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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

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First, inevitably, the idea, the fantasy, the fairy tale. Then, scientific calculation.

Ultimately, fulfillment crowns the dream. — Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, 1926




The probe flies in a series of punctuated whines and bangs, capacitors charging and discharging in electronic hammer-blows. This is the deep emptiness of interstellar space, far beyond the last wisps of gas and chunks of ice, equipoised between stars tiny, multicolored and indifferent. There is no music, and no air to convey sound waves, and no-one to sense them anyway. But if there were music it would not be the ‘Blue Danube’ or ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ but perhaps the ‘Anvil Chorus’ of Verdi’s ‘Il Trovatore’, or ‘Mars’ from among Holst’s ‘Planets’; discordant, industrial, faithful to its purpose.

Had there been more theoretical and experimental work and less juried-up tinkering, the probe would have been equipped with sensors, or guidance. Had the probe’s builders done more theoretical and experimental work the probe might never have flown at all, for current theory and experimental evidence seamlessly predict this twisted collapsing wave function should behave no differently than its electromagnetic cousins. They are sedate and ordinary, sometimes sparking and radiating as they shuttle their electrons around, determinedly proper and quite without the scandalous habit of propulsion. Only a special combination of factors allows this wave to reveal its special talent, an electro-magician of physics performing legerdemain across the spangled backdrop of the Milky Way, Maxwell’s Very Special Demon grinning in delight as it sleights its hand to a marveling audience. No, the pen-shaped cylinder has no space for sensors, no means to steer. It is stuffed with tons of equipment for the reactor, the magneto-hydrodynamic generator, the ranks of massive capacitors, switching circuits, process and flow components, and – of course – the drive, which is not strictly speaking a drive at all. Unlike the gigantic, rigidly-braced stargates, this drive functions as a fluttering, continually collapsing twist of wave-functions, each pulse moving the field a short distance through hyperspace as it collapses and dies. As a biped walks in a continuously-interrupted falling motion, the drive surges and stutters, fails and recovers, booting itself in the rump over and over and over. ‘Look!’ the Demon gestures to the crowd, ‘Nothing up my sleeve! Aha! Here it is! See! Nothing in my hand! Now! What’s this behind your planet…’

The beings who designed it had no idea how far it could fly, had in fact no idea how it would accelerate as the gravity field thinned and flattened, or how the jumps would lengthen out in the starless dark. They had aimed it into an open rift between galactic arms and set it free, a flapping butterfly, a bottle without a note, in hope it could be retrieved within observable space. Instead of the small fusor they would have given it batteries save the initial power demand was too high; they accepted that the reactor could run for months but confidently expected to recover the probe from the asteroids on the other side of their sun. Imagine the mingled delight and distress they must have felt as unknown factors shyly emerged under the pitiless glare of instrumentation, the probe streaking outward past the recovery craft, electromagnetic pinions flapping in time to the slow beating of its capacitor-chambered heart, each skip in thinning gravity longer than the one before, effectively superluminal and unrecoverable. They had no idea its course would be affected by forces inside the hyperspatial skip, no knowledge that its course would slowly – so slowly! - curve and curve and curve to the tropic pull of a field nexus stronger than gravity, skipping and banging and rattling and sparking, butterfly wings of field forces flapping and failing and falling, over and over and over…

To contact.
 

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The System was active, but unaware. It scanned with robotic thoroughness, tirelessly applying its protocols and algorithms to the rushing rivers of sensory data, and all was nominal and therefore good. Predictions were verified, orbital tracks plotted, anomalies sifted like gold flakes from the common ruck of data. There were more of these anomalies lately, it noted, and more of the anomalies of a particular type as revealed by frequency correlation, and more of them located in the outer system where its sensors and actuators were thinner. It trickled through its programming, attention pulled away a thousand times a second for other duties, and sifted and sorted the data for its masters to peruse. To the system, this was not unlike our ancient Egyptians composing missives for 20th century men to read; in the time required for a satellite to orbit the home world once, eons of machine-years marched past.

The System did not care. It fulfilled its function and its status was nominal (except for that processor node the masters had not repaired/replaced/refitted, and actuator seven orbiting the gas giant). The anomalies were plotted and sieved through pattern-matching software of great power and delicacy, half-formed gauzy spider-webs of data that fit no calamity the System had been designed to detect. The pattern-matching software was thus unfulfilled, unable to dismiss the anomalies as benign and equally unable to declare a recognizable threat. Libraries of routines were opened; its masters had suffered a strike from a small asteroid long ago, and in their mourning had attempted to protect against the kinds of danger they could forsee… and labored to provide a way to analyze dangers they had not forseen.

