Trope-a-Day: Improvised Microgravity Maneuvering

Improvised Microgravity Maneuvering: Literally every vaguely physically plausible version of this has been tried over the eldrae’s history in space. Actually, so have most of the physically implausible ones, but they didn’t work out so well.

Yes, even the ones that sound like the punchlines to off-color jokes.

(As a rule, don’t do this. At worst, your lack of thrust vector control and eyeball navigation will get you very dead. At best, people will point, laugh, and send someone to get the catchpole for the humiliating pulled-back-to-the-wall experience. Either way, it’s not going to be fun.)


Trope-a-Day: Zero-G Spot

Zero-G Spot: If there’s a couple anywhere in the Empire that hasn’t, ah, joined the 100 Mile High Club, it’s because they haven’t yet finished treatment for a case of galloping cosmophobia. Sure, there were some special requirements to figure out w.r.t. anatomical docking maneuvers (mostly involving conservation of momentum), but that’s why they did science to it.

As for celestial polyamory, insert your own three-body problem joke here.

Trope-a-Day: Jet Pack

Jet Pack: They exist. Mostly used in conjunction with combat exoskeletons or their civilian industrial counterparts, to avoid the, uh, Toasted Buns problem, and also the need for a fairly elaborate harness to avoid a painful and undignified jet-wedgie. (While obviously avoidable with a larger framework that keeps the jets further outboard, that’s about as clunky to maneuver in as a whole exoskeleton anyway.)

The exception to the above rule are the ones commonly used to aid maneuvering in microgravity, which are rather smaller and even implantable into the body, for that matter – but that’s because they use simpler, less-high-thrust-because-no-gravity technologies like cold-gas nitrogen jets and ducted fans, and so will not hurt you.

And, of course, without any of this you can always Spider-Man it up with your vector-control effectors, tractor beams obeying Newton’s Third Law, and all.

Gettin’ Clean

The primary hygiene component of a standard shipboard ‘fresher is a cylindrical translucent compartment, resembling a drug capsule set on its end, with a watertight sealing door. At top and bottom, gratings conceal powerful counter-rotating fan/turbine units.

In dynamic mode, these fan/turbines are engaged to blow (at the nominal “top”) and suck (at the nominal “bottom”) a water/air colloid past and over the bather at configurable velocities ranging from strong breeze to hurricane-strength wind, providing the water with a functional simulation of gravitic flow – a “shower”. To conserve water where necessary, many ‘freshers recirculate filtered water while in operation, requiring fresh water input only for the initial fill and the final rinse cycle.

In static mode, the gratings close and the capsule itself fills entirely with water – a microgravity “bath”.

In the former mode, breathing while bathing is, at best, difficult; in the latter, it is downright impossible. Early-model ‘freshers included a built-in breathing mask connected to ship’s life support to ameliorate this problem; in these days of respiratory hemocules which enable the modal transsoph to hold their breath for over an hour, ‘fresher designers tend to assume that this will not be a problem. Those without such hemocules must, therefore, remember to take a portable breather with them when bathing.

– The Starship Handbook, 155th ed.

Trope-a-Day: Our Showers Are Different

Our Showers Are Different: Averted, for the most part. Water has enough other uses, starting with radiation shielding, and is prevalent enough in space – and, of course, being built in space, or launched using nuclear pulse drives, there’s plenty of room in the mass budget for the relevant equipment – that most spacecraft and habitats have plenty of water available for real showers. Or even baths (although microgravity baths are relatively small, closed chambers that fill with water, requiring you to use a breathing tube – at least, if you aren’t equipped with those nifty hemocules that let you hold your breath for a couple of hours, anyway.

There are microbot swarms that will clean you quite satisfactorily (a close relative of decontamination mist) without needing water, or indeed requiring you to undress, but those aren’t there because of water-lack; those are there for people in too much of a hurry to enjoy it.

And a “sonic shower”? Well, that’s just a fancy shower-head that helps you scrub.

Trope-a-Day: No Gravity For You

No Gravity For You: Subverted, since the knowledge of how to move in microgravity is commonplace, and microgravity-friendly martial arts are almost as commonplace. And, indeed, a majority of spacer habitats and starships run without gravity anyway. Not like they’re a bunch of dirthuggers, y’know?

(And if you are using spin gravity, stopping the spin – which turns off gravity for the whole habitat – is very definitely not something you do this casually.)

If you are using vector-control gravity, however, the attack mode you use isn’t disabling the gravity, it’s reversing the gravity repeatedly and quickly (a maneuver delightfully referred to as “grav pong”) until you’ve bounced the villains into submission.  Or unconsciousness.

