The Shipping Trade (3): Outbound

“Lunar Transshipment One, Station Ops, this is CMS Greed and Mass-Energy in slot ailek corse three five on flight plan code niner-three-zero-eleven-one. Request taxi instructions for orbital maneuvering transfer zone, over.”

“Greed and Mass-Energy, Station Ops. You are cleared to proceed from outer docking to transfer zone via outbound lane lirek tarse in nine-five pulses, cold-gas only. Maintain station-relative velocity below ten fips within outer docking zone. Forbidden thrust vector map available on subchannel gishalel; exercise caution and separation for crossing minor traffic at range from station two-five-zero-zero, OTV Mucker’s Bucket. Contact Kythera Orbital for further clearance holding at range from station one-zero-kay, no need to recontact Ops. Ack and back. Over.”

“Station Ops, Greed and Mass-Energy, acknowledge clearance to transfer zone via lirek tarse in nine-five, cold-gas only, maintain sub ten fips inside zone, forbidden thrust vectors on gishalel, watch out for crossing minor traffic at two-five-zero-zero, hold and contact Orbital at one-zero-kay. Executing in one-zero-zero mark, thanks for your hospitality. Clear.”

“Kythera Orbital, this is CMS Greed and Mass-Energy holding one-zero-kay downrange of Transshipment One, zero relative. We are bound outsystem to Wynérias, our flight plan code niner-three-zero-eleven-one – request you open our flight plan at first convenient block. Standing by. Over.”

“Greed and Mass-Energy, Kythera Orbital, wait two… Greed and Mass-Energy, flight plan is activated as filed. Squawk ident, no subcode. You are cleared initial for transfer to lunar outbound transfer orbit level four, slot three-gilek, initiate two-gravity prograde burn per route-book in four-one-five pulses, circularize at apoapsis, skies are clear. Call back once established. Ack and back. Over.”

“Kythera Orbital, Greed and Mass-Energy, squawking ident only, acknowledge clearance to outbound transfer level four slot three-gilek, two grav prograde in four-one-five, circularize at apoapse, callback when done. Clear.”

“Kythera Orbital, Greed and Mass-Energy, established at outbound transfer level four slot three-gilek and standing by for further clearance, over.”

“Greed and Mass-Energy, Kythera Orbital, you are cleared continuance for transfer to planetary outbound transfer orbit slot eleven-seven, initiate two-gravity burn per route-book at next apoapsis, circularize on slot entry, skies are clear. Contact Kythera SysCon on channel one-one-four-point-ten once established, no need to recontact Orbital. Ack and back, and fair voyage. Over.

“Kythera Orbital, Greed and Mass-Energy, acknowledge clearance to planetary outbound transfer slot eleven-seven, two grav by the book at apoapse, circularize at entry, contact SysCon on one-one-four-point-ten. Thanks, and clear orbits! Clear.”

“Ah, Kythera Orbital, Greed and Mass-Energy, bit of a flutter there, give us an eccentricity check, please? Over.”

“Greed and Mass-Energy, we show five balls on current orbit, a one in the last digit. Orbital, clear.”

“Much thanks, Orbital. Kythera SysCon, this is CMS Greed and Mass-Energy in Kythera outbound slot eleven-seven, bound outsystem to Wynérias, flight plan code niner-three-zero-eleven-one, standing by for instructions.”

“Greed and Mass-Energy, Kythera SysCon, we have you in the zone. Clarify preferred vector and acceleration profile, over.”

“SysCon, Greed and Mass-Energy, proceed on direct brachy to Wynérias Stargate, acceleration four point eight for zero/zero gate intercept, over.”

“Greed and Mass-Energy, SysCon, you are cleared to initiate brachy burn in seven-one-eight pulses, acceleration as specified. Proceed direct, confirm variances and skew-flip on this channel. Ack and back. Over.”

“SysCon, Greed and Mass-Energy, acknowledge clearance for brachy burn in seven-one-eight, proceed direct, confirm skew-flip and any variances on this channel. Clear.”