At last the data was filed to a process that began with an outrageous assumption: the anomalies were all points of a single graph, all plots on a single flight-path. The evidence was irrefutably absurd; the System was not allowed to assume motion at faster-than-light-speeds. But the points plotted neatly into a spiral, swirling around the system as days of observations were calculated and adjusted for the transit time of radio waves across interplanetary space. If the points were plotted, and if the absurd velocity were ignored, then the pattern was smooth and clear and inescapably murderous, and this pattern the system was not allowed to dismiss.

The System hit every alarm, triggered every sensor platform, dumped power to every weapons actuator on that side of the sun, computing firing vectors and cross-indexing with predicted flight paths of every registered vessel, planetesimal and free-flying rock. To intercept then it had to fire now which meant the commands must be issued here… and the System knew it had failed, and reported its failure, and continued to track, predict, fire and assess, continued dispassionately to safe its weapons as the next predicted point of emergence blinked ahead of any response that could be made, as the predicted track curved perfectly according to the action of unsuspected laws and forces, as the next blink perfectly intersected the stargate and a new sun announced itself in the heavens.

Contact.
 

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This GalCiv II game was played under version 1.2 with the following setup:

Galaxy: gigantic
Victory: research, alliance, influence
Tech trading: disabled
Allow CPU intensive algorithms: yes

Habitable planets: common
Number of planets: uncommon
Number of stars: occasional
Star density: loose clusters
Anomalies: rare
Tech rate: norm

Race: human; political party: Federalist; government: The Directorate; leader: The Director; home world: Earth
Appearance: gray hull, black trim, red engine; ship style: human; logo: roundel of stars

Number of opponents: Random (7); difficulty: Tough (random).

Caveat: I have played fast and loose by ignoring most of the supposed back-story behind Galactic Civilizations II and substituted my own where expedient.
 

Peter Ebbesen

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In due time the music will no doubt change into the "March of the Directorate". :) [Bonus points awarded if you know the source of that particular march, Director]
 

Inostra

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Ooh, a Director AAR! This will be good.
 

Soulitaire

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Sweet. Will be watching this story unfold.
 

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Ah, another AAR to watch. Sounds good to far (yes, I know - completely unexpected with your writing skills :rolleyes: ).

Let's see what I can learn from this game, whilst being entertained by your story. I see you're putting the technobabble and AI-thinking you've acquired through two HistoryParks to good use. :)
 

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Hi all!

J. Passepartout - I'm trying to balance the need to establish some backstory while curbing my tendency to run off at the keyboard. I hope - I INTEND - for this one to be moderately serious and fairly short.

It was an interesting game (OK, I made some notable mistakes). The AI put up a reasonable fight (OK, I made SEVERAL mistakes). And I had a lot of fun with this game; so that's why the AAR.

Peter Ebbesen - Hi Peter! Thank you for dropping by. I got a kick out of 'Yor' AAR (Southern American English :D ). I'd been talking about doing this for a while, and had written a couple of chapters, but you motivated me to get off my fundament and do it. Thanks!

I don't know that march, but if I had to guess I'd say it was from the Directory that ruled France after the Terror. Now that I've put that out in public, I'll go Google and see what I get.

My favorite march is still 'The Great Elector's Cavalry March'; the last section is one long fanfare with trumpets and french horns and it raises goose-bumps! The winds of the Berlin Phil put out a recording of famous marches (including Great Elector) while Von Karajan was still conductor; absolutely phenomenal. 'Torgau' was never a favorite but I love that version.

Inostra - I like the way you think! :D I promise to do my best to keep you entertained. Please feel free to chime in and tell me what you like or don't, or ask questions. Thanks for your support!

Soulitaire - We're in for a few posts to 'set the stage', mostly about how the humans got the stardrive and then how everybody else got it too. I never had GalCiv I so I don't know if there's an 'official' explanation.

Stuyvesant - Hi! Yep, techno-babble is the order of the day. I mean, we don't know how this stuff works, and I can't make myself just ignore it. If it gets too thick, ya'll let me know, K?

Next updates tomorrow.
 

