Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Septimus - Chapter 1.2

Only a few seconds remain in the airlock cycle and then my first look at the worldsphere from the inside. I still can't really wrap my head around it, they say the surface area is something like three hundred quadrillion square kilometers, almost a billion times the area of earth. The human mind is simply not equipped to truly appreciate such immensity. Venting is complete, the airlock opens. A gentle push and I'm drifting out.

I've never been much for religion, but only someone who's stared into the face of God can imagine it. In every direction, a sky full of world. Never again will I see black sky or stars, yet I feel no sadness at this. In this instant I know that the wonder I feel right now will not fade in my lifetime. There is too much here for a hundred lifetimes to fully understand.

I don't know how long I floated there in awe of what I was witnessing, but eventually my reverie was disrupted by Juanita's voice asking if I was alright. After a few seconds to compose myself, I replied that I was fine and that I was about to turn on my helmet cam for video feed back to the bridge. The mike was still open when they received the first signal and I could sense the awe in their response. If only they could see it as I was right now. It was at this point that I noticed the sunblocks. I don't recall if I ever gave much thought to day and night cycles within Septimus or whether we would just be living in perpetual high noon. If I had, I probably would have thought such a thing would be difficult to get used to. As it turns out, the Septimus builders had thought of that. A giant ring of alternating plates and voids rotates slowly within the sphere, casting shadows across an equatorial band within the sphere. There is certainly plenty of landmass above and below the equator which never sees night, but for anyone living within the equatorial zone, it appears there is a normal (or whatever passes for normal inside Septimus) day-night cycle. Of course, reflected light from within the sphere would no doubt mean night isn't exactly dark, but I guess some sort of diurnal cycle is better than none at all. On the closest part of the sphere, I can just make out some detail. There are continents and oceans, mountain ranges and rivers, and clouds. From this distance, It's hard to tell the scale of these things, but they must surely be staggering when viewed from the ground. I thought Olympus Mons was breathtaking. I guess there are going to be a lot of people walking around in a daze for awhile once we land. Which reminds me, I'm out here for a reason. Time to get to work.

First, the optics array, I've got to get that online. I make my way over the hull, trying to avoid further distraction. However, I notice some strange scoring on the hull. Can't recall having seen anything quite like it, several sets of widely-spaced parallel scratchs criss-cross the outer surface of the ship. I've seen the effects of micrometeors and sandcasters, railguns and debris fields and they never looked like this. It definitely doesn't look like anything produced by lasers or plasma cannons either. Very weird, but it doesn't appear as though it caused any significant damage, whatever it was. Still, it gives me the creeps. Okay, the optics bay is just ahead. Yeah, as I suspected, the forward camera has be torn off. It probably caused a surge which burned out the rear camera as well. No big deal, I have a spare I can install for now to give us forward viewing. The rest of the system can be overhauled when we land.

It takes a half hour, but we have visuals. I only have a few minutes of EVA time left, so I'm just going to take a quick look at the impact shield. It's only a few meters, so I take it in one bounce. Damn, what a mess! I don't know if the scratchs on the hull and the hole in the impact shield are related, but something tore into us pretty good. Owww, my head is starting to hurt again. I'll have to ask Ramos for another shot of that painkiller he gave me. Looking at the hole, it's strange, narrow, but deep and unusually round. It almost looks like some kind of tool was used. No melting around the edges and no transfer from the object. Man, I'm starting get a bad feeling about this. Damn, this headache! What's that?

"(static)...Pelham, respond!"

Right there, some sort of shimmering. Ahhhh, my skull feels like it's gonna explode. There, again.

"(static)...Pelham, we are picking up elevated gamma radiation. Please, respond!...(static)"

No, leave me alone! Get out of my head! No please, leave her alone! Leave them alone! They're just kids!


"Pelham, you're awake."

"Ramos, what happened?"

"You tell me."

"All I remember is seeing some kind of shimmer and my head was killing me."

"There was a radiation surge. We're not sure where it came from. When it stopped, Chevsky went out to find you. You were unconscious, but you still had air. Your suit was fine and you seem to have suffered no radiation exposure."

"That's it?"

"Well, Juanita claims she heard you mumbling something about children just before your comm went dead, but she couldn't make it out too clearly. Anyway, you seem fine now and we have a bit of good news. Juanita has located the transponder frequency for the Rojas colony. As soon as we get a fix on their location, we're on our way."

"That's good to hear. I can't wait to breath some real air."

"Odd thing though, she says she was only able to detect about a half dozen transponder frequencies, besides the one Rojas is using. Every colony ship is supposed to be broadcasting one and there have been over two hundred ships going through so far. I guess a lot of people just want to be left alone."


