Trope-a-Day: Stealth in Space

Stealth in Space: There ain’t no stealth in space.

This applies especially to lighthuggers, inasmuch as an antimatter torch at high burn can be detected for light years even if you’re not the star system that it’s pointed at.  If you are, all the more so.  Much the same goes, at least for the destination system, for even the best-collimated of the launch lasers starwisps use.  Any way you look at it, there’s no way to be subtle when engaging in near-luminal travel.

But it applies to everyone else, too.  Even small reaction-drive burns – and vector-control drives of similar energy consumption – are bright enough to be seen most of the way across the system, and more to the point, the heat of operating life-support systems for biosapiences – or even the waste heat for the minimum technology needed to support digisapiences – stands out like a searchlight against the 3K sky background.

It’s not impossible to manage a degree of sneakiness.  It involves making use of thermal superconductors to capture your emissions in most or even all directions, and heat pumps (which, let us not forget, generate even more heat which you have to then capture) to capture them in heat sinks – which will fill up and roast you if you keep it up for very long, so be careful about how long you need to use them.  It involves making maximum use of cover – cold objects in space to hide behind, and hot objects to hide in front of, while being careful not to visibly occult anything, and always pointing the right bits of your ship in the right direction (observer-dependent, so best hope the system’s not busy).  It involves limiting your propulsion to careful use of (hideously slow and inefficient) cold-gas thrusters and leveraging vector-control to get a tow from other ships or celestial bodies (in which case, being careful to ensure that you keep your effect on their apparent mass below the threshold that will trigger alerts in their engineering department or your target’s paranoid skywatching AIs.).  And, of course, essentially none of this will help if someone happens to look out the wrong window or point a telescope in the wrong direction and spot you visually.

But it’s difficult and constrained enough – especially since you have to enter systems via the choke-points of their stargates – or suffer the above lighthugger problems – that it’s usually much easier to pretend to be something other than what you are, or bury yourself inside an asteroid big enough to act as a decent thermal sink, or get an insider agent to plant a You Can’t See Me data worm in their traffic-control systems, or otherwise engage in some kind of tactics that are more masquerade and less outright stealth.

(The ontotechnological engineers are working on – well, technically, working on the possible theory that might just possibly begin to underlie the engineering principles of – an actual bona-fide cloaking device that bypasses at least some of these difficulties.  Still some awkward implications from physics, though: firstly, it’s inescapably double-blind, so while no-one can see you, you can’t see out either.  The possibilities for things to go horribly wrong for you while you can’t see them are… large.  Secondly, it involves basically hiding behind the domain wall of your own personal baby universe, possibly the only thing that does retain heat with 100% efficiency, which is to say, it actually makes the heat dissipation problem worse.  Better have really good heat sinks, or you’ll cook yourself to death in really short order… and then release all that heat in a nice position-illuminating flare anyway.)

Trope-a-Day: Frickin’ Laser Beams

Frickin’ Laser Beams: Invisible.  Recoilless.  Travel at the speed of light.  In short, just like actual frickin’ laser beams.

(See Energy Weapons and Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better for where they are used, and why they’re not usually considered the primary weapon set in the Eldraeverse, which I didn’t particularly feel like repeating right here.)

As a side note of things mentioned elsewhere on the defensive side, the chief purpose of lasers as ship-to-ship weapons is for pumping heat into the enemy. The defense against this is twofold: one, thermal superconductor (or, previously to the invention of this particular piece of exotic material, mere thermal-very-good-conductor-convector-etc.) plating to avoid localized hot spots heating up and exploding, and lots of goo of very high thermal heat capacity to dump heat into and then pump overboard. This doesn’t stop you from eventually having to heave to, extend your radiators, and quit the fight, but it does slow down getting to that point rather a lot. Similar plating to the former used in personal armor makes personal laser-arms, while not unuseful on the battlefield, certainly not the most useful thing which you can carry.

tl;dr They have their place in combat, but they’re not magically supreme on the field, and indeed are unlikely to be your primary weapons.

Also, while it would certainly be technologically possible to attach them to cyborg sharks, so far as I know, it’s never actually been done.

 

Trope-a-Day: Deployable Cover

Deployable Cover: For this purpose – and assuming that people are firing material objects at you, which is, in fairness, most of the time – they do make portable kinetic barriers.  (Don’t try and use them while you’re still carrying them, though.  All that kinetic energy has to go somewhere, so you either need to spike it to the ground (if it stays as KE) or plug it in to a giant heatsink (if it doesn’t), neither of which are available to you during transport.

Well, unless you’re wearing a combat exoskeleton, but those come with their own kinetic barriers, so you don’t need another set.

Trope-a-Day: Bottomless Magazines

Bottomless Magazines: Not literally true, but due to the architecture of modern Imperial firearms, it often seems that way.  A typical example has three types of “ammunition”, in a consumables-you-need-to-fire sense: a metal-containing “magazine cartridge” that the flechettes the weapon actually fires are produced from; an energy cell to power the mass driver that makes it work; and a heat sink (containing the same high specific heat capacity thermal goo we’ll be talking about later in Deflector Shields) to give you somewhere to dump the waste heat produced by said mass driver so your gun doesn’t melt.

The flechettes are small enough and light enough (grain-of-sand size, made up for by extremely high velocity) that by and large you should never need to change the magazine, even in a whole sequence of firefights of unlikely length, although you may want to swap in a new one at maintenance time, just to be sure.  The heat sink usually only needs to be swapped out at maintenance time (the goo may eventually crystallize), because in normal operation the radiative striping on the gun should be able to get the heat dumped in between uses, but if you routinely keep up sustained volumes of fire, you can carry some spare heat sinks with you and field-swap them to let you keep it up beyond what would otherwise be the weapon’s thermal limit.  The energy cell is actually the thing you’re likely to need to swap most often, and it usually holds enough energy for a good couple of hours of firing, so while you may need to change it, you still probably won’t need to change it that often.

And of course, those magnificent legionaries in their combat exoskeletons have their guns plugged into the much larger energy and cooling reserves of their armor, so those guys really do have de facto bottomless magazines.