You’ll Want Us High and Clear

ICED FIRE-CLASS ANTIMATTER TRANSPORT

Operated by: Extropa Energy, ICC
Type: Antimatter Transport
Construction: Islien Yards, ICC

Length: 1,600 km (overall)
Beam: 3,200 km
Dry mass: 39,200 tons (not including cryocels)

Gravity-well capable: No; not even low-orbit capable.
Atmosphere capable: No.

Personnel: 31

  • Flight Commander
  • 3 x Flight Executive/Administrator
  • 3 x Flight Director
  • 3 x Flight Engineer
  • 3 x Propulsion Engineer
  • 3 x Cargomaster
  • 3 x general technicians
  • 2 x riggers/EVA specialists
  • Thinker-class AI

Drives:

  •  3 x Nucleodyne Thrust Applications 1×1 “Sunheart V” fusion torch

Propellant: Deuterium/helium-3 blend
Cruising (sustainable) thrust: 3.5 standard gravities (3.3 Earth G) at nominal load
Maximum velocity: 0.3 c unloaded, 0.1 c loaded (based on particle shielding)

Drones:

  • 3 x general-purpose maintenance drones
  • 3 x tether-climbing rigger drones

Sensors:

  • 1 x standard navigational sensor suite, Islien Yards

Other Systems:

  • 2 x Islien Yards boosted commercial kinetic barrier system
  • Biogenesis Technologies Mark VII regenerative life support
  • 2 x Bright Shadow EC-780 information furnace data system
  • Islien Yards custom dual vector-control core and associated technologies
  • Systemic Integrated Technologies dual-mode radiator system

Small craft:

  • 1 x Élyn-class microcutter
  • 1 x Adhaïc-class workpod

The standard vehicle for ferrying antimatter from the Cirys bubble at Esilmúr to its various places of use, the Iced Fire-class is a starship designed around one core principle, commonly adhered to when dealing with antimatter:

Don’t get any on you.

The core hull itself is much smaller than the dimensions above suggest; a blunted cylinder a mere 252 m in length, including bunkerage. This houses the entire livable volume of the starship, including a dock for the Élyn-class microcutter at the bow, and a bay housing for the workpod. Rather than the typical stern mounting, the three Sunheart V fusion torches are located in nacelles set off from the hull on radiator pylons amidships, located 120 degrees apart; these nacelles are fully vectorable for maximum maneuverability.

The stern of the core hull instead contains the attachment points and winches for a 1,600 km tether, at whose fully extended end is in turn attached the spinhub. This is a simple unit containing monitoring equipment and a centrifugal ring, to which in turn are mounted eight further attachment points and associated tethers, terminating in heavy couplings. It is to these couplings that antimatter cryocels are mounted during loading, and dismounted upon arrival. In flight, the action of the centrifugal ring maintains appropriate safe distance between the core hull and the cryocels, and between the cryocels themselves, while also ensuring that jettisoned cryocels will move away from the main body of the starship in the event of containment failure.

 

Trope-a-Day: Unobtainium

Unobtainium: Of many kinds.  Sophisticated materials science is one of the major areas of advancement in this particular universe.  Of particular note: deuterium slush, metastable metallic hydrogen, helium-3 and antimatter (more specifically, antideuterium slush) for power, room-temperature superconductors, sapphiroids (the trade name for the high-grade kind is Adamant™ – not adamantium, because it’s not an element; after all, transparent aluminum has been used, even if accurate), carbon nanotubes, highly refractory cerametals and metallic glasses, muon metals, strangelets, raw tangle – oh, and fun nonbaryonic things like exotic matter (you make stargate frames out of it), gluonic string (held together by the strong force, thus with the best tensile strength available), and so on and so forth.  Less elementally, various nanofluids with fascinatingly exotic behavior, nanotech composites, and smart and biomimetic materials (living metal, nanowell-bearing programmable matter, etc.), computronium (okay, that’s not an element either, but…), and again, and so forth.

And medically speaking, of course, immortagens.

Trope-a-Day: Made of Indestructium

Made of Indestructium: … alas, the universe is hard on indestructium.