Trope-a-Day: Le Parkour / Combat Parkour

Le Parkour / Combat Parkour: Something of a standard part of the skillset, even for getting around normally, in the modern era. This tends to come from three places: one, common exposure to how one gets around in microgravity; two, lots of habitats and inhabited planets/moons having less than “standard” gravity anyway, making it easier; and three, lots and lots of biotech work pushing the baseline on agility, reflexes and stamina well above where they used to be. Couple that with the circular feedback effect of architectural adaptation, and there you go.

In its combat form, a specialty of light legionaries. (Not so much one of heavy legionaries, since the problem with trying this while running around in three tonnes of combat exoskeleton isn’t that you can’t do it, it’s that the walls can’t take it.) It did not take much exposure to space-based infantry combat for people to figure out that – especially when fighting people used to operating in two dimensions, but hardly limited to that scenario – a chap who can run on walls, change orientation and vector in mid-air, and make use of all the bits of the environment, not just the floor-based ones, and so forth, has a distinct advantage. Enter, then, the trainers and armor designers figuring out how to do all that stuff down t’well, too.

Starships Are Not Boats

As explained here

(In short, down, when under thrust, is determined by the direction of your drive axis, and specifically, is the direction your engine is in – because it’s pushing you the other way.)

I feel somewhat bad, sometimes, for violating this one here and there, sometimes quite egregiously, but there’s a reason for that, and it has to do with the fiction in my science fiction. Specifically, the inertial dampers that I talked about here. See, way back in the day before those were invented, from the Phoenix stack on up, spacecraft and then starship design was indeed constrained this way; virtually all designs were tail-landers, with the decks perpendicular to the drive axis, and the only exceptions to that rule being belly-landing vehicles intended to operate in atmosphere and/or land planetside, in which case the need to deal with the planetary gravity field took precedence and those aboard pretty much had to suck it up and deal with the inconvenience when in space and under thrust.

(We omit, for the moment, the complexities of spin gravity and the combination of spin and thrust “gravity” that gave the world terms like thrustdown and spindown and realdown and lots of rather complex gimballing mechanisms.)

But then the inertial damper was invented, thus ensuring that the interiors of starships equipped with it were under microgravity all the time, even when they were under thrust, and naval architects almost immediately split three ways:

  1. The traditionalist school, who had been building tail-landers for a millennium and dammit, were going to keep on building tail-landers, because that’s how spacecraft ought to look, and for that matter, it’s kind of nice to still be able to fire up the drive if your inertial dampers break down, isn’t it?
  2. The convenientist school, who countered that people had been complaining about what a pain in the ass ladders, companionways and elevators were for getting about inside spacecraft for most of that millennium, especially if you’re not under thrust most of the time, that long corridors are much nicer, and that it’s good not to have large pieces of equipment split between a half-dozen decks, and so now that they could build starships as belly-landers, dammit, they were going to.
  3. And the spacer school, who pointed out that if there’s one thing that you could learn from modular and beehive habitat design over all that time, it’s that “down” is a strictly local phenomenon and one only useful under a few circumstances anyway, and that in a microgravity environment not only can you arrange your decks any damn way you please, but you don’t even have to be consistent in doing so, and proceeded to arrange their designs’ interiors in whatever way they felt was useful at the time and place.

In what I think of as the modern era, the spacer school has essentially won the argument, although examples of the other two schools do still show up. (After all, planet-landing craft have to be consistent one way or the other, what with that planetary field to contend with.) Among people who have the relevant technology, at least – the constraint still exists, and applies in full to anyone who doesn’t have fancy ontotechnological physics-editing tech to play with.


The Bear Necessities

Miralí Muetry-ith-Muetry floated in the center of Oculus Station’s stellarium. The view was at its most magnificent – the station had just passed periapsis and was approaching zenith, leaving the whole Eliéran Upperside spread out below her; a fuzzy-edged whorl of silvery-gray cloud over continents calen-green and fidur-blue amid the brighter blue of the oceans, spangled with cities gallé-warm, the whole glowing opaline with the reflected light of the suns. It was a view which, in reproduction, was hanging in almost every home on the planet below since Phoenix One had first captured it, but which no-one – from the newest rookie to the oldest hands aboard – ever tired of watching live in their off-shift. The stellarium, while one of the quietest places on the station, was also one of its most crowded.

But for a few minutes, during station-day shift-changes, it was possible to find some peace and solitude there; something which, on some days, Miralí found particularly appealing.

