The headquarters of Nucleodyne Thrust Applications was not, it was widely held, the most elegant of the habs in close orbit about Melíeré. The double-torus housing both the living spaces and the corporate offices, adorned about the docking hub with the stylized silver atom over flaring golden sun of the corporation’s logo, to be fair, might have qualified on its own – and did, in publicity pictures carefully shot to contrast it with the ruddy gas giant it orbited and to conceal the remainder of the station.

That remainder being the research section, an incoherent conglomeration of laboratory modules, floatways, power reactors, fuel storage tanks, construction slips, storage temps, and less identifiable machinery strapped along the massive truss that protruded from the rear of the docking hub, a messy tangle unconcealed by an aesthetic shroud, harkening back to the earliest days of space.

No, Cherac’s Breath Station was not an elegant construct.

* * *

The same, however, Melíändre Steamweaver thought, could not be said for the products they built there.

Dwarfed by the size of the construction bay it floated within, still gleaming in places with the fine buffering oil the nanoassemblers used, the prototype of Nucleodyne’s latest fusion torch drive was a case in point. Its clean lines breathed elegance from tip to tip: from the petal-like shrouds encapsulating the tangle of support machinery where she would attach to her ship, studded with molycircs gleaming like jewels in the bay lights; through the clustered cylinders of the injectors and beamers, surrounded by the polished, reddish orichalcium rings of the buffering accumulators; through, too, the silver ellipsoid swelling of the fusion preburner, surface marked with eloquent scrollwork depicting the fields within; though the golden toroid of the magnetohydrodynamic accelerator and the magnetic couple; and finally to the graceful outward sweep of the magnetic nozzle retained by that couple, blade shields of muonic iron glistening an impossibly bright white.

She turned to the head of the assembled engineering development team. “Beautiful work, Aurin, as ever.”

“She’s the smallest we’ve ever built. Half the size of a Little Sparky… We still need a type name for her.”

“What’s the current designation?”

“K64 pinnace-class torch, revision 3.”

“Hmm.” Melíändre turned, and headed for the airlock leading back to the hub junction. “If she passes static fire and flight tests, designate her Firefly.”


Drake-class Frigate: Spec Sheet

Here, have a spec sheet… (certain items omitted pending further detail work).


Operated by: Empire of the Star & client-states (export model only).
Type: Frigate, General Operations
Construction: Cilmínar Spaceworks

Length: 370m (primary hull 170m, engineering bus 200m)
Beam: [xxxxx]
Loaded mass: [xxxxx]

Gravity-well capable: Yes.
Yes, with limits.

Personnel: 39, as follows:

Flight Commander
Flight Executive
Flight Administrator
3 x Sailing Master, most senior serving as Flight Director
3 x Tactical / Payload Officer
3 x Astrogator / Relativistics / Sensory Operations Officer
Flight Engineer
Propulsion / Power Engineer
Thermal Systems Engineer
3 x Data Operations / Data Systems Engineer
3 x Life Support / Auxiliary Systems Engineer
12 x general techs
6 x espatiers (cross-trained in starship operations)

Thinker-class AI

Drive: Nucleodyne Thrust Applications 4×1 “Sunheart V” fusion torch, with antiproton afterburner option
Propellant: Deuterium/helium-3 blend
Cruising (sustainable) thrust: 9.4 standard gravities (8.8 Earth G)
Peak (unsustainable) thrust: 11.8 standard gravities (11.1 Earth G)
Delta-v reserve: [xxxxx]
Maximum velocity: 0.3 c (based on particle shielding)


8 x “Targe VI” point-defense supplementary drones, Artifice Armaments
4 x “Corax” tactical observation platforms, Sy Astronautic Engineering Collective


1 x standard navigational sensor suite, Cilmínar Spaceworks
6 x [classified] enhanced passive tactical sensory suite, Sy Astronautic Engineering Collective


2400/1200 mm custom axial mass driver, Artifice Armaments
4 x “Slammer III” dual turreted light mass driver, Artifice Armaments
“Eyewall” point-defense laser grid, Artifice Armaments

Other Systems:

Artifice Armaments cyclic kinetic barrier system
Biogenesis Technologies Mark VII regenerative life support
5 x Bright Shadow EC-1140 information furnace data systems
Islien Yards 3-DD vector-control core and associated technologies
Systemic Integrated Technologies high-capacity thermal sinks and dual-mode radiator system
4 x modular swapout bays

Small craft:

1 x Nelyn-class modular cutter (with optional additional fuel skimmer module)
2 x Adhaïc-class workpod

Ships in class (partial list):

CS Bloodclaw
CS Drake
CS Flamefang
CS Razorwing
CS Shadowstrike

Ask Dr. Science

Today’s question for Dr. Science is, “Why do lighthuggers have to stay so far out? Can’t they use the same highports as normal starships?”

While it would certainly be more convenient to avoid the lengthy shuttle trip to meet a lighthugger, the risks attached to the amount of energy needed to propel a ship between the stars at near-light speed make them something best kept away from population centers.

The smallest lighthugger in production, close to the practical lower size limit, is the Evelantar-class staryacht, whose unfueled mass is 5,451 tons. It is propelled by a Nucleodyne Thrust Applications antimatter pion drive, with fusion supplementation for lower velocities, giving it a maximum cruising speed of 0.9 c.

The mass ratio, including operational safety margin, of the NTA pion drive – the ratio between its fueled mass and its unfueled mass – is 25; but since a lighthugger in many cases cannot guarantee that it can refuel at its destination, the Evelantar is equipped to carry fuel for a two-way trip.

Thus, such a staryacht can carry up to 136,275 tons of fuel one-way, or 272,550 tons fully fueled, of which just under half is antimatter in the form of metastable metallic antideuterium. And, of course, when fueled for a two-way trip, over half of its fuel – because of the additional fuel carried as a safety margin – remains in its cryocels when it arrives at its destination.

Such an amount of matter/antimatter fuel would, if detonated, produce an explosion of approximately 2.6 teratons. In orbit of a garden world, this would be sufficient to create massive earthquakes and volcanism, megatsunamis, global wildfires, major atmospheric damage, and a high-probability extinction-level event, in addition to the radiation effects. These radiation effects and indirect impulsive shock would also be lethal to any habitats or drifts within tens of thousands of miles of the explosion. And this is the fuel mass of the smallest production lighthugger.

While the probability of a cryocel containment-safety systems failure is infinitesimal, the magnitude of these consequences – along with the possibility of deliberate sabotage or the use of lighthugger fuel as a terror weapon – is sufficient for virtually all civilized systems to restrict lighthuggers to far outer-system ports of call.

Dr. Science

– from Children’s Science Corner magazine