where the oil concentration is at it’s highest? Well it’d suck up a lot of the oil into it’s high-speed winds, tearing it up into tiny particles. And since hurricanes have a wide range of pressure gradients, somewhere in that hurricane it’ll have the perfect ratio of fuel to air for combustion.

One flash of lightning and a fuel-air bomb the size of Texas explodes.

If you wanted to up the anté a bit furthur of course, consider the wild possibility of the hurricane passing directly over the leak site and igniting. Fresh fuel being pulled up at it’s least diluted source, 70% oil, 30% methane, a constant supply of cold air being pulled down the centre of the funnel from the upper atsmosphere. Why specify cold air? Because cold air is more compact, and contains more oxygen. And with the fire adding to the heat, the convection could well anchor the hurricane on the fuel source.

This could plausibly be the first time in history we see a hurricane catch fire. Or explode.

Of course, the ratios for effective fuel-air explosive mixtures are apparently pretty precise, so it’s far more likely it’ll simply rain burning oil across the southern 3rd of the USA.

Pretty decent premise though.

Xeno-Archaeology: Entry XA-A5#4563BBA, “Engraved Moon”

Just a little random universe building.

In the Epsilon sector is an A5 graded relic (little further analysis possible), the Engraved Moon.

A fairly unremarkable natural low-gravity satellite, the moon is tidally locked with it’s volcanic partner planet. It shows signs of some exploration, but little evidence remains. The vast proportion of the relic is in it’s planet-ward face, almost the entirety of which is covered with a massive laser-engraved image. The image itself is hard to decipher, but seems to show two unknown life forms interacting, with a background of non-sentient flora. It has been compared to the late Baroque style of Earth.

The significance of the image is unknown. For one matter, it is unfinished; the raster-rendering halting in the south-west corner with some small smearing that suggests violent interruption of the process. This is further supported by evidence of orbital gun platforms around the nearby planet, in the form of radio-actives and vaporised superconductors in defuse orbits of the Lagrange points.

There is also damage to the image from asteroidal impacts, determined through standard isotope scans to have originated from the cataclysmic impact of a larger asteroid with the primary planet some 700,000 years ago.

The core of the most popular theories is that the planet previously held a circa Class-0.7 civilisation that was in conflict with other members of it’s own race, which necessitated the construction of orbital weapons platforms. These platforms were re-purposed to try to deflect or destroy a ELE-grade asteroid, but were incapable of successfully doing so. The theory goes that realising there was no hope, one of the platforms was turned toward their moon to leave a lasting marker of the races existence by raster-engraving an image on it’s surface.

If this was indeed the case, it was a success as the impact sufficiently heated the planets crust as to initiate a new perpetual volcanic state. The entire surface is estimated to now fully renew itself every 4 standard years. No trace of former life on the surface has ever been found, nor is ever likely to be.

While of no remaining archaeological interest, the system does see infrequent tourist traffic. An extension of the theory has entered popular myth, embellishing it as a monument not to the civilisation, but as a final romantic act of a couple working on one of the gun platforms. The most consistent version sees the couple realising that death is at hand, and over-riding the useless firing attempts of the platform to immortalise themselves together, often dying in each-others “arms” as depicted in the image, as debris wipes out the platform.

This is of course massive assumption. The two figures could equally be locked in a final death-struggle; no other record of the race, it’s cultures or biology remains. But that it might be true is often more than enough for the die-hard romantics who take the long cruise out to see the Engraved Moon.


Looking through the old story ground files I compiled for reference. The station I created for it back around the year 2000, Outpost 1..

Suddenly a memory comes to me of the more recent trailers for Mass Effect 2..

It’s only a rough likeness, but it’d be nice to think the group had a fan in BioWare. ;)

[20/06/2010: Amalgamating old posts from “Dreamwidth Creative Blog” into to re-purpose DW blog account.]

Homestead Space – Idle Thoughts and retrospective..

For about 7 years I was part of a wonderful little writing group calling itself the “Homestead Space RP”. It started off as some casual freeform roleplay set in the equally freeform “Homestead Space” universe (essentially Earth, but hundreds/thousands of years after the disappearance of humans and the subsequent appearance of anthropomorphic animals. Attempts to set this in stone were never really completed).
It evolved into an increasingly verbose multi-author writing group, until it eventually came to a halt in something of a “perfect storm” of personal priorities, time and an increasing number of story threads, as well as differently evolving writing styles.

Although the groups email list has essentially been quiet regarding new writing for several years now, my mind often wanders back to it’s wonderful mix of concepts and characters.
One of my favourites was the extra-galactic race, the Vulpinian Empire. An ostensibly anthropomorphic fox race from Andromeda, and the creation of my good friend Jason.
This expansionist bureaucratic advanced race had as their vanguard to the Milky Way galaxy the elderly Space Battleship Yamamoto-inspired “Firefox” Battlefox-class battleship, and eventually it’s six “sister” ships. They often edged into power-gaming territory, but still remained improbably plausible. They were both often far more advanced than local technology, but also hindered greatly by centuries of improper and insufficient maintenance in their bottom-rung placement in the Navies of the Empire and it’s far more recent vessels. A powerful, but essentially elderly combatant. And that’s what I loved about it. Okay it didn’t fit with the more local entrants, but it wasn’t a local entrant. It was huge, dirty, quirky, and essentially lovable for all of it’s 6-mile long bulk.
The USS Enterprise is the Apple iPod of spacecraft; shiny, new, untouchable, irreparable, even ethereal and delicate. The Battlefox class ships were more like a shit-kicked old laptop by comparison; battered and held together with tape and hand-soldered repairs, but still a laptop with the right killer apps on board.
A military laptop. Made in Russia. With depleted uranium.