“Groundside wants to send a what to my space station?”

“A bear, Flight Commander.”

“Dare I hope that that is a project codename for something?”

“No, Flight Commander. It is on the list as Project Ursine, but the bear itself is, well –”

“A bear, Science Operations Coordinator?”

“Yes, Flight Commander.”

‘An entire bear, Science Operations Coordinator? Not, say, bear tissue, or a bear biosim, or, or even a teddy bear? The six hundred pounds of fighting mad with claws kind of bear?”

“Yes, Flight Commander. Although – a hibernating one.”

“I see. Inform groundside that the Festival of Cinníäs was last month and they should resubmit their proposals when they sober up, come down, or both.”

“Yes, Flight Commander. Really, Flight Commander?”

“No, not really.” She pinched the bridge of her nose in annoyance. “This is normally outside my department, Sian, but did groundside go into any detail as to why they want to ship us a bear?”

“It’s… an Initiative joint research project with Ochale Biotechnics, Flight Commander. Apparently bears don’t lose bone or muscle mass while they’re hibernating. The researchers want to know if that applies to microgravity too, in case it will help us out with adaptation-syndrome treatment, so they want to orbit one for ninety days and collect its biodata.”

“Ah.” Something important, then. Damn. “Well, they can’t have it in the science, habitation, or utility modules, or in anything plugged into any of those modules. There are many things I’m willing to go down in the history books for, and none of them are ‘lost half her science establishment to an orbital bear attack’. Preferably, we should avoid all mention or possibility of ‘orbital bear attacks’, yes? So tell them if they want a bear up here, they can put it in its own ‘can with independent life support, and we’ll hang it off the industrial truss. Their payload specialist’ll have to go for a walk every day, but so be it. FlightCom’s final word on safety – not negotiable.”

“Yes, Flight Commander.”

“And, Sian?”

“Flight Commander?”

“Warn Kael what’s coming, and that the words of the week down in Structural Maintenance need to be explosive bolts.”

Welcome Aboard

“Your attention please, gentlesophs and adjuncts, and on behalf of Captain Corrével and the remainder of the crew, welcome aboard the IS Elegant Locus, operating Interstar flight 963 from Mer Dinévál Countermass Station, Seranth, to Star City Highport, Clajdíä.  I am Galry Inurian-ith-Inuriannon, your purser for this flight.”

“At this time, all passengers and freight have been boarded, and the airlock doors have been closed.  We have been given a departure window commencing in one hour, at which time the holds will be sealed for the duration of transit.  If you have special cargo or steerage-class passengers you wish to check upon, please do so at this time.”

“When our departure is announced, please return to the ship’s lounge until we clear the station.  Since we will be in microgravity immediately after departure and for the rest of the voyage, please ensure that all of your luggage and personal chattels are properly stowed and liquid containers sealed previous to this time.  Emesis containers are located in the pocket of each lounge seat, and microgravity adaptation syndrome drugs are available on request from the lounge stewards or other crew members.  For those passengers who are not spacer-certified, Interstar is pleased to offer a complimentary basic class in microgravity navigation and other tasks in the ship’s gymnasium immediately after departure.  Our time of transit to Clajdíä will be approximately eight days.”

“At this time, the Shipboard Information Service has been enabled.  Details of the costs for dedicated tight-beam or tangle transmissions are available on the ship’s intranet, as are charges for processor rental.  Batched data transfer and access to the ship’s extensive library and cache are available at no charge.”

“Under the Imperial Navigation Act, we are required to familiarize you with certain emergency procedures.  In a loss-of-pressure emergency in any compartment of the ship, this alarm will sound — and the ship’s lightning will switch to high-contrast blue.  The spacetight doors will immediately seal off each compartment.  If you are in a compartment designated as a pressure shelter at this time, identifiable by the green and blue bands painted at the top of the bulkheads, please remain where you are until otherwise instructed.”

“If you are in a compartment that is not a pressure shelter, or if you are in a pressure shelter and this alarm sounds — accompanied by strobing high-contrast blue lighting, indicating a local loss of pressure, you should immediately locate the nearest individual rescue ball.  These are located behind the emergency panels in each compartment, marked in hazard yellow.  Simply pull the panel from the wall, and remove the rescue ball.  Unfold it, place it on the floor, sit on it, and pull the red handle at the sides of the ball up simultaneously and over your head until they meet, at which point the sides of the ball will catalytically seal together and the ball will inflate.  In the event that the automatic sealer fails, remove any foreign objects from the area where the edges of the ball meet, and press the edges together manually until a proper seal is formed.  There is no need to rush; explosive decompression is exceedingly rare, and carelessness in this task is a greater risk than delay.”

