In Case of EMP . . .

Nostalgia costs mass.


Johnson broke the glass.

“The hell is this?”

“It’s a slide rule. And it’s going to save our asses.”

“Lotta fancy numbers. What’s it do?”

“It multiplies, divides, square roots, all the usual things ‘cept addition. This one does trig and exponents too. It’s more precise than your brain, but less so than a computer. That EMP means we don’t have a computer, though. Both backups are dead too.”

“Well, we had no way of knowing that that particular CME would hit us way out here at Jupiter. The chances of that must be pretty absurd.”

“Not really. Happens all the time. But our electrical shielding clearly wasn’t up to par, and this was a particularly big one. Right now, we’re dead fish in a very big sea. See if the emergency sparkgap is working. Tell Ganymede we’re scrubbing the mission—and we’ll use this thing to figure out how to burn for home.”

Ed. note: Idea from Atomic Rockets. I myself restored a K&E for work, and have another at home. They’re useful for one-off calculations that would be too slow to do in my head and too unimportant to boot a shell.

Physical Exam

Your A+ is an F-

“Did I pass, doc?”

“You’ll be pleased to know, you’re in perfect health.”

“Sweet! I’ma be an astronaut!”

“Well . . . no.”

“!!! . . . Why not? You said I’m in perfect health!”

“You have type A-positive blood. Astronauts are required to have type O-positive.”

“That seems arbitrary.”

“No; it’s necessary. If someone got hurt, you couldn’t be a blood donor. The body of any O-type person would reject it. O-positive is the largest blood group type, so we picked that. Sorry.”

In Port

That’s a stiff one.

“Buy you a drink?”


“Ma’am, I’m trying to be considerate. It’s about your ship.”

“The Willow? What?”

“Thought so. Eh bartender!—A double algae on the rocks for the lady here.”

“What are you doing?”

“I think something bad is going to happen to the Willow. Just some talk I heard around the docks. Something about a defective neutron moderator.”

“Are you threatening me?”

“No. I’m offering a deal. I know these guys. Hold some sway. Might be able to convince—”

[leaving] “Disgusting. Keep your drink.”

Ed. note: we last saw Beth here.

Material Science

A song, broken by tears.

“What is it, my dear? What’s wrong?”

“I . . . I broke it, mommy!”

“Well, what did you break?”

[looks up with sorrowful eyes]

“You don’t mean . . .”

“It was dirty! I tried to wash it and—”

“Show me!”

The violin lay on the bed in a crumpled, twisted heap. Traditional violin bonding is water-soluble, and modern strings put nearly 50 pounds of pressure . . .

“I’m sorry!”

[examining] “Ugh, and the wood is all warped too. You should have called me sooner!”

“I’m sorry!”

[sighs] “Well, there’s no way to fix this at all. The wood is cracked and the water warped it more. Even if it weren’t, there isn’t a luthier within half a light-hour.”

“. . .”

“It’s okay sweetie. You couldn’t have known. You’ve never seen wood before.”


Artwork by Dizzy Chen.

First Impressions

To learn a profession is not to wisen to it.

[From foreword to Introductory Xenosociology, 3rd Ed.]

First (radio) contact with an alien civilization happened on 2318-01-01 13:44:57, Earth Standard Time (EST). It was a Tuesday.

Specifically, we picked up the Haðu[note 1] radio chatter from something like 500 light years away from Earth—a statistically fortunate stone’s throw away in the immensity of a galaxy—even one containing (at least!) the hundreds of sapient species known today. Just as the young queen was drawing the 13-year civil war to a close, the planets and moons of the newly reformed UFP stood unified in awe—finally, aliens! Besides hastening the end of hostilities, the announcement also spurred the development of interstellar seedships in the coming decades[note 2].

Mistakes were made. Truly, alliances can be obliterated by sheer incompetency.

Nevertheless, due to the vastness of interstellar space, humans have only recently colonized far enough out to practicably encounter Haðu in the flesh, after 6000-odd years. The Haðu are not the first (we’ve of course already had an entire war with the even-more-improbably-close Tassad), yet as with any such case study, students would do well to learn from the mistakes that were made.

The first was in our haste to prepare to make the visit ourselves. The Haðu are a cautious race, and the departure of a hibernation-emissary-ship from a nearby system was viewed with alarm. Due to light-speed delay, it was five years before the system could retract the ship, and another five years after this before the Haðu could reassure us that they were merely nervous, that an emissary was welcome, and that the ship should be un-retracted.

The second error was cultural. Ambassador López, upon orbiting the single planet[note 3] of the Haðu, Praðeb, pronounced it dead—nevermind the indignant radio transmissions which disproved that conjecture. The Ambassador simply didn’t see any cities, and mistook this for a sign of underdevelopment. This is the sort of dangerous insensitivity that can obliterate alliances.

