Paperclip Maximizer

Celad Tiragdal, the Paperclip Maximizer:

(fl. ~5400) One of the older Master Traders of the Starfall Arc Free Merchant Confraternity, Celad Tiragdal was an early pioneer of methodologies for trading with technologically undeveloped emerging markets (later codified as the Tiragdal Market Development Methodologies) that promoted local development while remaining within the severely constrained volume of trade possible without starport infrastructure and an extant developed market.

His most famous implementation of these methodologies, and the one which earned him his epithet, was in the marketing of office-efficiency technologies to worlds on the threshold of developing administration sophisticated enough to require them. He pursued this on dozens of planets, to immense success, using a two-phase trading strategy: first, importing a million paper clips to civilizations advanced enough to have paper-based bureaucracy, but which had not yet invented the paper clip, and second, importing simple paper-clip producing machines (capable of using even crudely-drawn wire as feedstock) to worlds he had previously visited which were in danger of running out of imported paper clips.

In addition to his position in the Confraternity and the fortune in the trillions of esteyn he earned over the course of his career, the Paperclip Maximizer is worshipped on Handrian (Lisune Pass) as Keledal, He Who Binds Together, a local deity of paperwork, efficiency, justice, and proper form.

– Heroes of Trade: Stories of the Great Merchants

The Kalantha: Revealed

So, the Kalantha-class frontier trader. The iconic ship of the small traders of the Expansion Regions. The commonly found – maybe a hundred thousand built – everysoph, jack-of-all-trades ship that needs only minimal external support and can function in any of a large number of roles. Needs only a tiny crew. Easy to keep running forever, if you’ve got a Flight Engineer who’s even half awake.

The Firefly-class of its ‘verse, one might say.


Operated by: Free traders, especially in outer regions, primarily Empire and allies.
Atmosphere-capable multipurpose free trader.
Islien Yards (original); now licensed to multiple manufacturers.

Length: 42 m (forward hull); 96 m (propulsion bus)
16 m (forward hull diameter, not including radiators)
Loaded mass:

Gravity-well capable: Yes (forward hull only).
 Yes (forward hull only).

Personnel: 4, as follows:

Flight Commander
Flight Executive / Cargomaster
Flight Director / Sailing Master
Flight Engineer

Thinker-class AI.

Drive (forward hull): 3 x Jetfire Technologies trimodal NTRs
Drive (propulsion bus):
 Nucleodyne Thrust Applications 3×1 “Sunheart IV” fusion torch.
 Deuterium/helium-3 blend.
Cruising (sustainable) thrust:
 6.0 standard gravities (6.4 Earth G)
Peak (unsustainable) thrust:
 6.2 standard gravities (6.6 Earth G)
Delta-v reserve:
Maximum velocity:
 0.1 c (based on particle shielding)


4 x off-the-shelf camera/maintenance drones


1 x standard navigational sensor suite, Cilmínar Spaceworks



(Well, technically.

On each outer engine fin, the Kalantha-class has a hardpoint for aftermarket… freight handling equipment. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Freight handling equipment.

If you’re registered somewhere with halfway civilized attitude to shipboard arms and flying either likewise or in free space, then there’s absolutely nothing to stop you from ordering up a couple of mass drivers and mounting them here. Hell, the shipyard you get the ship from will be happy to do it for you. You would still be incredibly ill-advised to get your Kalantha into a scrap with anything resembling a real warship, but it is often sufficient to divert would-be pirates towards freighters registered in enforced-helplessness regimes.

If, on the other hand, you’re venturing into some of those and they’re inflexible when it comes to enforcing their law on visiting starships, there are any number of small yards offering genuinely innocent items of equipment that can be mounted to these hardpoints and yet which will make a nasty dent in a would-be attacker with just a few disabled safeties, simple mods, and trivial software changes, which they will be more than happy to instruct your engineer in how not to do accidentally. Be creative!)