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Henry Stibbins floated in midair, a smiling Buddha in a lotus position situated three feet above the compartment floor. Bare feet were tucked in and under, hands rested lightly on knees, simple terrycloth sarong artlessly composed, neatly trimmed beard cascaded thickly over chest and paunch and lap. A careful observer would have noted an almost imperceptible rotation, but otherwise there was only the slow rise and fall of the massive chest to indicate the man still lived. The eyes were closed, the mouth relaxed in the dolphin-smile that was his constant companion, the long graying hair floating free in strands around his thick, bare shoulders and mounded belly.

A soft chime brought no recognition from Stibbins, nor did he react as the chime repeated again, and again. Only when the chime ceased and was replaced by a low, irritating buzzer did he flick an ear, an eyebrow. At last he sighed, recognition that he would not be able to ignore this plaintive interruption, and clicked the push-pen cradled in his hand like an old-fashioned ink-filled stylus. The push-pen was filled instead with extremely high-pressure gas, and a brief hiss thrust his bulk to the carpet. “Roxor, gravity, this compartment, one-half standard gee. Lights to work standard, slow fade. Check message queue; notify sender the emergency page is received.” The half-gee came up slowly, the old familiar falling sensation balanced by the solid reality of the compartment floor. Even with his bulk, Stibbins was easily able to rise in a half-gee, and he tiptoed across the compartment to the wall rack where his work clothes hung. Once he had dressed, he could bring up a full gee; Stibbins liked low-gee, but knew he needed more high-gee time for his health.

“Emergency page from Station Administrator Lucinda de Vijk. Communication urgently requested. Your presence urgently requested in her office, time immediate, no appointment required. Shall I reply?”

“Roxor, reply to Station Administrator with request for nature of emergency.”

“Reply received. Maximum Security, no authorized distribution. Star Nation of Altair reports their stargate has exploded.”

Stibbins’ fat fingers paused in mid-swipe, coverall half-closed. Then he finished the seal, slid his feet into comfortable slippers and tied a yellow sash over a shoulder and around his waist. He frowned. “Exploded? Not failed? Exploded?”

“I have no further text. Shall I request more information?”

“Roxor, no. Reply instead I am now on my way to the Station Administrator’s office.”

He paused for the door to open, muttering softly so the station software would not respond. “Exploded? Then however did they tell anyone?”



Triton Station had been established a half-century ago for the study of Triton, the largest moon of nearby Neptune, and to provide a base for exploration of Neptune and the Oort Cloud. It had grown over the years into a combination university, experiment station and haven for research of all kinds, developing a reputation for fostering research into areas of physics that were somewhat off the main track. Stibbins had migrated outsystem two decades ago, around the time they were retrofitting the place with grav-plates, and had instantly felt at home in Triton’s bohemian community. He’d done a little teaching, some tinkering and a good bit of theoretical research into the Khlebnikov equations; a fairly typical mixed bag of work for any scientist in these less-specialized days. Out here on the fringe of the Solar System with abundant microgravity all around, they’d had some luck actually testing the equations with yards of home-brew designs and second-hand electronics. Almost overnight he’d found himself in charge of a team of outrageously talented and very curious people, a thin line of grant money and various job lots of strange and wonderful equipment. From time to time he longed to escape the administrative chores, but he’d never regretted coming out to Triton. Earth was a strange and uncomfortable place these days, still wracked by the after-effects of the Religion Wars, the Smashup, the Big Melt-Down and the Die-Off. There was more work to do Earth-side than there were hands available, and plenty of land available for the taking. But Stibbins had grown up in Toledo, Ohio and as a young man seen what had happened to it, and despite his travels had never found a place on Earth unmarked by the tragedy of those years. Plus, out here on the new frontier only rehabilitated criminals and psychological unreliables had minders; on Earth these days they were chipping everyone from birth and exiling the few parents who resisted to the mines on Mercury.

The waiting room was empty. There was no visible secretary; the chip in his badge told Roxor’s office subset who he was, and where, and verified he was indeed expected. After the Trouble Years, security software had gotten very good indeed, and few people gave it any more thought than they paid to electric lights or grav plates. Double doors hissed open as he approached. Beyond them was the palatial office of the Station Administrator, and framed to conscious good effect in front of the desk was the Station Administrator. De Vijk was apparently Lucinda this week, and looked good in long blond hair and a slate-blue pants suit. The breasts were lower and less full, the overall effect a little older and more matronly, and Stibbins approved of the change. Not that he found De Vijk attractive in either sex, nor did De Vijk have any feelings for Stibbins; De Vijk knew how to set a stage, and Stibbins respected good engineering.