The third error was operational. Praðeb is larger and less-dense than Earth, combining in favor of mass to produce a 2.3x stronger gravitation. López (also acting captain; his military crew disappeared after hibernation under what can only be called suspicious circumstances) believed that the strong gravity would put himself and his aides at a diplomatic disadvantage, and adamantly refused to land. The aptly-named battleship UFP Enforcer, passing through at a distance of one light-month and so acting upon its own authority, rectified this by dispatching from its escort the light cruiser UFP Polaris, which saw to it that López and his aides disembarked right-the-hell-now. Besides the obvious confusion and embarrassment, the Haðu were thus made to suffer a federation warship in low orbit.

The fourth error was actually more a misunderstanding of scale. The federation shuttle came in slowly, saving nearly all of its fuel for the single-stage ascent to orbit, relying on aerobraking to absorb the brunt of speed on descent. The computer then performed a hard burn just above the surface, bringing the shuttle to a soft landing with minimal fuel consumption.

Haðu are each actually about the size of a small house, and enclose themselves in mounds of earth as they move. It was on one of these mounds that the shuttle had alighted, scorching it—and the hapless Haðu farmer underneath.

Fortunately, the creature was not seriously injured, and diplomatic relations were finally established. The patience and honor of the Haðu testify that such incompetence—tolerated at all levels—was not catastrophic. It is fortunate that the case of the Haðu can serve as a pleasant—if motivating—object of future study.

[note 1]N.B. “ð” is transliterated as a voiced dental fricative; “th” as in “then” (not as in “think”). Haðu produce the sound by a resonant and extremely loud thrumming.
[note 2]This colonization effort would ultimately be largely overtaken by faster, laser-accelerated ships, but this initial thrust is what made later efforts successful—and possible.
[note 3]The system, a binary, has two habitable planets and three marginally-habitable planets. Yet, the Haðu have no space program whatever, and have not colonized any.

The Battle of Outer Jovia

“Yer a long way from Kansas, ain’tcha?”

[From Deep Space Entanglements: A Tactical History of the Battles of the Interregnum]

The first battle of the newly-seceded Jovian moons—now formally christened the Jovian Trade Alliance, and informally, the land of Jovia—against the remnants of the United Federation of Planets (UFP), demonstrates aptly the cultural and conceptual schism that had at that time formed between those two polities.

Maintaining warships is astronomically expensive when they’re literal boats floating on an ocean. In space—well, the sum is something more than astronomical. The first “battleships” of the UFP were actually hastily repurposed merchant vessels, built for slow inter-asteroid trafficking, affixed with mining apparatus (anything that chews up an asteroid will chew up another ship).

Even compared against this sad fleet, that of the nascent Alliance was sadder still. The major infrastructure of the Belt remained under UFP governance and control, leaving the Alliance with no real mining industry. And so the ships of the Alliance were armed with sidearms—literal hand rifles—welded to their sides. Their only advantage was delta-V capability—a capacity, as we shall see, shrewdly wielded.

The battle was pitched about one light-minute from Jupiter. The five Alliance ships, comprising almost entirely captured interplanetary freighters, were well-suited to long-distance operations between the Belt and Jupiter itself. With such knowledge of their enemy, the twelve short-range UFP vessels hung back defensively in order to first discover their opponent’s strategy.

Maintaining warships is astronomically expensive when they’re literal boats floating on an ocean. In space . . . well.

However, the Alliance fleet did not appear to press its delta-V advantage, as had been predicted, instead holding off in a wide formation. And so a passive stalemate ensued at a range of about 1 light-millisecond.

Finally, the UFP ships, outnumbering and outgunning their Alliance counterparts, mustered and drove headlong toward its center vessel: an unstoppable charge.

The Alliance made no move to stop it.

In fact, the targeted vessel frankly turned and ran. The outer vessels of the Alliance formation swooped sideways, to bear on the flanks of the in-falling UFP fleet.

. . . and passed it by.

The Alliance vessels were racing past the UFP fleet, through it, to converge on its logistical support ship, the UFP Corella. The Corella being the only long-distance freighter then repurposed by the UFP, stored the combined life support, ordnance, fuel, and other such vital materiel to the UFP war effort. It was also completely unarmed, and unguarded.

By the time the UFP fleet commander realized his error, his fleet was two light-milliseconds away, and increasing at 10 km/s. The Corella was destroyed before its fleet could even turn around.

In the end, the Alliance fleet returned safely home, having operated adroitly within range of Pasiphae Station, the de-facto rebellion capital. Meanwhile, without fuel or food, the UFP vessels were destroyed without having fired a shot.

Though the UFP was to ultimately win the broader conflict through sheer attrition, in early battles such as these, the UFP‘s infamous stubbornness and aggression endured heavy casualties against the Jovian pioneering innovation.

Phoebe Station

Tickets now available: 50 to 107 light-minutes.

[Heard on live evening newscast 2197-06-01 on Ceres]

“Twelve kiloseconds ago, Orbital Materials LLC announced their intention to establish an oxyhydrogen propellant depot on Phoebe, a retrograde satellite of Saturn, within the next decade. A spokesman from Orbital said Phoebe was purchased from a private collector. We have colonization analyst Helen Graves here with us on Ceres. Helen?”

