A Ghost Story

++++ DATE 4.4.2471
++++ TIME 23:01 MST
++++ LOCATION Waka Ama shipyards around Makemake, in the Kuiper Belt

Hannah Taylor scrunched up her nose, the combination of dust and bright light causing her eyes to water and threatening a sneeze. She glanced surreptitiously behind to reassure herself that the others were still following her. After concluding to her satisfaction that none of them were straggling too far behind, she pressed on through the dark access tunnel, the dull thrum of the life support systems here only a distant rumble.

Tutae kuri,” muttered Liam Walker. “How much farther are we going, Hannah?”

“Pissing already?” Hannah retorted.

“No,” Liam. “I’m no quitter.”

“Good. Because…” Hannah paused, stopping at a T-junction. She clipped the light to a service line and pressed her hands to the panel in front of her. Grimacing, she pushed harder, and it moved with a pop. “We’re here,” she said triumphantly. “Everyone in!”

“About time,” a girl named Anahera Hineira Kaa Singh muttered under her breath. Hannah glared daggers at her, and Anahera wilted, looking down at her feet as she ducked into the small room beyond.

“I can’t see anything,” complained someone.

As the last of the small troupe pushed in, Hannah grabbed the light and stepped in herself, securing the panel behind them. She reaffixed the light to the low ceiling above them, looking around the group. “Well?” she said. “What do you think?”

“What is this place?” Anahera asked, eyes darting around the blackness.

Hannah shrugged. “An old storage room, probably. It doesn’t matter.”

“It’s pressurized, though, isn’t it?” Liam asked diffidently.

“Obviously. Or we’d be dead.” Hannah looked around at the five of them – three boys, three girls, including herself. “Don’t look so worried. Nobody will look for us. It’s nightcycle, and everyone is asleep, anyways.”

Anahera put down the blanket she was carrying, sitting down gingerly. “This was actually a pretty good idea, Hannah. But what now?”

Hannah tossed her head as she took her own seat. “We tell ghost stories. That’s what you’re supposed to do when you do things like this.”

“There are no ghosts in space,” Anahera scoffed.

“You’re wrong,” Hannah said. “Oh, I’m not saying any ghosts followed our grandparents and great-grandparents when they came here from Earth. But we have ghosts of our own out here. Haven’t you ever heard your parents talk about the Kehua Woman?”

Pokokohua,” Liam snorted. “You’re such a liar, Hannah.”

Hannah shrugged. “Like I care what you believe. Do you want to hear the story or not? Because my sister told me when she wasn’t supposed to, and got into a ton of trouble for all it.”

Liam exchanged a glance at one of the other boys. The other boy rolled his eyes. Liam turned back to Hannah. “Alright. Go ahead and tell it. But that doesn’t mean I’m believing a word of it.”

Hannah swept her hand in front of her. “Most of us have lived our whole lives up here in this station. We don’t think anything of living in a shipyard, families with mothers and fathers and grandmothers and grandfathers. There are dozens, maybe hundreds of shipyards throughout the solar system, but this one is special like none other.

This one is where we Makemakeans are continuing the work of the Last Diaspora. This one is where we are building something attempted by no other humans ever in all the history of humans. Here, on the outer edge of the solar system, all of our families – you, and you, and me and everyone else – are building the Waka Ama, the greatest ship ever built.

“Because the Waka Ama isn’t just a spaceship – it’s a starship. It will be bigger then half a dozen super dreadnoughts all stuck together, and in its belly will live generations. Our generations, our children, and our grandchildren, and our grandchildrens’ grandchildren.”

Hannah shook her head. “You all know this. I know this. But it needs to be said, because this is more than a thing that we do, this is a thing that we are. Our grandparents carried the Diaspora here to the edge of the solar system, but we will be the ones to leap into the endless black and carry on the Diaspora past anything that anyone has every dared before.”

“I’m still not hearing anything about any ghost,” Liam grumbled. Several of the others shushed him.

Hannah pretended she hadn’t heard him. “Why am I saying this? I say this so you remember why where we are, what are doing here is so important. The people who came before us believed in this dream in a way beyond our own simple acceptance.

“Twenty-one years ago,” Hannah said. She paused suddenly, looking around the circle, stopping to hold the gaze of each of the boys and girls.