About as close as nature gets is probably neutronium – and whatever even more degenerate forms of quark matter, etc., you can get beyond it. Sadly for engineers everywhere, neutronium is rather hard to work at the best of times, behaving essentially like a fluid, and having a really nasty habit of evaporating in a giant whuff of neutron radiation the moment you remove it from the deep, deep gravity well necessary to make the stuff. Metastable neutronium would be nice, and there are people working on that…

In somewhat more practical terms, muon metals, which is what you get when you strip all the electrons out of metal and replace them with muons, their leptonic cousins. Since muons have the same charge as the electron but greater mass, they have much smaller ground-state waveforms than electrons in the atoms thus formed, resulting in matter than has similar chemistry – albeit rather more endothermic – to the original, but whose density and physical properties in re energy-resistance are pushed way, way, way up as the atomic spacing shrinks way down. It would make good armor, if the mass penalty wasn’t, inevitably, quite so harsh. On the other hand, it’s one of the things that makes torch drives practical (being so incredibly refractory, and thus letting you push the drive output/waste heat/resulting radiation rather further than you otherwise could), and also is invaluable to coat lighthugger wake shields with, being able to easily shrug off the sort of dust-particle impacts you get when plowing through interstellar space at 0.9c.

But neither of these is actual indestructium, ’cause, well, antimatter. Neutronium and antineutronium will annihilate quite nicely, and while regular antimatter isn’t quite as corrosive to muon matter as it is to everything else – an antimuon is not a positron – the proton-antiproton annihilation will proceed as normal and will make the whole thing come apart just fine.

Alas, indestructium, we barely knew ye.

(There’s also singularity-locking, the handwavium I promised to explain last time. That’s actually a simple reuse of existing handwavium – vector control – in this case being used to grab and redirect, while conserving, the momentum of things that would otherwise impact the surface of the singularity-locked thing into a giant kinetic energy sink.

The reason it’s called singularity-locking is because the sort of giant kinetic energy sink you want for this is a modestly-sized black hole. This is why stargates use it, because they already have a modestly-sized entangled kernel sitting in there to make their primary function work, so you might as well get the extra use out of it. It’s also why nothing else does, because if you think muon metals have a harsh mass penalty, they’ve got nothing on dragging millions of tons of hole around with you to make your armor work. A mass ratio of what, again?

[Also, people – with fairly good reason – don’t exactly want one in their back yard anyway, on general principles.]

Sadly, this isn’t pure-quill indestructium either, technically – while it would require a ridiculous amount of energy, it is theoretically possible to overload either the singularity-locking systems or the K-sink itself, and boom. Fortunately, it would be so much boom that so far no-one’s seemed inclined to hit a stargate with a small moon and see what happens…)

Trope-a-Day: Made of Explodium

Made of Explodium: No, not really. Many, many engineers work very, very hard to ensure that this thing? Does not happen.

Two main exceptions:

One, antimatter cryocels. Because, well, antimatter, and despite the aforementioned engineers’ best efforts there’s only so much you can do to stabilize stuff that will explode the moment it touches anything. This limitation is why lighthugger starships, which use megatons of the stuff, do not come into the inner system under any circumstances, or near any important planets/habitats in the outer system, either!

No-one wants to accidentally lose a continent, y’know?

Two, stargates. Which bend spacetime in really unnatural ways, and are powered by a large contained singularity.

Now, it’s very hard to get to their explodium, seeing as they come with a very complete set of automaintenance, self-repair, and self-stabilization systems, in addition to having outer shells Made of Indestructium such as fancy singularity-locking (handwaaaave! explained tomorrow) anti-energetic armor and some of the thickest regular composite armor plate anywhere, such that if you should scrape, bounce, or ram it with a regular starship you’ll just smear yourself out over its surface and the local Ring Dynamics rep will be very ironic at you.

On the other hand, if you do manage to get through said indestructium, you will rapidly learn that the reason they’re made of it is that when they go unstable, they explode on a world-shattering, star-system-sterilizing scale. (Which, of course, is what necessitates the indestructium in the first place. Without that, even as the only practical form of FTL travel anyone’s come up with, no-one’d allow them anywhere near their star systems.)