“Each rescue ball contains a self-repair pack, essential medical supplies, and an intercom system to allow communication with crew and with passengers in other balls. It also contains an automatically activated rescue transponder that will report your location and status to the crew.  The rescue ball’s internal air supply will last for a minimum of one hour; if you will be required to remain for longer periods of time, the crew will connect your rescue ball to the ship’s backup oxygen supply.”

“In the event of a local loss of pressure, sealing capsules may be released into the compartment’s air to plug the leak.  While the sealant gel is unpleasant to the touch should you come into contact with it, it is non-toxic and designed to bond only to hull metals.”

“Should a fire occur in any compartment, the following alarm will sound — along with red, flashing alert signs.  You should leave the compartment immediately, following the bulkhead track lighting to the nearest spacetight door.  If a fire is of magnitude sufficient to trigger the alarm, you should not attempt to fight the fire; the fire will be extinguished when the compartment is vented to space.  Do not stop to collect your belongings or other items.  While every attempt will be made to provide reasonable escape time, the spacetight doors will seal as rapidly as is necessary to secure the safety of the ship, and the compartment vented to space to extinguish the fire.  If you are unable to escape the compartment before the spacetight doors seal, make use of a rescue ball in a location as distant from the fire as possible.”

“In the event of any other survivable emergency situation, please report to a pressure shelter compartment as soon as possible, and comply with all directions given by the ship’s crew.  If you are trapped or otherwise unable to reach a pressure shelter compartment, please contact us using the emergency channel on any ship intercom.”

“If you have any questions about the flight at any time, please don’t hesitate to ask any of our cabin stewards.  Thank you, and again, on behalf of Captain Corréval and the crew, please enjoy your voyage with Interstar.”

Mind the Self-Loading Cargo

All Hands:

As per the ship’s itinerary, we will be arriving at Thetra (Banners) highport in three cycles, ship time. As is the usual procedure, I’ll require completed pre-arrival checklists, chandlers’ requisitions, and codicils from each department by the wineful hour tomorrow.

The following special instructions apply:

1. If the complaints I’ve been getting are anything to go by, the ship’s locker is running low on a variety of non-spec stores. The ship’s discretionary budget’s looking good this quarter, so, deck department, while you’re doing your inventories, make out your wish lists.

2. This is our first call at an outworld this trip, and we’ll be taking on passengers. Now, for those of you on your first trip, this means we’re going to be carrying lots of people who aren’t spacers or spacer-modified, and who are used to the idea of artificial gravity whenever they go offworld, and who certainly aren’t used to people using a half-dozen different verticals in the same place.

This means, yes, lots of freefall sickness. So break out the emesis bags and multispecies microgravity-adaptation pills, people, they’re going to need them.

And I don’t want to have to detail people to clean it out of the atmosphere processors, am I clear?

3. Likewise, break out the catchpoles, and make sure we have enough. If past voyages are anything to go by, we’re going to spend the first few days hauling lots of people down out of mid-air. And keep them with you – none of the other passengers are paying to watch the ongoing flailing while you go get the ’pole.

4. If you haven’t used them recently, go see the Master-at-Arms for a refresher on your multispecies child-restraint techniques. Kids love microgravity, and are not good at keeping it to the rec deck. And since the passengers aren’t paying for free-fall pranks, either, that means you’re going to have to.

And Crewman mor-Venek? Do remember that electrolasers are not an approved child-restraint technique anywhere off Paltraeth. Legal had to pay out enough compensation last time.

5. I’ll be in my office for the whole of the highsun hour today if any additional concerns arise that require my attention.

It’s only a short layover this time, but let’s make it a smooth one!

– Iallis Steamweaver-ith-Ilithos, purser

Trope-a-Day: Artificial Gravity

Artificial Gravity: The piece of Applied Phlebotinium they call vector control does provide something which is functionally equivalent to artificial gravity, yes.  On the other hand, (a) a good plurality of cylinder habitats still prefer to use spin gravity, because it’s much easier on the energy budget; and (b) the vast majority of spacecraft and starships, modulo those passenger liners catering to planet-dwellers, don’t use it, because the 3/5ths of the population that are spacers got used to microgravity, both socially and through pantropic adaptation, a long time before vector control was invented.  Microgravity is their native gravity, essentially, so why change it?

They do use vector control quite often to make sure their nice microgravity environment isn’t messed up by thrust gravity, though.