“Right here, Mindy.”

“Helen, what are your thoughts on the Orbital Materials acquisition?”

“Well Mindy, as you know, I’ve studied interplanetary colonization for decades, and the Orbital acquisition seems hopelessly long-sighted. Phoebe orbits Saturn, and there are no present plans for colonization that far out. The closest well-frequented base would be Pasiphae Station, in the Jovian system. Frankly, Mindy, they just won’t have any customers.”

“What do you think is their aim in acquiring such a risky investment, then?”

“I’m guessing they intend to bootstrap colonization efforts themselves. Phoebe is undeniably well-suited for it. The moon orbits retrograde, which makes it easier to rendezvous with from certain Hohmanns, especially with slingshot capture tethers. It also has the vast wealth in water to make the fuel itself.”

“Thanks, Helen. Again, if you’re just joining us, Orbital Materials has acquired the moon Phoebe for speculative use as a propellant depot. Construction will start after the first crews arrive; I’m told Orbital will use higher-energy transfers to cut down on the six-year Hohmann from Earth. I’m Mindy Graham, and this is Ceres Evening News.”


Can missiles wear lead aprons?

Modern battles are fought at close range—a light-second or so—since lasers are big, heavy, slow, and radiate more than half their power into their parent ships as low-quality waste heat. That’s why every conflict since the 2110s has been fought with missiles and k-slugs.

The danger with missiles is that they’re fast and independently targeted. Try shooting them down with a gun of some type and you have a problem: the missile has traveled literally miles before your bullet gets halfway down the barrel.

Particle beam weaponry was once largely considered to be useless. About the best it can do is barf up some bremsstrahlung secondary radiation. Deliciously lethal, sure, but only in a localized area, and certainly not structurally damaging. The engineer-physicists eventually realized, however, that the particle beam is well-suited to defense. And so, the fan was invented.

The fan makes use of an otherwise annoying property of particle beams. When you deflect a stream of charged particles, you’re accelerating it, but the stream still goes basically the same speed afterward (just in a different direction). That extra energy gets dumped in the form of synchrotron radiation, streaming out tangentially in a flood of hard x-rays. So you get a searing fan of radiation, spreading knifelike in a plane.

Nowadays, when the call goes out for point defense, the ship fires up its spinal-mount linear accelerator. Huge flickering electromagnets in the bow deflect the beam semi-randomly, and a decollaminated blast of bit-flipping, electronics-frying radiation cooks the missiles as they reach the terminal guidance phase.

Small wonder the Jovian Trade Union’s radiation hardening expertise is widely-sought.

Space Bums

Immigration should do something.

“Spare change, brother?”

“Get a job!”

“That’s quite impossible.”


“Impossible: adj.: not possible; unable to be, exist, happen, etc.”

“A wise guy, eh?”

“Yeah. Everybody out here has an IQ over 110. ‘Cept you, ‘parently.”

“Why, I never!”

[sighs] “We’re all descended from Earth, one way or another, but the smartest all moved out to space. So us second- and third-gen folks are all the sons and daughters of the upper-bracket erudite—including a fair measure of genius. The funny thing about IQ is that 100 is always average, so the average Earther is 80-something and the average Belter is 120.”

“I take grave exception to—”

“Oh can it already. Where are you going anyway?”

[testily] “. . . Bureau of Careers. Just shipped in with my last dime.”

[sarcastically] “And may lady fortune herself light your path to employment.”

“I will too!”

“Nope. Yer too dumb. If I can’t get a job, then you sure as hell can’t get a job. And you’re in the same boat as I—without any cash, you can’t buy your way off this rock. Might as well take a seat next to me. Yer gettin’ no job, brother.”

The Great Filter

Hint hint.

The sky teems with life. Most isn’t sapient. By the time colonization of the galaxy concluded in CE 27000, the bakers dozen of known sapient species known in the days of the proto-empire had expanded to well over a thousand, with non-sapient species numbering in the trillions.

Humans were startled to find that that not one of those thousand-odd sapient species had colonized even a single other planet. Even, for example, a one in their home solar system, mere light-minutes away. Worse, while a few had primitive space stations in low orbit, the majority hadn’t even that.

This level of space inferiority was all the more surprising for the cultural and technological marvels the surfaces of the home planets themselves boasted: undreamed-of advancements in medical and physical and mathematical sciences! So it obviously wasn’t a question of intelligence (which was, besides, approximately equal to that of humans). Therefore: “Why?”, was the question the explorers asked their (usually congenial) alien hosts.

There was no ready answer, but gradually sociologists cobbled together a theory: laziness.

As anthropocentric as it might sound, the theory made a good deal of sense. Getting off your home planet is technologically difficult—a challenge made harder still when you have to inspire a population that, by definition, has never left home, to the requisite elevation of perspective. And so it was that none of the thousand-some species, save humans alone, had ever made any progress beyond those first few, symbolic rocket flights. Imagine the catastrophe if humans had been counted among them.