It shared that sort of Red Dwarf vibe; too old to live, too big to die. It’s crew were loyal through adversity, it’s AI was quirky (and emerged into full sentience), it’s main weapons failed often enough that it was a plausible combatant, it’s casualty figures were on par with it’s extreme size, and it’s esoteric features fitted both it’s piecemeal maintenance history, advanced technology, and previous roles.
A weapon that destroys black holes sounds like power-gaming if it’s not been mentioned before. Perfect for suddenly removing the problem of a player possessed by the destructive spirit of a fragment of neutron-star. But it fits perfectly when one of the ship’s previous roles was hunting down their own races creators; a species known to use singularity manipulation as a principle technology.
A vessel that’s essentially a battleship in space seems improbable and impractical, but well fits an expansionist race as an invasion craft. It provides the maximum protection to the planetary ground-fire on approach, and essentially lands a multi-mile high walled fortress on the planet when it does touch down, fully ready to repel ground and aerial attack alike, as well as unload ground troops and gear through lower decks. Even landing it at all would likely cause small earthquakes, and at any speed; a wake of earth to plough through anything.
A powerful vessel that’s still essentially expendable, but more approachable to less technological races when you’re eyeing up the galaxy next door and don’t want to cause a panic yet.

It was a pleasure to write about for me with the ease continuity could be fixed up retroactively.

In the latter days of the group, my (then fictional) company Starborne Works took on a local maintenance contract for the small fleet after they became stationed there to help defend against local threats as (officially) a good-will gesture from the Empire. It would provide the ‘fox fleet with their first proper repairs in decades or centuries, as finally affordable with the local labour. I was hoping there would also be an additional subtext of eventually testing the small fleet’s loyalty with how accepted and helped they’d been in this galactic backwater verses their own near non-person status “back home”.

But before that eventual plot-point I got some way into writing essentially a jungle-adventure-in-space. The essence of it was to be that with some 300 years between the first and last ‘Foxx-class ship being produced, there had been design changes, and in the intervening centuries a lot of the design rationale and master designs had been lost. So with royal approval (the Empire worked under an elected queen and council-class) one of my own prototype Fluke-class ships was to accompany the FireFox all the way back to Vulpinian Space and the decommissioned shipyard where the craft had been built.
The yard however was now buried under many miles of more recent derelict structures. Docks, bays, research, development and testing labs and areas, offices, storage and maintenance. Afterall you don’t really need to worry about space in space, only about having something to hang onto. Hundreds of kilometres in diameter, the rough-sphere of old facilities had finally been officially shut down as a safety hazard once a new yard had been made in a nearby system. But somewhere, many kilometres below the surface, were the ‘Foxx design offices and drydock. Long since built around/over, and with many hazards making teleportation an impossibility, a team was to trek down into the depths of the pseudo-jungle. A maze of unstable structures, overgrown hydroponics, radiation hazards, mutated vermin, and still-active power, security and maintenance systems. And finally in the cavernous dry-dock beside the offices, the discovery that although funding was cancelled on the final 8th ship; the substantial part of it’s superstructure was laid down first. Somehow forgotten in centuries of paperwork, a fresh hull complete with some of it’s reactors and drive systems.

To be brief, the contract allowed the salvage of anything pertinent to the repair and maintenance of the ‘Foxx fleet, and Sci (as the roleplay character) was not going to leave this prize behind. Managing to jury-rig the drive systems for a brief “pulse”, they were to be able to knock the hull into hyperspace where the FireFox would then be able to tow it out from under the relative location of the station and back into real-space.

And at some point on the journey home, Sci confesses to his personal AI that surely the best way to work out how to repair and upgrade the other ships would be to have one to work on from scratch.
Such work would also reveal the secret “fail-safe” devices implanted in the other ships in case of rouge-AI. Ostensibly the product of untrusting council members, long-gone.

And so, several years later, I readily imagine this short exchange between Sci and the perpetually unflappable Queen Victoria Vulpinia after a bottle of champagne-analogue has shattered prettily off the hull of the freshly commissioned “GhostFoxx”…

“My lawyers told me something else interesting too. Apparently the service contract lists both items of salvage for repair and research purposes as well as the stock parts held by my company, as property of my company.”

Her body stiffened an imperceptible fraction, eyes locking out into the distance, and a strangled quiet squeak briefly fought to get past her tightly closed but still-smiling lips.

“Apparently it’s for liability reasons. I just thought it was amusing that a ship that technically belongs to me is now publicly serving in a foreign navy.” He paused a moment to follow the Queen’s frozen but polite gaze out into space, “Though of course I could hardly say it’s really ‘mine’, it belongs to Ghost herself, the product of the open mixing of our two AI types. All the benefits of your technology and our more expandable, even independent you might say, architecture. She could grow up to be anything!” He laughed good-naturedly, “Ah, they grow up so fast.. Good thing she’s part of a friendly government’s navy really. Oh, she did mention that one of the lower council departments of your senate sent her a gift. Some device that could give her quite a light-show apparently. Rather than keep it to herself though and have it installed so close to her AI suite as they rather heavily suggested, she thought she’d have it installed near that Vulpinian listening post on Phobos so we could all appreciate the show if they decide to activate it. She did say she wondered if any of the other AI’s got such thoughtful gifts when they were commissioned.. ooh, the cameras! Smile!”
He finished abruptly with a grin and leaned in to put an arm around Victoria’s waist, giving the rather honest appearance, though not for the apparent reason, of shocked intrusion of the royal personal space.

[20/06/2010: Amalgamating old posts from “Dreamwidth Creative Blog” into to re-purpose DW blog account.]