Other Systems:

  • Cilmínar Spaceworks navigational kinetic barrier system
  • Biogenesis Technologies Mark VII regenerative life support
  • 3 x Bright Shadow EC-720 information furnace data systems
  • Islien Yards 2C vector-control core and associated technologies
  • Systemic Integrated Technologies dual-mode radiator system
  • 3 x modular hardpoints

Small craft:

1 x Élyn-class modular microcutter, in forward-mounted hull-pod (without module; modules can be stored in main hold)


If you were expecting something as sleek and shiny as the Drake, sorry. The Kalantha works for a livin’. (Well, okay, actually it is quite shiny, despite being lived-in – and won’t it be fun to try and achieve those two visual effects at the same time – due to the wonderful nanotech-type maintenance procedures. Sleek, on the other hand, less so.)

The Kalantha needs to be able to operate within gravity wells, in atmosphere, and otherwise across the interface line, because its explicit design goal is to service worlds that don’t necessarily have highports, and certainly don’t have developed starport facilities. This is, unfortunately, sadly in contradiction to its other design goal of being a good, efficient interplanetary/interstellar craft.

The Kalantha squares this circle as best it can by being two ships in one; an atmosphere-capable, landing-capable forward hull that doubles as the interface craft, and a propulsion bus that holds the fuel and drives necessary for interplanetary travel that can be left parked in orbit while the forward hull lands and goes about its business.


The forward hull of the Kalantha is the classic just-on-the-cone-side-of-cylinder-with-a-rounded-top – bullet-shaped, you might say – tail-lander hull, with a few minor variants. It has three modest radiator fins (the low-power radiators) extending from it, 120 degrees apart, one of which – the one with the yellow navigation light – we shall designate as indicating the arbitrary dorsal direction of the ship. Each of these fins, in turn, terminates at a vectorable engine pod, complete with iris-domed intake at the for’ard end and cascade vanes at the after end, housing one of the three trimodal NTRs which drive the forward hull when operating in uncoupled mode. Outboard of those are reaction-control assemblies, navigation lights, and the hardpoints.

On the opposite side of the ship, the arbitrary ventral, and filling most of the space between the other two radiator fins, are the two sets of cargo doors, opening on the lowest two decks; between the two doors is the eye of a tractor-pressor emitter to assist in loading. The lower of the two cargo doors comes complete with an extending ramp and a small “postern” door built into it for sophont boarding without having to open up the whole thing. Above both doors, on the next deck up, there’s a small streamlined structure taking up about a third of the inter-fin space in the center, with a rounded for’ard and 45-degree after cut-off, with windows facing out and down; that’s the quarterdeck/cargomaster’s office, situated where it can keep an eye on loading and the ground airlock.

Right up top, two symmetrical, cylindrical towers rise from the hull at the dorsal and ventral, each ending about a meter short of the bow. The one at the dorsal side has more than a few antennae and other communication widgets attached, and is topped by a circular dome window; the one at the ventral does not, and ends in a domed iris-opening. The rounded bow of the ship is a geodesic dome-window, stellarium-style; right in the center of this, where the axial shaft (see below) terminates at the bow, is a for’ard airlock for in-space use.

The rounded base of the ship, in uncoupled flight, is covered by a folding, iris-style heat shield. When retracted, this covers both (around the edges) the ship’s ruggedized landing gear, and (in the center) the coupler that connects it to the propulsion bus; including an aft spacetight door (not a full airlock) where the axial shaft ends, along with internal linkages for life support and fuel transfers, along with redundant power and data bus connections.


The internal layout is also classic tail-lander. The layout is arranged to function under gravity – whether planetary gravity or thrustdown in either coupled or uncoupled mode – but the ship’s systems are designed to function equally well in microgravity. Whether it does or not, well, that’s up to the taste of the individual crew.

The Kalantha-class is a nominally seven-decked ship, with all decks linked by an axial shaft running through the ship from bow to stern along the thrust axis, from the airlock at the bow (used to dock when in space) to the spacetight door aft that connects to the propulsion bus. The shaft contains a spiral stair running from one end of the ship to the other, and an elevator platform likewise; in microgravity, of course, you can simply float up the shaft. The shaft walls, apart from primary structural members, also contain the main power and data buses.

The lowest – or aftmost – two decks are the cargo bay; each level, as noted above, having its own cargo door to ventral. The cargo bay can function as either one deck or two; the only permanent structures on the second level are access catwalks, but the structure is designed to accept gratings which clamp into position between the catwalks, converting it into a true second deck. (This is common practice if you’re transporting small breakbulk rather than containerized cargo or large breakbulk.)