“Twenty-one years ago, work on the Waka Ama had just begun. The slipway had been laid out, over two kilometers long, connected to the linked set of habitat rings from all the ships that had come out this far to Makemake, but weren’t going to make their way back again to wherever they had come from. On the slipway, the superstructure for the great ship was being laid in clean prefabricated sections brought in from manufactories down on Makemake, or Pluto, or even Triton.

“The early days of construction were a true struggle. Delays, missing shipments, labor shortages. Many feared the Diaspora would end here, and never go farther. The Chief Engineer was a man named Manole. Now, I’m not going to say he was a good man, or a man well-liked, but without him the Waka Ama would never have been, so we have to give him that. His designs were daring, they were bold, they would not accept the limitations that others would put on him.”

Hannah shook her head, the movement making the shadows play across her face. “For weeks Manole was tormented by bad dreams. He couldn’t sleep, couldn’t do anything but work on his masterpiece, this ship he had dedicated his life to. The problems kept growing worse. The air scrubbers in one of the transport tubes to the slipway stopped working, and since they could barely afford anything, they let it go. The O2 balance, well, it went bad, and there was a fire, and a lot of people died. There was talk about shutting down the project entirely.

“In Manole’s dream, a man came to him and said: ‘My name is Tagaro, and I want to help you. If you want your Waka Ama to sail through the ocean black, then you must give to your creation someone very valuable, very beloved to you. A ship like this needs a soul, and without that soul, it will only be dead metal, and will betray you.’ Night after night, Manole would have this dream. He would close his eyes, only to see the laughing eyes of this Tagaro mocking him.

“One day, not long after the fire, Manole called his wife to eat lunch with him there in the belly of the great Waka Ama. They laughed together and drank wine, when Manole suddenly exclaimed, ‘Ana, let us play a game! I am going to build a fort around you from these polycrete panels.’

“Probably,” Hannah said with a sad look, “Ana was too drunk to realize that Manole was not nearly as drunk as he himself was playing at, and so she agreed, laughing. The panels went up, and out, and around, until at last, Ana was all but closed in by the panels that were now epoxied to the Waka Ama‘s bulkhead. She must have felt a glimmer of fear then, for she cried out, ‘Beloved, it is dark in here, and cold. Let me out.’ Manole laughed and joked and shushed her to be quiet, and as he affixed the last panel he leaned towards her and murmured, ‘Be still, and I will set you free in a moment.’

“And the darkness enveloped her, and despite the pounding of her fists on the polycrete walls, her desperate cries were in vain, and her husband Manole left that place, going back to his work, now comforted that the Waka Ama would live through the soul of own his beloved’s.

“For years afterwards, there were accusations and questions and inquisitions, but nobody could ever prove anything, and anyways, the problems with the construction stopped, and the pace of donations increased, and the Waka Ama began to take form faster than ever before.

“But sometimes, those who work deep in the belly of the Waka Ama will swear that their hand terminals will get interference, and strange messages pleading for help will play across them. Others claim to have heard pounding on the bulkhead, but when they investigate, they find nothing at all.”

Hannah straightened up. She looked again around the circle into the alternatingly shocked and doubting faces of her coterie.

“When all of you are finally old enough to take duty working on the Waka Ama itself, maybe you’ll hear it too. I know my sister has, though she made me swear to not tell anyone else, a promise I am now breaking for all of you.”

The darkness around them seemed colder somehow, and for a moment, Liam was positive he heard a woman somewhere sobbing.

The Anatomy of a Super Dreadnought

Since I did one of these for the Dreadnought class, it only seemed fair to give its big sister equal time. From my in-development side project, ORG.

Although similar in form to the smaller Dreadnought class, the Super Dreadnought actually occupies a distinct role. Where the Dreadnought can operate as a mobile command center or light carrier, the Super Dreadnought is designed to do these things over a long period of time, even to the extent of providing diplomatic support and, if necessary, ground bombardment options. Around Mars, State’s base of naval operations is not Phobos, but rather the Super Dreadnought battleship the Andrew Jackson, supported by its sister Super Dreadnoughts the Ronald Reagan and the James Monroe.