“Greetings, Henry. I know you’re wondering why I contacted you.” He nodded; De Vijk might play around with name, sex and appearance, but the brain cells worked superlatively and few people on Triton worried about the rest. De Vijk waved at the refreshment bar and Stibbins nodded again. “Roxor, one sputnik with a twist.”

“The Altair link went down a couple of weeks ago. Stargate Command was concerned, but there wasn’t any problem with the links to the other civilizations. Today, contact was re-established; information transfer only and a weak signal at that. Something smashed their main stargate – blew up, or hit the gate and the gate blew up, no-one seems to know. I received an inquiry this morning from Second Minister Michael Collum. The Ministry would like to know if possibly this could be related to your… project.”

Stibbins nodded to show he understood, then cocked his head to one side to ponder an answer. Earth politics had never been his specialty, but once he had taken on the administrative chores he’d had to get more deeply involved. Humanity might be going through an age of informality and wealth in the wake of the Troubles, but funding still depended on politicking and came with strings attached; influence was proportional to whom you knew, and how well, modified by what you actually needed it for. The Directorate ruled the Solar System now, and had since civilization went ass-over-teakettle. On paper, it was a loose group of First Ministers, chosen by the First Ministers themselves according to any criteria they chose and not by popular election. There had been as few as five and as many as fifteen; currently there were eight, each a representative of a major political party or regional power. These First Ministers (including the chairman, whose title was Director rather than Prime Minister) held various portfolios in Resources, Transportation, Services, Security and the like, and public satisfaction with ministerial (and party) performance was measured through frequent non-binding public referendums. As long as minders were used only to prevent crimes of person and property, and politics and religion were not criminalized, most people seemed content to live their lives and let the Directorate get on with the recovery. At any rate, underneath the political masters were the Second Ministers, usually career bureaucrats and managers or people with specific technical skills. Michael Collum was the Second Minister of Research, and a call from such a powerful man meant the issue was very serious indeed.

Stibbins shrugged. “I can’t see how, quite, but I understand the Minister’s concern,” he began. De Vijk cut him off with a graceful motion. “I’m instructed to prepare a briefing for the Minister as quickly as possible. He understands the time lag prevents a conversation. Would you contribute some remarks?” Stibbins drank from his sputnik and rolled his massive shoulders in a shrug. “I don’t know what I can say without an examination of the data.”

“The Altairians have declined to provide a data dump, Henry. Not until they’ve had a thorough first look, they say, and who can blame them? Listen, Henry, I need you to give the Minister a quick sketch of your project; what you’re doing and why you think the disaster at Altair is unrelated to your work. You and I both know he has the information on file, but he needs a real person to lay it out in baby steps for the non-technical ministers at the big table.”

Henry noted the careful distancing in the use of ‘your’ work, but he couldn’t blame De Vijk for being careful. “OK,” he said. “I’ve done two dozen of these prep-talks in the last two months, I suppose I can do one more. Let’s do it now, though, so I can get back to my workstation.” De Vijk walked carefully around the open space that served as a holostage, motioning for Stibbins to take a position there, then took a seat and turned her face up in careful attention. Stibbins appreciated that; the audience that mattered was the camera, but it was easier to talk to a live person.

“Good day, my name is Henry Stibbins and I am the administrative co-ordinator for a research project here on Triton. Our work is based on the work of Arturo Khlebnikov, a theorist and mathematician in early 21st century Russia. He laid out some interesting equations just before the Trouble Years started, and he is generally thought to have died in Ashgabat when the Religious Wars broke out. There was a good bit of interesting theoretical mathematics being done then – strings and superstrings, dark matter, false plates and Sauron particles, and part of Khlebnikov’s work is applicable to the stargate. A group of us here on Triton thought a different subset of his equations were elegant and interesting, but they had not received much attention because they didn’t seem to have any practical application. Plus, any physicist who heard the name ‘Tesla’ was reluctant to look any farther because so many cranks and frauds have used Tesla’s name in vain. Doctor Walter Robinson suggested the Khlebnikov equations might have relevance to Tesla’s work with resonant electromagnetic fields, so a few of us started looking at that.”

“We found the linkage was electro-magnetic and gravitic, and only measurably present in microgravity. The effect was undiscovered because no-one else was doing this kind of tinkering off-Earth, and also because the effect is sharply limited in its initial and boundary conditions. We were using a field more or less like a stargate, except of course much smaller, and trying various twists and changes in the field including resonant functions. Under the right conditions we found we could twist the field so the force lines resonated and wrapped into a Mobius strip, which is not supposed to be possible, but does occur. The field instantly collapsed… but everything inside its radius was displaced about two centimeters and the vector was related to the field orientation. In short, a reactionless drive.”