“Kythera SysCon, Greed and Mass-Energy on direct brachistochrone routing ex Kythera Actual to Wynérias Stargate, flight plan code niner-three-zero-eleven-one, confirming skew-flip as requested, initiation in five-one-eight-four pulses from… mark. No deviations. Over.”

“Greed and Mass-Energy, SysCon acknowledges skew-flip in five-one-eight-four from mark. Clear.”

“Kythera SysCon, this is CMS Greed and Mass-Energy approaching the Wynérias Stargate, gating out-system to Wynérias at this time. No return flight-plan to file. Over.”

“Greed and Mass-Energy, SysCon. We show you departing Kythera System at 5158-11-10:4+35-11. You are clear to gate at your discretion; squawk null. Come back and see us sometime. Over.”

“SysCon, squawking all zeroes, will do and thanks. Greed and Mass-Energy, clear.”

“Gate in range. Initiating integration sequence. Computing transit mass/volume parameters. Gating fee transaction has cleared. Gate is hot; receiving transit vector.”

“Time to gating initiation point, seven-two pulses. Main engine shutdown; switching to thrusters. Time to zero/zero, six-four pulses.”

“Preferential-frame buffers integrated and slaved. Frame trap executed. Timelike axis locked to empire timebase.”

“All stations secure for transit. Board reads blue across. Gate commit.”

“Gating confirmed.”

“Drift nominal, under one-kay. Longscan update-squirt received and on the glass. Local space is clear, ‘weave is up, spinning down from transit.”

“Wynérias SysCon, this is CMS Greed and Mass-Energy, gated in-system from Kythera, identifying. Over.”

“Greed and Mass-Energy, Wynérias SysCon, we have you arriving at 5158-11-10:4+37-20; squawk ident. Specify intentions. Over.”

“SysCon, Greed and Mass-Energy, squawking ident. Request clearance for direct brachy transfer to Wynérias Actual at four point eight gravities, intend docking at Port Sung Orbital. Over.”

“Greed and Mass-Energy, you are cleared to proceed as stated at discretion. Contact again before reaching Wynérias orbital control zone boundary. SysCon, clear.”


The Shipping Trade (2): Preflight

Kythera System, Lunar Transshipment One, outer docking zone
CMS Greed and Mass-Energy

The bridge of Greed and Mass-Energy was a typical example of Middle Empire Baroque – which is to say, wood paneling over the glassboard walls and be damned to the mass penalty, polished brass fittings, subdued lighting, comfortable and well-padded reclining couches for all – arranged five on each of the room’s opposing floors – surrounded by the various trigraphic displays each officer needed, and an auxiliary tracked-arm running about to serve drink bulbs and other comforts. Like any starship bridge, it was a room in which people went about the serious business of navigating the void between worlds without getting themselves killed in the process, but the designers of the Cheneos-class clearly thought that there was no particular reason why they couldn’t enjoy a few civilized niceties while they were about it.

Captain Athné eeled into the bridge with the ease of long practice, glanced at the data pillar in the center of the room (currently showing the critical path map to launch with all but a few of the topmost nodes glowing a cool ready-blue), and flipped expertly over the back and into his couch, shifting slightly as the gripfabric took hold of his shipsuit and the virtuality-port synched with his internal network.

“How’s the preflight coming, gentlesophs? By departments. Helm and guidance?”

“Guidance systems are on-line and tracking; five beacons, sunlock, starlocks, and inertials have concurrence. Gyros are spun up and RCS coupled. Prospective courses laid in as per flight plan. Flight controls are active for station-keeping and ship is aweigh. Helm and guidance systems are go flight in all respects.”


“Internal timebase is synched to empire time per station, no deviations. Frame differentials are go in inertial mode. Flight recorder is running. Mission Elapsed Time clock is reset and holding. Relativistics systems are go flight in all respects.”

“Eyes and ears?”