Three habitat rings allow the Super Dreadnought to maintain three different gravitational norms for the comfort of its crew, and four enormous nuclear reactors provide both a redundancy of power generation as well as the massive electrical energy necessary to support the Super Dreadnought’s unparalleled Artificial Magnetosphere Generators, or AMGs. Half again as long and over five times as massive as the Dreadnought class, the Super Dreadnought class is a monster of both defensive and offensive weaponry, claiming not only the largest bank of HED Lances of any class of ship (though, it should be noted, not by mass ratio), but an unparalleled mobile capacity for tactical nuclear launchers, as well as hangar bays capable of handling drones or fighters, or some combination of both, depending on the particular outfitting of the ship in question.

superdreadnought_anatomy

So, to summarize:

  • The Frigate class represents the general purpose workhorse of the solar system. It’s not a freighter, though it can be used as such. It’s not a survey ship, though with the right modifications it can do that, too. It’s not a dedicated warship, but armed with a bank of HED Lances, it can certainly fill that role. When fitted for combat, it is notable for being the smallest ship designed to make interplanetary trips. Frigates also have human crews, though they are not large enough to sport their own rotational elements. They’re small, fast to build, easy to crew, expendable, and flexible. Though not common, even some of the larger polities such as the Oceanic League on Earth utilizes frigates for the bulk of their combat operations.
  • The Destroyer class has no human crew at all in favor of a set of Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) units. Without human frailties to worry about, destroyers are ideally suited for extended duration picket duties, stealth missions, suicide missions, as well as frontline duty. Although Earth is fortunate to have an inexhaustible supply of human beings for crew, most of the worlds in the rest of the solar system suffer from continued labor challenges, and as such destroyers are for this reason as well as all of the above mentioned reasons very common and very popular.
  • The Dreadnought class is the smallest human crewed ship designed from the start as a military vessel, rather than simply being sometimes adapted for such duty as is the case of the frigate class. Dreadnoughts are intended to operate within the safety of a net of destroyers; four or five is typical, although necessity and opportunity may dictate more or less. The Dreadnought class is built to be able to operate as a mobile command center, a frontline combatant, and, sometimes, even a light carrier.

Super dreadnoughts are not only highly advanced but incredibly expensive vessels, both to build and to maintain, and only the shipyards orbiting Earth itself have the industrial capacity to construct the massive battleships. The orgs that contract out the construction of these are not, naturally, above contracting out and selling super dreadnoughts to other polities, and as a result a number of the navies of the solar system off Earth boast one or more super dreadnoughts.

Org_EarthPolityMap

Like the Dreadnought, the Super Dreadnought has a profile that is noticeably longer than it is wide, although less so than the Dreadnought. As general naval tactica dictates that super dreadnoughts should be kept back and used as an operational platform, maintaining a narrow front is less critical. Also like the Dreadnought, a large proportion of the Super Dreadnought is comprised of armor and shielding systems. On the Super Dreadnought in particular, these latter, known as AMGs, are powerful enough to diffuse incoming HED Lance fire and even provide some limited added protection from kinetic damage sources.

Aside from the obvious differences such as double the number of attitude thrusters and double the number of nuclear reactors, the major operational difference of the Super Dreadnought class is that it is capable of very extended remote service. Whereas a dreadnought must rely on regular resupply, a super dreadnought carries with it extensive hydroponic capabilities. Where dreadnoughts are focused on providing an offensive forward warship, a super dreadnought is designed from the ground up as a mobile command center, and also boasts considerable troop transport capacity in the form of over a thousand cryosleep tubes.

Although all super dreadnoughts are intended to operate as mobile command centers, individual ships can be fitted to some degree of specialization, from added troop transport, extended hangar capacity for true carrier functionality, and seemingly inexhaustive tactical nuclear missile deployment capability. In practice, however, most super dreadnoughts occupy a middle path between all of these roles rather than specializing.

The triple habitat ring setup is most often geared towards the owning polity’s own gravitational requirements, but where such have mixed gravitational requirements by virtue of multiple planetary possessions this triplicate habitat ring offers logistical capabilities allowing accommodation. Some polities as well, especially those in the Outer Worlds, do not even fully crew their ships, instead choosing to use the extra habitat rings for additional hydroponics or even storage, or even refit the ship to remove any extraneous rings.

Letting Go

++++ DATE 14.1.2472
++++ TIME 15:01 Shipboard Time
++++ LOCATION Research ship Avempace, 10km Sun synchronous of 538 Friederike

Just let go.