The next two decks are the engineering space; again not physically separated except for the second-level catwalks. The majority of the ship’s machinery is concentrated here: the vector-control core, the gyros, the auxiliary power reactor, the life support systems, the robot hotel, and the bunkerage and other tanks. The lower engineering deck also contains the above-mentioned quarterdeck at its ventral edge; the bunkerage is clustered around it and the corridor leading there from the axial shaft to cut down on machinery noise.

The top three decks are all sophont-oriented. The lowest hosts a small workshop space, two ‘fresher, and (usually) six modest cabins; enough for the crew and a couple of passengers. (Kalantha-class ships expecting to or chartered to carry more passengers usually handle the situation by installing some containerized people-pods and auxiliary life support down in the cargo bay.)

The next is the base of the two bow towers. To dorsal, the tower base holds the computer core and avionics equipment; its windowed extension bow-ward hosts the bridge/conning station. (Often, this is only manned during maneuvers; routine systems management can be done from almost anywhere on board.) To ventral, the tower serves as a (close) bay for the ship’s Élyn-class microcutter. Most of the rest of the deck is divided between the ship’s locker, galley, and medical bay, surrounding a small central common area.

And the small topmost deck, beneath its stellarium dome – again providing the vital service of stopping people from going tin-can crazy – is in its entirety the ship’s primary common area. Small inter-deck openings surrounding much of the central shaft provide convenient accessibility to the small central common area on the lower deck.


By comparison, the propulsion bus is very simple in layout; it begins with a broad, stubby truss to which the various auxiliary machinery of the propulsion bus is clamped; inside this right at the front end is mounted the small maneuvering pod, which combines a small piloting station for the propulsion bus alone with some of its diagnostic and avionics equipment, and a rear airlock permitting access down the truss. A for’ard spacetight door matches up with that at the stern of the forward hull when the ship is coupled. This region also contains the extendable remote antenna that permits the propulsion bus to be remotely controlled when it’s uncoupled.

Internally, the maneuvering pod is very simple; the for’ard hatch/window permits one person to access the conning seat located immediately behind it. Turn the seat around, and further back in the pod are some racks of avionics and diagnostics, a minimal commode (which flushes stored waste into the forward hull’s life support system when the ship couples), a mini-fridge for rations and potables, and the canned life support machinery (which likewise flushes and recharges when the ship couples). Right at the aft end is an airlock leading out onto a ladderway down the truss.

(Bear in mind that the maneuvering pod is never manned in normal operations; it exists only for (a) engineers while they’re running diagnostics or doing maintenance; and (b) when you’re landing somewhere that ain’t civilization in the strictest sense, and so you want to leave someone behind in the propulsion bus just in case any of the locals get clever ideas and need to be taught the Kzinti Lesson…

…they don’t mention that second application in the brochure, but they do imply it pretty well.)

Behind this the truss gives way to the structure wrapping the two giant spherical tanks containing the propulsion bus’s deuterium and helium-3 supplies; attached to the outer surface of this wrapping structure are the main high-power radiators for the fusion torch.

And then behind them is the shadow shield structure and the fusion torch itself.


Technically, That Last Was ‘Might’


As master of an Empire-registered tramp trader, when may sophonts appear on the cargo manifest of your vessel?


Under four circumstances:

1. When you are transporting steerage-class passengers under contract to a passenger line, and such passengers are both onloaded from and offloaded to port-side passenger processing as freight, and will remain in cryostasis or nanostasis during the entirety of their voyage within rated stasis-rack freight containers (4×80-series);

2. When your vessel is a registered Naval auxiliary, and is transporting personnel of the Imperial Military Service in cryostasis or nanostasis under the same conditions as above, when an officer of flag rank has approved such operations;

3. When your vessel is operating as a colonization transport under contract to a colonial corporation or the Ministry of Colonization, and is transporting colonists in cryostasis or nanostasis under the same conditions as above;

4. When you’re fixin’ to die.

– from an examination for shipmaster’s license, second class

Keeping the Free in Markets

“It is ridiculous, and near-slanderous, to suggest that ‘free trader’ is synonymous with ‘smuggler’!  Why, I can guarantee that over fifty percent of voyages made by our members involve no illicit or even borderline-illicit cargoes at all.”

“You’re counting the inward legs separately, aren’t you?”

“That’s beside the point!”