“All passive sensors are active and operational. Short-range actives are up and pinging. Shortscan is go and on the glass. We have valid longscan signals, station and three sources, with reciprocation, also on the glass. Comms systems are up and channels are clear; we have ‘weave interlink, listening watch on distress, guard, and hailing, plus open links to station, orbital ops and SysCon. Sensory and communications systems are go flight in all respects.”


Data Ops raised an eyestalk from hsis screens, tentacles twitching. “Yes, yes, Shipboard Information Service is up and running in onboard mode. Cache dump is downloaded. Packet routings and link pointers laid in all the way from here to Wynérias. Data systems are go flight in all respects.”

“Drive, heat, and power?”

“Reactors are up and running at warm idle. Radiators are flowing, ready to extend at clearance. Station docks an’ locks confirms that microwave beam is off; she’s on internal power. Drive mode is primed and ready for thrust at your discretion. Dampers are on and interlocked. And the tanks are fully topped off; we have all the delta-v we need and twenty-three percent over commercial reserve t’boot. Drive, heat, and power systems are go flight in all respects.”


“We have full function active on all internal mechanical systems. External mechanical systems are full function inactive and stowed for maneuver and burn. Mechanical systems are go flight in all respects.”


“Recyclers, conditioners, and distributors show blue, blue, and blue. Atmosphere is nominal. Reserve, aux, and emergency are all fully charged. Meat vats and aeroponics are growing away nicely, and the pantry’s fully stocked. Tonight’s dinner will be a roast leg of non-vat ftark, for a change, thanks to our Mr. mor-Tarvek and his gambling habit. All-in, life-support systems are go flight in all respects. Oh, and” – she took a moment to straighten some unruly black curls – “we think we’ve finally managed to clear the damn sulphogen out of the secondary gray-water ‘cycling loop, so give it a couple of cycles and the brimstone smell in the ‘freshers should go away, and you can all stop reminding me ‘bout it, ‘kay?”


“Container cargo is onboarded and locked down. And I got a good deal on a mixed seven-thou lot of Kytheran biologicals that’s riding in the spec space. Breakbulk is lashed and thrashed; cee-oh-emm-inert is in the computer and transferred to guidance.” He glanced up at the sailing master’s position, beneath him. “We had to run power cables out to some of the breakbulk in reefer pods; they’re rigged and running. Cargo department is go flight in all respects.”

“Docks and locks?”

“All natives are inboard and latched; all foreigners are clear. Airlocks and auxiliary connections show straight-line shut. Docks and locks are go flight in all respects.”

“Very good, all. Let’s get underway. Start the MET clock, and give me station ops.”


In Lieu of In Lieu

Well, I was going to post the second part of The Shipping Trade today, except that writing it didn’t happen because of day job, and so forth. Then, I thought I might post a sketch of the ship involved, just to give y’all an idea of what you’ll be looking at, but then that would require me to go out and hire a scanner. That, and I made said sketch, and then looked at it, and then concluded that I couldn’t possibly inflict such a terrible picture on my readers…

So permit me, please, instead to sketch a verbal picture for you of the

CMS Greed and Mass-Energy

To start with, Greed and Mass-Energy is atypically large for a free trader; in those leagues, which principally deal in small, high-value-to-mass/volume cargoes, lugging around 40,000 tons displacement of cargo is huge. (It’s still not in the major freight line league, though; those guys can use freighters that are million ton-displacement behemoths.) Thus, the shipcorp that owns her (it’s essentially a syndicate of officers, crew, and former crew, with executive power vested in the captain-owner) is pretty prosperous to be able to cover her running costs. Dealing in brokered cargo actually isn’t her main business – she specializes in contracts like the RCS-assembly charter from Kerbol to Kythera she just left, but an empty hold is a hole that drinks money, so you take the cargo when you can get it.