Friday, June 11, 2010

Septimus - Chapter 1.1

It had been over four days since the Svetlana dropped out of out jumpspace. Throughout that time, Captain Chevsky had been in periodic communication with the UNA Septimus Directorate negotiating for clearance as we closed on the massive wall of blackness. Now, as we waited only a few hundred thousand klicks from the gate, we could see several ships and small craft flitting about, as well as the approach lights erected by the Directorate, indicating the location of the otherwise invisible dimensional gate. A big modular colony pod was preparing to enter and we would be permitted to enter a few hours later. The maneuvre thrusters on the colony ship fire and it proceeds forward. I watch intently as the colony ship appears to head directly toward a featureless wall so immense that even at this distance, no curvature is noticeable. It's as if one half of the sky is starless and the other sparkles with lights so clear, you almost feel as though you could touch them. I'm told it's because of the combined effects of almost non-existent ambient light and because the space around Septimus is as pristine as the interstellar void. The colony pod picks up speed rapidly. I've heard the gate works best when a ship is doing over a thousand klicks per second. Good thing they put final approach under computer control. Most helmsmen would lose bowel control flying at a solid wall at half a percent of lightspeed. And what happens on the other side? There's a lot of room inside a sphere with a radius of over one AU, but who knows where you pop back into normal space? There's a lot of decel required once inside. Could be a lot of ships finding the inside of that shell coming at them at uncomfortable speeds, especially for those clunky colony pods. Any radical course changes and those pigs turn into a fireworks display for the folks below. I try not to think about it too much.

"There they go," Captain Chevsky says.

I look up in time to see the colony pod approach the gate. It's really just a blur. There's no flash of light and, happily, no explosion either. One second she's there, the next, she's gone. Good luck, folks. You're gonna need it.

We spend the next few hours prepping the ship for the gate jump or whatever it is. I don't claim to understand the physics involved. I'm not sure the big brains understand it either. Again, not something I spend much thought on. I'm a tech, not a scientist. I signed on with Chevsky back on Mars. He was pretty well-known around the spacer bars. It surprised everyone when he decided to retire, he was one of the few independents left in the game. Interstellar freight transport is an expensive business and most small operators couldn't make enough money to stay in it. They just couldn't afford the really big freighters and in space, you have to go big. Chevsky was an exception. He had a way of sniffing out small, high-value cargoes. Most figured he had connections. Government or criminal, who knows? Anyway, he announced he was getting out. He bought out his crew and said he was headed for Septimus. Yeah, I know, Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot? Anyway, he was looking for colonists, young people, men and women, under thirty, no families. I don't know what convinced me to sign up. I was sober, so it wasn't that. I guess I just wanted to be part of something. So here I am, checking the sleepers in the cargo hold. Don't want anyone to bite it because of a faulty relay. If I was flying in a low berth, I'd hope someone would do it for me. After I finish with the sleepers, I'll do a check on the thrusters. Those things never have a problem, but there's a first time for everything. Then I'll grab a sandwich in the mess before heading back to the bridge. Don't want to miss the floor show.

I get back to the bridge with a few minutes to spare. Chevsky has the helm, his wife Juanita is on the comm. The only other person on the flight deck is Ramos, the medic. Everyone else is in the sleepers. We'll need Ramos when we wake up the rest of the colonists. Cold sleep is pretty safe, but it's always a good idea to have a medic on standby in case someone's ticker gives out. As I finish strapping in, the Captain informs us that final approach is about to commence. The impact shields descend over the flight deck windows and the lights dim. The thrusters engage and three gees of acceleration press us hard in our seats. Seconds pass, we must be close. What the hell was I think...

"Pelham, wake up!"

Ahhh, my head is pounding. What the hell happened?

"Pelham, get up. We need you!" It was Ramos.

"What? What's wrong?"

"Sensors are down. We're flying blind!"

"Well, open the shield," I reply as I look around for my toolkit.

"Can't, we hit something. The shield is jammed."

"Damn! Alright, I'm on it."

It took a few scary minutes, but I got sensors back online. Some sort of power surge tripped breakers all over the place. Weird, but reparable. Ramos is checking out the sleepers. Damn, I hope they're ok. Should be, they're well-shielded and each has independent power in an emergency. Chevsky's missus is scanning for debris. I guess something hit us pretty hard just as we dropped back into normal space. Video is still out, whatever we hit probably busted the optics package, but radar and passive EM is working. Why does my head hurt so much?

"Sleepers are ok, thank god." Ramos was back. "Pelham, what happened to you?"

"What do you mean?"

"You lost consciousness. I had to hit you with a stim to wake you up."

"I dunno, but my head is killing me. Maybe hopping across dimensions doesn't agree with me...like tequila." I was trying to lighten the mood, but my heart wasn't in it. Ramos smiled and moved on to check on Chevsky and the Missus.

Time to go EVA and see if I can do something with the optics array.


Friday, June 04, 2010

Rebuilding the rebuilds - Kossak

Red Blok "Kossak" medium strider (TL 10)
Hull: 26 m3, Standard Configuration, Advanced Composites, Rugged, Sealed, 9/11
Drive: Walker
Power Plant: Hydrogen Fuel Cell-10, Power Output 330, Fuel Consumption: 5 per hour
Fuel: 200 litres (40 hours)
Armour: Advanced composites 12 (24/16/16/16/16/8)
light autocannon (pop-up traversing, TL 10 stabilisation, 7d6 SAP; auto 6)
ammo: 40 attacks
4x light tac missile (antiarmour) (right external fixed, 9d6 Super-AP)
4x light tac missile (antiarmour) (left external fixed, 9d6 Super-AP)
ammo: 16 missiles
Sensors: Comprehensive Compact Hardened, Extended (9 km +2 DM)
Communications: Radio 1,000 km, Laser 20 km
Environmental: Improved Life Support
Crew: 2
Operating Stations: 2
Cargo: 0.05 dTon
Agility: +1 DM
Speed: Cruise: 10 kph Top: 13 kph Offroad: 6 kph
Ground Pressure: 3.67