– an exchange with Ethly min Rathill, Starfall Arc Free Merchant Confraternity

Trope-a-Day: Standard Sci-Fi Fleet

Standard Sci-Fi Fleet: Well, most of these classes exist – although it is particularly important to realize that the Empire alone fields literally thousands of specialized class vessels that don’t fit neatly into any of these categories, and that to a certain extent, trying to shove everyone’s ship designs into the approximate same paradigm is an exercise in futility…

Ignoring the permanent city-ships, and starting with the military classes, we have, first, the regular fighting-ship classes.  These begin with the frigate and destroyer (including the latter’s stealthy recon variant), small and fast ships used in “wolf-packs” for scouting, escorts, and screening elements, but which don’t themselves have the resilience or firepower to stand up in the wall of battle.

The middleweight combatants, and the most maneuverable/versatile, are the cruisers and battlecruisers, which also serve as screening elements for heavier ships, but are more often seen as the standard patrol and task-force element, often operating in flotillas (a cruiser wing with a battlecruiser or two thrown in for stiffening) or even independently (especially the battlecruisers).  And since this type of operation (power projection, anti-piracy patrol, general keeping the peace of the spacelanes) is the bread-and-butter of the Powers and their naval forces, most navies, the IN included, field more cruisers and battlecruisers than just about any other type of starship.

These are also classes that come with a large number of variants.  Most recognized among the cruiser classes are the assault cruiser (optimized for planetary assaults, i.e., heavy on the ship’s troops and capable of launching drop shuttles and drop pods into atmosphere; some of these are aerospace cruisers, which air fighters can sortie from before there’s an orbithead established); the diplomatic cruiser (a big stick to transport the softly-speaking); the point-defense cruiser (the one type of cruiser you might see in the wall, designed specifically to augment the point-defense of other ships); and the interdictor cruiser (specializing in the volume-security mission, which is to say, to chase down, capture and board other starships).  The primary battlecruiser variants are the command battlecruiser (optimized to carry the admiral commanding a CC/BC task force) and the carrier-battlecruiser (which carries AKVs – see below – as well as its internal armament; this is the type of BC usually found operating alone, due to its significantly enhanced operational envelope and capabilities).

Then we come to the actual ships of the wall, battleships, carriers, and dreadnoughts.  The battleships are the mainstays of the wall, large and slow vessels mounting heavy, long-range firepower for fleet engagements; and the carriers, even larger vessels, carrying an extensive complement of AKVs (autonomous kill vehicles, the missile/attack-drone fighter-interceptor hybrids described under Space Fighter, to swarm and destroy enemy starships at sub-“knife fight” range – i.e., hopefully inside the minimum effective range of their point defenses).  The dreadnoughts are effectively “super-battleships” built on carrier hulls, used in relatively small numbers to stiffen the wall.

Superdreadnoughts are either dreadnought-class vessels built on even larger hull frames, or regular dreadnoughts with only battleship armament, using the extra internal volume to hold specialized systems; common examples are the command superdreadnought which houses the admiral in charge of a large task force or fleet; the information-warfare superdreadnought; the loadout-heavy mauler superdreadnought, the anti-RKV superdreadnought, etc., etc.

At the top end of the regular classes, we have the hyperdreadnought – taking the design principles of the superdreadnought classes even further – of which the Empire fields three, each unique within its class; Invictus, Imperiatrix, and God of War.  In order, they are the home of Admiralty Grand Fleet Operations, the Imperial Couple’s personal flagship, and the literal embodiment of the archai/eikone of war.  Any one of them turning up on the battlefield would have implications that, by and large, no-one wants to think about thinking about.

Less regular military classes include the starfighter, a frigate-sized mini-carrier with four to eight AKVs clamped to its outer hull, used primarily for covert operations and commerce raiding; the fleet carrier, a giant (and not itself offensively armed) lighthugger starship on the lugger model (see below) whose purpose is to ferry naval task forces to systems not connected to the stargate plexus; the fluffships – whose design is implicit in their name – that police systems for debris, ricochets, and misses after battles; and the relativistic kill vehicles for practicing MAD on an interstellar scale with giant lighthugger missiles capable of shattering planets, given a good run-up.