“Since then, we’ve built and flown four prototypes, scaling up the size of each test model; the last one was about a thousand tons. We launched it… um… today’s Friday… three months ago, I think. Roxor, display launch date for Probe 5. The probe did not have the endurance to fly for months unless power demand and reactor fuel consumption dropped off once it was out of the gravity well, which we hope to prove with another test flight, if we can secure funding for it. We aimed the test unit out into the starless zone between the arms, so…” He stopped; De Vijk was motioning discreetly for him to gather his thoughts and stop wandering. “The last reading we had from the probe showed it was on its preset course, headed out into open space. It was moving faster than predicted, and we think there is an additional residual effect when the field twists are closely spaced in time…” De Vijk signaled again, more urgently.

“None of the alien civilizations we have contacted by stargate have been willing to give us their astrological position, so I cannot say if our probe was involved. We did aim it into empty space, and space is so vast I cannot imagine we could accidentally hit a planet. Unless there is some proof in the data from Altair – debris samples, if they have them – I do not see how we could possibly be involved. Obviously I cannot prove a negative, especially since the Altairans are withholding the data. Our next step is a piloted version and we have no plans to launch anything else until the piloted version is ready. For which we need funding.”

De Vijk motioned that the recording was over, and Stibbins took a grateful sip of his now-warm sputnik. “When will the piloted version be ready?” she asked. “This is the first I’ve heard of it… the first I’ve heard that you were having any real success.” Stibbins nodded mournfully. “We’ve been keeping the results under wraps because we aren’t ready to deal with the public. If we were to announce a working reactionless drive, it would be the biggest thing since cold fusion… and it might turn out to be just as big a fiasco, because it isn’t working very well just now. So please, Lucien – Lucienda – please keep this to yourself.”

“You just said the last probe was a success, the reactionless drive worked!”

“Well, yes… and no. The probe passed apparent cee while we could still track it, but we aren’t certain what the effects will be on humans, and we don’t know how to steer it, and – well – we’re not sure how long it will run, or what happens if it fails. See, the probe is actually more or less at rest with respect to the station, but with the drive on it’s skipping in and out of hyperspace, and each time it emerges from hyperspace it is in a new location faster than a photon could move from the original to the new location…” He stopped; he could see he’d lost her.

“You say you can’t steer it?”

“Other than turning it physically while it is in normal space, no. A single engine produces a vector along one axis.”

“And more than one engine?”

He looked at her blankly. “You know… we ought to try that. If we get the funding to build another one, that is.”
 

Stuyvesant

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Techno-speak + reading at a quarter to one in the morning after a long, stressful day = suboptimal understanding.

:D

Anyway, I think I understand your explanation for the hyperdrive well enough to follow along, and I certainly understand the politicking, the endless search for funding in academia or research. Interesting setup. It's one of those "reveal-a-little, confuse-far-more" things so far. :) What happened to the Altarians? Was that probe involved? What was that sentient entity you mentioned in the previous post, tracking the probe, and what role will it play in the future? Ah, lots of questions, but ample time to answer them.

Do I understand correctly that De Vijk is basically a brain, either hooked up to a powerful computer and/or hologram generator, or a brain inserted in some kind of robotic contraption that can change its appearance at will? Is it even relevant? (It doesn't appear to be the case, as the relevant thing seems to be De Vijk's sharp mind and political sensibilities. Regardless of whether he is a she or even regardless of what s/he is)

I'll be gone for a couple of days, moving south, so I'll be internet-less until cable gets hooked up at the new digs (the horror!). I'll check back as soon as I have connection again. :)
 

Rensslaer

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Another Director AAR -- For joy!!! :D And I'm actually in on the ground floor!

Masterful story, dialogue, characterization, and exceptional metaphorical prose! I love it!

Actually, I think this is closest to my favorite sci-fi style. It reminds me of a sci-fi author, but I'm not recalling who... Niven? I'm woefully unversed in the classics. :eek:o

Director said:
He looked at her blankly. “You know… we ought to try that. If we get the funding to build another one, that is.”
:rolleyes: Absent-minded professor! Quite fun.