Even through the gloves of his spacesuit, Nicholas Bouras could feel the cold of the metal handgrips on the outer door of the primary habitat ring’s peripheral airlock.

They were still talking to him through the radio in his headset. He had no idea what they were saying anymore; the voices had long since turned to static in his head, a counterpoint to the pounding rhythm of his own breathing. It was as if here at the end of his life, his brain simply refused to process the basics of human language, preferring instead the comforting banalities of his own internal human physiology.

The numbers on the other hand – the numbers Nicholas could see as if they were printing on the screen in front of him rather than unbidden on the black backdrop of his own mind: 0.135g, 15 hours, 1.553 rpm, and most importantly of all – 8.13 meters per second.

Nicholas had no idea how long he had been holding on. The muscles in his arms were burning. Without a magnetic clamp to hold him to the outer shell of the habitat ring rotating at 1.553 revolutions per minute producing the internal centrifugal gravity of the Europan Standard Gravity of 0.135g and an outer tangential velocity of 8.13 meters per second, when his grip failed him, he would be flung from the rim of the habitat ring, and without a tether, plus or minus 15 hours later when his suit ran out of oxygen, he was going to die.

Around him, the starfield of the Belt slowly spun around the edges of his vision. Tears stung unbidden in his eyes. He tried to blink them away, but they only gathered on the inside of his spacesuit’s visor making a messy mist.

I don’t want to die, Nicholas tried to say. Please don’t kill me. Not like this. But his mouth could not make the words.

His left shoulder spasmed as it dislocated. The pain shot through his body causing him to gasp involuntarily. The voices that had been talking to him through the radio in his headset had fallen quiet now, and he realized there was not going to be any rescue.

He let go.

 

++++ DATE 14.1.2472
++++ TIME 9:21 Shipboard Time
++++ LOCATION Research ship Avempace, 10km Sun synchronous of 538 Friederike

“Captain, the computer has given us a registry on that armed frigate that’s been closing with us.” Nicholas was surprised his voice was so calm.

“And?” The Avempace‘s captain was captain, chief life support engineer, backup hydroponics technician, and liaison to the research scientists that made up the bulk of the ship’s mostly-Union crew all rolled into one. On a research vessel such as the Avempace, such multiplicity of hats was standard; Nicholas himself had his own diverse share of hats. While the Avempace was flying a Vesta Compact flag of convenience, it was a polite fiction given both the financing of both ship and research team, though nobody had seemed to even notice when they had put into port at Vesta.

“She’s the Drake, captained by a Kissandra Tully. Uh, sorry, Captain, but her course plot is consistent with a trajectory from Concordia.”

The Avempace‘s captain went very still at Nicholas’ words. She shook her head. “What on earth would they want with us? Concordia, so an illegal. Privateer or pirate, though, we’re a research ship, not a cargo freighter. We can’t possibly be worth all this trouble. They’ve been at our heels now for what, three days?”

Nicholas had no response. Then: “They’re accelerating, Captain. Hard.”

“Match velocity.”

“We can’t.”

“Very well.” The Avempace‘s captain flipped on her mic. “Susan, we have a problem. Go to the cargo bay and start prepping it for jettisoning everything but the nutrient supplies and the reserve CO2 scrubbers.” She paused, listening to someone on the other end. She shook her head. “Yes. And no. And yes, I am quite aware of that. Shut up and do it anyways.” Flipping off her mic, she turned back to Nicholas. “Send them our surrender,” she said quietly.

 

++++ DATE 14.1.2472
++++ TIME 13:55 Shipboard Time
++++ LOCATION Research ship Avempace, 10km Sun synchronous of 538 Friederike

The Avempace‘s hull vibrated as the frigate’s matched velocity, magnetic clamps locking onto the primary habitat’s sleeve and the hull airlock.

“We could try a fast burn before they cycle the airlock,” Nicholas offered half-heartedly.

The captain shook her head. “They’d just blow the engines, and maybe even the habitat rings and take whatever is left from the wreckage. No, our best chance is to just give them what they want and let the home office decide how to write this off.”

“Should we go down to the airlock and meet them there?”

The captain quirked a humorless smile. “No, if I have to surrender to some wanna be pirate, I’m not going to do it floating in 0g with my ass hanging in the wind.”