Also, obviously, at a size like that, she’s not streamlined, or built to land planetside (gravity wells being acutely expensive); and is even rather more massy than anything that most stations like to have dock directly to them. Her cargo’s generally ferried to station, or upwell and downwell, by local lighters at each end of the trip. Rather, she’s built very much in the classic mode; a long, relatively thin, open-frame truss structure. Attached to that, going from fore to aft, we find these different sections of the ship:

Right at the bow, sitting on the end of the main truss, is the command capsule, an ellipsoid slightly stretched along the ship’s main axis, relatively tiny compared to the rest of the ship, and containing, for starters, the bridge and associated avionics systems. (The bridge is actually buried in the center of the capsule, for its protection; it’s displaced off to the front end of the ship, however, because the command capsule is also where the primary sensors are housed to keep them out of the way of cargo, fuel, and drive radiation, and this positioning cuts down on sensor lag. It’s still pretty safe; it’s not like anyone’s going to be shooting at them.) The first of the other two notable features it houses is docks and locks, right for’ard on the axis where it’s easiest to match thrust and spin, which usually houses a couple of cutters used for taking the crew ashore and for occasional maintenance, and a skimmer for in-field refueling. (The fuel itself doesn’t pass through here – the skimmer docks aft to offload what it scoops. No fuel for’ard of the support plate, that’s the general rule.) The second, aft by the truss, is the robot hotel for all the little space-rated utility spiders you may see now and them crawling about the structure doing maintenance, thus saving the engineering department any need to get suited up and go outside for routine work, although they still may need to do so from time to time.

Just aft of that, accommodations and secondary systems are housed in a toroidal gravity wheel. This is actually a very unusual design feature in an Imperial ship-class; just about everyone and especially the spacer-clades are genetically adapted to microgravity, and the spacer-clades prefer it, as a rule; but the Cheneos-class architects originally designed her class for near-frontier work, and included this for occasional passenger service. Greed and Mass-Energy only rarely carries passengers, so they keep it geared all the way down, producing only a tenth of a standard gravity, which doesn’t offend the spacer-clades all that much. There’s a second, smaller wheel rotating inside it to null out the gyroscopic effects; it’s used to house some other equipment that likes a little gravity, but for the most part, this one’s just a countermass.

(The wheel does, however, provide enough gravity to let the CELSS Manager run a pretty decent microbrewery in the spare volume, and perhaps more importantly, provides a place where you can drink it off-shift without suffering from a nasty case of the zero-g bloat. [Remember, folks, bubbles don’t rise in microgravity!] And apart from crew morale, having decent beer makes for good PR when traders meet.)

These areas, incidentally, are one of the few places on board where the really high-tech ontotechnological stuff makes an appearance, in the form of inertial damping. The people who built her liked microgravity, and weren’t all that keen on losing that while under thrust, especially since she was built to fly brachistochrones or near-brachistochrones (bulk tankers and ore freighters, etc., are usually built to fly economic minimum-delta/Hohmann transfers; no-one else wants to wait that long for their cargo) and so would be spending most of her time under thrust. The job of the inertial dampers is to apply the thrust of the drives evenly across the entire area’s structure and everything in it, thus ensuring that no-one actually feels any acceleration, and the lovely microgravity environment is preserved. (It also avoids having to come up with some wretchedly complicated gimbal arrangement for the already wretchedly complicated seals-and-bearings for the gravity wheel, no longer having to do which is something that made architects particularly grateful for this innovation.)

Behind this, the cargo. ‘Way back along the truss there is a very large, solid plate, the support plate. The cargo containers are simply stacked “atop” – by which we mean for’ard – of it, in six big blocks arranged around the axis with sixfold symmetry (this arrangement being a reasonable compromise between use-of-volume and convenient straight lines), and are designed to lock to the plate, the truss, and each other to form a solid interlocked structure. There’s no hold or other walls around the cargo; the containers are themselves spacetight when they need to be, and so lighters can just drop them into place and pick them up freely while in port.