Reminds me of a chemistry professor who guest-lectured in my technology class once. I thought for a second his name was Stebbins! But it was actually Stedham. Brilliant man -- invented a "clean-screen" system to test polluting emissions visually as a car passes and photograph the license plate of violators (wasn't deployed for years because the "party which protects the environment" preferred more bureaucratic methods because... well, that's what they do). But he runs into class about 10 minutes late, explains that he dropped his note cards for the lecture and had to put them all back in order again, which he failed to do because they were so badly in disarray. "But it's all right, because they're the wrong ones anyway." :rofl:

So did Stebbins' probe happen to be in the right place and right time to detect an enemy missile but wasn't able to react in time to kill it?

Or did Stebbins accidentally attack the Altairans?!!! :eek:

Or, if it was another power... was Stebbins set up somehow?

Either way, it seems his probe was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and it looks really bad!

Very interesting, Director! Looking forward to more.

Rensslaer
 

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Stuyvesant - Son, I love having you as a reader - you know that - but go get some sleep! :)

The short version is this: in the official backstory we have stargates, which cease to be used once hyper-drive comes available. My stardrive is a form of stargate that moves the ship into hyperpace but fails in the process, so the ship is constantly 'blinking' or twisting in and out of hyperspace as the field fails and is re-energized. Each time the ship twists into hyperspace it comes back in a slightly different spot than it left from... Please let me know if that explanation helps.

De Vijk is no disembodied brain but rather a man who likes to play with the latest in 'personal cosmetic modification', just as we have people today who can't wait to get another tattoo. In De Vijk's culture, these changes are reversible so he frequently redoes his appearance - even gender. The point I was making is that the Directorate values competency and brains, to the point of ignoring the behavior and preferences that we would think odd or unusual. Also see my comments below concerning the labor/talent shortage.

Rensslaer - I'll be making the point more strongly in an upcoming post, but the Directorate is very much like post-plague Europe or post-Revolution America. There is a huge labor shortage, a large amount of 'spare' land, materials and capital, and thus a huge boost in actual per-capita wealth. One result of this is an increase in people who have the leisure time to jury-rig their own equipment and tinker away. Note that I said Stibbins had been a 'jack of all trades', doing a little theoretical work, some teaching and a fair amount of tinkering with a soldering iron.

Stibbins is derived from two characters of other authors: H Beam Piper's Henry Stenson the instrument maker ('Little Fuzzy') and Robert Sawyer's Ponder Boddit the Neanderthal.

If I could write like any science-fiction author I would write like H Beam Piper. Or (early) Robert Heinlein. Niven & Pournelle would come third, though 'Mote in God's Eye' is a masterpiece.

Glad to have you as a reader, btw - I welcome your comments, questions and any critique you'd care to offer.


More will be upcoming shortly - probably tomorrow. Look for the pace of the story to pick up as we get the background sketched out.
 

J. Passepartout

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What I want to know is whether de Vijk's cosmetic changes extend to the point of being able to conceive.

I actually was able to follow the techno-speek somewhat. :)
 

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J. Passepartout -
What I want to know is whether de Vijk's cosmetic changes extend to the point of being able to conceive.
From 'The Princess Bride':

Vizzini: "He didn't fall?!? Inconceivable!"
Inigo Montoya: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."
 

Amric

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Your explanation smacks strongly of Buck Rogers, the movie and TV show starring Gil Gerard, Erin Grey, with the lots of land and labor shortage in a post revolutionary or post war type setting. Good stuff from you as usual....The 'blinking' ship reminds me of an episode of Stargate SG1 actually where something like that happened as well...I like your version better....:)
 

Rensslaer

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J. Passepartout said:
What I want to know is whether de Vijk's cosmetic changes extend to the point of being able to conceive.
Maybe even with him/herself! :eek:

Rensslaer
 

Stuyvesant

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Your explanation does help. I think I got the gist of it yesterday, but it seems clearer today. Of course, today it's only twelve thirty at night. :D

Thanks for explaining De Vijk as well. If the Directorate is willing to tolerate his kind of distraction, they must really need him, which supports your ideas of the meritocracy and labor shortage. One question though: I've played enough GalCiv (but not much more) to realize the population growth rates are quite absurd (as the programmers themselves pretty much acknowledge). I mean, it's necessary for the game, but you can go from 5 to 90 billion people in a few short years. How are you going to reconcile that with your labor shortage scenario? Cloning, I guess? :)