They waited in silence the long minutes until the elevator chimed, the doors sliding open. Three figures in military-grade armored spacesuits spilled out, the leading two with flechette rifles. One covered the exit, the other the Nicholas and his own captain. The third figure reached up and touched her collar; the visor slid back, revealing a middle-aged woman who stepped forward, hands on hips as she shifted her gaze between the two of them.

“I expect by now you have run the Drake‘s registry. I also expect your internal sensors have told you my people have seized engineering and life support.”

The Avempace‘s captain pursed her lips. “Yes.”

“Then you know who I am, I must presume.”

“Captain Kissandra Tully, lately of Concordia, I expect.”

Kissandra chuckled. “I know, I really should pick up an eyepatch.” Her eyes turned hard. “I assume you are going to be cooperative?”

The Avempace‘s captain looked like she had tasted something bitter. “Do I have a choice?”

“Not a good one, true,” Kissandra admitted. “But you still technically have a choice.”

“We’ll cooperate.”

“Good. Then the first order of the day is I want everybody not on this deck in the cryo-tubes. I assume they are integrated into the ship’s escape pods, as standard for this class of ship?”

The Avempace‘s captain’s eyes widened. “You’re scuttling the ship? But why?”

Kissandra didn’t say anything for a long moment. “Orders are orders. This will be better for your crew.”

The order given, the five of them stood in awkward silence while the Nicholas quietly passed on the order to abandon the Avempace. He looked up to the two women. “It’s done,” he said. “Escape pods launched. Other than the command deck’s, obviously.”

Kissandra queried her own ship quietly, confirming the report. She turned back to Nicholas and his captain. “Thank you. I appreciate your cooperation. Richards,” she said through her radio, “once the escape pods are clear, flash them with the EMP.”

The Avempace‘s captain lurched to her feet. “No!” she choked. “That will cut out their batteries. They’ll die! You promised!”

“I promised this will be better for your crew. This is. They’re in cryo, and will never know what happened.”

“You’re a monster.”

“If you like. I’ve been called worse.”

The Avempace‘s captain gave a strangled cry and launched herself at the privateer captain. Kissandra nodded at the man nearest to her. To Nicholas’ eyes, she seemed almost bored. The man, his visor still clamped down, lifted his rifle slightly. The weapon gave a stuttering clack, and a spray of flechettes tore through the captain’s torso and head. Her body dropped limply to the deck.

Kissandra turned to the other man. “You are still recording?”

He nodded. “Yeah, I got it.”

“Good.” Kissandra turned to Nicholas. “I apologize in advance for the theater, but my employers were specific in regards to their requirements for this operation, leaving me with little latitude for personal indulgence.”

Nicholas felt his throat tighten up. “Who are your employers?”

The corner of her mouth tugged in what might have been the beginnings of a smile. “Do I really look that much like a holo-drama villain?” Kissandra turned to the man who had killed the Avempace‘s captain. “Get our gentle pilot here suited and up to the peripheral airlock. Let’s see how long he can hold onto hope. Or the airlock door. Either one will work for this.”

“Why?” Nicholas blurted, as his mind struggled to accept the meaning of what was being said to him.

Kissandra turned back to him. “I really am sorry. You guys just had the misfortune to be convenient. Bad luck.”

Nicholas froze as the men stepped forward to push him to the ground. Bad luck, he thought numbly.

Just bad luck.

Three Months

For three long months I fought the nightly call
To unsheathe skin and let the passions rule
As ambivalent flesh surrendered all
My regrets only proving me the fool

For three long months I shrank from the twilight
Loathe yet to concede that rush and fire
Drowning in a guilt self-served in daylight
My conscience seething on memory’s pyre

For three long months as bones twisted and broke,
As skin wrenched taut and split there to release
Feral joys untempered by wisdom’s yoke
My repletion became a craven peace

Courage thus struck and compunction so lit
Now to ruin, I happily submit

Her Penance

Feasted here in rain fed fat
By tempest’s restless hammer,
The grey above chastises Earth
Her penance for that slaughter

My memory now serves but this
Rancid purpose, for that
Even that which once was sweet
Here makes for a cold sour grief

But if those fetters thusly bought
Cannot by consummation silence,
Then lay them thusly into my grave
And turn and walk away

For whether you by harrowed hell
Or hallowed hall bring here,
Gold or ardor for me to bribe
They to me both are as ash