The breakbulk cargo, on the other hand, is messy. It has to be podded up individually when not spacetight, and then individually lashed down and made secure atop the cargo container stacks. This annoys the cargomaster, which is why breakbulk is unpopular these days despite the fact that breakbulk shippers usually pay a premium in exchange for you having to do this (the “lash comp”). Actually, what really annoys the cargomaster is that she can punch a button and have the ship automatically query the v-tags on the container cargo for its mass stats, and so forth, whereas for breakbulk she’s got to recall her Academy training, dig out the spreadsheets, and work out the corrections to the center-of-mass-and-moment-of-inertia chart by hand. Well, still by computer, but you know what I mean.

Aft of the support plate, still in sixfold symmetry, you have the bunkerage – fuel tanks, stacked three deep in multiple rows, all filled with slush deuterium, running right to the stern, where they surround the cylindrical shroud of the mostly-unpressurized engineering hull (you can take a crawlway right back along the truss to the small, pressurized maneuvering room back this far, should you need to examine the drives close-up in flight, but the actual machinery space isn’t), which contains the interlinked systems of the main power reactors and the fusion torches themselves, strapped to the aftmost extent of the main truss.

And there are lots of fuel tanks. Even though said fusion torches are miracles of a mature nuclear technology, capable of achieving near-theoretical efficiencies and outputs and delta-v per unit fuel that routinely makes naval architects from less advanced civilizations throw down their slide rules in despair and weep into their terrible coffee-equivalents, the one unchangeable rule of space travel is that your mass ratio is always much, much less favorable than you might want it to be.

Good thing deuterium’s so cheap, isn’t it?

(Edited to add: And I must have been half-asleep this morning, because I forgot…)

…and most prominently of all from a distance – dominating the entire view of the ship from a distance, by area as well as by temperature – sweeping out from among the fuel tanks (although comfortably retracted to sit alongside them, leaving approximately a sixth of their radiative area useful, while idling in dock – the vast panels and pipework of the heat radiators. Because the other one unchangeable rule of space travel is that you always have waste heat, too damn much waste heat, and you’ve got to get rid of it somehow. Especially once you fire up those fusion torches. (The radiators, however, unlike the rest of the ship, have only fourfold symmetry – so that they can be perpendicular to each other when unfolded, because there’s very little point in radiating heat right back at your own radiators.)


The Shipping Trade (1)

Kythera System, Lunar Transshipment One, Docking Ring Gilek, Third Quadrant, Afterquay Level
Offices of Hyneral, Myninine and mor-Vertak, Bonded Cargo Brokers

“Good shift, brokers. Athné Calaris-ith-Calandia…”

“…master of Greed and Mass-Energy! Cheneos-class free trader, I seem to recall. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen you in-system, Captain. Good trading?”

“Still flying.”

“So, what brings you to us – anything to offload this trip?”

“No, not this time. We just came off a charter – unloading thirty and a half of reaction-control assemblies out of Kerbol System. Hold’s empty, lookin’ to fill it.”

“Got commitments, or free-course?”

“Thinking of heading out spinward, but no contracts as yet. And I’d like to keep ten free for spec. Apart from that, we’ll go where the cash points.”

“Spinward, huh?” The broker rattled his terminal’s keys. “Quiet out there this week. I can fill your mail locker, and give you… twenty of laser pigs, containerized, delivered ex-ship High Transit Station, Wynérias System, pays out at market local.” He steepled his fingers, thinking. “Now, if you’ll yield back some of that ten, I can throw in 12,750 of assorted breakbulk for Wynérias and points on a spinward routing from there, pays three points over market local for lash comp.”

“Any liquids in that?”

“None on manifest. You’ve got one-twenty drums on-board from here to Losen Actual highport, but they’re listed as ‘powder, ceramet, special formula’ – yard consignment. Will you take it? It’s cutting out warehouse space, and I’ll owe you a favor for the inconvenience.”

The captain hesitated only slightly.

“Sure. Deal. We’ll be done unloading and cleared to metal by top of the second.”

“I’ll have the cargo and my longshorebots lockside by third of the second. Want to grab some lunch while the contracts clear down?”

“Don’t mind if I do.”