Okay, gotta go. Actual move will take place tomorrow... Make that today, in a few hours. Cable not yet hooked up in the new house, so who knows how long that will take. Anyway, I really should post this in 'Dragons', but I'm sure that you'll appreciate knowing that buying a house is now one more thing I've accomplished during the lifetime of 'HistoryPark'. :D
 

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It wasn’t in Stibbins’ nature to be resentful, but he was tired and discouraged. The Ministry of Research had clamped on as tight a security lid as present-day society allowed, moving his team and their equipment to a new structure near Nereid. It was nice to have all their equipment orders promptly filled, but they also had to put up with censorship of all communications, a pompous military commander, and a press agent to handle any future disclosures. Given a choice, Stibbins would rather have proceeded at the same cautious pace as before, but authority over operations had been taken from his hands when the military became involved. Or so the military thought. He’d had several unproductive sessions with the excitable and uncooperative Guard Captain Martiale Facci before the situation was resolved from a higher level. From the highest level; at the last conference, a personal representative of the Director’s office had appeared, briefcase in hand. Captain Facci had been reassigned and a contract signed with Stibbins and his team guaranteeing them patent and licensing rights to the new technology. After that, things began to move very quickly indeed.

Stibbins had not yet become accustomed to the secrecy, or to the continually hovering presence of the press agent. He was beginning to enjoy what seemed to be an unlimited budget and the kind of priority that made people jump to fill any request. One case in point was the intersystem courier vessel now being refitted in the station dock; his team would never have been able to afford a vessel that size, even if the armed forces would ever have handed it over to a civilian research project. Stibbins had to admit the choice was a good one; the ship was sizeable enough to have living quarters for a large crew and had an onboard machine shop and spare parts store. If the drive did fail out in the starless dark, maybe they would actually be able to make repairs and get home.

Today began with another in what looked to be an infinite series of meetings, but as soon as he stepped into the conference room he knew this one would be different. Seated at the table, unpacking a notebook computer and a stack of thick binders, was a man in the regulation blue-and-khaki of the Directorate’s Combined Armed Forces. He was tall, dark of hair and fair of complexion, not handsome exactly but clean-cut and fit. The badge on his jumper breast pocket said ‘Draper’. The space-going arm of the CAF had duties more in keeping with old Earth coast guard and lifesaving services, but military was military, and Stibbins could not see how the military could contribute anything but obstruction and paperwork.

For his part, Commander Louis Draper could think of any number of places he would have preferred to be rather than here. Had he been pressed for the facts of the matter, he’d have had to admit this posting was his own fault, but that had not improved his sour mood. He’d written the paper on ‘Principles of Combat in Space Environments’ as a theoretical piece for the ‘CAF Review’; he’d shown it to his former commanding officer, who had – he now realized – been less than enthused. The ‘Review’ had published it, right enough, but the responses had ranged from denial to ridicule. The officers of the space arm were interested in new propellants, improved batteries and better magnetic grapples, it seemed, and under protest might admit to the idea that development of the Solar System would continue to increase. A paper that attempted to reconcile interstellar logistics with Mahanian naval theory was an affront to their image of what their service was and could be, an unsubtle intimation that the bad old days of war and turmoil might not be over. Draper had stopped reading what passed for rebuttals; none of them allowed that war was even possible across the gulf between the stars, anyway, or admitted that war inside the Solar System was even conceivable. He hadn’t been able to pretend he didn’t hear the snickers of ‘Buck Rogers’ and ‘Beam me up’ when his back was turned, but he had forced himself not to react.

Once he had hoped for a ship of his own; there weren’t many in the space arm but the number was growing as the number of humans living off-Earth increased. He’d had a good record and was due an executive officer’s tour that, had it gone smoothly, would have guaranteed a Captaincy. Now he was shuffled off to a research station on the back of beyond to ride herd on what looked to be a scientific boondoggle. ‘Reactionless drive!’ he thought. ‘I guess we’ll hear about the perpetual motion machine on this afternoon’s agenda.’ Now he stood, face set in the expressionless mask they drilled into you in the Academy, shaking the hand of someone who looked like he thought Draper had come to murder his family. ‘Maybe I will shut down his scam,’ Draper thought. ‘Maybe I just will. I’ve got nothing to lose, myself. If the gadget doesn’t work I’ll get the blame and if somehow it actually does, I’ll be blamed for that, too.’