Among civilian ships, there are also various recognizable classes of starship for different purposes:

For freight transport, for example, one can recognize both the immense grapeships (from the appearance of the external cargo pods) or megahaulers, which transport vast amounts of containerized cargo along the largest and most dependable trade routes, and their smaller cousins the haulers, smaller freighters which handle more volatile but still regular traffic everywhere, and are willing to handle breakbulk as well as containerized cargo, and of course the volatiles-hauling tankers; and finally, picking up irregular and speculative trade and filling in the gaps, the thousand different classes of free traders (and their somewhat more combative overlapping variants beloved of smugglers and irregular commerce-raiding privateers, the blockade runner and corsair.)  For routine transportation of volatiles, ore, and other such bulk and fungible cargo, fully automated slowhaulers often take up the task.

For passenger transport, likewise, we begin with the luxurious highliners and liners – analogous to the megahaulers and haulers in size and usage upon routes, and their express cousins the fastliners.  And then, for those travelling off the regular routes or seeking a more unique experience, a great many free traders are just as happy to carry passengers as they are to carry anything else.  Of course, the relatively wealthy and privacy-desiring have the option to travel in their private yachts, as ever, and at the other end of the scale, steerage-class transport is available to the relatively indigent on any number of iceliners, ships – often used as colonization transports – designed for the specialized task of transporting bodies in cryostasis or nanostasis, and minds recorded on data substrate.

In more specialized uses, dedicated classes abound: when messengers, mail, and packets need to get there really fast, within the stargate plexus at least, engine-heavy couriers are on the job; wrecks, debris, and flotsam are salvaged by debris recovery vehicles; hospital ships provide medical services (and reinstantiation services) to military fleets and disaster or epidemic-struck regions; logistics ships provide repair and construction services wherever they’re needed; oilers and tenders provide fuel, supplies, and other necessities to other starships; science, research, and exploration are done in the ubiquitous, customizable service/operations vehicles; smelterships render down asteroids into usable metal and other elements; and tugs and their larger cousins, the antimatter-torch equipped superlifters, move ships, modules, materiel – and in the case of the latter, entire habitats, asteroids, and even small moons – to where they’re needed to be…

…and if we’re willing to classify flying cities that are as much drift-habitats as starships, then we must include the civilization-backup ships, preserving archives, museums, and mind-states in the far reaches, ready to flee news of existential disasters; All Good Things, ICC, spreading the good word of commerce to underdeveloped regions with its skymalls; the empire ships, massive floating conferences/exhibitions/showpieces/parties flying endless loops around the Imperial Core and its many distant exclaves keeping population, culture, and knowledge well-distributed; and the embassy ships, similar exhibitions paying diplomatic calls on foreign polities and recently contacted worlds, bringing religiosity to the fuzzy-wuzzies and suchlike.

For local transport, small craft abound.  For freight, lighters scurry about transporting cargo ship-to-ship, ship-to-station, and ship-to-ground; for passengers, pinnaces provide the same service, and in moving about between local stations or habitats in a cluster, the automated commutersphere provides rapid transport. Skydivers skim gas giants for fuel; maintenance and construction are carried out by the ubiquitous workpod; and other myriad local functions are served by the flexible, customizable cutter.

All of these, of course, exist within the framework of the stargate plexus.  Outside that, a different type of ship entirely is required – lighthuggers need much more powerful engines (antimatter torch drives, for the most part) to reach the high fractions of c that make interstellar travel practical, sophisticated particle shielding to survive it, etc., etc.  Let us leave aside for the moment the shardcruisers (not true lighthuggers, but hybrid ships built to service outposts in the outer cometary cloud of star systems, whose longest-range examples fade into slow, short-range luggers); and also the starwisps, ultra-light – a matter of pounds – light-sail vessels propelled by lasers at their point of origin, carrying information, tangle, or the smallest probes across interstellar space.

These then divide into clippers – high-acceleration, relatively low-mass vessels carrying premium cargo and passengers at the highest possible speeds, including, in the limiting case, the private staryachts of the very wealthiest; and luggers, their relatively low-acceleration higher mass vessels carrying passengers and freight in larger quantity.  Specialized classes of lugger include the shiphauler (designed to transport docked starships rather than cargo directly; the military fleet carrier is an example of this type); the seedship (carrying ecopoesis packages and a startup colony); and the linelayer (transporting one half of a stargate pair to its destination system).