Lucifer VI-class Starwisp Tender
With the ongoing spread of the stargate plexus, it became rapidly apparent to the Imperial Exploratory Service that it would rapidly become impracticable to continue to launch trans-horizon probes from its existing fixed facilities, and indeed that to construct new launch facilities at the current edge of the stargate plexus would, in the long term, be economically foolish as growth continued to render them obsolete in turn.
To resolve this problem, they commissioned the design of the Lucifer-class starwisp tender, now in its sixth design iteration. The tender is essentially a complete phased-array laser capable of accelerating a starwisp (probe or otherwise) to not only normal relativistic velocities, but to the high-relativistic range (0.95 to 0.99 lights), coupled to a deployable solar swarm capable of generating sufficient power, when in close solar orbit, to power the laser array, all mounted upon a fusion torch drive sufficient to move the tender between systems, albeit slowly and with low maneuverability at best. A hangar and maintenance facility suitable for housing and readying for deployment the starwisps themselves awkwardly perched on the side of the core ship completes the design. No quarters for biosapient crew are provided on the Lucifer-class; it is intended for long-term deployment under full automation, with only the occasional presence of infomorph crew required for optimal operation.
29 Lucifer-class vessels are in commission at the present date, of which 24 are attached to the Exploratory Service in its joint program (with Ring Dynamics, ICC) of probing highly-rated prospect systems in the Outback to plan future plexus expansion. The remaining five vessels are registered to various private relativistic-trade consortia. Of these, 20 are of the Lucifer VI-class, seven of the preceding Lucifer V-class, and two, the oldest, of the Lucifer IV-class. Lucifer itself, class prototype for the first design iteration, is permanently stationed at Almeä L4 as a museum ship. All other Lucifer-class starships are believed to have been decommissioned.
It is also worth noting that reading the class specifications, which are precisely correct in stating the Lucifer-class’s lack of formal weaponry and civilian classification, appears to generate in some few pirates and hijackers (those, for instance, responsible for the attacks on Photophoros, Luminary, and Radiance) the incautious ambition necessary to pick a fight with an 864 terawatt highly-collimated laser intended for use over interstellar distances – thus clearly demonstrating, perhaps, the distinction between knowledge and wisdom.
– Fíerí’s Starships of the Associated Worlds, 421st ed.;
Vol. IX: Esoterica
If there are no full-time infomorph crew, that means that the Lucifers can detect when they are under attack and fight back using non-sophont software. Which makes me wonder, is that a (possibly customized) off-the-shelf software package, or was it custom written. And was it written on-contract for and by the Fleet, or is it something that you can just purchase from one of the commercial arms ICCs and/or commercial software dev shops.
A basic Emergency-Self-Defense software package, I’m pretty sure you can buy off the shelf from all sorts of different places. (It’s a standard fitting on the robot freighters which chug about carrying ore and volatiles and other such uninteresting bulk cargoes from place to place.)
I’m pretty sure it’s heavily customized both before the fact (as they all are to match the ship they’re in; but as a Lucifer maneuvers more like a hog than the clunkiest megafreighter ever built, and has a “weapons” system that’s completely out of spec with anything actually intended as one…) and after the fact (as, effectively, it’s self-learning sapient-but-not-sophont AI), but there’s nothing particular special about the core of the thing.
Watching a Lucifer return fire would be so utterly awesome, but I would probably have to be cognitively enhanced myself and plugged into a system-wide sensor mesh to actually see it happening. My guess is that instead of a Science Fantasy “Death Star” like single superlaser, it would be a large fleet of close-in-stellar-orbit collect-pump-emit stations forming phased arrays. Which means that when it stars firing in “weapons mode”, what would look like whats happening is that from a distance (more than 0.2AU) the corona of the star itself would appear to just start randomly generating pinpoints of coherent light, which would just randomly just so happen to converge on the invader’s ships for just long enough. From the invader’s point of view, the starlight itself would suddenly just turn into laser light.
That’s pretty close to how I envision it; the main body of the ship is primarily a carrier/control center for the collect/emit stations of the solar swarm.
Ordinarily, though, when operating as a light-sail pusher, you want a very tightly collimated, coherent beam aimed precisely enough to hit a relatively tiny target – which especially for deceleration could be a dozen light-years away – so the other function of the core ship is as a collector/collimator for the beam. (That’s also important because when you’re throwing this much energy around in a populated system, the less of the system you close off by having the beams pass through it, the better, and a cylinder’s much smaller than a cone volumewise for these purposes.)
So what I imagine, if you fire the main beam at someone, is that they see lots of little pinpoint twinkles of emerald light scattered across the solar corona as the swarm elements power up and go through their initialize-and-self-test phase.
And then they go out again as the swarm elements go into control lock with the core ship and refocus their output on the input end of the collimator.
And then the red, yellow, or white light of the sun turns a much brighter and hotter shade of green as the main laser lases, something which they might just have enough time to start realizing before they, their ship, and everything else in the vicinity evaporates in a whiff of plasma…
(Disappointingly, alas, I suspect the self-defense program mostly uses the swarm elements individually – they’re rather easier to steer, and 864 TW is severe overkill against, well, anything short of a planet.)
If they are going to fire through the main collimator, you wont see the pinpricks of light as they power up and selftest. And you are right, the self defense mode probably wont use the collimator, because it will busy supporting the mission, targeted at a distant starwisp. Self defense mode would just retask some spare capacity swarm elements, maybe 0.1% of them. Which should be… plenty.
Ah, those you may well see some of because they’re very carefully not pointing at the collimator while they do the power-up-self-test routine. No point in risking damage if it turns out the test fails unsafe, after all… 🙂
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