The briefing was thorough, but Draper couldn’t make any sense of it. You couldn’t have a reactionless drive; that was elementary physics! You might have something that appeared to behave that way, or could be faked into appearing to work. Maybe there was a cold-gas thruster hidden in there somewhere… and the probe was conveniently gone, so it couldn’t be examined. He watched the videos and looked at the telemetry data and didn’t believe a frame of it. Still, orders were orders, and the project boss was an administrative assistant straight from Directorate HQ. Men like Thomas Rook might be misled but they were not stupid and they had real power. He’d have to go along for now and at least ‘show willing’, but he was determined to give the ship a thorough going-over before the field tests. Maybe if he uncovered the scam he could prove it to Rook and get a fleet job again.

The afternoon briefing didn’t involve perpetual motion after all but instead offered a tour through the ship. She was an old courier of the ‘Halcyon’ class, due to be broken up now that more efficient engines and life support meant newer ships could be smaller, lighter and cheaper to operate. By her number he knew her as the ‘Helios’, but someone had painted out that name and neatly lettered ‘Endeavor’ in its place. Inside the ship was a mess, indicating that some salvage had taken place before she was turned over to the project. Corridor floors were open, wall panels hung loose, conduit and cable ran in every direction and gravity seemed to be optional. They had ditched the old fusion pile module and rigged a new fusor dome in its place, and a powerful one, too, he noted. Most of the installation he didn’t grasp, but the stacks of capacitors that filled a cargo hold were familiar enough even if he didn’t know their purpose. The bridge was a shambles; he counted it a minor miracle that the overhead lighting still worked. After the tour they asked him what he would need to fly the ship and he scarcely knew where to begin.

“As a start, I’d need two dozen men – experienced crew – and at least three officers. “ Draper had thought that would put a stop to the game, but Rook just jotted a note on a compad and looked at him expectantly. “We’ll need a full machine shop and an electronics shop.” Rook nodded. “The first dozen men are reporting next week, Commander. As for facilities: got those; the station has a machine and electronics module bay and the ship’s shop areas are being refitted and restocked.” Draper raised his eyebrows and pressed on. “All the wiring has to be cleared out of the corridors, for a start. The life support systems probably need work…”

Stibbins interrupted. “We can run the cables in the corridors as a temporary expedient. It’s easier for us to lay and service - ”

“No, sir, we cannot. Ship safety is paramount. If we have any sort of problem we’ll need to get a repair crew to it immediately, possibly in the dark and in null gee. Clutter and obstacles are not permitted in corridors, not ever.” Stibbins looked mulish but Rook nodded decisively. “We’re taking delivery on a life support module; it’s on the same ship as the first crew draft. The LS module is off a Polaris class. Our engineers say it will interface.” Draper’s eyebrows went up again; the ‘Polaris’ cutters were the very newest class and no more than three had been commissioned. If this project had hijacked components off a Polaris boat, it had very high priority indeed. Draper still thought it was hogwash and moonshine, but he was beginning to see that someone very high up had taken a close interest in this particular load of moonshine. “If there are any particular officers or men you would find useful, or if you think you’ll need more than two dozen, please let me know and they will be reassigned.”

“I’d rather use a small crew and work them hard, Mr. Rook. With a bigger crew we’d just be in each others’ way. Lieutenant Commander Tadashi Sato is an outstanding power systems engineer, and I’d like to have his help, but he’s assigned to ‘Meteor’.”

Rook grinned. “Was. I’ll get an enote off within the hour and have him on the next supply run. Let me know if anyone else comes to mind.”

Draper couldn’t resist a grin; Tash Sato had been a good friend but he wasn’t likely to be grateful to be hauled off his precious ‘Meteor’. Still… if they were serious enough about this crazy project to pull a line officer off of ship service just because Draper wanted him… Draper looked around the half-disassembled bridge and began making out a shopping list in earnest.
 

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Amric - the first place I remember reading about this particular form of drive was in Poul Anderson's 'Nicholas Van Rijn' series, which are dated but still great books. Same universe as 'Ensign Flandry', but a different era.

Another author who uses this is David Gerrold, in 'Yesterday's Children', which is a stunningly good book of what it means to go off into space in a little tin can and fight because you have no choice.

Rensslaer - I'm not sure if that's an immaculate conception but it certainly brings new meaning to the term 'self-love'.

Stuyvesant - not only do the population figures need an explanation, so does the time scale. I'll get there. :)

Good luck with the move!

Hey, empires have risen and fallen while 'Dragons' continues to unfold. What's the purchase of a house against that time scale? :D

Sincerely, congratulations and I wish the two of you much happiness in your new home.