Trope-a-Day: Going Critical

Going Critical: Averted.  In four ways:

Fission reactors in the universe are very well designed, ideally – although not always – to keep messy things like prompt criticality out of the possible performance envelope.  Some of them, the higher-power ones, can still quietly melt down (giving you basically a corium puddle in a highly refractory can to dispose of, but no major problems outside that), but most of them – like the ones they use in vehicles, for example – are pebble-bed designs that can’t even do that.

Fusion reactors depend on the continuous operation of their support systems to maintain the conditions that make the fusion reaction possible.  If they go wrong, even for extreme values of going wrong, what you get is a fizzle as the fusion plasma expands, loses its heat and pressure – all the more so if it escapes the envelope and touches the surrounding environment – and quenches.  A worst-case crash shutdown will screw up the inside of the reactor vessel, forcing you to replace the lining before you can restart, but it won’t penetrate it.

And no, they can’t go runaway.  There is a clever device built into the deuterium, etc., feed lines to stop that from happening.  It’s called a valve, which is attached to a big purely mechanical lever, which is labeled “IF SHIT HAPPENS, PULL”.

Matter/antimatter reactors by and large don’t do the equiavlent of going prompt critical, mostly because as long as you can pull the equivalent of said lever, the ambiplasma in the reactor vessel will quench much like the fusion reactor case.  (Remember, this isn’t Star Trek engineering – there’s always much more matter being fed in than antimatter, because it’s a lot easier to extract energy from hot plasma than from photons.  Thus, necessarily, no excess antimatter floating around inside the reactor core waiting to cause trouble.)  The remaining loose antiparticles that are there will chew the crap out of the inside of the containment, definitely, but it’s even heavier-duty than the fusion containment is, being designed for essentially this case.

Now, the storage cryocels where the antimatter’s stored, they can explode with great verve and drama, but that’s called “losing containment”, not “going critical”.

Singularity inductors don’t go critical because if the mini-black-hole falls out of the field knot and then through the containment, there’s usually stuff around for it to eat which will prevent it from going all Hawking-evaporatey on y’all.  Of course, you do then have a loose singularity chewing its way through your ship, station, habitat, or possibly even planet, so it’s not like your day isn’t going to suck anyway… but it won’t go critical.

At least not until it’s run out of stuff to eat.

Sweet Kynthia

Like most ridiculously excessive weapons, the unique anti-materiel/area-denial weapon, “Sweet Kynthia”, was built to impress a lady, constructed by Sarai Iliastren-ith-Weváren during her pursuit of Kynthia Andracanth-ith-Andracanth, whose interests in heavy weapons – and indeed, whose own creations (see pps. 36, 42, 138, 196, 211, 335, 401, 545, 607-611, 720, 1196, and much of the rest of the book) in the field – have been proverbial.

Sweet Kynthia is an antimatter scattergun, firing two dozen individual coated one-gram antimatter pellets in a star-circle dispersal pattern – adjustable for wide or narrow scatter, each with an individual yield of 43 kilotons, the weapon’s total conversion yield being just over a megaton.

Given the multi-mile range of both the blast and thermal flash, and the mile-plus range of even the generally lethal prompt radiation pulse (rather less than the effective firing range), Sweet Kynthia has served primarily as a weapon of intimidation, given the essential impossibility of surviving firing the weapon – although it has been picked out of enough smoldering radioactive craters during its long and memorable career to lend the sight of it in a determined or desperate hand real weight.

– the Big Boys’ Book of Boom

Trope-a-Day: Nuclear Weapons Taboo

Nuclear Weapons Taboo: Averted completely and comprehensively.  The Empire has none – which, to expand, may have something to do with a homeworld considerably enriched, relative to Earth, with heavy and radioactive metals and lacking in fossil fuels, better biological radiation protection, and consequently an industrial era that used a lot more pebble-bed steam engines and nucleonic furnaces than ours.  The mundanity of the ‘splody-metal bomb was just the next logical step.

So, yeah, the nuclear weapon (“which they call a device“) is exactly what the Imperials reach for when they need a big and effective bomb, including for plenty of civilian purposes like, say, moving asteroids, digging canals, and dispersing inconvenient mountains, as well as, say, giving every heavy legionary a half-dozen 0.1kt thunderballs for his nuclear-grenade launcher.  Although at least these days, technically, they’re usually antimatter weapons, and thus rather cleaner than the old-school ‘splody-metal types.